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Tested: CamelBak Forge Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug

camelbak forge travel mug

Finding a good travel mug always proves difficult. They’re typically cumbersome, fragile, don’t retain much heat, and worst of all, they spill and leak way too easily.

Camelbak is attempting to change all that with their new one – the CamelBak Forge Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug.

They sum it up as “a better on-the-go coffee and tea experience.” It’s designed to keep the heat – and the liquid – inside the mug, until you’re ready to take a sip.

And it better be better, because the retail price on this is $30, making it the most expensive 16 oz mug I’ve ever seen!

(I paid $29.95 on Amazon back at the beginning of 2016; it’s occasionally found cheaper now in 2017, but it’s still expensive.)

What’s so special about it?

First and foremost, this bottle is leak-proof. It’s not going to spill on your keyboard or leak when it’s rolling around inside your bag.

That’s mainly why I bought it. I’m often carrying multiple bottles, and my messenger bag only has one external water bottle pocket. So, I need some bottles that I can safely stow inside without them leaking all over my laptop computer, notebooks and journals, headlamp, etc.

It’s double-wall, vacuum-insulated stainless steel, so it’s going to keep your hot drinks hot for hours. CamelBak claims it will keep your drinks hot for 6 hours. And guess what – they’re not exaggerating!

If I’m planning to drink my hot tea within 2-3 hours, I let it cool down quite a bit before I put the lid on, because I know it’s going to be almost exactly the same temperature when I take my first sip!

This bottle is perfect for me sipping hot tea at my desk at work, since I don’t usually drink it fast enough. If it is in a regular mug, it cools off before I’m done. With this, it’s warm till the very last sip!

This construction also means that the outside of the bottle will remain at room temperature. So, the bottle will be comfortable to hold. It won’t need a cardboard sleeve around it like that vanilla latte from Starbucks. Even better, there is no condensation! Some bottles get coated with so much condensation that you’d think they’re leaking (even the popular CamelBak Eddy was susceptible). Not the CamelBak Forge!

The self-sealing trigger mechanism is super cool. (I want to call it an “autoseal” trigger, but that term might be trademarked by Contigo.)

The bottle is sealed by default, and you squeeze the trigger when you want to drink. This trigger is placed on the rear/far side of bottle (opposite the opening to drink from), which is very convenient for your index finger (you could say “trigger finger”) that’s naturally going to be right there when you hold the mug.

camelbak forge plastic bottom

Making our way down, you’ll notice the bottom of the mug has this flat plastic cap. You might think it’s flimsy. On the contrary, that’s actually going to improve the durability!

If you’ve ever had a metal water bottle – like a Klean Kanteen – you may be familiar with how the bottom gets dented if you drop it. Then it needs hammered back into shape so it will sit upright. Ugh. The plastic bottom prevents this!

But honestly, the CamelBak Forge annoys the crap out of me!

Although I just raved about how awesome this bottle is, I’m sick of it!

And really, looking back, I was sick of it before I even bought it. I mean, why did I get a 16 oz mug?

There’s only one reason to buy a 16 oz mug – and that’s if 16 oz is the biggest one they make. Such is the case here. It’s either 16 or 12 ounces, and 12 is way too tiny. I would prefer 20 oz, but 16 oz has to do.

Speaking of small, the drink opening allows for only the tiniest of sips. That’s perfect for hot drinks that you have to sip carefully. However, for iced tea or iced coffee, I can’t get a big enough sip to satisfy my palette!

Yet somehow, it requires a specific technique to avoid spilling excess drops of coffee on my upper lip.

There’s also this “stay open” feature that allows you to lock the lid in the open position – great if you’re sipping frequently. But it’s rather hard to operate this one-handed.

Finally, what always gets me, even though I know better, is that you must be very very careful of pressure buildup which could lead to coffee spraying onto your face and shirt!! That happened to me so many times, but I’ll still get distracted, and end up doing this way too frequently!

There’s definitely a learning curve.

It reminds me of when the first CamelBak water bottle came out back in 2010. It took me a while to get the hang of it, because it was a much different user experience compared to the prior standard, the Specialized Big Mouth bottle.

There’s a certain technique, as well as some quirks you have to get used to.

The purpose of the technique is to prevent hot liquid from being sprayed in your face! What you need to do is press the trigger to open the drinking valve while the bottle is still upright, an arm’s length away. This releases any built-up pressure with the least likelihood of any liquid spraying out. If the bottle is tilted, the escaping air is probably going to spray some liquid out with it, making a mess, staining your shirt, and perhaps burning your face!

Another thing you can try is pre-heating the mug. Some people say to put hot water in the mug for a minute or two before you add your beverage. That seems like a waste of effort (and hot water) to me. I just want to make tea; I’m not going to boil water to prep my mug and then boil more water for tea!

I try to accomplish the same thing by putting my hot tea in the mug and letting it sit for 30-60 seconds, before putting the lid on. Sadly, it never worked.

Anyway, as for drinking from the mug:

  • Make sure you squeeze the trigger while the mug is sitting upright, then lift and bring the mug to your face.
  • Drink.
  • Continue holding the trigger until the mug is back on a level surface.
  • Release trigger.

