Water, Water Everywhere
How the 32-ounce water bottle became a lifestyle prop.

  • Words Robert Ito

Everybody needs water, and reusable water bottles are as good a way as any to tote a bit of it around. Kids take them, snug in their backpack pockets, to school; grown-ups bring them to yoga classes; adventurers lug them up mountains. But water bottles have moved far beyond their purely practical use as simple hydration devices. Fashion models display designer versions on runways, while the rest of us festoon our Nalgenes and Hydro Flasks with stickers advertising the names of towns we’ve been to and bands we love. One can find water bottles that look like penguins, or bowling pins, or soccer balls. So how did these relatively simple containers—some with spouts or screw tops, others insulated with double-walled steel—become such powerful signifiers of who we are and what we believe in?

“A reusable water bottle says
‘I don’t drink the bottled stuff.
I have a conscience.'”

A big reason they say so much about us is because of what they’re not. They’re not disposable water b...

( 1 ) Humans may also be ingesting microplastics through disposable water bottles. In 2018, the State University of New York found microplastics in 93% of the bottled water it tested, roughly twice as many as in tap water.

( 2 ) Wirecutter’s research took place over nine years, involved four researchers testing more than a hundred water bottles and included a call to NASA to understand how double-walled insulation works.

( 3 ) Most Nalgene bottles are made of a tough plastic called Tritan, which is so durable that the brand offers a lifetime warranty. Inevitably, consumers go out of their way to try to prove the bottles can be broken.

( 4 ) There is no formal recommendation for the amount of water people need day-to-day, and no science behind the idea that you should drink eight glasses. The amount of water required differs by what people eat, where they live, how big they are and what they are doing.

( 5 ) The Stanley Adventure Quencher Travel Tumbler is so popular on TikTok that its hashtag, #stanleytumbler, has 12 million views. Stanley's president reported in 2022 that the product had a 135,000-strong waiting list.

( 6 ) The Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani was recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world's most expensive bottle of water. Made by Fernando Altamirano from 24-carat solid gold and 6,000 diamonds, the 750-milliliter vessel was valued at $6 million.

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