Insulated Water Bottles: Camelbak Podium Big Chill Vs. Polar Bottle Insulated

Camelbak Podium Big Chill and Insulated Polar BottlesIf you hang out around cycling events enough you are going to end up getting a few free water bottles.  Vendors hand them out like candy on Halloween.  And why not, inserting them in your bottle cage is like turning your bike into a roving billboard for the company that gives it to you.

But, sometimes you get what you pay for.

The freebies can be hard to open or have brittle mouth pieces that break off after a little use.  Sometimes the cheaper plastics have an off-putting taste or texture that just isn’t quite right.

Proper hydration is such an important part of cycling that for me it’s worth a few extra bucks to buy a water bottle I like.  I’ve found that having an insulated bottle is great for the hot summer months.  I like to fill my bottle with a mixture of water and ice and use it to cool myself down when the temperature skyrockets into the 90s and beyond.  The insulation does a great job of making the ice last a lot longer.  That being said, it is not enough to keep your drink cool all day, just a couple hours at most.

IMG_1207I have three insulated cycling water bottles that I rotate through regularly.  In general, I like all of them, but if you are thinking about purchasing a water bottle there are a few things to keep in mind with them – including a few downsides.

The three bottles I have are:

Camelbak Podium Big Chill

Camelbak Podium Big ChillThe Camelbak Podium Big Chill sticks out amongst most water bottles on the market because of its self-sealing Jet Valve mouthpiece.  It has a lock-out option that prevents accidental spilling.  You just lift the bottle to your mouth, squeeze and the liquid comes out. When you stop squeezing the hole seals automatically.  This prevents you from having to open and close the mouthpiece every time you have to drink.

This works great during road rides where the ride is smoother, but I’ve found that for mountain biking on a bumpy trail the Jet Valve is not enough of a barrier to prevent the bottle from leaking and that it has to be locked out.  Trying to unlock the bottle while riding singletrack is not impossible, but it is a two-handed affair and definitely slows you down (it can also be done a little awkwardly with your mouth, but that is not what it is designed for).

The 25 oz capacity of Camelbak’s Big Chill makes it one of the largest cycling bottles on the market.  This is great on hot days when getting extra hydration is important.  The downside is that the height of the bottle makes it too tall to fit into some bike frames.  On my mountain bike the Big Chill will fit into the bottle cage on the down tube, but not the cage on the seat tube.  It might be worth measuring how much clearance you have on your bike before making a purchase.

Camelbak also makes a slightly smaller version – the 21 oz Podium Chill.  This might be a good option for those that like the Jet Valve, but are worried about the 25 oz version being too big.

Insolated Polar Bottles

Polar Bottle Insulated 24 ozThe Insulated Polar Bottles are nice too.  I haven’t noticed a big difference in which brand will keep your drink cold longer, so I think focusing on the other factors is more important when deciding which way to go.

The Polar Bottles have a more traditional mouthpiece than the Camelbak, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good.  The mouthpiece opens and closes with ease and snaps firmly into place.  The advantage of the Polar is that I can easily open the bottle using my teeth and close it securely after I’m done drinking.  Once closed it does not leak, even on gnarly singletrack.

I have both the 20 oz and 24 oz size for the Polar.  I had originally purchased the 24 oz bottle because I was hoping I could squeeze it into the cage on my seat tube.  Alas, it was too tall.  It will fit in the cage on the down tube though.  The 24 oz bottle also fits in every cage on my road bike just fine, so this won’t be an issue for every bike.

I settled on the 20 oz bottle because it was a little shorter.  Losing the extra 4 oz of liquid doesn’t really affect me for the length of rides I usually do.  If I need more water then that I just wear a hydration pack (which will be another article in the future so make sure you subscribe!)  The 20 oz Polar Bottle has become my official bottle for racing and worked well for me all season.

Insulated Polar Bottle 20 ozGive me some feedback in the comment section.  What do you look for in a good water bottle?  Do you have a personal favorite that you would recommend to other cyclist?  Is there anything about these bottles that I didn’t cover in the article?  Please subscribe to Quickdirt to be notified of future articles.  There is a subscribe box in the right sidebar.

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22 thoughts on “Insulated Water Bottles: Camelbak Podium Big Chill Vs. Polar Bottle Insulated

  1. Forgot to say a comparison of how well they kept the liquid cool would have been nice since you had both brands – that’s why I came to this page.

