Check out our 180-hour test of the best survival food for a short emergency.
Best container for most people:
Reliance Rhino 5.5 Gal Water Container
If you want to buy just one type of container to hold your most critical emergency water needs, the 5.5 gallon Reliance Rhino is a great deal. At $22, it’s reasonably priced at just a few dollars more than the common competitors in the $17-$22 class. That extra money buys a tougher and thicker container that will survive things like earthquakes and accidental drops much better than its cheaper siblings.
The Rhino was one of the easiest to carry among all the containers we tested. It also has a sorta-stackable feature built into the side walls — you wouldn’t want to store them stacked for the long term, but it’s handy for short term use like moving them in your car. It pours well and has a better screw cap for the airflow vent, rather than the cheap push-pin style plugs found on many other similarly priced containers.
Best overall can:
Scepter 5 Gal Military Water Can
Our upgrade pick is the Scepter 5 gallon Military Water Can. They are the toughest container over five gallons we tested. The MWCs have military tested and practical features like a giant 4” filling hole, a locking ring to prevent accidental loosening, a smaller 1” pour spout with no moving or reversible parts, and molded stability feet.
At around $50 (after shipping) they are twice as expensive as the Reliance Rhino and three times as expensive as the budget Reliance Aqua-Tainer pick — but we think it’s a very worthy upgrade that will serve you well in a crisis and last for 20 years, saving you money in the long run. We are now personally using these Scepter WMCs in our preps.
Cheapest way to store enough water:
Reliance Aqua-Tainer 7 Gal
Our budget pick is the 7 gallon Reliance Aqua-Tainer. It’s a popular option found in many stores for around $15. The cheaper cost means less durable plastic that is prone to denting and cracking, but dollar-for-dollar we were impressed with how well Reliance made this affordable option.
If you’re on a tight budget, buying two of these per person is the cheapest way to get your two weeks of water supply covered. Their cube shape stores well and sits nicely on a tabletop edge with an included and reversible bottom side water spigot. It didn’t pass our drop and crush tests, but should survive gentle in-home use.
If you are space constrained:
WaterBrick 3.5 Gal Four Pack
Our space-saver pick is the WaterBrick. If your primary goal is to fit the most water in the smallest space possible, these ultra-stackable and durable water containers are your best bet. They are expensive — a set of four, or 14 gallons, will set you back about $115 with the additional water spigot and cap you must buy. If you’re buying for two people, the 8 Pack is a better deal at $185. We found them a little disappointing in terms of storing and using water, but they easily passed our durability tests and can fit in random pockets of space around your home.
Best overall bang for your buck: mix multiple containers
Because you need at least 15 gallons per person and most households will need 30-45 gallons total, you’ll need to buy multiple 5-7 gallon containers.
Our recommendation for best overall container will work great if you simply buy multiple of that product. That was part of our criteria for picking the best container — it had to be good enough if it’s the only type you buy.
But some containers had features that worked well in specific situations or were great budget options that didn’t work well in every situation.
For example, the popular Reliance Aqua-Tainers are reasonably priced at $15 and do a decent job. They were not good enough to be our main pick, mostly because they’re made of thinner plastic that dings and cracks more easily than the main choices. So they might work fine if they are stationary in your home and won’t take much abuse. Plus they have an advantage over the jerry cans because they sit nicely on the edge of a countertop with a spigot on the bottom.
Our ideal mix for a home of two people:
- Two Military Water Cans with the extra spigot hose. 10 gallons total. $100.
- Two Reliance Rhinos. 11 gallons total. $40.
- One Reliance Aqua-Tainer. 7 gallons. $15.
Best budget mix for a home of two people:
If you’re on a budget, try to at least buy one or two of the much more durable Military or Rhino cans. Don’t just buy five of the cheapest product. It’s not worth saving $40 to find out your emergency water has leaked out or is tainted when you need it most. The cheaper options will likely need to be replaced every few years due to cracking, so you’ll end up spending more money in the long run anyway.
- Why you should trust us
- Minimum of 15 gallons per person ready at all times
- FAQ / Quick tips on water storage
- How we picked
- How we tested
- Top pick: Reliance Rhino
- Upgrade: USGI Military Water Can
- Budget: Reliance Aqua-Tainer
- Stackable: WaterBricks
Why you should trust us
We spent over 34 hours researching and reviewing this topic, in addition to over ten years of experience with many of these products in both survival and camping use. We reviewed over 20 products and personally bought and tested over 10 containers. The main author has personally researched, bought, installed, and maintained off-the-grid water systems with cisterns up to 2,500 gallons a piece. We use these recommendations in our own homes and because water is so important, we are trusting our family’s lives with these products.
Store a minimum of 15 gallons per person
The Prepared’s minimum recommendation is two weeks of supplies in your home. The rule of thumb is one gallon of water per person per day. So you need a minimum of about 15 gallons per person.
The old advice of 72 hours worth of supplies has been replaced by the two week recommendation because in real disasters, emergency responders have taken up to 8-9 days to respond to everyone.
You don’t need to look far to see evidence of why this is so important. It might be a situation like Flint, Michigan where people were without clean utility water for multiple months. Or after a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, where FEMA struggled for a full week to get drinkable water to everyone who needed it.
