Finding the right travel mug—one that fits perfectly in both your hands and the cupholder—is key for those who spend lots of time on the road. Once you find the right one, chances are you'll never want to let it go.
Mug insulation technology has advanced a great deal in the last few decades, so whether you prefer your beverages hot or cold, this could be the right time to pick up something new. Check out these top-rated mugs on Amazon to find the perfect fit.
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$30 AT AMAZON
The Yeti Rambler comes in dozens of colors and features the company’s patented MagSlider lid that keeps your favorite drink secure. They’re all BPA free and dishwasher safe.
Emsa Vacuum Travel Mug
$40 AT AMAZON
This 12.2-ounce travel mug is made from stainless steel and features a rubber grip. It’s vacuum insulated and is suitable for all cupholders.
Contigo Stainless-Steel Travel Mug
$45 AT AMAZON
These stainless-steel mugs are spill-proof and will keep drinks hot for five hours or cold for 12. This two-pack is in steel and purple, but there are a variety of combinations. Note: The stainless-steel body is hand-wash only.
Iron Flask Classic Tumbler
$23 AT AMAZON
The Classic Tumbler holds 32 ounces of liquid that it will keep hot for four hours or cold for 16. It comes with two stainless-steel straws, two cleaning brushes, and is hand-wash only.
BrüMate Imperial Pint
$43 AT AMAZON
This imperial pint mug (U.S. pints are 16 ounces; U.K. pints are 20) is 7 inches tall, and the color is called "glitter mermaid." It will keep drinks hot for about four hours or cold for 12.
Albor Insulated Tumbler
$17 AT AMAZON
This triple-insulated tumbler holds 30 ounces and is made from stainless steel. It’s 100 percent leakproof and comes with two lids, two straws, and a brush.
Hydro Flask Coffee Mug
$31 AT AMAZON
The Hydro Flask comes in three sizes and many colors. It works for coffee, soup, cold drinks, and more. The strap makes it easy to carry, as does its spill-proof top.
12V Smart Heating Mug
SHOP AT AMAZON
This smart mug plugs into your 12-volt power outlet and can be set to any temperature between 20- and 95-degrees Celsius. It’s BPA free and stainless steel.
Travel Tumbler Coffee Mug
SHOP AT AMAZON
This double-walled stainless-steel mug is easy to grip and prevents heat transfer to the outer wall. The top screws on and has a button to pop the lid. It’s about 9 inches tall.
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The 13 best travel mugs and reusable cups of 2021
Now that travel restrictions are slowly being lifted around the world and offices are starting to reopen, it’s time to start thinking about on-the-go essentials. Whether you plan on taking a vacation as soon as you’re fully vaccinated or your job recently announced a return to the office, a travel mug is a useful accessory that can help you stay hydrated (or caffeinated) on the road. Investing in a reusable cup can also help you use fewer single-use coffee cups, which is generally better for the environment. Buying the right reusable cup could also mean the difference between having a hot drink for hours and settling for lukewarm coffee after just 30 minutes.
Best insulated travel mugs
There are endless travel mugs on the market, which can make it difficult to decide which one to buy. To help inform your decision, we consulted data and recommendations from Consumer Reports. To make its recommendations, the Consumer Reports team tested how well the mugs retained temperature, how easy they were to clean and how leakproof the lids were. It gave each mug a rating (out of 5 stars) for temperature retention, top leaning, gasket removal and gasket replacement. To give you some more options, we also included top-rated travel mugs from popular retailers like Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond.
The best travel mugs to shop
Zojirushi 16-Ounce Travel Mug
Consumer Reports noted that this travel mug is “in a league of its own.” During the tests, this stainless steel mug kept drinks hot for 13.5 hours — 6 hours longer than the next-best travel mug included in the testing. The mug features a screw-on cap that can be removed with the push of a button. Though it holds up to 16 ounces of liquid, it features a “slender” design that should fit into most cup holders. This travel mug is not dishwasher safe, but Consumer Reports said that the cap can be cleaned relatively easily.
Thermos Stainless King
Though Thermos’ Stainless King Tumbler only kept liquids hot for 7.5 hours — 6 hours less than Zojirushi — Consumer Reports still gave it a 5-star rating for temperature retention, noting that that’s realistically “probably all anyone would need.” The team added that the twistable leak-proof lid is easy to clean, though one of the three gaskets can’t be replaced, which means you’ll have to throw the mug away when it starts to weaken or smell. The rest of the tumbler is dishwasher safe.
TAKEYA Stainless Steel Travel Mug
The TAKEYA Stainless Steel Travel Mug has a flip-lock lid designed to make it easy to open and to prevent spills. In Consumer Reports’ test, the stylish 17-ounce mug kept drinks hot for 6 ½ hours, earning it a 5-star rating for temperature retention. This stainless steel is designed to be hand washed, but the Consumer Reports team noted that the lid is both easy to remove and easy to clean.
S’well Stainless Steel Commuter Bottle
S’well’s 16-Ounce Stainless Steel Commuter Bottle kept liquids hot for 6 hours during Consumer Reports’ testing, which earned it a top spot on the list of best insulated mugs. According to the brand, the bottle is designed with three layers of insulation that can also keep liquids cold for up to 24 hours. However, the leak-proof lid’s gasket cannot be replaced, so you have to replace the entire top if it breaks or starts to smell.
Contigo Snapseal Stainless Steel Travel Mug
If you really like to fuel up in the morning, you might want to consider the Contigo Stainless Steel Travel Mug, which has a 20-ounce capacity. At $14, it’s one of the most affordable models on this list, and it kept liquids hot for 5.5 hours during Consumer Reports’ testing. The team did note, however, that the travel mug was harder to open and that the cap was tougher to clean due to all the crevices.
Ello Campy Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug
With a cork-lined handle and sealing slider lid, the Ello Travel Mug more closely resembles a traditional mug. The 16-ounce stainless steel mug kept water hot for 5 hours during the Consumer Reports test. The team also said that the lid is easy to clean by hand, and according to the brand, you can even throw it in the dishwasher.
YETI Rambler 20-Ounce Tumblr
Though the YETI Rambler is arguably one of the more popular travel mugs, it only kept drinks hot for 4.5 hours during Consumer Reports’ tests largely thanks to its “simple plastic lid.” Still, the brand gave the tumbler 4 stars for temperature retention and added that the magnetic slider on the lid is a “cool mechanism.” The entire mug is dishwasher safe.
Bubba Classic Insulated Desk Mug
The Bubba insulated desk mug kept drinks hot for 4 hours during Consumer Reports’ testing — the shortest amount of time for any mug but still more than enough time for most people to finish their coffee or tea. The 52-ounce mug has a plastic interior with foam insulation and a built-in bottle opener on the handle in case you want to use it to open a beer and keep it cold. According to Consumer Reports, both the lid and the actual mug are easy to clean with a sponge.
Other top-rated travel mugs
JOCO Glass Reusable Coffee Cup
If you prefer the sleek look of glass, this 12-ounce reusable coffee cup includes a microwave-safe thermal silicone sleeve that comes in several colors including Deep Teal, Strawberry Pink and Vintage Green. The travel mug also has a matching lid with an anti-splash design, according to the brand. The JOCO Coffee Cup has a 4.7-star average rating from more than 1,000 Amazon reviews.
MiiR Insulated Coffee Cup
This highly rated stainless steel travel cup from MiiR has double wall vacuum insulation to avoid condensation and prevent the outside of the mug from overheating. The press fit lid is dishwasher safe and splashproof, according to the brand. It has a 4.7-star average rating from more than 500 Amazon shoppers.
