Whether your poison of choice is coffee or tea, green juice or kombucha, most of us rely on some kind of rejuvenating beverage to get us through the day. And those days are often punctuated by meetings and errands, not to mention stressful commutes, which means those life-giving elixirs need to accompany us wherever we go. One major bonus of a travel mug is if it can fit your hot tea or coffee neatly in a car cup holder.
That’s where travel mugs come in. Portable and generally easy to clean, they’re the perfect vessel to retain heat and insulation for your daily brew. And unlike our favorite water bottles, these mugs are built to insulate your drinks to keep them piping hot (although they can keep drinks cool for a limited amount of time, too).
After testing a variety of mugs to make sure they have good heat retention and to ensure that they were spill-proof, our top pick is the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug(available at Amazon for $27.99). It's leak proof, comfortable to hold, and it retains a consistent temperature.
In addition to the all-purpose travel mugs, you’ll find in this guide, we also tested a few specialty options. For hardcore campers, there’s the remarkably lightweight GSI Outdoors Infinity(available on Amazon) features a built-in French press. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry. This list has something for everyone.
These are the best travel mugs we tested ranked, in order:
Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug
Contigo Handled Autoseal
Thermos Stainless King Travel Mug
Thermos Guardian Collection Travel Tumbler
Contigo Autoseal West Loop
Mighty Mug Go
Copco Acadia Travel Mug
Yeti 14oz Rambler
We also reviewed these specialty mugs:
GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug
MoKo Collapsible Travel Mug
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When it comes to retaining temperature (which is the most essential function of a travel mug), the Zojirushi is an absolute beast. During our official tests, it actually rose in temperature by 6 degrees in the course of half an hour. And at one point, my husband filled it with coffee, he actually forgot about it until the next morning, took a sip, and it was just as steamy/fresh as if it had just been poured. It performed just as admirably with cold beverages, warming a mere fraction of a degree within 30 minutes. Besides retaining temperature, it can hold up to 16 ounces. The trim build also allows it to seamlessly slip into cup holders and bags.
The only drawback is that it can’t go in the dishwasher. Although it’s not dishwasher safe, the top can be disassembled, which makes cleanup a breeze. And it’s especially attractive thanks to a slim, streamlined shape and slick, steel finish, in colors such as champagne gold, lavender-pink, emerald, cherry, and smoky blue.
I’m Sarah Zorn, and I’ve been a food writer and editor for almost 10 years. Like most busy professionals, I almost exclusively function on coffee and often mainline it when scuttling back and forth on the subway, between meetings and appointments, or most consequently, hunched over my computer. As such, having a mug that keeps my coffee hot (or cold) while tapping at keys for extended periods of time is of utmost importance to me, as is the assurance my drink won’t spill over and fry my motherboard.
We alternately filled each mug with hot and cold beverages, measuring the temperature to start, and then checking it again every 30 minutes or so for the course of two hours. We also took each mug for a test run throughout an entire day, analyzing how comfortable they were to hold, how easy they were to drink out of, how snugly they fit into a backpack or car holder, how portable they were, how likely they were to spill when jostled or turned upside down, and how easy they were to clean—either in the dishwasher when possible, or using a bottle brush.
Why Buy a Travel Mug?
Besides the fact that a reusable cup is so much better for the environment, can you imagine how much money you’d save, carrying your own coffee instead of buying it at a café day after day? Unlike a regular coffee mug, a travel mug is also meant for, well, travel, whether you’re driving cross country, camping in the woods, or merely cramming yourself in a rickety train each morning, on the way to work. Many will work whether you prefer hot or iced coffee.
What Should You Look for in a Travel Mug?
Travel mugs should be comfortable to hold, effectively retain temperature, able to be safely stashed in a beverage holder or bag, and keep hot (or cold) liquids securely contained, so they don’t slosh all over your shirt. The same certainly can’t be said of flimsy, disposable, heat-leaching paper or styrofoam cups.
Travel mugs should be well insulated—vacuum insulated stainless steel is preferred— so they can keep your coffee tasty and hot, from your first sip to your last (even if your mug ends up sitting on your desk all day). They should have securely locking lids, so they can be carried pretty much wherever or in whatever without incident; even inside your bag. They should feel comfortable in your hand, which is largely subjective—some people prefer a handle, while others appreciate a slim bullet shape or ergonomic curve. Finally, they should make your life easier, instead of more difficult. This means, ideally, all or most elements of the mug are dishwasher safe, or otherwise simple to clean.
