A great vacuum-insulated mug will keep your coffee hot for hours, and won't leak even if you toss it in the bottom of the dinghy or the day pack.

Insulated Mugs

On our very first charter trip, we learned the necessity of having an insulated mug if you wanted coffee that stayed hot while you drank it in the cockpit.  Even in tropical climates, a bit of breeze would cool the coffee before I drank it all.

Our second charter to the BVIs, we were prepared with our insulated mugs from home — that’s Jan and her husband David in the photo.  And while they were sufficient on nice warm mornings, they weren’t that great on subsequent trips where we encountered cooler weather while on friends’ boats.

Dave and I just sort of put up with the situation, as it never really dawned on me that there was much difference in insulated mugs.  And of the ones that I bought, there probably wasn’t — I had always simply bought the cheapest ones I could find that had some sort of lid.

You see, I’d basically thought that the primary thing was to cover the top, both to prevent spills and to keep some warmth in.  Then, on a very early morning hike with some other cruisers, I discovered that their coffee was still hot when mine was stone cold.  And that was when I learned that there are good insulated mugs.  That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news.  They’re not cheap — about $20 to $25 per mug.  Frankly, I thought that was outrageous — but I did keep eying them.  Then I was given a $20 Amazon gift card as a thank you for filling out a survey and decided to splurge with my “found money” and buy a good insulated mug.

After using it for just a week, I was convinced — and bought a second one for Dave.

Thermos makes several that are similar and all are good choices depending on your individual preferences.  What I like about these in particular:

  • Coffee stays hot.  I’ve drunk coffee that was over 5 hours old and it was still acceptably hot — admittedly, not quite as hot as when I’d poured it in, but definitely hot and not lukewarm.
  • Leak-proof lids.  Great for taking along in the dinghy or tossing in a day pack.  When you close the drink opening, it does not leak.  And since the lid screws on tight (with a gasket), it won’t pop off either.
  • Sized for drink holders.  I want to be able to put the mug in one of the drink holders in the cockpit.  These are all sized to fit (okay, they’re sized for car drink holders . . . but that works!).
  • Tea bag hook.  I don’t drink tea, but for those who do, there’s a nifty hook in the lid to hang your tea bag.

They’re easy to clean (you can take the lid totally apart periodically for cleaning), seem impossible to break (I’m sure someone has found a way to break one, but you get the idea), and I love them.

I’ve recently done a bunch of research on what makes a good Thermos.  The answer is that the best ones are double wall stainless with a vacuum between.  Air or foam insulation, while cheaper, just don’t do nearly as good a job.  And the same is true for mugs.  It needs to be a vacuum mug, not just a generic “insulated” mug.

All of the following are made by Thermos with their TherMax technology (links are to Amazon).  The differences are in the color (a few people have complained about the paint flaking off; I haven’t had the problem and neither have the majority of reviewers) and whether there is a handle.  If you’re buying more than one, I’d suggest getting different colors to make it easy to tell whose is whose.  For some strange reason, the price varies by color and it’s never consistent as to which is most expensive:

A great vacuum-insulated mug will keep your coffee hot for hours, and won't leak even if you toss it in the bottom of the dinghy or the day pack.

  • 16-ounce Thermos Stainless King mug — blue or red (this is the style I have — takes up the least room)
  • Same as above, but with a handle — blue or red

Thermos also makes a similar mug that is just stainless on the outside (no color) — it has a push-button mechanism for opening the drink hole and a few people have had a problem with it not closing completely.  I haven’t used one of this style, so I don’t know if it’s really a problem or just something to be careful of.

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  • Nicola Kamper
    Posted at 27 July 2013 Reply

    A necessity, for sure! We take our coffee seriously. Shopping in McGuckins Hardware (Boulder, CO) last Christmas, I found some vacuum insulated mugs with screw tops and handles. They weren’t much to look at, but I put them in our Christmas stockings, and now we enjoy them every morning on the boat!

  • Deb Perfitt
    Posted at 27 July 2013 Reply

    We found the best hot/cold cups at Costco. You get 2 for $20. They keep bevys hot for hours and I’ve had ice stay as long as overnite.

  • Allan Cobb
    Posted at 28 May 2014 Reply

    I love my Thermos insulated mugs but I’ve grown really fond of my Tervis tumblers in 16 and 24 oz. You can now even get a shaker top for the 16 oz for mixing drinks.

  • CherylAnn Falconer
    Posted at 28 May 2014 Reply

    We have had our starbucks mugs for about 8 yrs now & they are still going strong. Amazing heat / cold retention !!

  • Lynn Kaak
    Posted at 28 May 2014 Reply

    No “sweating” drinks, stay cold (or hot)… Been using them for years. Our favourites fit a full can of beverage, and whatever you may want to mix with it, and ice.