Hydro Flask 12-Ounce Mug
This 12-ounce mug features HydroFlask’s signature TempShield insulation designed to keep beverages hot for up to 6 hours and cold for up to 24 hours, according to the brand. It comes with a splash-resistant press-in lid with Honeycomb Insulation for optimal temperature control. The stainless steel mug has a 4.4-star average rating from more than 200 reviews on Hydro Flask.
Ember Travel Mug
If you have a specific temperature you prefer to keep your liquids at, it might be worth investing in the Ember Travel Mug. Though it’s significantly pricier than the other options on this list at $180, it’s the only one that allows you to control and adjust the heat of your beverage both with a touch display built into the mug and a mobile app. According to the brand, the 12-ounce mug can maintain the specific temperature of your drink on the go for up to three hours (it works all day if you keep it on the charger coaster). The Ember Travel Mug has a 4.2-star average rating from nearly 150 Best Buy shoppers.
W&P Porter Travel Mug
Made of ceramic and wrapped in matte silicone for protection, these 12-ounce travel mugs come in fun pastels like Blush and Mint and are dishwasher safe to boot. The reusable cups have a 4.4-star average rating from more than 40 reviews on the W&P website.
How to shop for a travel mug
When shopping for a travel mug, there are a few important factors to keep in mind:
- Is the mug insulated? Insulated travel mugs can keep your drinks hot or cold for much longer periods of time. Most of the top-rated options on the market have stainless steel or glass interiors. Some options are also double-walled (or double-insulated), meaning there is an air pocket between the two layers of insulation to keep liquids hot and prevent the cup from overheating.
- Does the mug have a spill-proof lid? Arguably one of the most important features of a travel mug is a leak-proof lid. When you buy a reusable cup, look out for ones with vacuum-sealed lids and screw-on caps.
- How big is the mug? When shopping for a travel mug, it’s important to consider how much coffee the mug can hold. If you intend on using your mug in your car, you should also consider the shape and size of the reusable cup, and whether it will be able to fit inside a cup holder.
- Is the mug dishwasher safe? As Consumer Reports noted, some travel mugs are made with many small, intricate parts that can be difficult to clean around. If you know that you aren’t going to want to deal with hand-washing your cup, you may want to invest in one that is dishwasher safe. Also, many insulated travel mugs are made with several silicone gaskets, which can be difficult to clean — especially if they aren’t removable.
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The 7 Best Travel Coffee Mugs from Amazon Under $50
What makes a great travel mug? The easy answer is the ability to keep your coffee or tea hot or iced drinks cold until you're done drinking them. But beyond that simple criterion, things get a little more complicated.
Determining the "best" means first figuring out what you need your mug to do: Do you need to keep liquid hot or cold for as long as possible? Drink your coffee safely while driving? Throw your tea into a bag without worrying about leaks and spills? Just keep your coffee hot while you sit at your desk, so you don't have to constantly head to the microwave between Zoom meetings? We've taken all of these scenarios into account and compiled a list of the best options for all of your travel mug needs. Bonus: You can find all of these picks on Amazon for under $50.
Best Travel Coffee Mugs on Amazon Under $50
Best Overall Travel Mug: Zojirushi Stainless-Steel Mug
No matter what you're looking for in a travel mug—good insulation, ease of use, or the ability to throw it into a bag without worrying about leaks—you'll find it in a Zojirushi. These mugs consistently keep drinks hotter than competitors; with their best models, scalding water will still be enjoyably hot a full 24 hours after you pour it. They're also the easiest to use, with simple flip-up lids that lock in place with the slide of a finger (and stay completely shut, without dripping, even if they bounce around in a tote or backpack).
The standard 16-ounce stainless mug, which is small and sleek enough to tuck into a purse, comes in a wide variety of colors and designs. If you're looking for something a little more rugged, try the flip-and-go model, which also has a fold-up handle that can be attached to a carabiner (and, in some tests, kept liquids even hotter than the other models).
Best Travel Coffee Mug on Amazon under $20: Ello Stainless-Steel Travel Mug
This sleek mug is not just a steal at $14.99, it also outperforms some mugs that sell for twice the price. The vacuum-insulated stainless-steel construction does an excellent job keeping coffee and tea hot. Moreover, its leakproof lid with a slider on top is extremely easy to operate with one hand, but the cup won't spill if you knock it over. (We wouldn't, however, throw it in our bag—without a locking mechanism, the slider could potentially come open if it rubbed up against a wallet or the corner of a sunglasses case.)
Best Stainless-Steel Travel Mug: Stanley QuadVac NeverLeak Mug
If you're looking for a sturdy mug that you can throw around without worrying about leaks or dents, Stanley is your best bet. The construction is so durable that the company offers a lifetime guarantee, and the NeverLeak lid doesn't just cover the small opening you sip from; when you twist the lid closed, it actually lifts up a gasket to close off the entire top of the mug. (The lid also offers three different positions—closed, open and partially open.) Each bottle comes with removable "easy grip" fabric wrap, held together with very study snaps, that has a thick finger loop to make the mug easier to carry.
Best Insulated Travel Mug: CamelBak MultiBev Water Bottle and Travel Cup
If your goal is to keep a lot of liquid hot for an extended period of time (a cross-Pacific flight, for instance, or an afternoon of cross-country skiing), this large, sturdy thermos with packable lid is a good bet. The 17-ounce bottle, like many travel mugs, has a double wall and is vacuum insulated, but the body is then further insulated by a 12-ounce cup that screws onto the lower half of the bottle.
The result: the bottle keeps liquids 10 to 20 degrees hotter than many other travel mugs over a 10-hour period, even in cold temperatures. When you're ready to enjoy your coffee or tea, you can pour it into the attached cup (which makes sharing easy) or use the foldable lid that fits over the mouth of the bottle itself after you remove the leakproof cap.
Best Travel Coffee Mug: Yeti Rambler with Hot Shot Cap
While most travel mugs can carry any liquid you like (hot coffee or tea or something iced) most are meant for a very large amount of liquid, usually around 14 to 16 ounces. This is much more liquid than you would get if you ordered a standard pour-over coffee or latte. So if you're looking for a cup to take to keep your brew hot after you leave your favorite coffee shop (or just keep your coffee hot all morning at your desk), you'll need something smaller, designed to hold between 8 ounces (roughly the size of a small cappuccino) and 12 ounces (a Starbucks "tall").
Yeti makes a 12-ounce mug that fits this size range. It has a screw-on, no-leak lid that lets you drink from any side of the cup and it's perfect for commuting since it fits into your car's cup holder.
Best Travel Mug with Handle: Ello Campy Vacuum Insulated Stainless-Steel Water Bottle with Slider Lid
This pretty, speckled mug looks and feels like a vintage coffee cup; it's relatively light and the handle is lined with soft cork. On the 16-ounce version of the cup, the handle sits high enough that you can pop the mug into a car cup holder. Unlike most travel mugs with handles (which often have press-on lids or just an open hole for sipping), the Ello has a lid that screws in and an easy-to-operate slider you can open with just one hand. (The threads for the screw-on lid are designed so that you can position the opening for right- or left-handed drinking, though getting the position right might take a couple tries.)
Runner-Up: Hydro Flask 12-Ounce Coffee Mug
This hefty mug doesn't close completely—there is an open hole in one side of the lid to sip from—but it somehow manages to keep liquid quite hot anyway. When we tested it, a cup of very hot tea, left untouched, was still warm a full five hours later. The wide-bottomed cup also has rounded edges on the bottom and a "soft touch" finish with a slightly rubberized texture, making it particularly comfortable to cradle in two hands on chilly mornings.