How to Clean a Travel Mug
If you’re lucky, the whole darn thing can be thrown onto the top rack of a dishwasher, although this feature is rare. More often than not, you’re going to have to get a bit hands-on, especially with the lid. Even when it comes to the body, there’s ample opportunity for water to leach between the layers of insulation, which can lead to mold. So it’s important to make sure that the only thing you're ingesting from your cup is coffee or tea.
If your mug has a rubber seal, you’ll definitely want to pop it off and hand wash it, giving it a good scrub and rinse with soapy water. You can let the lid and body sit in soapy water as well, to allow the cleanser to reach all of the crevices before scrubbing and rinsing them out. Some travel mugs come with their very own mini brushes for accessing hard to reach places, although spare toothbrushes (reserved solely for this purpose of course) or even Q-tips can do the trick.
If you’d just as soon avoid soap, white vinegar and baking soda are both natural cleansers. Distill one tablespoon of vinegar in warm water, for a solution that’s excellent for soaking and scrubbing, or make a paste of equal parts water and baking soda, for attacking especially grimy spots.
Other All-Purpose Travel Mugs We Tested
Contigo Handled Autoseal Travel Mug with Easy-Clean Lid
The handle is a great addition to the venerable Contigo Autoseal we tested the first time we wrote this roundup. It is smartly designed to sit at the top of the mug near the lid, so it doesn’t interfere with placement in car beverage holders, or bag pockets. It also promises to keep hot beverages hot for 5 hours, and cold beverages cold for 14 hours, although we found it exceeded expectations in both cases—dropping only 9 degrees at the 6-hour mark, and retaining a chill overnight for about 16 hours. Thank the addition of double-walled vacuum insulated stainless steel for that, as well as patented Autoseal technology, that renders it virtually leak and spill-proof. You do have to hand wash the bottom half of the mug, but the top can be placed on the top rack of the dishwasher, and its inner mechanism can be loosened (but not detached) so you can get into those hard-to-clean crevices.
After all these years, you still have to give it up to Thermos; the true OG of the travel mug market. This particular product has all of the practical functionality expected of the venerable brand, such as a durable stainless steel build and an actual handle; which seems to have largely gone the way of the Dodo when it comes to mugs. Thanks to their patented vacuum insulation, the Thermos stayed steamy coffee for 8 hours (it dropped by only a couple of degrees), when my husband decided to take it on a car trip, after our official tests. Detractors are that it’s a bit heavy and bulky (an admitted downside to a handle), and while the locking lid is appreciably robust, it’s a two-handed effort to flip it open.
Thermos does it again by nabbing back-to-back spots, thanks to this appealingly streamlined model from their Guardian Collection. It doesn’t have the handle we liked in the Contigo Autoseal West Loop, but it is still comfortable to hold and easy to manipulate one-handed, with a slide-to-open lid. We appreciate the 5-year warranty, and love that it’s dishwasher safe. It also performs admirably when it comes to temperature retention. Although the 5-hour hot, 14-hour cold promise is less than that of Thermos’ Stainless King (temperatures stayed relatively stable until those times, but dropped quickly, by many degrees, after that).
This sleek and sexy mug won us over instantly on an extended car trip when it kept our coffee at 150-degrees from start to finish (although its stay hot/cold pledge is slightly less than that of the handled version). Like all Autoseal models, it also stands firm against spills and leaks, with its impenetrability further underscored by a button lock lid (which, it bears mentioning, is tough to effectively clean). But hey, it’s pretty! Not only does a gracefully curved shape make the Contigo especially attractive, but it also provides a comfy grip and allows it to easily fit into a cup holder or bag.
The primary selling point of the Mighty Mug is that it’s basically a Weeble—it wobbles, but it won’t fall down. When placed on a flat surface, proprietary Smartgrip technology creates an airlock, which makes it almost impossible to tip the cup over (although amusingly, included instructions caution you not to punch it). Yet, the pressure is normalized upon lifting, which means it’s perfectly easy to move around. A latching lid further safeguards against spillage, and it’s dishwasher safe, so a cinch to clean. That said, it’s a bit of an underperformer when it comes to long-term temperature retention; after an hour, our hot coffee had dropped by 10-degrees, and our cold coffee had risen by 5-degrees.
Copco’s Acadia is designed to look like a standard, paper coffee cup (albeit one made of reusable BPA-free plastic), which, depending on your aesthetic, can be cute (or not so much). A textured, non-slip sleeve is much more effective at shielding your hands than those cardboard dealies, and the Copco is both microwave and dishwasher safe, which is more than you can say of your average bodega cup. Yet despite boasting double-walled insulation, it’s not great at maintaining temperature—our hot coffee cooled by more than 20-degrees in an hour. And though its quarter-turn lid sealing design (may) be enough to keep your computer safe—we wouldn’t trust it for a second in a backpack pocket, and most definitely not (in contrast to the Zojirushi and Contigo), actually placed inside of a bag.
