Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Amphipod Hydraform Thermal-Lite Handheld Water Bottle Review

Amphipod Hydraform Thermal-Lite. Kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Maybe I'll just call it the AHTL. Awkward name aside, this is an excellent handheld water bottle which I highly recommend. 

I had never owned a handheld before but I thought it seemed worth a shot, for a number of reasons. One, the elite ultrarunners seem to use them almost exclusively. 
Jenn Shelton & Anthony Krupicka                                Scott Jurek                            Geoff Roes
(are they wearing the same shorts???)                                                                                             
Two, handhelds are cooler than packs/vests. I love my Nathan HPL vest but it traps a lot of heat in the summer, and also I can't wear it without a shirt because chafing then becomes a problem. Three, it should speed up aid station visits since bottles are faster to refill than packs/vests. 

So having decided to get a handheld, I started researching my options. The best-reviewed one seemed to be the AHTL, which despite only coming in a rather harsh shade of green has a lot of features to recommend it. The most important for me is that it is extremely easy to hold, with no tension in the hand necessary. This seems to be a function of both a well-designed strap and an unusually shaped bottle which is curved and flattened to fit the hand. 
Even with a full 20 ounces, I can run with a relaxed hand and never feel like the bottle is going to fall off, even after my hands get sweaty (and my hands get really sweaty). It is also very comfortable. The insulation works well, keeping cold drinks cold without freezing my hand, and there is also a microfleece sort of material on the part of the strap that touches the back of your hand which is soft and comfortable. 

Another feature I like is that water comes out easily without having to squeeze hard. I know that sounds like a little thing, but I didn't take up distance running because of my upper body strength.  Also, it's easier to drink without messing up your stride if you don't have to fight to get water to come out of the bottle.

Although the bottle itself only comes in green, for the strap you have a choice between plain black and "breeze," which is an attractive blue floral print.
His and hers
The strap has a handy zipper pocket. With a little determination, I was able to fit four gels, a credit card, some cash, and a key into the pocket and get it closed.
Will it fit?
Packing the pocket full doesn't affect the comfort of the strap.

One issue you might want to be aware of is that on some AHTL units the tip (the part you pull out out) is hard plastic, while on other units it is a soft rubbery material.
This part.  It's hard to see, but the rubbery material is bending
I much prefer the rubbery material because the hard plastic hurts when I open the bottle with my teeth, whereas the soft tip doesn't. I would recommend getting a bottle with the soft tip if you can, although probably the only way to guarantee that you do is to buy one in person. At the store where we bought ours the bottles with black straps had the soft tip while the bottles with blue straps had the hard tip (but I have no idea if this holds true across the board).  Fortunately the folks at the store (Fleet Feet in Tucson--no minimalist shoes whatsoever but the nicest people you will ever meet) let me swap out the caps.

The main downside to the AHTL is that at $23.95 it is one of the most expensive handhelds on the market and it never seems to be on sale. In fact, the only reason I bought mine at a brick and mortar store is that it ended up being the cheapest option, since buying it online would have entailed paying full price plus shipping. If you're desperate to save $2, there is also a 12 ounce version for $21.95.

So, what do I not like about the AHTL? Well, I'm really not a fan of the green. It's easily the worst looking handheld on the market, and it seems like it would be a really easy fix for Amphipod (even clear or white would be a big improvement). Also, I don't like the hard tip, although it is possible that Amphipod has already switched to the soft tips and the hard tip bottles I found were older models. I hope that is the case, but in the meantime try to get a soft tip if you can. Aside from that, I can't think of anything that I would change about the AHTL (aside from the name, I guess). Go buy one today.


  1. Is the collage pic of the runners yours? If it is can I use it (with a couple of modifications)?

    1. I found the photos on google images; I don't claim any rights to them.

  2. Largely because of this review, I bought myself one of these and so far have been quite pleased.

    One interesting detail: the valve in my cap must have gotten cracked at some point, because after I'd had the thing for about a week, the center stem of the valve fell out, rendering the valve useless. I called up Amphipod, and after they expressed their amazement at this happening, they sent me a replacement cap for no charge and with no questions asked. Great customer service.

    1. Glad you like the bottle--I'd feel horrible if you'd hated it. =) It's good to know they have good customer service, though so far mine seem pretty durable. I took a dive on a trail run last weekend and landed hard on the bottle against some rocks. The bottle absorbed most of the impact but aside from some scuff marks it survived just fine.