For example, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles that caused ~$25 billion in damage, 50,000 homes were cut off from water for at least five days. Some estimate that 12,000 homes still didn’t have water almost two weeks later.
Water must be ready to use at all times
Water is so important, you want to cover the minimum two weeks supply without any unnecessary work or risk. Proper emergency water is just there and ready — always.
No searching for water, no filtering, no boiling, no filling the bathtub, no running to the store to buy cartons of bottled water, no depending on the 30 gallons in the water heater. Any extra stuff you have like water filters in your bug out bags, on-site wells, the bathtub, or your long term water purifiers are just bonus backups.
Avoid shortcuts like bottled water, milk jugs, and office jugs
There’s a few areas in prepping where it’s fine to use DIY home remedies and/or rotating stock in order to save some money. Water is not one of them.
Never use a container that held something other than food. If you try and recycle things like milk or juice cartons, even though it’s possible to properly clean out any existing bacteria, you don’t want to run the risk just to save a few dollars in the short term. Besides, even if you were able to totally sanitize something like a milk jug, they are often biodegradable and designed to break down quickly.
Two liter soda bottles are a little better than milk or juice cartons (partly because the acid in soda killed any milk-style cultures), but they still fall short because of being transparent and not very durable. If you must use something off the shelf, try Arizona Green Tea jugs. They are sturdy and semi-opaque.
Many people think about a rotating system, where they buy a carton of bottled water, drink it for daily use, and just keep replenishing the stock so that they always have two weeks worth on hand. Most survival experts and teachers agree that while this sounds nice in theory, real life gets in the way and you could easily get caught off guard without enough water.
Problems with normal bottled water:
- Essentially a single-use item. You might need to use these water containers for longer than two weeks.
- Easy to crush / crack / break.
- Not space efficient. It’s a lot more cumbersome to store 15 gallons of bottled water than 15 gallons in the proper containers reviewed here.
- Hard to move in bulk. If you needed to suddenly moved 10 gallons to a different location, or take them down to a river to refill, it’s easier to grab and carry two large containers than a bunch of small bottles.
- It’s more expensive in the long run. Tap water is free.
- Why waste all that plastic?
- Shorter shelf life. They have shorter expiration dates and typically don’t have the good chemical treatments that tap water does.
Office jugs (the big upside down ones) have similar problems. They are mostly transparent, hard to handle, and not designed for long term storage or emergencies. What if you don’t have the base part? How do you reseal the jug?
Quick tips on water storage
- With the right container, water source, and storage, water can safely last 3-5 years — but we recommend rotating it every 2-3 years.
- Not all plastics are safe for storing water. Look for the number inside the recycle symbol. Plastics 2, 4, and 5 are generally OK for water storage. 1, 3, 6, and 7 are not.
- Plastic #2, also known as HDPE, is generally considered the best.
- Plastic can absorb chemicals, so try not to store water containers on cement garage floors or other places where it will contact bad stuff.
- Light, heat, and bacteria are the enemies of clean water storage.
- Don’t recycle daily things like soda bottles or milk jugs. If you must, be sure they are properly cleaned beforehand.
- When water freezes, it expands 10%. If you must store water in a place it might freeze, only fill your containers up ~85%.
How to clean a water container:
- Fill it with warm water and a little dish soap. Close cap. Shake. Drain and rinse. This gets the obvious debris out of the can.
- Fill it with a quart (about 15 seconds of normal faucet flow) and a teaspoon of unscented household chlorine bleach. Close cap.
- Wait 30 seconds. Shake well. Wait 30 seconds again.
- Drain and rinse.
- Air dry (or fill right away with clean water).
You don’t need to chemically treat water before or after storing
Unless you fear your local utility water has been having Flint-style issues, every modernized water grid treats their water. When it comes out of your tap it already has some chemicals, like chlorine, in small amounts approved by the FDA.
Assuming your container is properly cleaned and stored, you can just fill it with tap water and it will be safe for at least a year.
If you want to err on the side of caution, you can add a little bit of water preserver. We might do a full chemical lab test on water preservers in the future, but for now you can pick up the popular Water Preserver product or just use five drops (1/8th of a teaspoon) of unscented basic household bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite) per gallon.
If your water comes from a well or other untested and untreated source, then we do recommend adding the chemical preserver.
Be careful about putting contaminants into the water. Wash your hands before touching the equipment. Wash the lids, caps, spouts, and inside of the container with soap or chlorine.
How we picked
We started by researching as many legitimate product reviews, forum conversations, and guides on water storage as we could find. Combined with personal experience, we defined the most important qualities and what we were and were not looking for.
We searched Amazon, Walmart, REI, Cabelas, and the major prepper ecommerce stores and forums for any relevant products. After reviewing over 20 options online, we picked 10 to test in person:
- WaterBrick. Two pack of 3.5 gallons each, incl spigot. $50.
- Reliance Aqua-Tainer. 7 gal. $15.
- Reliance Rhino Pak. 5.5 gal. $27.
- Reliance Desert Patrol. 6 gal. $22.
- Reliance Jumbo-Tainer. 7 gal. $24.
- Saratoga Farms Stackables. Four pack of 5 gal each. $99.
