If you like to have a beverage with you as you ride a train, carpool, or drive your own car into work, a travel mug that can keep your coffee or tea piping hot (or icy cold) and securely contained is indispensable.
These days, most travel mugs feature vacuum-insulation technology to help maintain the temperature of their contents, prevent condensation build-up on their exterior, and protect your hands. But aside from keeping your drinks as hot or as cold as when you pour them in, the perfect travel mug should be able to withstand the occasional drop on the pavement or in-purse tussle; it should fit in your car’s cup holder; and it should be easy to drink from on-the-go.
For this review, I tested 11 different travel mugs, putting them through tests based on temperature retention, usability, and durability. Here’s what I found.
The Best Travel Mug: Stanley Quadvac Travel Mug
The Stanley Quadvac Travel Mug passed all our tests with flying colors. If you want the absolute best travel mug, this is it. It also comes with a lifetime warranty.
The Best Affordable Travel Mug: Contigo SnapSeal
At only $11.37, the Contigo SnapSeal did very well in our cold and durability tests, but fell a bit short in the heat-retention test. For a bargain, it’s an excellent choice, especially if you’re an iced coffee drinker.
The Best Hand’s-Free Open Mug: Zojirushi
If you’re constantly on the go and need a mug you can open with just the push of a thumb, consider this Zojirushi model. It did extremely well in our heat-retention and leak test, and has a sleek look. Two caveats to keep in mind: It’s not dishwasher-safe and can be tricky to clean, and the slim design means you can only squeeze in ice cubes one at a time.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great Travel Mug
We decided at the outset that we'd only test travel mugs that were made of stainless-steel, had vacuum-insulation, and were at least partially spill-proof. This is because, at minimum, we wanted them to be somewhat durable, capable of maintaining a drink's temperature for extended periods of time, and addressed in some way the inevitable jostling of liquids that traveling with a drink entails.
While testing the mugs our primary focus was how well they stood up to claims of temperature retention and durability. The ideal mug should keep liquid ice cold and ripping hot for hours; it should be durable enough to handle small falls without denting or breaking; it should have some features to help prevent spills; and it shouldn’t be too hard to clean up and use again the next day.
Why You Should Trust Us
I am a person who is always running late. I’m the type of person who hits the snooze button 50 times and then gets up with just enough time to make coffee before I sprint out the door. For me, a good travel mug is an essential item.
Before I first bought a travel mug, I would just bring the same ceramic coffee mug that I was drinking out of with me to the car, where it wouldn’t stay hot and would splash all over my car with every pot hole and speed bump. My car was a mess, my outfit was usually stained, and my coffee was cold. Now, while I’m not necessarily an expert in travel mugs, I have certainly had enough frantic morning commutes to understand why anyone would need to buy one.
I also have years of experience testing products. Since starting my career in food media, I’ve tested all sorts of kitchen and kitchen-adjacent equipment and tools through the technical lens of a classically trained chef.
There are a few key traits that any travel mug must have, without which it’s really just a fancy cup. First, I determined whether or not hot liquids stayed hot and cold liquids stayed cold when put into each mug. Then, I gauged whether or not the mug was prone to leaking. Next, I put the mug through some durability testing. Finally, I looked into how easy it was to clean.
Test 1: Heat Retention and Leak Test
Most people will buy a travel mug to bring a hot drink on the go, so I tested heat retention first. For this test I filled each mug with 212°F water and noted the temperature every 30 minutes with a calibrated instant-read thermometer until the liquid reached 140°F.
During the heat test I also completed a leak test by placing the sealed mugs on their sides in between temperature readings and noting where, if any, leaks occurred. A few mugs failed the leak test immediately, dripping instantly after being placed on their sides and upside down. Mugs were also eliminated here if their contents quickly cooled down or cooled down in less time than the manufacturer claimed.
Test 2: Cold Retention
For this test, I filled each mug with 36°F water and noted the temperature with a calibrated instant-read thermometer. I continued checking every 30 minutes until the liquid reached 60°F.
Any mug whose contents quickly increased in temperature were disqualified. If the mugs’ manufacturers made specific claims for a length of time the mug could keep a drink cold, I tested that, too. Some mugs had separate claims for keeping the liquid cold versus keeping any ice in the mug from melting within a certain time frame. Either way, I checked to see if the ice remained ice or if the cold water remained cold for the full duration of the claim.
Test 3: Washing and Care
Ease of cleaning can make a good travel mug a great one. After all, if you’re using your mug every day, you don’t want to spend a ton of time cleaning it each night. To test the ease of cleaning and care, I first placed eight ounces of room-temperature, black, regular-strength coffee into each mug and let it sit for 12 hours. Then, I washed the mugs according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
At this point I was able to split the whole group in two: dishwasher-safe or not. If you have a dishwasher, cleaning is as easy as putting the mug in the machine and running a cycle. For the mugs I couldn’t put in the dishwasher, I evaluated how easy they were to hand wash, if they’d require the use of a scrub brush, and how many cracks and crevices the mug (and its lid) had.
After cleaning, I gave each mug the sniff test to determine if any residual odor remained. Lingering odor could mean that the mugs have porous materials, which may lead to sanitary issues down the line. Plus, that funky smell is going to mess with the aroma and flavor of any drink you put into the mug next. Surprisingly, every mug passed.