The reason you hold the trigger the whole time is so that any excess liquid can drain back into the mug. If you release the trigger and the valve closes too early, you might still have liquid resting on top, just waiting to spill onto your pants!

I spilled tea all over myself at work, making it look like I wet my pants, all because I didn’t use the button perfectly and it left a puddle of tea on top of the cap! I was not happy!!

Maybe I’d get some of the same problems with the popular Contigo AutoSeal too. I don’t know. Regardless, I get a bit frustrated!

And I haven’t even mentioned having to clean it.

The bottle itself is really easy to clean. The only catch is because it’s rather narrow, it requires a bottle brush to get down in there. But that’s typical of water bottles so I’m sure you already have a bottle brush (like this) on hand.

The lid is where it gets tricky. There are teeny tiny crevices up underneath the lid which make it very difficult to clean. You’ll need your mini bottle brush to reach in, and if you spot any mold growing, soak it in bleach, too.

camelbak forge gross lid

It’s similar to what you have to deal with with the newer Podium Ice bottle, except with the Podium Ice, you can pull that lid apart. This lid requires tools to completely disassemble.

Another difference is that you can buy replacement lids for the Podium bottles. My search for “camelbak forge replacement lid” came up empty. They sell other lids, but not the one I need!

At least it looks good, right?

I have a thing for white cars, white bikes, white cycling shorts, and white water bottles. But…

I don’t recommend the white one this time. It gets smudges on it and loses color relatively quickly. The white cap and bottom plastic pieces are excellent, but not the main metal body. Less than a month of use and it was looking worn out!

camelbak forge color choices

Fortunately, it comes in a multitude of color options!

Unfortunately, none of that matters, because…

It leaks. Sometimes. Which means I can NEVER trust it!

I really don’t know what’s going on with this bottle. Every so often, it leaks. I don’t why. And I don’t know when it’s going to.

And that uncertainty means I can never trust it to not leak.

The issue first reared its ugly head after less than two months of use. It apparently leaked out the back of the spring/lever. Somehow.

Then everything was fine for a month. Until one day I grab it out of my bag and it has tea dripping down the side! 🙁

I don’t know what happened – I had been drinking from it on the commute to work (with it in the cupholder). When I arrived at work, I tossed it in my bag and walked to my desk. When I pulled it out from my bag, it was dripping!

Then I got lucky and a few whole months went by before the next leak. There was a definite leak from the back of the lid, near the trigger.

This time, only one day elapsed before the next big leak. That’s when I called it quits! If it’s going to leak all over my desk and paperwork, I’m done!!!!

Is there a warranty?

CamelBak does offer something called the Got Your Bak Lifetime Guarantee. That sounds great, but once you read the fine print, it’s not so exciting. The guarantee basically only covers manufacturing defects, and you have to return the product. I don’t think my issues could be considered a manufacturing defect.

What do I do about a travel mug now?

I assumed buying a $30 mug, I’d be set for life! Wrong!

Based on my experience, if I had to do a Camelbak Forge vs Contigo comparison, I’d just grab a Contigo because it’s cheaper.

Right now, overall, I’d have to say that HydroFlask gets my #1 recommendation. Their insulated mugs are a similar price ($27.95 for a 20 oz) and more durable. And while not as slick with the trigger, the lid is simple, leak-proof, and replaceable. And you can still operate it with one hand.

Choose the HydroFlask Coffee Flask over the Camelbak Forge or the Contigo AutoSeal.

My final verdict is…

The CamelBak Forge has a high-tech design and seems to be a great bottle… at first. But after so many issues with unexpected leaking (from hot tea spraying in my face to dripping down my clothing), I have given up on it.

It actually starts out as a 5-star mug. But I had to dock it some stars because of how tricky it is to use, given the price tag (this is a freaking $30 coffee mug, with a steep learning curve and major annoyances). And then I had to dock it some more because I can’t trust it not to leak.

I really, really wanted it to be awesome, but after my experiences, I can’t give it my recommendation!

Official website: www.Camelbak.com

Buy online: www.Amazon.com

Product Review Details
Company: Camelbak
Product: CamelBak Forge Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug
Reviewed by: Coach Levi
My Rating: 1.0 out of 5
Date last updated: 2017-10-26
Obtained Product: Purchased at retailer.
CoachLevi.com Advertiser: No.

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4 Comments
  1. What is the Camelbak Forge Divide? Is it the same thing in a different color scheme?

    • @Ben

      Great question! Apparently Camelbak expanded the line and this new addition is only $20 instead of $30. But I think it’s ugly (despite the advertising messaging about the bright colors), and worse, the Forge Divide is NOT double-wall vacuum insulated.

      That’s why it’s cheap. Apparently it’s not insulated at all. So you’re just paying for the leak-proof lid.

      Essentially they took the Forge, which was a good mug that needed some tweaks, and instead, they made it worse. It’s not getting very good reviews, and I’m not planning to test it.

  2. I concur with your assessment of the lid… mine randomly leaks from the trigger too… I end up with fingers wet with coffee. I love it otherwise.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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