- Scepter USGI Military Water Can. 5 gal. $49.
- Scepter Water Can. 5 gal. $20.
- Igloo Cargo II 1402 Water Can. 6 gal. $30. (Not pictured with group, tested separately).
- Ace Roto-Mold Water Storage Tank. 10 gal. $150 including shipping and spigot.
Pricing, availability, and brands
We noticed inconsistent pricing and availability in the water container category. Manufacturers tell us that large orders from the military and rescue efforts after the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires have created a backlog.
Many of these manufacturers don’t sell directly on major stores like Amazon because the civilian market is not their core focus. So they rely on distributors that can set their own pricing based on demand and supply. We’ve seen that create weird price fluctuations when inventory gets low. For example, the Scepter Military Water Can has been seen on Amazon for as much as twice the real price.
When we link you to a store to buy a product, know that we’ve chosen that store because we found them to be the most fair and consistent. In some cases that’s Amazon, and in other cases it can be military sales websites.
There are popular outdoor, camping, or emergency preparedness brands that simply put their sticker on a can and charge you more. Like this Ozark Trail branded container that is just a Reliance Desert Patrol can – you can even see the Reliance name in the product photo.
If you do some quick poking around on Amazon, it seems like Reliance owns the category with their popular Aqua-Tainer and Jumbo-Tainer. Keep in mind that just because something shows up on the first page of Amazon and has ~4.5 star ratings, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.
We made an effort to find other brands like Coleman and Igloo, but they were often too hard to find or had incomplete product info.
Other tanks are made for restaurant or industrial use, and may be fine products, but tended to be harder to buy via very old websites with high markups and expensive shipping.
Capacity vs. weight vs. risk: use containers under seven gallons
It’d be nice if you could just buy one 15 or 30 gallon container and be done with it. But for the purposes of short term water needs we only considered containers that held 10 gallons or less. Most containers in this class are either 5, 6, 7, or 10 gallons.
We did this primarily because you might need to move the containers in these short term situations. Maybe you bring it up from your flooded basement, lift it from the ground to a countertop, or carry it to your car to bug out.
A gallon of water weighs over eight pounds. So even a small five gallon container is going to weigh over 40 pounds when full.
A common mistake is looking at a water container and underestimating how heavy it will be. We have found in practice that even seven gallon containers are getting very heavy (~56 pounds) for most people to comfortably move with one hand.
But we did pick a 7 and 10 gallon container to test in person, just to double check the weight issue with a wide range of people.
This also helps reduces the single point of failure risk. If you have three containers of five or six gallons each, and keep one in your pantry, one in your closet, and the other in your garage, it’s more likely that at least one of them would survive something like an earthquake or tornado. Again, when it comes to short term water, we are always overly cautious.
We love larger, longer term water storage containers and will do a full review on them in the future. There are lots of great options, especially in the 55 gallon barrel class. But they serve a very different purpose, and you’re never going to move a 450 pound tank of water.
There were some tempting options, like the 15 gallon water barrel from Emergency Essentials. But 15 gallons would be 125 pounds, so we did not include it in our testing.
Toughness and durability
To make it easy and practical to keep water stored and ready to go for a long time, you shouldn’t have to worry about cheap containers that will crack, dent, leak, or fall apart in something like an earthquake or flood. They also need to be durable enough to handle normal camping-style wear and tear.
We automatically excluded flimsy or collapsable containers. They might be nice for camping, but they are not durable enough for this need. It’s the same reason you should never use milk jugs, since they are designed to break down over time.
The most common issue referenced in Amazon reviews was leaks and cracks. Unfortunately, almost every popular water container in the $10-$50 range has reviews that mention these problems. But we didn’t automatically disqualify them, especially since the next options are more expensive at around $70-130 per container.
Based on past experience, we tried to avoid containers that used the push-plug style cap on the airflow hole. They just don’t hold up as well to frequent use, can be broken off and lost, and are prone to leaks. But for the sake of completeness, we tested some of the most popular containers with this plug.
Ease of storage
Seven gallons, or a week’s worth of water for one person, takes up about a cubic foot. Even if you don’t have a lot of extra storage space in your home, two cubic feet of space for two weeks of water is a reasonable amount to set aside for such an important thing. Two cubic feet is just a few inches larger than an airplane carry-on.
There are a wide range of container types. They were usually either tall and skinny ‘jerry’ cans, cubes, or tall circular tubes.
Some were designed specifically for storing in the bed of a truck or other special situations. We disqualified anything that had such an odd shape they would be difficult or inefficient to store in a normal home – like the cone-bottom tanks that make removing water easy but are impractical for home survival needs.
We love the idea of stackable containers — they (should) add some extra durability and are very space efficient, especially by requiring less floor space through expanding vertically.
Unfortunately, there weren’t that many options for containers that were designed to stack or fit snugly together. The ones that were stackable tended to be much more expensive just for that feature.
In the end, we thought of stackability as a nice to have but not a need to have. Partly because there weren’t any stackable containers that we loved, and partly because the value of stacking got impractical after going two layers high.
Ease of use
You’ll do three main things with a water container: fill it, move it, and remove the water.
Some containers have odd caps that require a special ‘bung’ wrench to open. Others require that you buy extra pieces or special spigots for filling and removing water.