Frankly, we’d hardly say this qualifies as a travel mug since it’s made of glass; albeit fitted with a thermal silicone sleeve, to enhance portability (it doesn’t do anything for temperature retention, as our coffee cooled by over 30-degrees in an hour). It’s more like a cute alternative to your ceramic office cup. It’s dishwasher and microwave safe, both pluses for home or work, but entirely impractical for taking on the road. We wouldn’t relish juggling it on the subway, we’d never risk depositing it in a bag, and it doesn’t fit especially well in car holders. The silicone lid drove us nuts too, to put it mildly. It was a total headache to fit and has non-lockable openings on both ends; a total red flag when it comes to spillage.
Microwave an dishwasher safe
Design is impractical for travel
Silicone lid has non-lockable openings on both ends
Yeti benefits from a great deal of brand loyalty. And we’re not immune to its appeal; check out our Best Water Bottles. But with so many travel mug options on the market, we don’t quite see the upsides of this one.
We definitely like that it’s dishwasher safe, and can imagine sitting around a campfire with it, sipping spiked cocoa or a morning cup of joe. But while its larger size (14-ounces) increases portability, there are too many features that work directly against it. The Yeti Rambler doesn't really fit in cup holders or bags due to its chunky shape, but you wouldn’t want to go that route anyway. That’s because the plastic top (which is hard to remove) doesn’t actually close. So not only does it let heat out and cold air in, there’s no way to keep liquids from sloshing out of the perennially exposed opening. And temperature retention suffered for it; our coffee cooled by more than 10-degrees in the course of an hour.
Though it also handles hot quite well (dropping just 5 degrees in an hour), the Atlin Tumbler seems custom-designed for holding massive quantities—read: 30 ounces—of cold beverages (which similarly, warmed by 5 degrees in an hour). Especially considering it comes with an accompanying stainless steel straw. (Double bonus: an adorable teeny steel cleaning brush, for making washing up easy. It’s also dishwasher safe). And boy, does it keep those bevies icy. We sat our coffee in a closed car for the better part of the day while we went on a hike, and it was equally chilly when we returned. Yet we never could have taken that behemoth of a tumbler with us; the top doesn’t lock, and a solid pound of steel isn’t ideal for toting uphill—or any distance, really, over flat terrain.
Designed with backpackers and campers in mind, this cup is super lightweight at 3.5 ounces, while still holding an impressive 17 ounces of liquid. The sealable lid fits snugly and latches tightly (which benefited its ability to retain temperature, which fluctuated by a mere couple of degrees), and a ballistic cloth-covered cozy and tarpaulin handle makes it comfortable to hold while guarding the BPA-free, non-leaching polypropylene interior canister against crawling critters and dirt. It even doubles as a measuring cup, which makes it ideal for measuring out the exact amount of water required to rehydrate a dehydrated backpacking meal. Downsides are that it’s a bit tricky to wash because of that fabric sleeve, which also runs a risk of slipping off—and leaving your cup lost for all time on a trail. That insulation is also more for keeping your hands protected than the contents of the mug warm (or cold). So, don’t expect temps to stay stable during the length of a hike.
Made from army-green medical grade silicone, the teeny, compact MoKo is definitely intended for more active purposes than sitting in a cubicle. And, to be sure, the average office drone generally requires more than 12-ounces of caffeine at a time (although we suppose it’s best if you drink the contents in one go anyway, as they quickly go lukewarm). It’s a good bet for a backpacker though, as the lightweight cup can easily fit in a bag — and be further collapsed to just 2.1 inches in height—and has a snugly locked top with a groove in the lid, that can be used for storing items like tea bags or pills. Unfortunately, it’s not a great insulator. In the course of an hour, our coffee temps plummeted by a whopping 30-degrees.
A fun option for fancy pants commuters, the Bobble has a French press built right in. Simply place your preferred grounds in the bottom of the copper canister, insert a stainless steel tumbler fitted with a micro-filter, pour in some hot water, and wait three minutes or so for those babies to steep. Top with the silicone lid and you’re good to go. But be wary of spillage, as that supposedly lockable top has a bit of a funky fit. And while you can technically leave out the filter interior and just use the outer canister for hot or cold drinks, the press is really more of a one-trick pony.
Sarah Zorn is a food writer, cookbook author, and product tester for Reviewed, Wirecutter and the Food Network. She regularly contributes to outlets such as Saveur, Esquire, and Civil Eats, and has very much passed her food obsessions down, as her beloved rescue hound, Rowdy, regularly deglazes his kibble bowl.
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