Best Insulated Travel Mugs From Consumer Reports' Tests
An insulated travel mug lets you take your favorite drink, hot or cold, anywhere you go. And a good one feels like it was designed with your routine, and even you, in mind. It slips effortlessly into a cup holder and opens easily so that you can sip safely while keeping your eyes on the road. You arrive with a drink that’s still hot and appealing.
Unless you don’t. An insulated travel mug can also feel like a piece of over-engineered junk that leaks tepid coffee onto your lap and clutters your cupboards, collecting dust.
We run our tests to give you data-based comparisons. And with something like an insulated travel mug—which will live in your grip day after day—we realize that only you can decide what makes it great, whether that’s a leakproof design or one that fits in the slimmest of cup holders. Know that every mug here keeps drinks hot for at least a few hours; we sincerely hope that’s plenty long enough for your commute.
Read on for ratings and reviews of the 10 mugs we tested from Bubba, Contigo, Ello, Starbucks, S’well, Takeya, Thermos, Yeti, and Zojirushi. They’re listed below in order of their temperature retention score—how long they keep liquids hot.
You’ll also find details on how CR tests insulated travel mugs.
CR’s take: This slim mug is in a league of its own in terms of pure performance. It keeps drinks hot for an astonishing 13½ hours—6 hours longer than the closest competitor, earning a top rating of Excellent for temperature retention. The screw-on cap is easy to clean, with two removable gaskets. Our testers found the mug easy to open with one hand: Simply press a button on the side and the lid pops up so that you can drink out of the plastic spout. You can also lock the lid, a nice feature if you have young kids who are the type to tinker with a mug filled with scalding hot coffee. The slender design of the mug means it fits in cup holders in a variety of cars.
Specs: 16-ounce capacity, leakproof, cup holder-friendly, plastic interior, smooth lip, replaceable lid and gaskets, one-handed opening.
CR's take: Just behind the top-rated Zojirushi, above, this stellar mug from Thermos is a bit cheaper and, practically speaking, probably all anyone would need. (It keeps drinks hot for an impressive 7½ hours.) It also has an easy-to-clean lid, which earned a rating of Very Good. One of the three lid gaskets cannot be removed or replaced, so when it goes, so goes your mug. The tapered design means the mug will fit in the cup holder of most cars. Bonus: It has a handy tea hook on the underside of the lid, so you can suspend a tea bag in water without losing it inside.
Specs: 16-ounce capacity, leakproof, cup holder-friendly, stainless steel interior, replaceable lid and gaskets, one-handed opening.
CR’s take: This handsome mug offers styling similar to the Zojirushi, but it has an extra ounce of capacity and costs about a third less. Like the Zojirushi, you press a single button to pop the top and drink from this mug. It also excels at keeping drinks hot—for 6½ hours in our test—which helped it earn a rating of Excellent for temperature retention. The lid is easy to remove and clean, and there’s a silicone pad on the bottom of the mug, which protects your desk and keeps the mug from sliding.
Specs: 17-ounce capacity, leakproof, cup holder-friendly, stainless steel interior, smooth lip on cup, replaceable lid and gaskets, one-handed opening.
CR’s take: The S’well Commuter is a beautiful mug that feels great in your hand, thanks in part to a flared shape that gets wider at its base. But that also means it might not fully fit into even large cup holders. It’s a strong performer, earning a rating of Very Good for temperature retention—it kept water hot for 6 hours in our test. The top is easy to clean, but it’s impossible to replace the gasket in the lid, so you’ll need to buy a new lid if it starts to get rank (S’well sells them for $8 to $10). This mug is not as easy to open one-handed as some others here.
Specs: 16-ounce capacity, leakproof, not cup holder-friendly, stainless steel interior, replaceable lid, one-handed opening.
CR’s take: With one of the largest capacities of the group, the Bubba Hero is a tall and slender option with decent, if not quite heroic, performance. It earns a rating of Very Good for temperature retention. It kept water hot for 5½ hours in our test. The top isn’t as easy to clean as some other models’ lids—it has some intricate grooves where coffee or other liquids can linger if you’re not thorough. The one gasket in the lid is easy to remove for cleaning, but Bubba doesn’t sell replacement gaskets or lids, so if either breaks, you’ll need a new mug.
Specs: 20-ounce capacity, leakproof, cup holder-friendly, stainless steel interior, one-handed opening.
CR’s take: Starbucks’ Traveler is a handsome, slender mug that keeps drinks hot for an extended stretch, but it’s hardly worth the trouble, given how tough it is to clean. It earns a rating of Very Good for keeping water hot for 5½ hours in our test. But it earns a rating of only Fair for the ease of cleaning the lid—it’s loaded with nooks and crannies where coffee and other liquids can camp out, causing lingering odors. It has two gaskets, one of which is easy to remove or replace; the second can’t be taken off, so you’ll need to buy a new mug if it gets too gross. It’s slender enough to fit in most cup holders.
Specs: 16-ounce capacity, leakproof, cup holder-friendly, stainless steel interior, smooth lip on cup, one-handed opening.
CR’s take: The Contigo Byron mug is a strong performer wrapped with silicone across the middle, which makes it both easy and satisfying to grip. It’s also among the least expensive of the mugs we tested. It kept water hot for 5½ hours in our test, helping it earn a rating of Very Good for temperature retention. However, we found it exceptionally hard to open, requiring both hands to pop open the sipping mechanism. The top is tough to clean, too, because it has a lot of crevices. So it’s definitely the wrong choice if you’re the type to leave your mug in the cup holder of your car over the weekend before cleaning it out.
Specs: 20-ounce capacity, leakproof, cup holder-friendly, stainless steel interior.
CR’s take: This adorable mug is reminiscent of enamel splatterware you’d take on a camping trip, and it has plenty-good performance to go with its good looks. It kept water hot for 5 hours in our temperature retention test, earning a Very Good rating. It also has a top that’s exceptionally easy to clean, with few crevices. The mug has two gaskets, both of which are easy to remove and replace. The spring-loaded sipping mechanism is easy to slide open with a single hand, but this mug isn’t tapered and may be too wide to fit in many cup holders.
Specs: 16-ounce capacity, leakproof, requires large cup holder, stainless steel interior, smooth lip on cup, one-handed opening.
CR’s take: The Yeti Rambler may be the cool kid in the mug aisle, but it’s not so super at its main job—keeping drinks hot. It lasted “just” 4½ hours in our test—long enough to earn a rating of Very Good but a far cry from the best. The simple plastic lid certainly doesn’t improve the thermal seal. On the flip side, the magnetic slider is a cool mechanism (great for fidgeters!). And both lid and mug are a cinch to clean—no bottle brush required. You might not care, though, because it’s also dishwasher-safe. The one lid gasket is easy to remove and replace, but it won’t keep the cup from leaking. Call it splashproof. The silhouette is wider at the top and tapers toward the base; it fit in the cup holders of four cars we tried. The powder-coated finish provides a bit of grip.
Specs: 20-ounce capacity, cup holder-friendly, stainless steel interior, smooth lip on cup, replaceable lid and gaskets, one-handed opening.