We didn’t automatically disqualify a product for requiring you to buy or use an extra piece, but we did exclude containers that had confusing, proprietary, or easily breakable required pieces.
The best products were simple and could be used without these special tools, so that if you needed to in a crisis you could just unscrew the cap with your hand and get quick access to the water. We often use the “ten year old child” test — if a normal ten year old can’t do it without any help, then it’s no good.
Plastic is great. But there are some important considerations:
- Plastic is harder to sanitize than other options.
- There are many different types of plastic. Some are good for water storage while others are definitely not. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what a product is made of.
- Plastic can crack easier than other materials.
- Plastic can absorb bad stuff and leach into the stored liquid.
Many plastics can absorb chemicals and even scents from whatever they touch. For example, if a plastic jug is sitting on a cement basement floor and a bottle of cleaning chemicals spills nearby, those chemicals can be absorbed into the plastic water container.
It works the other way, too. Plastics can leach chemicals out into whatever they’re holding. That’s why people avoid #7 plastics with the BPA chemical, because the BPA can leach out from the plastic into your drinking water.
There is some debate about how realistic this concern is or in what conditions plastic will or won’t absorb bad stuff. Because it was enough of a debate, we erred on the side of caution.
We disqualified any product that wasn’t guaranteed BPA-free or made of food grade materials.
The safest plastic containers to hold water are polyethylene-based plastics, or plastics #1, #2, and #4. All food-grade plastics are made of High-density polyethylene (HDPE) #2. But be careful, because something made out of HDPE #2 might not necessarily be food grade.
There are advantages to materials like glass and stainless steel. For example, glass is easier to decontaminate than plastic. But we think they’re too impractical for this situation because they are more likely to break, are much heavier, let more light through, can be more expensive, etc.
Shelf-life, safety, and container colors
Tap water will be safe in almost any common container after 2-3 months in a dark cool place. But we also care about the shelf-life of the water because it’s impractical to replace your stored water every three to six months. Our goal is to easily keep water safe for at least 12 months and ideally 2-3 years.
Even beyond the normal plastic leaching concerns, the materials and transparency of a container can affect the water inside.
Technically, water never “goes bad.” Water might get stale due to lack of oxygen, but that’s quickly fixed by shaking and swishing it around.
What’s not OK is bacteria growth or contamination. Heat, light, and bacteria are the three enemies of water storage. Which is why most serious water storage options use UV-resistant materials and are typically darker solid colors, like the solid blue plastics used in popular 55 gallon water drums.
That’s the same reason why most beer bottles are dark. Light can ruin the taste and shorten the expiration. Fun fact: this is why Corona has trained people through marketing to add a lime to their beer — it’s actually to cover up the bad taste from the clear bottle.
The universal color for potable water is a fresh blue color. Some of the products available use that color for easy identification. All else being equal, we prefer containers in that color, but being blue was not a very important criteria. However, it is important that your potable water containers are clearly labeled so you don’t cross contaminate.
How we tested
Other than just testing the obvious stuff like simple leaks and product quality, we did more rigorous tests to see how well the containers held up to abuse and simulated emergencies in addition to how easy they were to store and use.
Filling and draining
Unfortunately, there is a wide range of how well different containers do their most important job of receiving and dispensing water. Some had very odd caps, some had caps that could only be sealed once and then had to be replaced, and others have spigots that would clog or fail.
We had a 10 year old, a 17 year old, and two adults try to twist on and off any needed caps and accessories, then do the normal filling and draining cycle, all without any instructions.
Some of the containers had existing product reviews that complained about not draining all of the water without some gymnastics. So we tested how well they drain water in their natural resting position and how easy it was to use one hand to maneuver the container and/or spigot while using the other hand to hold a cup for filling.
Because you don’t want to waste water in an emergency, we tested how easy it was to control how quickly water poured out. This also usually affected how nice the pour was — did it spread or spray, split into two streams, dance around, etc. We tried to find three controllable speeds for each container: a small trickle to fill a shot glass without spilling, an average flow to fill a Nalgene style water bottle, and the maximum flow possible to fill a cooking pot.
Even though each container isn’t that large, because it’s important that you keep this water in a climate controlled, accessible, and secure area — rather than in the backyard shed that will be frozen for months at a time — we tried to simulate how easy it was to store them in logical places around a house and apartment.
In three different homes, we asked people who weren’t experienced survival planners to store containers wherever they thought it made sense. We observed how logical or frustrating it was and whether a container fit nicely in common areas like a pantry, closet, etc.
Carrying a full container by hand
Since every gallon of water weighs eight pounds and it’s very possible you might need to move the containers during an emergency, we tested how easy it is to carry the fully filled containers with one hand.
We used three different people for these tests: a strong adult man, an adult woman with average fitness, and a teenage boy with average fitness for his age group.
Each person carried each container up a flight of stairs, down a flight of stairs, 100 feet across flat ground, and then loaded it into the trunk of a car. Or they carried it in that order as far as they could. For example, most people couldn’t carry the 7 gallon container through the finish, and no one could complete the 10 gallon one (which did not have a carry handle). There was a rest period between each carry.
