Primitive canteens were sometimes made of hollowed-out gourds, such as a calabash, or were bags made of leather.
Later, canteens consisted of a glass bottle in a woven basket cover. The bottle was usually closed with a cork stopper. These were obviously quite fragile.
Designs of the mid-1900s were made of metal — tin-plated steel, stainless steel or aluminium — with a screw cap, the cap frequently being secured to the bottle neck with a short chain or strap to prevent loss. These were an improvement over glass bottles, but were subject to developing pinhole leaks if dented, dropped or bumped against jagged rocks.
Current designs are almost exclusively made of one of several types of plastics, especially polyethylene or polycarbonate. They are typically as light or lighter than their metal equivalents and are quite resistant to developing leaks, even when dropped or severely bumped.