  • peggy at ECY
    Posted at 28 May 2014 Reply

    We like tervis but the lids leak in a bag or if they roll across a cockpit floor… We really like contigo ss insulated mugs…. Keeps coffee hot for 10 hours!!! Longer if you warm the mug with hot water abs then put hit coffee in…. Sometimes so hit I have to leave lid off to cool it enough to drink it

  • Margaret Steele
    Posted at 29 May 2014 Reply

    My Oxo thermal mug stays hot or cold for hours!

  • Verena Kellner
    Posted at 29 May 2014 Reply

    I have one with a carabiner style clip in the handle so I can attach it to the rail or my backpack or wherever.

  • Paula
    Posted at 12 October 2014 Reply

    Contigo cups from costco are only about $20 for a two pack. They are slim enough to fit in most cup holders and the lid only pours when the button is pressed. Stays hot for hours and cold for half the day. I don’t even use a regular coffee cup on land anymore. I toss my full cup of coffe in my purse as I head out to work every morning. The seals do eventually wear out, but I just ordered replacement lids for only $5 each from Contigo’s website.

    Thank you for the blog. I am creating a wish list for our move to our sailboat from your suggestions.

  • Margaret Steele
    Posted at 11 January 2015 Reply

    I travel daily with my Oxo stainless thermal mug..keeps things hot/cold for hours.

  • Mike B.
    Posted at 11 January 2015 Reply

    I have a couple of the Thermos ones like the last link in your post. They work great, keep coffee hot for several hours, even in the 30 and 40 degree F temps we’ve been seeing in Georgia the past weeks. Only problem is that the metal can be cold on the hands in the cockpit on those really chilly mornings, could use a rubber grip or something.


  • Robert
    Posted at 11 January 2015 Reply

    I’m the same, like HOT coffee. Nissan makes several double wall stainless steel mugs & thermoses. I’ve used one for years. Got mine at cabela’s.

  • Kelley - Sailing Chance
    Posted at 11 January 2015 Reply

    I’m a BIG fan of my Contigo mug I found on sale at target. It’s spill proof, and, keeps things both hot and cold. Granted, we’ve been in the negative wind chills and it does have a hard time keeping the coffee hot (its been more luke warm in that weather) but hopefully you’ll NEVER have to deal with that while sailing 🙂 I made an iced coffee one day for work, and when I left the office the ice was still in the mug! Their water bottles are also really good and spill-proof. Bonus for the handle you can attach a carabiner to.

  • Paul Jeffrey
    Posted at 11 January 2015 Reply

    Also check out the ‘Mighty Mug’; won’t tip over; great for boaters. http://amzn.to/1Q5iRFh

  • Joanne Smith
    Posted at 11 January 2015 Reply

    We use the Hydro Flask mugs. They are designed in Bend Oregon. I got the first one and was so impressed I bought my husband one also. They go every where with us. They are 20 Oz and keep cold 24 hours and hot 12 hours. I ended up buying a couple of different sizes also. A smaller soup thermos and a growler size that holds hot tea water all day. You can find them on Amazon or direct from Hydro Flask.

  • stacey on s/v Smitty
    Posted at 12 January 2015 Reply

    hello there,
    thank you for being a wealth of information. i have gotten many great ideas from you. so, i thought i would share what mug i find to keep hot items or cold items the longest – the Yeti stainless steel 20″ tumbler. not cheap- but if u are spending $25 on Thermos; another $5 for Yeti is well worth it.
    thanks again for the great posts!

  • Stephanie Bedford
    Posted at 13 March 2015 Reply

    We swear by our Stanley One Hand Vacuum Mugs. I have made coffee, poured it into the room temperature mug(NOT pre-warmed), had my first sip of coffee 4 hours later and burned my mouth. They keep hot things hot for up to 8 hours and cold things cold for up to 6. We love them for both coffee and iced coffee. I also love that there is no internal plastic except for the lid. In Southern Ontario, Canada, we paid 29.99 for them at Princess Auto. With a lifetime warranty, a really good purchase for us.

    Extreme test of the Stanley One Hand Vacuum Mug, after 6 hours of sitting in the snow…

  • Thomas Keenan
    Posted at 28 November 2015 Reply

    Thank you again!! Just ordered mine for a winter Gulf crossing– will need something to keep coffee and soup warm!! Ordered two different kinds….

  • Ginny Teatro
    Posted at 28 November 2015 Reply

    We have a similar mug by Contigo. One for coffee and one for tea. The liquid stays hot for about two hours!

  • Patricia Jackson
    Posted at 24 October 2017 Reply

    I don’t drink coffee, but use them to keep drinks cold.

  • David Hood
    Posted at 24 October 2017 Reply

    The thermos mug is practically indestructible, I drove over mine with my pickup while launching our boat and it still works great. Now my wife and I can tell our mugs apart.

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