After filling and sealing the containers, we laid them flat in a way that put a reasonable amount of internal water pressure against the seals. They sat for three days and we measured any leaks. We then suspended them upside down or in such a way that the most internal water weight possible was directly pushing against any possible holes to the outside.
We also wanted to see how well they prevented outside debris and liquids from getting inside. We did this by submerging a container in a full bathtub for 10 minutes while looking for any bubbles. We also added a dark brown gardening chemical to the bathtub water so we could see any coloring or foul taste in the potable water.
We then cleaned the outside and checked the internal water for any signs of coloring against a control sample.
Some of the commonly bought containers on Amazon are surprisingly flimsy. Even some of the ones we purchased for our field test (after weeding out the obviously bad ones during research) already had dents and dings in their plastic walls from shipping.
We did two different crush tests. The first was realistic, where we assumed you might stack two full containers of water on top of each other. For example, a jerry can can be laid flat on its broad side with another full jerry can layered on top. They’re usually not designed to do this, but it could feasibly happen. Whatever can was put on top had five gallons of water, or ~40 pounds.
We then did a more extreme crush test where an adult woman weighing 150 pounds stood on top of the strongest and weakest part of a container. We looked for any leaks, cracks, or signs of warping and distress in the plastic.
Carrying heavy water jugs around can be tough, even if they have a handle. So we dropped full containers from multiple heights onto concrete.
The first test was a simple “tip over” test. We tried to knock the container over from a normal standing position onto a hard floor.
The second test was a realistic “drop it while carrying” test. For each container, we carried it the way you normally would. For most containers that means carrying it in one hand down by the side of a thigh. While walking normally, we lost our grip and dropped the container onto concrete. We did this three times per container.
For a more extreme drop test, we pushed the container from a standard kitchen countertop height of three feet. We did this three times per container.
Our choice: Reliance Rhino 5.5 Gallon Container
Best container for most people:
Reliance Rhino 5.5 Gal Water Container
Our pick for the best emergency water container for most people is the Reliance Rhino 5.5 gallon can.
We found some price inconsistency with this product, with list prices ranging from $20 to $35 and an average around $25. That makes it a few dollars more expensive than its Reliance siblings or the Scepter budget can. Which makes sense given it’s built to be the toughest of the group with more, stronger plastic in the construction. If you are only able to find it for more than $30, we’d suggest waiting or buying the upgrade USGI Military Can or the Scepter 5 Gallon.
The Rhino is well named — it’s easily the most durable container we tested under $30. It was the third most durable of any portable container we tested, losing to only the more expensive USGI military cans and WaterBricks.
In our crush tests, the Rhino had no noticeable warping, cracks, or plastic distress. Although at one point we accidentally placed 150 pounds solely onto a two inch weak spot in the side wall, and it did create a dip that stayed in the plastic for about an hour afterwards.
The Rhino handled all of our drop tests very well. In fact, because of its skinny and tall stature that carries well against your thigh, it landed upright every single time we dropped it while walking.
It’s the only tall and narrow jerry-can-style container that is designed to be (sorta) stackable. One of the large side walls has a female pattern while the opposite wall has a male pattern. The solid and strong strut that runs diagonally across the wall will hold multiple containers together if they are stacked vertically (with each can laying on its side) or if the cans are standing upright but pushed closely against each other.
Although not marketed as a stackable container and not as stackable in practice as our space saver pick, we were impressed by how well the Rhino stacked. However, we were disappointed that the side walls with the stacking features arrived a little bowed out, which made for a less than ideal fit when stacked.
They were not designed to be stored this way, and we wouldn’t recommend it. But if you needed to put them in a car or something similar for a short duration, this design gives you a few great positioning options that no other sub-$30 container could.
We did find that when laying on its side and stacked, with all the cans full of water, there was enough internal pressure against the seals where it caused a small drip leak out of both the main cap and airflow vent. It was about a drop every 1-2 minutes. All cans of this style showed this kind of drip leak when under a heavy load. Since you wouldn’t store them this way for the long term and the drip was mild, we thought it was OK considering the price and other factors.
It uses the common reversible water cap and spout, and everything was included in the purchase. The short spout rests inside the can while closed, which you then remove, flip around, and tighten down with the neck ring. This is not our favorite method because each time you touch the spout and then put it back inside the water, you increase your chance of contamination. But only the more expensive USGI and WaterBrick options avoided this problem, and the Rhino spout was much more sanitary than the Scepter 5 Gallon spout.
We also found it a little difficult to twist the caps down hard enough to prevent any leaks when laid on its side or suspended upside down, but it was doable.
Because of its relatively smaller 5.5 gallon capacity and tall, narrow frame with topside carrying handle, the majority of our reviewers found the Rhino to be the easiest to carry out of all the containers tested (except for the lightweight 3.5 gallon WaterBrick). It fits naturally against your thigh while carrying, compared to bulkier containers like the 7 gallon Aqua-Tainer cube.
Our main criticism is the airflow vent. It uses a twist style cap, which is greatly preferred over the push pin style plugs, but it had an unusually cheap and frustrating plastic connection piece that keeps the cap from being lost.
