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Gear talk: stuff I don’t use any more- SIGG Traveller bottles

Another blast from the past. Just before I finally ditch them, Three Points of the Compass takes a glance at some drinks bottles that used to be taken on hiking, camping and cycling excursions.

SIGG aluminium, narrow neck, Traveller bottle
SIGG aluminium, narrow neck, Traveller bottle

In 1908, together with Xaver Küng, metal working specialist Ferdinand Sigg established an aluminium goods factory in Biel, Switzerland. The following year, Küng, Sigg & Cie were employing 30 people and their success and expansion dictated a move to Frauenfeld in 1917. The company was renamed SIGG AG Aluminiumwarenfabrik. It was taken over by its main supplier in 1936. They had a wide range of aluminium products, over 10000 in 1958. These included pots, pans, teacups, cutlery and household products, including bed and water bottles.

The aluminium SIGG Traveller bottle was introduced in 1980. The same year that ‘solid’ single colour coated bottles were introduced. It took its design cues from an earlier SIGG product- the shape is based on ‘Model 26 1661’ bed bottles made for invalids in the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that multi-colour water bottles were introduced, along with a ‘waisted’ version that was easier to hold. SIGG stopped producing household products in 1998 and now make bottles from aluminium, 18/8 stainless steel, glass, Tritan and polypropylene along with lunch boxes and accessories for the bottles. An investor group took over SIGG Switzerland AG in 1999 but the final takeover was in 2016 when SIGG were acquired by the Chinese based stainless steel vacuum bottle manufacturer Haers Vacuum Containers. Manufacture of aluminium bottles continues at Frauenfeld, Switzerland and SIGG stainless steel and glass bottles are made in China.

The Three Points of the Compass assortment of SIGG bottles. Various sizes and styles including two children's bottles. All are aluminium. one of which has a branded, insulated sleeve for cold weather use
The Three Points of the Compass assortment of SIGG bottles. Various sizes and styles including two ‘glow-in-the-dark’ children’s bottles. All of these bottles are aluminium, one of which has a branded neoprene and cordura insulated sleeve for cold weather use

I first came across SIGG bottles in the 1980s when I purchased a couple of their aluminium fuel bottles together with a frequently spluttering MSR WhisperLite stove. Sadly, both stove and bottles disappeared into the mists of time. I would love to still have the opportunity to play with that innovative remote burner stove. The fuel bottles had no internal lining and are no longer made by SIGG as the various stove manufacturers began to produce their own. When SIGG concentrated on producing water bottles for hikers, campers and climbers, the drinks bottles were given a special lining to prevent contact between liquid contents and the aluminium bottle.

SIGG Traveller bottles are made from a single slug of aluminium. This is pressed into the required shape and size. The threaded cap section is an insert fitted afterward. The internal lining is a polyester-based coating that is odourless, tasteless and can handle distortion. However some users have reported occasional issues with the lining coming off. Whether this is down to manufacturing issue or particularly harsh contents being stored, I have no idea. The outside is powder coated and heat bonded. While robust, the Traveller bottles dent and ding easily and every single one of mine carries various battle scars.

Aluminium 'puck' from which SIGG bottles are produced

SIGG hit the news for the wrong reason when it was revealed that they (and other manufacturers) had been using a Bisphenol A (BPA) epoxy coating in much of their bottles manufactured prior to August 2008. This not only hit sales but also destroyed their co-marketing with ethical gear supplier Patagonia, who offered refunds on any Patagonia branded SIGG bottle. But the damage had been done, or at least for a few years until it faded from peoples memories. Since August 2008, SIGG have used an ‘EcoCare’ liner, which they state is ‘made from BPA-free and phthalate-free ingredients’. From 2008 this was a powder based lining, changed to a liquid based lining March 2012. The pre and post BPA containing internal coatings can, to a degree, be distinguished from each other- bottle linings without BPA generally have a pale matt yellow coating. Earlier, suspect linings, are a clear, gloss coat over brushed metal or a shiny coppery-bronze.

Clear lining to SIGG bottle
Clear lining to SIGG bottle- This contains BPA
Yellow lining to SIGG bottle
Late 80’s SIGG bottle lining, but is it yellowish, or coppery-bronze?
There have been numerous subtle changes to the bottle cap design over the years
There have been numerous subtle changes to the bottle cap design over the years

SIGG have changed their bottle cap design many times over the years, introducing changes in sealing gasket and cap holes, various push or twist sports caps in the ’90s, ‘eco’ caps, and wide neck caps to go with their wide mouth bottles. I was never overly keen on the twist type Kids Bottle Top introduced in 2008, that were easily contaminated by filthy fingers on trail. Also, a young Miss Three Points of the Compass, with her sharp little kids teeth, mangled the plastic drinks caps badly.

The narrow neck bottles were never the easiest to clean, nor was it possible to view any stains or gunk adhering to the inside. A good scrub with hot water and an angled bottle brush, followed by an overnight soak with a Sterident or Milton, and final rinsing and careful air-drying, were very necessary occasional chores.

Active Sports water bottle top was an option, just not a preferred one!
Active Sports water bottle top was an option, just not a preferred one!

I always preferred the standard cap, with its robust hole through which a finger could be looped, or a carabiner hung from it. Amongst the myriad of designs that SIGG had produced over the years were small size bottles that had glow-in-the-dark painted sides or caps, easily found by my daughter in the middle of the night in the dark interior of a tent. Removable dust caps were less appreciated as they were easily lost, hinges on the flip top caps also seemed to wear and break inordinately fast.

Harping back to the original fuel bottles, one type of cap that vanished from the shelves a long time ago was a simple but useful pouring cap that could be attached to a standard cap with a short length of cordage and simply swapped over when topping up a liquid fuel stove with methylated spirit, White Gas or similar. All SIGG Traveller bottles have the same diameter top and threads. So all of these caps are inter-changeable and invariably get mixed up when cleaning bottles and caps. Not that this matters. Gaskets last a long time but can occasionally wear or get damaged. Both replacement gaskets and caps are available from SIGG as stand-alone products. Another point- do I miss that annoying loud squeak from a SIGG cap being screwed and tightened into the bottle neck? Not sure I do…

SIGG pouring cap for fuel
SIGG pouring cap for fuel

I have probably purchased a dozen of so Traveller bottles over the years, along with smaller number of wide mouth SIGG bottles. However I haven’t actually used one on trail in over a decade. A classic piece of gear, the iconic SIGG Traveller water bottle is not only robust and leakproof, but I found it also immediately beaded with condensation if holding cold drinks. Some people complained that the level of contents could not be seen through the sides, but the level of condensation frequently revealed this. Conversely, fill a bottle with a hot liquid and the thin walls ensured it was impossible to hold. While SIGG also make stainless steel bottles, I prefer those made by Klean Kanteen so it is unlikely that I will be purchasing another SIGG product any time soon.

SIGG Traveller bottles
SIGG Traveller bottles

Three Points of the Compass still rates the aluminium SIGG Traveller bottles, it is simply that I have moved on to mostly lighter alternatives for hiking and backpacking purposes. Not only that but I suspect almost all of my Traveller bottles pre-date the change to a BPA free lining, hence my disposing of them all.

Most variants on a SIGG theme are now based around attractive commissioned artistic designs on the bottles, or annual Limited Editions, however SIGG have continued to innovate and produce hydration containers that are robust, effective, do not taint water and lack any nasties that might leach into the contents. This cannot be said for many of the similar and frequently cheaper alternatives from their many rivals.

Current range of SIGG aluminium bottles
Current range of SIGG aluminium bottles

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