    • That is a great idea. Thanks for the feedback. is a relatively new site. I have only been publishing for a few months. It is based on my passion for mountain biking and my experiences training and racing over the last 6 years. I sprinkle in a few product reviews here and there based on my experiences biking, but that is not the main focus of the site. All I can say is that if I review a product I am trying to give you an honest assessment so that you can make up your mind based on your needs as a rider. I hope you will check out the rest of the site and see what it is all about.

  2. How many of the podium big chills do you use? One or more?

    Secondly, I am curious about a few things:

    1.) Best estimate of how many hours a week you’ve used your podium bottle, on average. This gives me a better idea of just how much wear has been put into it and gives more weight to your answers for the Q’s below.

    2.) Durability:

    -How is it holding up regarding holding water and not leaking?

    -How is the treatment working regarding not affecting the taste of your water?

    • I only have on Podium Big Chill but I have been using it for about three years. It has held up well. I ride an average of 8-10 hours a week.

      In general, it has never leaked when it is locked out. When it is unlocked, a full bottle might leak a little bit on bumps. I don’t think it’s great to have it unlocked while mountain biking.

      I have never noticed it adding a taste to my water, but I’m probably not super-picky about that either. I have used it with water, gatorade, hammer heed, hammer perpetuem, muscle milk and maybe a few other products.

      In general, I am happy with the product.

  3. You say that the bottles have trouble fitting into your down tube. What size frame do you ride?
    Do you ride a Mountain Bike exclusively?
    Do you know how the bigger bottles fit on road bikes?

    …and, really… a test on which bottles keep the ice longest would have been nice.

    • The bottles do not have trouble fitting on my road bike. Also, I found a bottle cage that holds the bottle a little lower and makes it fit into the frame more easily.

      Off the top of my head, I am not sure about frame size. However, I am 5’10” tall. 17.5″ frame sounds right to me, but I’m not a good place to double check.

      Even though I have not done a formal test, I have not noticed a significant difference in which one keeps drinks colder longer.

  4. Thanks for the write-up! I was trying to decide between the two; looks like the Polar with it’s more traditional mouthpiece is the bottle for me.

    • I’ve been using the polar for about 4 years and they’re ok. A couple things – the mouthpieces seem to break down on some fashion so if you suck on them you get air and water, kinda annoying. Also, the capacity is somewjat restricted by size, shape with hand grip indent and insulation construction.

      I’ll continue to use them, in fact just bougjt another 2 weeks ago, but for longer rides would like to have one with the same basic dimensions with straight sides, maybe less insulation for more actual water capacity.

  5. An objective test would be interesting — fill/freeze both, leave out side, measure before and after temperature.

    • Excellent suggestion dd, if I had a polar I’d do this test myself. Anyone else out there have each to do a ‘freeze-thaw’ test? I’m sure we’d all like to know if there is any significant difference in the insulating props.

  6. I have trouble with the bigger bottles on my road bike because I am short, so I probably have a smaller frame. I cary my bottles everywhere and can find the Polar for about 1/2 the price of the camelback so I like to get the Polar. I like both sizes because I only use the shorter one when the big one won’t fit.

  7. I have owned both for about 5 years now. Camelback’s insulation is better, but not by much. Polar has prettier prints.

  8. None of these have a cover for the mouthpiece – not much fun for ‘tourers’ who get mud all over them in bad weather!

  9. Does the jet valve cap on the camelbak also work on the polar insulated bottle? Are they interchangeable?

  10. I rotate through both the polar and the camelbak bottles during most of the year. But there are a few months of 100 degree days in Texas, and during those months, I only use the polar because it stays colder. I have found the polar to keep ice longer and stay chilled longer by up to an hour compared to the camelbak. However, I do like the opening on the camelbak better.

  11. I own the podium big chill. It’s a great bottle…only problem is that I’ve already lost one because of it’s size. Trying to find a bottle cage to accommodate for the large 25 oz bottle is challenging to say the least. Love the nozzle on the camelbak…just so easy to use. BTW, I only road bike.

    • I have the podium 25oz bottle and the Polar one too, they both are snug in my Specialized Rib Cage (not carbon). At first you might think it’s too snug, but you’ll break in both the cage and the bottles after a few uses.

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