While great in theory, this cheap connection piece was poorly designed and frequently gets twisted up against the main body when you open the air valve. We didn’t worry too much, because even if this retainer piece broke (or you intentionally broke it), the threaded cap isn’t likely to be lost.
Upgrade: Scepter USGI 5 Gallon Military Water Can
Best overall can:
Scepter 5 Gal Military Water Can
USGI Military Water Can Extra Spigot Hose
These US Government Issue military-spec water containers are actively used by the US and Canadian militaries. You can tell this container was designed based on years of practical military field use. It carries well, has molded feet for stability, and is more stout than the tall and skinny Reliance cans.
Two companies manufacture this container: Scepter and LCI. Scepter is made in Canada and is considered the higher quality / original maker of this can. The LCI cans are often sold under their in-house Skilcraft brand, which are made in America via a program that employs disabled and blind people. Although the differences seem small, we believe the Scepter cans are higher quality and worth the roughly $5-10 extra compared to LCI. However, if you’re looking for the cheapest military style can possible, you can buy directly from LCI (plus $10 shipping).
The Military Water Can is extremely tough and should easily last you 10-20 years. Mil-spec standards require a minimum wall thickness of 0.1 inches or 2.5 mm, and you can feel it when handling this can. You don’t want to drop it off a two story building, and the caps are a relatively weaker plastic, but we would trust it in the field over any other jerry can style option.
The main 4” hole is massive, which is great for filling and rapid draining (like if you needed to quickly put out a fire). The cap is easy to put on and tighten down by hand, although you can buy a bung wrench for that extra torque. There is a built in ‘child lock’ feature on the main cap, with a plastic tab that has to be manually lifted over a bump in order to unscrew the cap. It was easy to miss the first time you pick it up, but even the 10 year old child we tested it with figured it out in about a minute.
Unlike the cheaper jerry cans, there are two separate caps: the main one covering the large fill hole, and a second, smaller 1” twist cap on top of the main cap that you can open just for pouring. There is no extra spout that you have to reverse and add. We like that because it means there are no parts you touch with your hand or expose to the outside that then sit inside the water.
The .5” airflow vent is also a small twist cap built into the larger main cap. Unfortunately, the first unit we received had a small leak in the airflow cap. We could tell it was a manufacturing issue from when the plastic was injection molded. But after a quick return and replacement, things were fine.
We bought an extra $28 accessory that screws onto this smaller drain spout. It’s a flexible tube about one foot long with a nice spigot at the end. Although the can works fine without it, we loved this accessory and highly recommend it. Just keep it in a dry ziploc bag in the same place you store the container.
The USGI can passed all of our crush, drop, and submerge tests with no issues. Although, whenever we dropped this canister in our “dropping it while walking” test, it never landed upright. This is because the carry handle is off center, so it carries a little tilted front-to-back.
Our largest complaint is that the indexing on the main screw cap can be frustrating. So when you tighten it down by hand, the spout doesn’t line up exactly where you’d expect it to. We didn’t find it made a difference in pouring, but it seems like a silly oversight by the manufacturer.
Budget: Reliance Aqua-Tainer 7 Gallon Container
Cheapest way to store enough water:
Reliance Aqua-Tainer 7 Gal
The Reliance 7 gallon Aqua-Tainers are very popular because they’re cheap and found in lots of stores like Walmart. Although you clearly get what you pay for, Reliance did a good job building an affordable option that is surprisingly nice for its price class.
The plastic and construction quality is better at $15 than some of the options we tested at $25. But we definitely noticed some warping and inconsistencies in the walls. Particularly when full, you can see a kind of bloated bladder effect that pushes out against the sides.
The Aqua-Tainer looks very different than other options. It’s basically a stout cube with a handle and spigot on top that you can tip on its side so the spout is at the relative bottom of the tank, hanging over something like a table top. That makes it a stable option you can leave as-is and use over a few days with a simple turn of the spigot.
The design lends itself to getting banged up more easily than other types of containers. We created some big dents in the corners during normal day to day use simply from walking around corners, etc.
There are a lot of reports in Amazon reviews of leaks and cracks. On the one hand, we find this to be the case with almost any container (even our durable upgrade pick had a small leak in the first unit we bought). But the cheaper Acqua-Tainer is much more likely to need to be replaced in the future compared to the Rhino.
The seven gallon capacity might seem like a bonus over the other 5-6 gallon options, but in practice, most of our reviewers noted that they wished it was a smaller six gallons. That extra 8-10 pounds of weight and extra storage space needed for the extra gallon made a meaningful difference in terms of ease of carrying and use. It also contributes to the larger side walls that can bend or break.
It comes with a reversible spigot. When stored, the spigot is screwed to the inside of the cap, sitting in the water. You remove the cap, unscrew the spigot, flip it to the other side, and rescrew. We like that Reliance made a screw cap style cover for the airflow vent.
For the price, we thought the caps and pieces were well built and we saw no leaks around the connection points. However, where were reports on Amazon of the white plastic spigot and cap cracking over time.
You put your hands all over the spigot while twisting it on or off, which then sits back into the water when stored. Another possible contamination issue is that when the spigot is stored inside the cap, the internal tube of the spigot is exposed to the outside world. Dirt and bacteria could get inside the tube, which would then flow out of the spigot when you use it.