CR's take: If you’re the type to drink a lot of coffee—and/or you go by the name Bubba—this statement piece might be your best bet. With its borderline-comical capacity of 52 ounces, it’s as big as a full carafe from some of the coffee makers in our ratings. But it’s the worst at keeping all that coffee hot, so you’ll want to drink the whole 52 ounces within 4 hours. Not that that’s something CR would recommend doing. As for the specifics from our labs, the Bubba earns a rating of Good for temperature retention. The lid is easy to clean, and it’s easy to remove the one gasket inside. Needless to say, this mug doesn’t fit in any car cup holder we’ve seen. It’s one of only two models we tested that can be hand-washed with a sponge instead of a bottle brush. And it has a built-in bottle opener, in case you need to crack a beer and relax after all that caffeine.
Specs: 52-ounce capacity, plastic interior.
We test how well insulated travel mugs keep drinks hot or cold, whether they resist spilling and leaking, and how easy they are to clean. We also grade mugs on convenience, including whether they fit in cup holders in a variety of cars and whether you can open the sipping mechanism with just one hand, which is crucial when you’re driving.
For the temperature retention test, we filled each mug with boiling water (212° F) and immediately screwed or pressed each lid back on. Then our testers opened each mug at set intervals to take the temperature of the water inside until it dropped to 140° F—better known as lukewarm.
We also tested each mug to see whether it could keep cold drinks cold as well as hot drinks hot. “We found that mugs that were well-insulated did a great job with keeping liquids either hot or cold,” Deitrick says.
For our leakproof test, we filled each with water and shook each mug from multiple angles, noting whether any liquid escaped.
To rate how easy mugs are to clean, we filled each mug with a mixture of hot coffee and creamer, and sloshed the contents to saturate the inside of the lid. We drained and opened the mugs, and then let them dry overnight. Then we cleaned each one as directed, assigning points to those that were easy to clean and subtracting from those that had hard-to-clean nooks or gaskets in their lids that retained soils even after a thorough scrubbing. All except the Yeti Rambler and Bubba Classic required using a bottle brush.
Each mug in our test had at least one silicone gasket, and some had as many as three. Over time, they can wear out, and many harbor foul odors. So we removed each gasket that could be removed—some can’t—to see how easy it would be to clean beneath it, and then replaced it. We also noted whether a manufacturer offered replacement gaskets or lids, which will, on occasion, spare you the need to replace an entire mug. After all, our aim is to help you find a product that lasts, and that keeps you happy.
As a classically trained chef and an enthusiastic DIYer, I've always valued having the best tool for a job—whether the task at hand is dicing onions for mirepoix or hanging drywall. When I'm not writing about home products, I can be found putting them to the test, often with help from my two young children, in the 1860s townhouse I'm restoring in my free time.
Amazon thermal mugs
The 11 Best Travel Mugs in 2021
Effective autolock and anti-spill lid
Can be locked and unlocked with one hand
Keeps drinks hot/cold for hours
A little wide for smaller hands
Plastic lid seems prone to breakage
Bottle isn’t dishwasher safe (the lid is, though)
Contigo West Loop Stainless Steel Travel Mug Review
If you’re looking for a solid, leak-proof travel mug that will keep your coffee hot for up to seven hours, look no further. The Contigo mug is our number one pick for many reasons. The first of which being the “Autoseal” lid. Unlike other travel mugs that have a sliding lid, which is prone to leaks, the Contigo lid has a push button that opens the vacuum seal when you’re ready to drink and closes again when you release the button. Our reviewer was able to carry it around in a bag all day without any leakage. Just keep in mind this means that the lid isn’t interchangeable with any of your other travel mugs.
In addition to hot drinks like coffee or tea, this vacuum-insulated stainless steel mug will keep drinks cold for up to 18 hours depending on whether you buy the 12- or 20-ounce version. You can also choose between seven different colors, so everyone in the family can keep their mug straight.
One of the few drawbacks is that the mug is fairly difficult to clean. "If you’re washing the Contigo by hand," our product tester wrote, "be prepared for a bit of an inconvenience as it comes with very specific washing instructions." The lid is dishwasher safe, but the bottle itself is hand-wash only.
Material: Stainless steel | Capacity: 10, 16, 20, or 24 ounces | Weight: 8.8 ounces | Dimensions: 3 x 9 inches (20-ounce model)
"With a leakproof design, superior insulation, and one-hand operation, it’s well worth the $20 it goes for." — Suzie Dundas, Product Tester
After reading through this guide, we are still confident in our picks.
After reading through this guide, we are still confident in our picks.
A new Zojirushi model has also been released, which we will be testing.
January 29, 2021
After close to 78 hours of research and testing over the past four years, we still believe that the Zojirushi SM-SC48 Stainless Steel Mug is the best travel mug for keeping your drinks hot, preventing leaks, and accompanying you on any commute. In our latest round of testing, the Zojirushi kept liquids significantly hotter than any other mug we tried, even after 8 hours in the harsh environment of a freezer—and that’s important if you want to enjoy your drink for longer.
The Zojirushi SM-SC Stainless Steel Mug is an exceptional vacuum insulated travel mug that keeps beverages hot for hours, even in cold environments. It has a well-designed exterior, an easy-to-clean nonstick Teflon interior, and a foolproof lid locking mechanism that you can operate with one hand. The mug is lightweight and slim, but that means it may not fit snugly in some cup holders. The Zojirushi is also on the pricey end for a mug, but after our years of long-term testing, this is the mug we trust most not to spill in a bag, and it’s hard to put a price on that. (Actually, that would be about the price of a new bag, laptop, phone, and whatever else happened to be in there at the time.) It’s available in both 12-ounce (SM-SC36) and 20-ounce (SM-SC60) versions as well as the 16-ounce size (SM-SC48) we tested. Zojirushi also offers the SM-SA and SM-SD mugs, which are exactly the same as the SM-SC but come in different colors.
The Contigo Autoseal Transit Mug is a very different mug from the Zojirushi SM-SC, but it offers several features we like. The lid has fewer parts, is easier to clean, and prevents spills with its Autoseal button, which you have to hold down to keep the sipping port open. Plus, the flat lid won’t bump your nose or get in your line of sight while you’re drinking like the Zojirushi’s flip-top lid can. Although the Transit doesn’t keep drinks nearly as hot as the Zojirushi over a long period of time, some people might prefer this (we’ve heard complaints of the Zojirushi keeping drinks too hot in the past). The Transit is a little wider than the SM-SC, good if you want your mug to fit more snugly in a car cup holder or use devices like an Aeropress, pour-over dripper, or tea steeper directly with the mug, but this means it’s heavier and bulkier, too.
Contigo’s SnapSeal Byron Travel Mug is a basic mug that passed our leak tests, is easy to drink from and clean, and is wide enough to fit snugly in car cup holders. We like that it’s simple to use (one pop-top button lets you sip from the mug) and is easy to clean. Like the Transit, it also has a rubberized grip, so it’s easier to hold onto. It will keep drinks warm for hours at room temperature, although not as piping hot as our top pick (it did just as well as the Transit in our heat tests). We’d be nervous to toss this mug into a bag since the tab on the lid doesn’t lock as securely as our other picks, but it’s a fine mug if you won’t throw it around as much.
And let’s not forget that these things need cleaning every once in awhile. That’s why we also have a bottle-brush recommendation for when you need to clean out the gunk.
Everything we recommend
Why you should trust us
Over the past four years, we’ve spent 60 hours researching travel mugs to keep this guide current. For this update, I (Anna Perling) spent 10 hours researching and comparing mugs from 12 different brands and four major retailers, and 18 hours testing 13 finalists against our top picks. I also took a trip to Target to see how the mugs felt in real life.
