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Gear Guy

Are Expensive Insulated Coffee Mugs Worth the Money?

We pitted a $30 Stanley against three less-pricey competitors to find out

(Joe Johnson)
mugs

We pitted a $30 Stanley against three less-pricey competitors to find out

I love a well-made insulated mug that keeps my coffee hot all day, even on bitter-cold ski days. But I was curious: how would one of the top-end mugs I’ve reviewed in the past stack up against the dozens of others you can find in gas stations and big-box retailers? To find out, I pitted the winner from last year’s insulated coffee mug throwdown—the 2-ounce Stanley Classic One-Hand Vacuum Mug—against three insulated mugs I purchased from Walmart for $10 or less. Here’s how they fared, from worst to best.


The Test

To measure heat retention, I boiled water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit on my stove and filled each mug to the top. I then quickly tightened the tops and let the mugs sit in my 72-degree kitchen for eight hours. When the time was up, I rechecked the water temperatures. Later, I ran the same test, but let the mugs sit for just two hours.

To measure how well they prevented leaks, I closed the lid on each mug and knocked it into my sink five times, watching for spillage. Finally, I drank coffee from each mug and fiddled with them at my desk, taking notes on usability the whole time.


mugs
(Joe Jackson)

#4. Bubba Classic Insulated Tumbler ($8)

Capacity: 18 ounces

Usability: I liked the handle for everyday use in my office, but the mug won’t fit in most vehicles’ cup holders.

Spillage: Five to ten drops of water leaked out after every fall.

Keeps Liquids Hot for (Claimed): Did not specify.

Temperature Loss After 2 Hours: 77 degrees

Temperature Loss After 8 Hours: 119 degrees

Bottom Line: This mug came in last because it had poor heat retention and leaked quite a bit. The water was a tepid 79 degrees after eight hours, which makes coffee undrinkable, in my humble opinion. It had the second-worst leakage of the mugs I tested, spilling enough water to ruin a phone in your bag.

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mugs
(Joe Jackson)

#3. Dash Thermal Tumbler ($5)

Capacity: 16 ounces

Usability: I liked the hand feel of the soft plastic outer and the ergonomic indented finger grip about two-thirds of the way up. But it also felt cheap, like it would shatter if it fell off the top of my car.

Spillage: Three to five drops came out after each fall into the sink.

Keeps Liquids Hot for (Claimed): Did not specify.

Temperature Loss After 2 Hours: 82 degrees

Temperature Loss After 8 Hours: 122 degrees

Bottom Line: The least expensive mug on this list was, not surprisingly, the worst in terms of heat retention. After eight hours, the water was down to 76 degrees. It was, however, second best in terms of mitigating spillage. My takeaway: buy this mug only if you drink your coffee fast—say, in the car on the way to work—and are looking for something to replace wasteful single-use cups.

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mugs
(Joe Jackson)

#2. Mossy Oak Double-Wall Stainless-Steel Mug ($10)

Capacity: 20 ounces

Usability: The stainless-steel outer had a nice hand feel and would probably put up with some abuse. The design is svelte enough to fit in most cup holders. The lid, however, was hard to operate with one hand.

Spillage: Approximately an eighth of the water spilled out each time I dropped the mug in the sink.

Keeps Liquids Hot for (Claimed): 4 hours

Temperature Loss After 2 Hours: 32 degrees

Temperature Loss After 8 Hours: 78 degrees

Bottom Line: I was impressed by the heat retention. After two hours, the water was at 166 degrees, which is still acceptable for coffee. However, the lid leaked like a sieve.

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mugs
(Joe Jackson)

#1. Stanley Classic One-Hand Vacuum Mug ($30)

Capacity: 20 ounces

Usability: I’m still a big fan of the trigger-like lid opening. Instead of having to pop open a tabbed closure, you just press a button, the closure slides back, and coffee flows out.

Spillage: Zero. After dropping it in my sink five times, I shook the mug for 15 seconds while holding it upside down and still couldn’t get a drop to come out.

Keeps Liquids Hot for (Claimed): 8 hours

Temperature Loss After 2 Hours: 20 degrees

Temperature Loss After 8 Hours: 58 degrees

Bottom Line: This mug costs three times more than the others I tested, but I think it’s well worth it if you like to sip your coffee over an extended period of time. The heat retention was significantly better than any other mug I tested, and I appreciate the lack of spillage. I’d gladly stick this mug in my backpack and not worry about it ruining my MacBook Pro. It’s also durable and should last for several seasons. I didn’t get that confidence from the other three models I tested.

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