Not a huge deal, especially considering that the best role for this container is for non-critical water use in situations where it won’t be moving around much — for example, you open it up once, lay it on a table, then keep the spigot on the outside as you use the water in your home over a few days.
Best space saver: WaterBrick stackable containers
If you are space constrained:
WaterBrick 3.5 Gal Four Pack
If space efficiency is your top concern, consider the WaterBrick. They aren’t cheap — we paid around $65 for a set of two with one water spigot. You can get sets of 4 or 8 with one spigot for $110 and $185, respectively. Each set of four bricks is 14 total gallons, a two week supply for one person.
WaterBricks are specifically designed to be stacked. They are small at 3.5 gallons each and start off as a “do it all” container — the company advertises storing things like dog food and beans in addition to water.
The default cap used on each container is a simple flat cap without any water specific features. The mouth is nice and wide, but it isn’t practical to use for water unless you buy the extra water spigot cap. Sometimes a store will bundle the sets of 2, 4, or 8 bricks with one water spigot cap, but not one for each container.
As a results, you end up playing musical chairs with some of the pieces. If you have a stack of four WaterBricks filled with water and you want to use one, you have to attach the carry handle, remove the container from the stack, stand it on its vertical end, remove the carry handle, remove the storage cap, and install the water cap.
You cannot use the carry handle and the water spigot at the same time. The handles are nice and hold the container in an easy vertical position when carrying. But because they’re designed to be removable, they will pop off when you don’t want them to, which caused a number of frustrating moments during testing.
The spigot itself is mediocre. The container does not have a separate airflow vent to help with pouring, so the spigot is designed to let out water and let in air at the same time. This creates an odd chugging noise and water flow.
The spigot sits halfway up the container when in use. This means that once the water level is below 50% you have to tilt the brick with one hand while operating the spigot or holding a cup with the other. There are no built in handles or practical places to hold on to, so this can get a little awkward.
When looking at the water cap and spigot, we were concerned about some of the seals. Particularly the seal between the plastic cap and the spigot housing that seats through the middle of the cap. The assembly of pairing the cap and spigot together is not nearly as nice as similar options on the much cheaper $15 Reliance Aqua-Tainer.
We didn’t see any unreasonable leaking when we tested storing the water brick on its flat side, full of water, with the water cap on and spigot closed. However, storing it this way long term could still cause issues. Because the cap is on a vertical side wall, it’s the only container under seven gallons that we tested that had the weight of the internal water pressing against the seals during normal storage.
It’s reasonable to think the soft rubber gaskets used would degrade over time from constant water pressure and contact. There are Amazon reviews that mention this issue.
These all feel like silly design oversights by the company. If they made a better quality water cap and spigot, these problems could be avoided.
The container itself is very sturdy — probably the most solid-feeling container under seven gallons we have tested. At 3.5 gallons a piece, that means the walls have less surface area, which means less warping. Because they are designed to be stackable, the plastic is very thick and there are specially designed support struts throughout the container. We put 150 pounds on top of the container and it had no noticeable effect.
The WaterBrick shines when used as designed: to stack multiple containers in the most space efficient way. It is inch-for-inch the best way to squeeze 15 gallons of water into the smallest space possible.
They stack better than any other stackable options we’ve seen. When stacked, they are very sturdy and we’d feel comfortable stacking them three or four levels high. You can interlock them in alternating directions for added stability, and you can even use them for building makeshift structures or a defensive wall that slows down bullets.
It’s unfortunate the WaterBrick fell short on the more important qualities like ease of use and spigot quality, because if it was just a little bit better it might have been our top choice.
If you’re living in a home with very little spare space, it might be worth the extra money to get the WaterBricks. You can fit each one into smaller spaces than any other container or stack them together to store your 15 gallons per person in the most space efficient way possible. Just be sure to buy some extra water caps and keep them in a sealed ziploc bag nearby.
Scepter 5 Gallon Water Container. $19. We actually really liked this container — it almost won the overall pick and budget category. There were just a few flaws that kept it from being our top choice. But if you can’t find the Aqua-Tainer or you’re particularly worried about its size and durability, this container is a great backup budget choice.
Scepter has a good reputation for quality water cans. They are one of a few manufacturers that make our recommended upgrade pick, the USGI military style jerry cans. This five gallon can is their more affordable option. At around $20, it’s meant to compete with the Reliance products.
Although it’s a jerry can, it has a wider base and tapers off towards the top, which gives it a nice little boost of stability compared to straight and narrow cans like the Reliance Rhino. It was the sturdiest option we found in the $20 class. The airflow valve cover was very nice. The main spout cover had serrated teeth that helped with tightening down or opening the cap with your bare hands.
The pour was the nicest out of any container we tested, in any price range, except for the extra add-on accessory spigot for the USGI can. The great pour is due to a unique dual pipe design in the unusually long spout. But the spout was also flimsy, and even in our testing the edges of the plastic started to fray.
The spout is also flexible, with accordion folds in the middle. While nice for flexibility, we dislike it for long term storage because all of those nooks and corners are hard to clean and can harbor bacteria. We also prefer a shorter spout, because with these reversible designs, every time you remove, use, and return the spout, you run the risk of touching it with your hands or other contaminants, which then get dipped back into the water.
