You’ve probably seen the Stanley cup on your FYP (and I don’t mean the hockey one) or heard the loud bang of a S’well or Hydro Flask in your high school chemistry class. These are the “it” water bottles, the vessels that hold H2O yet symbolize so much more than just hydration. They show everyone aroundyou that you are trendy, up with the times, and drink water with style. Every few years, we get a new brand that through social media becomes the water bottle of the moment. 

Before the age of social media, there did indeed exist reusable water bottles, like Nalgene, Camelbak, and Contigo. Back in the day (like before 2010), these bottles were the thing for hikers and the ancestors of the "granola girl." Around 2015, we witnessed a cultural shift in reusable water bottles as clear plastic bottles were being pushed aside for metal-insulated ones. We can thank social media for deciding which cup showed you who the cool kids were.

Tracing the lineage of these water bottles can be a challenge. There is a bit of overlap, and no breeds have gone extinct just yet. The early models are still out there strutting their stuff — maybe not on our FYP, but at least on our shelves. The years that mark the eras of the popular brands are blurry, but below is our estimation. It's hard to imagine what the future holds, but I am sure we will find another “it” water bottle soon enough that you can add to your collection.

Nalgene: 1970s-2015

Photo by Nalgene

One could consider Nalgene the matriarch of reusable water bottles. Nalgene grew from an era of mass plastic production and consumption. Conservationists discouraged the disposal of cans, glass, and single-use plastic bottles by burning and burying them in dirt.

To provide people with an alternative, especially hikers and nature lovers, Nalgene developed a wide-mouth bottle made of high-density polyethylene and polycarbonate, two types of plastic that would not melt down unless you were hiking inside a volcano. In the early 2000s, they transitioned to BPA-free bottles to protect consumers from a variety of health risks related to previous product material.

The Nalgene bottle screams crunchy core, possibly due to its hiker roots. It's also most certainly made it to every national park countless times over. This brand is still pretty popular, and while it's not the “it" water bottle at the moment, it’s definitely a timeless accessory. While I have personally never sought out a bottle straight from the Nalgene website, I have several since they are pretty popular when it comes to school, sports, and university merch.

The Nipple Top: 1990s-2010s

Photo by Discount Mugs

If you remember these, it's because you are scarred from the insanely hard plastic top pinching your lip when closing it with your mouth. The nipple-top water bottle, otherwise described as a push cap bottle, offered little to no convenience (it always leaked), but it was an identity. This was the water bottle that said your school's name, sports team, or was the party gift at your friend's bat mitzvah.

It was the gym class bottle you drank from while wearing an unwashed pinnie and traveling to your first soccer game (you probably forgot it on the field). The nipple-top bottle came in literally any color under the sun and if you had more than one, you could usually mismatch the tops and the bottles. If your mom ever put it in the dishwasher, it came out looking all distorted.

Contigo: 1999-2015

Photo by Contigo

Like the Nalgene, there is something very "granola girl" about Contigo, but it's a little more soccer practice than national parks. If you can remember anything predating the Hydro Flask, it was probably a Contigo. While this is not the “it” bottle with the TikTok crowd today, it's probably a grammar school favorite. This brand has some pretty kid-friendly designs and sizes, making it a popular choice among younger kids.

Camelbak: 2006-2015 

Photo by Camelbak

Much like the Nalgene and Contigo, Camelbak still symbolizes the "granola girl" era. It even looks like the fraternal twin of the Contigo. One can almost think of these three brands as the training wheels or sippy cups for what comes next. One day, we traded these models in for what our FYP suggested, and we probably never looked back. Only forward to the next “it” water bottle.

S'well: 2015-2019

Photo by S'well

Scholars could probably pinpoint the swell of S’well as the start of a renaissance. These colorful insulated bottles began to take hold in late 2015 and early 2016. Coming to school with a S’well meant something. It meant you were cool and fashionable, especially if you had a patterned one. Until you knocked it off your desk and dented it. Then you were just annoying. For three years, the S’well dominated the water bottle charts until the summer of the VSCO girl.

Hydro Flask: 2019-2022

Photo by Hydro Flask

The Hydro Flask, or the VSCO girl water bottle, was born in 2009, but didn’t go mainstream until late 2019 and early 2020. Made of metal like S’well, this heavier bottle can be purchased with a straw or traditional twist-off lid. Something about it just screams, "Decorate me!" Taking some inspo from the OG Nalgene, some hydrated folks would cover the bottles in a sleeve of stickers, while others would add a colorful friendship bracelet in the making.

According to Google Trends, this item hit its peak interest in September 2019 and is still loved by many, but other bottles have made their way to center stage.

Yeti: 2020-2021

Photo by Yeti

Many scholars may look to jump to the Stanley Cup as the successor of the Hydro Flask, but they forget the era of the Yeti. Somewhere in between the pandemic and distance learning, the Hydro Flask became the Yeti. At least for some. This highly contested “it” water bottle was a vessel of to-go beverage in distanced hangouts on the beach and in parks.

But since so much of the world was doing things remotely, it could not garner the same level of social status as its predecessors. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t find it around. You’re just much more likely to see it in cooler or koozie form.

Stanley Cup: 2022-present

Photo by Stanley Cup

In an era of increased influencer marketing and the Clean Girl aesthetic, the Stanley Cup rose to power. This insulated bottle sets itself apart from its predecessors with its mug-like style and a large side handle. Like the S’well, the Stanley Cup can actually fit within your car cup holders with its tapered bottom. These also typically come in solid colors like white, black, red, and blue and lack the funky patterns typical of the S’well. It also somehow manages to be even more obnoxious in its size. What do you think is next?