Best Thermos Bottles

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2011 . All rights reserved.

Best Thermos Bottles

Over the years, I’ve learned that there is a LOT of difference between various “vacuum bottles” — that’s the correct name for what most of us refer to as a Thermos.

And, while spending a lot of money on one isn’t a guarantee that it’ll do a good job of keeping its contents hot, buying a cheap one is pretty much a guarantee that it won’t.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 10 vacuum bottles I’ve owned (actually, some were just “insulated” with no vacuum).  At first, I bought cheap ones, figuring that “they are all the same.”  Well, I’ve learned my lesson — they aren’t.  And getting a good one from the start is cheaper, particularly when it doesn’t cost any more than many that are mediocre — although it will cost more than the cheapest ones.

If I was just trying to keep coffee warm for an hour while we had breakfast, a very cheap little plastic “insulated jug” — with nothing but air between two pieces of plastic — worked.  But if I wanted to make coffee and drink it three hours later in the middle of an overnight watch, I was sadly disappointed when I opened it up to find barely-lukewarm coffee.

In the tropical summer, where it was 90+ degrees all day, a not-too-well insulated bottle held heat well enough to make yogurt — but as winter approached, it didn’t.

And so I ended up “upgrading.”  More than once as I discovered that there are differences even between what I thought were all good brands.  And so I’ve had to replace so-called “good” bottles.  Here’s what I’ve concluded.

By far, the best “Thermos” bottles are sold under the name Thermos Nissan (not just “Thermos”).  They are about the same price as the Stanley bottles (for the same size), but insulate much, much better.  Not only is the bottle insulation better, but the Thermos Nissan bottles have an insulated stopper, which other brands don’t seem to.

Photo of bad Thermos capFor example, the photo at right is of a glass-lined plastic Thermos-brand bottle — not a Thermos Nissan (they are two separate lines, both made by the same parent company).  The stopper cap is touted as a “Stash Top” for packets of sugar and creamer — and my experience is that it does absolutely nothing for keeping the contents hot.  It is thin plastic and air filled.  We all know heat rises, so as the bottle sits, all the warmth in the coffee or other food just goes right out the top.

The Thermos Nissan bottles are all stainless (inside and out), so there shouldn’t be any issues with breakage.  Buy these, and you won’t be looking for a new bottle in a year . . . unless it’s that you want another in a different size or to give as a gift!

[UPDATE:  About 6 months after I wrote this, I did some comparative testing on three bottles that I own -- a Thermos Nissan, the glass-lined Thermos pictured above, and a Stanley.  See the results of my Thermos testing.]

Even with a great bottle, it’s important to pre-heat (or pre-chill) the bottle, and it will work best when full.  If you don’t pre-heat or pre-chill the bottle, it simply won’t keep the contents hot/cold as it takes a lot of the heat or cold in the food to initially heat or chill the inside of the bottle.  To heat the bottle, pour boiling water into it, put the lid on and let it sit at least 3 minutes.  Then pour the hot water out (save it for another use) and pour the hot drink or food in.  To pre-chill, do the same with cold water.

To clean any of the bottles, be sure to get a bottle brush so you can get down inside the bottle.

Here are my favorite sizes for various purposes:Picture of 61-ounce Thermos

Thermos Nissan 61 Ounce Stainless Steel Bottle w/ Folding Handle

Best for:  coffee, hot water, broth-based soups

This bottle is just under a half gallon, and will hold the contents of a 10-cup coffee maker (1 “cup” = 6 ounces).  It is designed for coffee and “liquid” soups or hot water, as it is not wide-mouthed.  This is further reflected in the fact that the bottle has a twist-and-pour stopper designed for pouring cups of coffee — and as long as you remember to twist it shut, it doesn’t leak.

This size bottle is also great for storing hot water for use later in the day, as described more in my article on Conserving Propane.

Image of 48 ounce wide mouth ThermosThermos Nissan 48-Ounce Wide Mouth Stainless-Steel Bottle

Best for: Thermos cooking, chunky foods

This 1-1/2 quart bottle is great for Thermos cooking.  The wide mouth is easy to put foods in (a canning funnel will help) and get them out once cooked — not to mention making it easy to clean the inside.

And the size is perfect for things like soup, chili and spaghetti sauce for two people.  I also like it for cooking things like rice and beans to make enough for 2 meals (or a larger family).

Image of 34-ounce briefcase bottleThermos Nissan 34-Ounce Stainless-Steel Briefcase Bottle

Best for:  coffee, hot chocolate, other hot or cold drinks

This holds just over 1 quart — or about 3 mugs of coffee, depending on the exact size of your mug.  While it’s great for drinks and is perfect to stick inside a backpack for a trip off the boat, there are a couple of important things to note about this bottle.

First, it does NOT have a carry strap or handle — so there’s no way to tie it to the binnacle (or anything else) so that it won’t get flung overboard in rough seas.  And it’s just a tad too big around to stuff into a drink holder — although I’m suspicious that it would be too top-heavy to stay there if it did fit.  Second, it does not have a wide mouth — again, perfect for coffee and drinks, but not good if you want to use it for Thermos cooking or making yogurt.

Picture of 16-ounce food jarThermos Nissan 16-Ounce Stainless-Steel Food Jar

Best for:  making yogurt, Thermos cooking of rice or dried beans, or keeping a single serving of food hot

There are two Thermos Nissan 16-ounce bottles — the one pictured and another that’s a little shorter and fatter and which also has a loop and carabiner.  Both work equally well.