Who this is for
Travel mugs, as their name implies, are for people who want to take beverages on the go. In addition to being portable, travel mugs also retain hot or cold temperatures for several hours so you can enjoy your coffee, tea, or cocoa over time. Compared to paper or styrofoam to-go cups or open ceramic mugs, a good travel mug will offer better insulation and also safeguard against leaks or spills. If you commute, work or travel outside, or simply want to savor drinks for longer, a travel mug is for you.
If you commute, work or travel outside, or simply want to savor drinks for longer, a travel mug is for you.
You can also save money and reduce your environmental impact, by taking a drink in a travel mug versus buying one on the go. According to a 2012 report, the average American spends $1,092 a year on coffee. And according to a 2014 CNN report, over 50 billion paper cups are thrown away every year (many paper cups are lined with plastic, making them unrecyclable). A travel mug offers green solutions to both problems.
Tumblers, thermoses, and insulated bottles
So what about tumblers, thermoses, and insulated water bottles, all close cousins to the travel mug? Tumblers have sipping ports that don’t seal as tightly or securely as travel mugs and have wider mouths so you can add ice cubes; many also have straws for sipping cold beverages. You can check out our guide to tumblers if these kinds of cups are what you’re looking for. As for thermoses, most lack the slim size and lid design features that make travel mugs portable and convenient. With a thermos, instead of popping open a lid to take a sip, you’ll need to unscrew the cap and pour liquid into an open cup to drink. (Try doing that while driving. Actually, please don’t.) And insulated water bottles are geared towards keeping drinks cold, and don’t have sipping ports like travel mugs (instead, they often have screw-top lids that require two hands, or sport caps that aren’t great for hot drinks).
How we picked
For our 2017 update, we combed the internet to look for any new editorial pieces published since our last guide. Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) has a review from 2014 that we considered, as does Outside Online. We also looked at reviews from Your Best Digs and Good Housekeeping, and read through hundreds of comments on our existing mug, water bottle, and tumbler reviews. We compared the top 40 bestsellers from Amazon, Target, Walmart, Costco, and REI, and reviewed the mugs we dismissed in 2016 to see if any had been updated or discontinued. Then we ventured to Target to see how some of the mugs actually felt in our hands. Based on our expert interviews and research, we looked for mugs that met the following criteria:
Vacuum-insulated: All of the mugs we considered are double-walled and vacuum-insulated. Dr. Michael Dickey, professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, explained that vacuum insulated mugs provide the best heat retention: “Heat is transferred via conduction. Think about heat transferring from your hand to surface. But if there’s a gap in between, like a vacuum, heat doesn’t transfer as fast.” There are very few atoms at all to conduct heat in a vacuum, which is why it works particularly well as insulation.
Heat retention: A mug should retain a drink’s hot or cold temperature for as long as its specs advertise, and we looked for mugs with the longest heat and cold retention times. Both engineers we spoke to noted that the majority of heat loss occurs through the lid, and that mugs with wider lids are likelier to lose heat faster. Because of this, we gave preference to mugs without wide, open mouth drinking ports. But since some people prefer to drink from a wider sipping port, which feels more like a ceramic mug, we did include a few wide-mouth mugs in our tests.
Stainless steel: Most travel mugs are made from either glass, ceramic, plastic, or stainless steel. We prefer stainless steel because it’s more durable than glass or ceramic, and retains heat better than plastic. It’s also the best material for vacuum insulation (and therefore heat retention). When you look at various other guides that have been written on the subject, including an extensive heat-retention test performed by Tested, the mugs that rise to the top are always double-walled, vacuum-insulated, and stainless steel.
Occasionally, travel mugs come with a stainless steel exterior and a ceramic or glass interior. That’s likely because some people think that stainless steel affects the taste of beverages, but there’s no scientific evidence to prove this phenomenon. The problem with glass or ceramic interiors is that they can break easily. Plus, a growing number of mugs lined with stainless steel now come with electro-polished interiors, which makes the steel less likely to retain strange odors and flavors. Our pick has a non-stick, Teflon inner coating, so it’s a breeze to rinse out.
Leakproof and spillproof: When you put a mug into a bag or cup holder, its lid shouldn’t leak. The best mugs have two sealing mechanisms: the first covers the sipping port and the second locks the lid into place to prevent it from being jostled open. With some mugs, you have to hold down a button to open the sipping port for drinking, so it seals automatically when you let go. This auto-sealing mechanism prevents spills if you knock over your mug.
Easy to use: A travel mug should be easy to use. This may sound silly, but a few of the mugs we considered are harder to operate than others. If you’re going to be using your mug while driving or biking (not that we recommend doing so), you’ll definitely need at least one hand free, and probably both eyes. A good mug should be easy to both open and close, as well as to lock and unlock, with one hand. The lid shouldn’t completely block your vision while driving, or hit your nose when drinking, and it should be easy to disassemble for cleaning.
Handle-free: We decided not to test mugs with handles for several reasons. First, they’re unnecessary: With a vacuum-insulated mug, you don’t need to worry about burning your hand on the mug’s body. Handles add additional heft and weight to a bag or backpack, and may also prevent a mug from fitting into a cup holder.
Size: Some people prefer wider mugs that won’t rattle in cupholders, while others like slimmer mugs that take up less space in backpacks or bags. We prefer lighter mugs because they’re easier to carry, and we looked for mugs that would fit in cup holders while still being easy enough to hold in one hand. We also took into account how versatile mugs were for preparing beverages and whether they accommodated pour-over drippers, Aeropresses, our favorite tea steeper, or single-cup brewing devices like Keurig machines. We opted to test mugs with a 16-ounce capacity, which was the median size for most mugs we considered (one exception that we tested only came in an 18-ounce size).
Durability: A mug shouldn’t dent or break when dropped from a reasonable height or start leaking afterwards. Nor should its paint or coating wear away after cleaning per the manufacturer’s instructions. We eliminated mugs with poor reviews that complained of leaking, paint chipping, or dents.
How we tested
When designing tests for this update, I considered the everyday wear and tear that a travel mug might go through in a variety of real-world scenarios: on bike commutes, cars, trains, fishing boats, and beyond. I tested mugs for leaks, dropped them, measured how long they could keep drinks warm in a cold environment. I also hand washed them, took apart their lids, and tested them in cup holders and with a various brewing devices.
First, I did an overnight leak test. I filled each of the travel mugs with water and several drops of green food dye, laid them down on a bed of paper towels and tarp on my kitchen floor (sorry, roommate), and left them overnight. I disqualified any mug with a green stain on the paper towel underneath in the morning.
To see if mugs would leak when jostled in a bag, I did a shake test. I wrapped mugs, still full of water and green food dye, in a paper towel and then put them in a plastic bag. I put the plastic bag in a backpack, and then, channeling my high-school Jazzercise days, pumped some tunes and did 30 jumping jacks, ran around for 30 seconds, and then shook the bag by hand for 30 seconds (I would not recommend doing this after eating breakfast, should you conduct your own mug testing).
Then I filled all mugs to capacity with water, went to my apartment’s parking lot, and dropped each mug three times from a height of 4 feet. I eliminated any mugs that broke or leaked upon impact.
Next, I investigated how well each travel mug could maintain the heat of the liquid inside. According to both 2012 US Barista Champion Katie Carguilo and the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the ideal brewing temperature for coffee (and black tea) is about 200 °F, and the best temperature to drink is at roughly 145 °F to 155 °F. Using those temperatures as a benchmark, I put each mug’s insulation to test in a cold, harsh environment: my freezer.1 I filled each mug with water at 200 ºF, put them in the freezer, and checked the temperature of the water every hour for eight hours. With the top performers, I repeated this test at room temperature.