Dishwasher-safety is a huge plus for almost everybody, so those were ranked better than the others. Of the mugs that I needed to hand-wash, for any that were especially hard to clean (with mouths too small for my hand or a scrub brush), I docked points.
Washing and ease of cleaning turned out to be a proving ground, as over half of the remaining mugs were eliminated.
Test 4: Durability
For the durability test, I tried to destroy the mugs. No, really: I filled them up with water, sealed them, then dropped them from an exact height of five feet from a variety of angles onto smooth concrete. Then I assessed them for any breakage, cracks, dents, or scratches.
Some were hardy and some were flimsy, but any mugs that made it this far that broke or dented were docked points.
Test 5: User Experience
Arguably one of the most important features of a travel mug is its ability to travel. Is it heavy or light? Does it fit well into an average bag, backpack, cupholder? Is it attractive or utilitarian? Could you hold it with a gloved hand? Open it with one hand? I tested all this by using each mug and carrying one with me to work every day for 11 days. Off the bat, a few failed because they were too large to fit in an average-sized cup holder.
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there were a few that stood out aesthetically. Some come in a wide range of colors, while others offer a sleek design. Since personalization is important to many people, mugs with color options were rated higher. Mugs that were awkward to use or fill were ranked lower or eliminated altogether.
The Best All-Around Travel Mug: Stanley Quadvac Travel Mug
This is the best travel mug, period. After 40 hours, ice water still contained solid pieces of ice, and the mug kept cold liquids without ice below room temperature for over 12 hours. It kept our hot liquids above 140°F for eight hours, more than enough for the average work day. It’s dishwasher-friendly and won our durability test with the least damage even after repeated falls from five feet. It has a trigger-action, one-touch lid, it fits in a cup holder or a backpack with ease, and Stanley is so sure of its product, they offer a lifetime warranty. The only points this mug lost were for the lack of color and style options, despite the fact that I like the olive green and black options.
The Best Affordable Travel Mug: Contigo SnapSeal
Who could have guessed that the cheapest mug would perform so well? The Contigo SnapSeal comes in a wide variety of colors and styles, the lid is dishwasher-safe (body is hand-wash only), and it can be opened with one (albeit quite dextrous) hand. However, during the heat-retention test the SnapSeal failed to keep liquid above 140°F for eight hours; the liquid dipped below 140°F at just six. If you’re looking for a durable mug with fair temperature-retention, a wide variety of styles and colors at a rock-bottom price, this mug is for you.
The Best Hand’s-Free Open Mug: Zojirushi
Zojirushi is a Japanese brand that has long been known for its rice cookers. Their vacuum-insulated mug smashed the competition for heat retention: It’s temperature drop after the first 30 minutes was the lowest of all the mugs, and after 12 hours the liquid inside was still at 155°F. However, the plastic lid is brittle and broke after our drop test. That being said, the broken lid did not affect any temperature-retention tests done after that, and the mug still kept its liquids hot without leaking. The mug isn’t dishwasher-safe and can be tricky to clean if you don't have an extra-slim scrubby brush.
Hydro Flask Bottle 20oz: This mug did well in our tests, but was outperformed in the temperature-retention tests by other mugs at the same price. The lid is too tricky to open with one hand and the mug dented during our durability test.
RTIC 20oz Travel Mug: The RTIC mug performed better in the cold-retention test than the heat-retention test, which suggests that it is better suited to cold drinks. The handle did not interfere with its ability to fit in a cup holder, but it might be too slim for some to grip with a gloved hand, and it won’t fit in a backpack. The clear plastic lid performed dismally in the drop test, flying off immediately on impact and spilling all the liquid.
Camelback 20oz Travel Tumbler: While the Camelback Travel Tumblr performed fairly well in the heat-retention tests, opening and closing the drinking lid involves touching the area where you drink from, prompting an immediate ‘no’ in my book. It’s not dishwasher-safe, but it’s one of the cheaper options.
Yeti 24oz Mug: The Yeti mug does not seem to be designed with commuters in mind. The bulky size and awkward handle prevent it from sitting in a cupholder or fitting in a backpack. The clear lid is merely splash-proof and did not pass our leak test. It was one of the most expensive options, and its performance didn’t justify the price.
Greens Steel Stainless Steel Double Insulated Coffee Tumblr with Straw: The Greens Steel Coffee Tumbler failed most of the tests I put it through. When I tried the heat-retention test, steam rising from the liquid pushed the lid up and off the mug, breaking the seal and causing it to fail the leak test as well. The lid flew off and broke during our durability test and it performed at the bottom of the pack in the cold-retention test. This mug does come with two differently shaped steel straws and a special cleaning brush for them, which netted it a few points, but not enough to make up for all the cons.
Swell 24oz Mug: The Swell mug comes with a metal straw that fits into the lid, which is a huge pro for straw-lovers. However, with or without the straw, the lid did not pass the leak test and dripped water even when tightly sealed.
Thermos Vacuum Insulation Mug: This mug performed the worst of any we tested. It kept liquid hot for only 2 1/2 hours, cold for less than 12, it isn’t spill-proof or leak-proof at all, and it’s one of the most expensive. This mug is quite easy to drink from, however, and requires no action to take a sip.
Takeya 25oz Mug: The Takeya is tall, round, and baby pink. This design aesthetic might be appealing to some and garish to others. It has a one-touch open, doesn’t leak, and kept liquid hot for 10 hours. Handle with care, however, as it was easily scratched and dented during our durability test.