These hold two cups and I find the size perfect for making yogurt or Thermos cooking dried beans equal to a can.  On overnight passages, Dave would always get hungry in the middle of his watch, so I’d heat something up for him when I went off watch and put it in the Thermos so he could have it 3 or 4 hours later (we did 6 hour watches instead of the more typical 3 or 4 — it was a better sleeping pattern for both of us).

Don’t be surprised if you don’t end up with more than one size Thermos on board.  They are great for so many things, but one size doesn’t work for everything — and I found that I often had more than one thing in a Thermos at the same time.  I ended up with three — a large one for coffee, a large wide-mouth for Thermos cooking, and a small one primarily used for making yogurt.  And most days I used at least two of them!

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Comments

  1. Mary Bigelow says:

    Very much enjoy your site. Am trying to organize some thermos cooking. I discovered that the Thermos Nissan wide mouth bottle I bought has a lid which is not insulated. In fact, when it is in use you can feel the heat pouring out through the cap. Do your Thermos Nissan bottles have insulated caps?
    Many thanks
    Mary

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Hi Mary!

      The Thermos Nissans I have do not have an insulated cap, or maybe I should say it doesn’t appar to be insulated — just the plastic cap and then the stainless “over-cap.” But then, the entire bottle doesn’t seem to be insulated — it’s very lightweight compared to other brands of bottles I have (but works so much better). I wouldn’t say I can feel heat pouring out the cap of the Thermos Nissan, though — they’re MUCH cooler to the touch than my Stanley or even the Thermos glass-lined cap. See my article on Thermos Testing for details on their relative heat retention. I’ve had great luck using the Thermos Nissan for Thermos cooking.

      -Carolyn

  2. Carolyn, I come across your posts often in my various feeds and as a weekend cruiser and avid adventure who loves to eat well whether on my commute to office or a night at anchor, your tips and tricks are spot on. Thanks for making good food on the go that much easier by doing the experimenting for us!

  3. hi
    i wanted to know what method do you opt to test a vaccum insulated bottle. i wanted to buy 200 pcs for patients. there is one company by the name zogirushi for thermos bottles, they also claim to be the best. i am confused so please help me

  4. Hello. I was thinking of buying the Thermos Nissan 48-Ounce Wide Mouth Stainless-Steel Bottle to make a large batch of yogurt (& for other things like soup).

    You mentioned you use the Thermos Nissan 16-Ounce Stainless-Steel Food Jar to make yogurt.

    Do you have a recipe please to make your yogurt?

    Could I use this recipe for the 48-ounce wide mouth?

    Thanks in advance.

    • If you want to make a large batch — 6 cups or 1-1/2 liters, the 48-ounce Nissan Thermos would be perfect.

      Here’s the recipe: Yogurt Recipe

      You’ll have to adjust it for the larger size of the Thermos — if you don’t have the Thermos pretty full, it won’t stay warm and the milk won’t culture.

      Thanks for reading The Boat Galley!

  5. Hi, I just discovered your site, which looks very informative! I’m hoping you might be able to help me. I have two Stanley wide-mouth thermoses, made in the USA. Stanley is not making them like these anymore, sad to say. The rubber gaskets/seal that go on the caps are starting to decay a little, and we are hunting high and low for replacements. We even contacted Stanley and the best they could do for us was send us a new (inferior) thermos for free! We don’t want that, we want parts for our old jugs. If there are no replacement parts to be had (made something from a plumbing supply?), is it possible to repair the gaskets? Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

    • I haven’t tried it on a Thermos, but you might get some food grade silicone sealant (such as this on Amazon). Scrape the old gasket off, put down an even bead of the silicone and let it cure. We’ve done the same on a number of other items to make a gasket.

      The big trick is to get the silicone down evenly so it won’t leak. Good luck!

  6. Are there any Thermos Nissan’s ~1/2 gal out there with a pump action for serving hot/cold liquids with a ‘push button’ area on top, and handle on top reaching across both sides, so you can grab and carry it with you?

  7. michael perez says:

    I have an old Thermos Nissan that is probably a 17oz or 18oz vacuum bottle. My wife accidentally put the stopper in the garbage disposal. Rats! I love that Thermos . . . and I can’t use it without a stopper. Any thoughts? The opening to the pour spout is 1.5 in. Everything I find seems to be for a 2 inch diameter pour spout. And just so you know, in the photo you have posted above, it appears my thermos is the one you have in the center of your photo! yeah!

    • So sorry to hear that! Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer other than checking out Goodwill, Salvation Army and other second-hand shops. Otherwise, I think I know what’s going on your birthday wish list! (And all of them in that photo are around a quart, so yours was probably actually smaller.)

    • Barbara Lowell says:

      Maybe this will help … I use corks to plug up and recycle bottles, jars, everyhing … go to hardware section drawers and find a cork that fits; you might have to hunt around for the correct size.

  8. I guess nobody has ever heard of Tiger or Zojirushi? Check them out guys!

    • I am also funny about which Thermos I use. Am one who has never heard of the Tiger or Zoj. If that good I would like to try them out. Where do I look for them them ? Thanks

  9. Thanks, I enjoyed your article on Vacuum Flasks. I can’t even recall the names but I have had many over the years. I had an indestructible stainless vacuum bottle with an insulated stopper. It kept coffee hot all day long. My problem with stainless is that it “tastes”. I have the same problem with certain ceramic glazes on coffee mugs. No one else I know seems to notice a difference, but I’ll stick to glass and my favorite mugs.

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