I also hand washed all mugs, reading their manuals to learn how to take apart and reassemble their sometimes-tricky lids.
To see how versatile mug sizes were, I tried putting the mugs in a bike cup holder and in the cup holders of a 2010 Hyundai Elantra. I tried putting a pour-over dripper and an Aeropress on each mug, and measured each opening to see whether our favorite tea steeper would fit. I also asked several Wirecutter staffers to measure the height of their Keurigs to get an idea whether mugs would fit under a single-serve coffee maker. Most reported 6-7.5 inches of clearance after removing a bottom platform.
Our pick: Zojirushi SM-SC
The Zojirushi SM-SC is the absolute best travel mug for keeping drinks hot for long periods of time. It features impressive thermal-retention abilities, and has a thoroughly leak-proof, locking lid. Compared to similar Zojirushi mugs, the SM-SC is a bit slimmer and lighter, and more comfortable to drink out of. This mug comes in 12-, 16-, and 20-ounce sizes (the SM-SC36, SM-SC48, and SM-SC60 respectively). After spending close to 78 hours on research and testing and considering more than 98 travel mugs over four years, we have no doubt that this is the best travel mug you can get.
The SM-SC has sturdy, leakproof seals and a simple locking mechanism that we trust to keep our belongings dry. Just close the lid, switch the lock into position, and you’re guaranteed that the top won’t pop open when you don’t want it to. Although other mugs, such as the Contigo Autoseal Transit and the Avex ReCharge, seal automatically to prevent spills, we found them more difficult to use one-handed since you’ll need to hold down a button to drink.
Zojirushi’s stainless steel mugs have continued to dominate the competition in our heat-retention tests. After 8 hours in the freezer, the water inside the SM-SC was 142°F—a decrease of 58 degrees. At room temperature, the mug performed even better, with water measuring 188°F after 1 hour, and 165°F after 8 hours. That means you’re getting drinkable, hot, 140-degree-plus coffee eight hours after brewing, even when it’s stored in a freezing-cold environment. (If you’re opening the mug more frequently than once an hour, however, it might cool a bit faster.)
After spending close to 78 hours on research and testing and considering more than 98 travel mugs over four years, we have no doubt that this is the best travel mug you can get.
The other Zojirushi mugs we tested, the SM-KHE (the older version of this mug) and the SM-LA (a wide-mouthed option with a screw-off lid) kept liquids just as warm as the SM-SC over the course of 8 hours in the freezer. These mugs are also well constructed, but we prefer the SM-SC over the rest of the Zojirushi mugs for its lighter weight and simpler lid, which has fewer pieces to clean. The flip-top lid on the SM-SC is also more compact than the the one on the SM-KHE, so it obscures your view a bit less. But if you prefer a different Zojirushi, we think they’re all fine choices; we also break down what’s different about all of Zojirushi’s mugs in our competition section.
Zojirushi recommends rinsing its mugs immediately after use and hand-washing them. It’s easy enough to clean the SM-SC using some soap and occasionally a bottle brush when necessary. You can completely disassemble the plastic lid to clean out any smells or gunk that might get lodged in hard-to-reach places, although the small plastic parts can be difficult to get on and off the lid. The nonstick interior also helps to prevent odors and stains, but the mug’s instructions warn against using milk or fruit juices in the mug. The nonstick coating is made from fluoropolymers of the sort used in Teflon—which are not harmful to people, even if ingested.2 If you prefer drinking from a vessel that doesn’t have a nonstick coating, you might prefer the SM-KHE, which has an electro-polished stainless steel interior.
The SM-SC is durable. It did develop a few scuffs after our drop tests, but not any more than the other mugs we tried (some of which dented, chipped, and scuffed far worse). Zojirushi backs the vacuum insulation of its stainless steel mugs with a five-year limited warranty, and on the off-chance that the lid breaks or wears out, Zojirushi sells all the individual replacement parts online.
The SM-SC also has an attractive design that’s minimalist yet eye-catching in its simplicity. It comes in slate gray, turquoise, and coral. The identical SM-SD comes in matte gold, red, stainless steel, and blue. Although the also-identical SM-SA has been discontinued, you can still find some online; the SM-SA came in black, cinnamon gold, red, and pearl pink.
What about cold drinks?
Although we didn’t place much emphasis on keeping cold liquids cold for this guide—check out our water bottle guide for what’s best in that regard—we have historically found that the Zojirushi SM-SC retains cold better than all of the other mugs in our testing lineup.
Over a period of eight hours in our previous tests, this mug allowed our icy-cold 33 °F water to warm up by only 4 degrees, while the other mugs in our test group allowed the temperature to rise considerably more over that time. So if you’re looking for a dual-use container that can preserve both hot and cold well, the SM-SC can hold its own—especially since it’s available in a larger, 20-ounce capacity. Just be aware that its narrow opening is less than ideal when you’re trying to quench your thirst after cresting a tall hill.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Our only major complaint about the Zojirushi SM-SC is that sometimes it’s too good at insulating. We’ve found that if we make a fresh pot of coffee and pour it directly into the travel mug, the liquid ends up staying scalding hot for hours, and we’ve heard feedback about this from readers as well. To prevent this from happening, you can let your beverage cool a little before closing the lid.
We also reached out to some coffee experts to learn whether it’s a good idea to actually keep coffee in a mug for 8 hours. Coffee roaster and licensed coffee grader Michael Ryan told us: “Coffee that is kept hot is still subject to a breakdown in flavor. When kept in a sealed, insulated carafe where evaporation and heat loss are minimal, coffee still tastes terrible after a while.” He explained that this happens because coffee’s acids break down over time and cause bitterness. So, know that your coffee might not taste as great after a long period of time even if it is still warm.
Our only major complaint about the Zojirushi SM-SC is that sometimes it’s too good at insulating.
Another small complaint is that this mug is a bit skinnier than your typical travel mug, which means it may not fit snugly in a car cup holder or bike water-bottle cage. The SM-SC’s narrow width also means you can’t use an Aeropress, pour-over dripper, or tea steeper with it, and it’s too tall to fit under a single-cup brewer like a Keurig. If you prefer a travel mug with a larger circumference, check out our also great and budget picks.
While the SM-SC is leakproof, it isn’t spill-proof like our runner-up; there’s no automatic seal to prevent water from gushing out if you knock the mug over while the lid’s open.
Finally, at around $25 for the 16-ounce size, the SM-SC is on the higher end of the price range for a travel mug. But we think it’s worth the extra dollars over the competition because of its superior construction and performance.
Long-term test notes
The Zojirushi travel mug might be the single product that the most Wirecutter staffers own and use on a daily basis—it’s been a pick through many iterations of this guide, and has proved itself repeatedly. It’s been praised for still working well after years of use, as well as surviving drops onto cement (once from a third floor balcony) without more than a dent. Multiple Wirecutter folks have also reported successfully using the Zojirushi to bring chilled wine or other alcoholic beverages to events in parks and other public places—though we couldn’t possibly condone such behavior.
Although cleaning in the dishwasher is not advisable, and Zojirushi specifies hand-washing (see the Care and maintenance section below), this mug has survived several accidental trips through the dishwasher without any noticeable decrease in performance (though the external paint has occasionally flaked as a result). It has also traveled in many crowded bags, backpacks, and purses without any leaks.