When filling the container, the neck hole was the narrowest out of any we tested, which was a slight annoyance.
Saratoga Farms Stackables. $100 for the four-pack of 5 gallon cans. We were really disappointed in the Saratoga Farms 5 gallon stackables. The plastic is cheap and was already warped and dented just from shipping. We get the impression the product designers had long term storage in mind, but it didn’t come together well at all. For example, the airflow vent arrived without a hole in the vent — you had to puncture the hole yourself. Which theoretically helps cut down on contamination and leak risk, but could be impractical in an emergency.
The caps are poorly designed, with a saw-tooth ratchet that locks in once you tighten the cap for the first time. But once you open the cap, it breaks away the ratchet ring and can’t be used again (like a new soda bottle cap). Their core feature, the ability to be stacked, was almost laughable — we would never feel comfortable stacking them even two levels high. The interlocking design was not nearly robust enough, and it only prevented the container from shifting along one axis. If you pushed along the other direction, it would slip right off!
Reliance Desert Patrol 6 Gallon. $21. The Desert Patrol is a popular water container and one we’ve personally and successfully used for camping and offroading. But we disqualified it for survival needs almost immediately. It has a standard single-handle jerry can design with reversible water cap and spout design. But when compared to its brother the Rhino, the plastic feels thin, it warped easily, and it doesn’t stack well. It totally failed our drop tests, with the back wall crumbling in on itself. It uses the traditional push-pin style plug for the airflow hole, which is basically an automatic disqualifier because it’s too flimsy and can easily leak water or let contamination inside.
Reliance Water-Pak 5 Gallon. $21. We chose not to include the Water-Pak in our field testing because of reports about a cheap and difficult carrying handle, which you can clearly tell from the pictures is less robust than its siblings. But with how disappointing some of the other products in our field test were, and the unique tall cube form factor, we might choose to test the Water-Pak in the future.
Reliance Aqua-Pak 5 Gallon. $18. Although an interesting cheap option from Reliance that seems more durable than the Aqua-Tainer and is marketed as stackable, it was automatically disqualified because of the push-pin style airflow plug and reports of cracking when stacked. We might test the Aqua-Pak in the future.
Reliance Jumbo-Tainer 7 Gallon. $23. The Jumbo-Tainer is a better container than its brother, the Desert Patrol. But it was quickly disqualified because of the push-pin plug for the airflow vent. We like the dual handles and reversible spigot (similar to its other brother, the Aqua-Tainer). It’s more rigid than the Desert Patrol, but not as stackable as the Rhino.
Igloo Cargo II / Rubbermaid 6 Gallon Water Containers. $17. We wouldn’t have chosen to include the Igloo in our field tests, but we had access to one anyway. Igloo has not done a good job defining their product offerings and there are a lot of confusing SKUs listed on Amazon and Walmart for these lines. Note that it appears the old Rubbermaid designs were absorbed into the Igloo line. We tested the Rubbermaid six gallon container in person and thought it had some nice features, like a sturdy design, dual handles, and molded stability feet. But the new Igloo’s have a push-pin style airflow plug, which is a disqualifier.
Ace Roto-Mold 10 Gallon Water Storage Tank. $150 after shipping. We were skeptical ahead of time about a 10 gallon tank, but wanted to include it for proper testing against the more popular short term options. It’s tall and cylindrical with a giant twist cap on top and an industrial ball valve on the bottom. This container, and other ones like it, would be solid contenders if they were smaller or somehow more mobile. Wherever you fill it with water is where it’s going to stay, unless you use multiple people or a wheeled cart. The lack of mobility means that spigot at the bottom will be difficult to use unless the tank is elevated. The top cap is too large for residential use, which increases chance of contamination, and the overall price was too expensive at $150. So it was disqualified for this recommendation.
Midwest Can Company 6 Gal. $15. Disqualified during research. Inconsistent messaging from the manufacturer about the plastics used. Knowledgeable Amazon reviews say the can is marked as flammable plastic #7 and likely contains BPA.
Wedco Briggs & Stratton 5 Gallon Water Can. $15. Disqualified during research. Poor quality spout and a push cap style airflow vent cover. A wide base makes this can stable and the dual handles are nice, but results in being very space inefficient compared to similar products.
Hudson Exchange 5 Gallon Plastic Hedpack. $17. Disqualified during research. Too many reports of durability problems. The plastic is good grade but too transparent and likely intended for shorter term storage, like restaurant or transportation use.
Tolco Heavy-Duty HDPE 5 Gallon Plastic Dispenser Carboy. $35. Disqualified during research. Too transparent, too many reports of leaks, and too expensive for what you get.
Coleman 5 Gallon Water Carrier. $14. Disqualified during research because we couldn’t find consistent inventory stock in major stores like Amazon and Walmart.
Emergency Essentials 5 Gallon Water Box Five-Pack. $35. These types of options aren’t appropriate for critical water storage. But they are an interesting way to store extra water that can then be used as a toilet if needed.
AquaPodKit 65 Gallon Bathtub Emergency Water Storage. $20. We like this kind of bag that fills up inside your bathtub in an emergency. But it’s a nice-to-have bonus and not an appropriate contender for your main two week water supply.