Also great: Contigo Autoseal Transit Mug
If you want a mug that will fit more snugly in a cup holder and is easier to clean, get the Contigo Autoseal Transit Mug. The Transit will keep drinks warm for hours, but not as hot as the Zojirushi. To prevent spills, the Transit has a push-button (the Autoseal) which you have to hold down to drink, plus a cap that rotates to cover the sipping port. While it passed our leak test, it doesn’t have an actual lock to secure the lid cover like the Zojirushi does. The Transit may fit more securely in car cup holders since it’s wider than the SM-SA. It can also accommodate Aeropresses, single pour-over drippers, and the medium size of our favorite tea steeper, although it’s too tall to fit under most single-cup brewing machines. We think the Autoseal is easier to use than our previous runner-up, the Contigo West Loop, and like that it has an added barrier over the sipping port to keep out dirt and help prevent leaking.
The Transit won’t keep your beverages hot for as long as our top pick, but that might be a plus for some people who think the Zojirushi keeps drinks too hot. In our room temperature tests, the Transit’s contents measured 171 °F after 1 hour, and 114 °F after 8. That’s 51 degrees colder than the water in the Zojirushi after 8 hours. But while 115 °F isn’t piping hot, it’s still drinkable. In the freezer tests, however, the Transit cooled faster. After an hour, the contents of the Transit dropped to 158 °F. That’s 26 degrees lower than the temperature of our main pick. In its eighth hour of freezer testing, the water inside the Transit measured a lukewarm 80 °F. But if you drink your beverages quickly or don’t want to wait for them to cool down before sealing your mug, the Transit may be a better option for you.
With the Transit, you’ll need to hold down a button to keep the sipping port open and drink from the mugs. Other mugs like the Contigo West Loop (our former runner-up), Avex ReCharge, OXO Good Grips, and Camelbak Forge had a similar button, but I found the Transit’s horizontal push-button easier to press and hold than other buttons, which required more pressure. The push-button interface is slightly harder to operate than just flicking the switch on the Zojirushi, and may be frustrating to some who don’t want to have to push before taking every sip. But it does mean you can’t accidentally spill anything, since the mug closes automatically.
The Transit also has a twisting lid that covers the sipping port, while the similar West Loop only uses a pop tab to open the sipping port. The Transit’s twist top is a little more difficult to open one-handed but protects the sipping port from gunk or germs and also offers a first line of defense against any leaks. In both our shake test and overnight leak test, the Transit didn’t leak a drop.
The Transit held up fairly well during our drop tests, but scuffed on its plastic lid and rubberized bottom. Contigo does offer a limited lifetime warranty, and sells replacement lids, should something happen to your mug. Some other reviewers mention that the lid has hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, but it has fewer pieces than the Zojirushi, and is overall easier to take apart. You can soak the lid in soapy water as well to thoroughly clean it.
If you care about colors, the Transit comes in a few fun combinations: white with either mint green or periwinkle accents, matte black, or a brushed stainless steel. It only comes in a 16-ounce size.
For tea on the go
The Best Tea Steeper
After more than 30 hours researching dozens of tea steepers, and drinking tea made in 15 infusers, teapots, and travel mugs over the past two years, we found that the Finum Brewing Basket is the best option.
Budget pick: Contigo SnapSeal Byron Mug
Although the Contigo SnapSeal Byron Mug isn’t as hardy or leakproof as our top pick, it’s a wide, easy-to-hold mug that will work fine if you use it more gently. The Byron only has one sealing mechanism—a tab that you push to open the sipping port—which is easy to use, but doesn’t lock closed like the lids on our other picks. The Byron also didn’t keep drinks nearly as hot as the Zojirushi SM-SC. But if you won’t be throwing your mug in a messenger bag or slowly sipping your drink all day, we like the Byron as a budget option.
In our tests, the Byron performed on par with the rest of the Contigo mugs we tested. In the freezer, 200-degree water cooled to 153 °F after 1 hour, and 78 °F after 8. At room temperature, water in the Byron was 172 °F after 1 hour and 115 °F after 8. That’s about the same heat retention as the Contigo Transit, our also great pick.
The Byron’s SnapSeal lid is easy to use: you simply press down on a tab at the top of the lid to open the sipping port. Although the Byron passed both of our leak tests and is supposed to be leakproof, we would be concerned about putting the mug in a bag with our valuables, because the tab doesn’t lock closed, and a stray bump could nudge the SnapSeal lid open. Our top picks, on the other hand, have two lines of defense against water coming out and anything else getting in: the Zojirushi has a lid that closes over the sipping port and locks, and the Transit has a cover that slides over the sipping port and an automatic seal to prevent spills.
If you won’t be throwing your mug in a messenger bag or slowly sipping your drink all day, we like the Byron as a budget option.
The Byron’s lid is one of the easiest to clean from the mugs we tested, because it’s only one piece. I found that the lid itself, however, is more difficult to screw on and off than the lid on the Transit, but this is a minor issue. The Byron did dent more than the Transit in our drop tests, but again, the asphalt dented or scuffed all of the mugs. We also saw some Amazon reviewers noting that the mug dented, and the grippy rubber middle was slightly off-kilter, but the Byron still has high ratings overall. Contigo offers a limited lifetime warranty (which doesn’t cover drops) and sells replacement lids if yours wears out.
Like the Transit, the Byron is wider than the Zojirushi SM-SC, and has a rubbery middle for easy gripping. The Byron is compatible with pour-over drippers, the medium size of our tea steeper pick and Aeropresses. At 7.2 inches tall, it will likely fit under a single-serve coffee maker, but you should measure to make sure this mug will work with your machine. In the 16-ounce version, the Byron comes in a silver and pink color. It also comes in a 20-ounce size in jade, blue, and pink, and in a 24-ounce size in blue and matte black.
Care and maintenance
You should check a mug’s manual to see if it is dishwasher-safe. According to a Zojirushi representative, dishwashers can damage a mug’s vacuum seal, which can potentially degrade the mug’s ability to retain heat over time. Dishwashers can also scratch or wear away a mug’s finish.
When you’re hand-washing your mug, most of the time dish soap and water will do the trick. Regardless of the mug design, you may need a few sizes of bottle brushes to clean in and around the lid mechanism, the spout, and deep into the vacuum bottle itself.
If your mug comes with silicone seals, like the ones on our Zojirushi pick, you’ll likely notice that over time they’ll take on the smells of what you drink from your mug. To remove the stink from your seals, you can bury them in fresh baking soda for two days. Zojirushi also recommends checking the rings once a year to make sure they’re still sealing your mug.
We found that the best bottle-cleaning set out there is the OXO Good Grips Water Bottle Cleaning Set. It comes with a large bottle brush, a skinny straw brush, and a looped detail-cleaning brush, all kept together by a handy ring so you won’t lose any of the parts. The set is dishwasher safe, and it barely has any one-star reviews on Amazon, so it’s a pretty good bet for anyone looking to get gunk out of their hard-to-clean items.
What to look forward to
Zojirushi has released a new mug, the Zojirushi SM-TA. Compared with our Zojirushi pick, the SM-TA has similar temperature retention and the same great locking lid but costs more and has a few different design features, such as a smaller lid with a rounder opening. We’ll be testing this new model and will report back on how it compares to our picks.
Zojirushi released an updated version of its classic travel mug, the Zojirushi SM-TA, that comes in 12-, 16-, and 20-ounce sizes and multiple colors. This mug offers the same heat retention and a locking lid similar to that of the SM-SC but has a smaller lid and drinking hole and a double-nonstick coating. We’ll consider the SM-TA for a future update, but it seems to differ from the SM-SC only in exterior design.
Again, we should mention that the Zojirushi SM-SC is identical to the SM-SD and the SM-SA; the others just come in different colors. Zojirushi has discontinued the SM-SA, but you can still find some online. The Amazon page for the mug lists the SM-SC, SM-SD, and SM-SA versions side by side.
If you can’t find the Zojirushi SM-SC, or if you prefer to drink from a mug that has an electro-polished stainless steel interior instead of a nonstick coating, get the Zojirushi SM-KHE. The KHE was our original pick for this guide. It costs about the same as the SM-SC and will keep your drinks just as hot. However, it weighs a little more than our main pick, has a bulkier lid that’s not as pleasant to drink from, and comes only in a 12- or 16-ounce size, whereas the SM-SC also comes in a 20-ounce size.
We also considered several other Zojirushi models for our 2018 testing, after going through every offering on the company’s site at the time of writing to compare them (a few new screw-top models are now available, which we will also look at in our next update). Here’s a breakdown:
- Zojirushi SM-YAE Travel Mug: This 16-ounce mug costs a little more than our main pick and runner-up. It comes with an electro-polished interior, like the Zojirushi SM-KHE, with a shape that’s stouter than other Zojirushi mugs and short enough to fit under the spout of a single-cup brewing machine. Its insulating performance is worse than that of our pick, however: After 8 hours, the water temperature had dropped to 100 °F, ending up 42 degrees cooler than our main pick.
- Zojirushi SM-SHE: We were reluctant to test this mug due to persistent stock issues and the fact that it comes in only 16- and 20-ounce sizes and two colors (orange and black). Zojirushi sent us one to try out anyway, but it broke during our drop test. After having many Zojirushi mugs survive multiple years of drops, we think this was an anomaly, but decided to dismiss the SM-SHE for all the aforementioned reasons.
- Zojirushi SM-KC: This mug has the same body as the KHE, but comes with a nonstick interior instead of a stainless steel one. Since we previously dismissed the KHE, we opted not to test the KC.
- Zojirushi SM-PB: This mug only comes in 10- and 11- ounce versions.
- Zojirushi SM-JHE: We opted not to test this mug with a wide-mouth, screw-off lid in favor of the SM-LA, which comes in more size options.
- Zojirushi Stainless Mug with Tea Leaf Filter SM-JTE: The SM-JTE comes with a tea filter, but only in 11- and 16-ounce versions.
The Tiger MMJ-A048 mug looks and feels similar to the Zojirushi mugs, and we wanted to see how they compared in our tests. The MMJ has a similar pop-top lid and locking mechanism to our pick, but it’s more difficult to take apart to clean. The Tiger mug also didn’t do as well in our temperature tests, and its contents were 10 degrees cooler than those of our top pick after 8 hours. At the time of writing, the Tiger was also about $5 more expensive than our pick.
The Contigo Autoseal West Loop Travel Mug was our previous runner-up, and it has a tab similar to the Contigo Byron that you press to open the sipping port. Like the Contigo Transit, it also has a button you need to push before drinking. The West Loop didn’t hold up as well in our drop tests as the Transit, and we found its vertical push-button harder to use than the one on the Transit.
After reading Your Best Digs’s review on travel mugs, which named the now-discontinued Camelbak Forge as their winner, we retested this mug. We found it awkward to use and drink from; it uses a push-button mechanism that’s stiff, and has a very small sipping port. You can pop the lever to widen the sipping port, but this is also challenging to figure out. The Forge isn’t an easy mug to use, especially before coffee.
We retested the Thermos Commuter Bottle based on good user reviews, but still found its secondary locking mechanism, a metal loop fitting over the front of the lid, to be finicky to use. The Commuter Bottle leaked during our shake tests, and the latching device that secures the lid broke during our drop tests.
We wanted to test the Thermos Stainless King mug based on its positive reviews, but the Stainless King leaked in our overnight tests, our bag tests, and upon impact during our drop tests.
Based on a reader comment, we called in the now-discontinued Avex ReCharge AutoSeal Tumbler but found it difficult to use due to a tiny metal bar that locks and unlocks the mug for drinking. This mug also fared the worst in our temperature tests, coming in at 44 °F after 8 hours.
We considered testing the Joeveo Temperfect mug, which purportedly uses a special insulating material to capture excess heat energy and then release it over time, keeping your beverage at an optimal drinking temperature. But it’s expensive: $40 at the time of writing, with a newer version that costs $280 (wow).
We opted to test the Byron over other budget mugs from Ozark Trail and Mossy Oak because these mugs were explicitly not leak proof, or had more complaints of leaking.
The Klean Kanteen Insulated Wide was our top insulated water bottle pick for most of 2016 and early 2017, and was a runner-up in this guide. Originally this bottle had a café-style lid that tended to leak, disqualifying it as a travel thermos. Klean Kanteen updated the lid in 2016, but in testing for our guide to water bottles, we found that the lid occasionally leaks if left overnight and can also limit the flow of your drink.
We tested the Timolino Icon Vacuum Travel Tumbler (PCT-46KM) in 2015. It’s a 16-ounce tumbler-style travel mug with a flip-up lid and an electro-polished interior. We liked the look and feel of the Icon, but every time we flipped the lid open to drink from it, a small amount of liquid splashed out of the opening and off the spout’s rubber stopper. Plus, it failed to keep beverages as hot as any of our picks in previous tests.
We love the look of the 16-ounce Stanley Classic One-Hand Vacuum Mug, which we tested in 2015. It resembles an old-school vacuum bottle but has a modern button-activated lid that makes it easy to drink from one-handed. But it was unable to keep beverages as hot as our main pick did, and we saw multiple complaints about the button failing.
We previously tested the Thermos Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug (with tea hook). While we liked the look of it, the heat retention was just so-so and we found the tea hook to be unnecessary. This Thermos mug also has a push-button interface: You press the button on top when you want to drink and press again to seal it when you’re done. But it can be confusing to determine whether the button is in the up or down position just by looking at it, so you may find yourself pressing it multiple times to figure out whether it’s open or closed.
Bodum makes a combination French press and travel mug that sounds appealing: You can literally brew your coffee inside the mug as you take it with you. In reality, though, the process is not much different from brewing the coffee first and pouring it into the mug—in fact, it might be worse, because the Bodum will keep your coffee grounds in contact with the hot water for much longer, making the drink more bitter and acidic.
We got some requests to look at the Hydro Flask, so we did. This model is not as good as the other mugs we saw, let alone our top pick. It maintains heat at a drinkable level for only a handful of hours (four or less), and the drinking lid can’t lock, so it’s at risk of flipping open, potentially spilling everywhere—a fact that the company’s own website points out.
Dr. Hongbin Bill Ma, director,, Center of Thermal Management at the University of Missouri, phone interview, September 22, 2017
Dr. Michael Dickey,, professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, phone interview, September 26, 2017
Rachel Sandstrom Morrison, digital editor of Fresh Cup Magazine, email interview, September 28, 2017
Michael Ryan, Director of Coffee and Licensed Q Grader, Dapper & Wise Roasters, email interview, September 28, 2017
Amy Barnum, Zojirushi, phone interview, September 25, 2017
About your guides
Anna Perling is a staff writer covering kitchen gear at Wirecutter. During her time here, she has reported on various topics including sports bras, board games, and light bulbs. Previously she wrote food and lifestyle pieces for Saveur and Kinfolk magazines. Anna is a mentor at Girls Write Now and a member of the Online News Association.
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