Gear Guy

Why invest in a Nalgene bottle when cheap plastic works just as well?

It seems that hard plastic Nalgene containers are something of a standard in the backpacking arena these days. However, what's to prevent me from simply refilling empty plastic water bottles? They are considerably lighter, less expensive, and really very durable. They can even be crushed when empty to preserve space, and later be un-crushed for refilling. Is there some other reason why I should pitch the five-cent CRV and invest in a $6 Nalgene bottle? Brian Glendale, California

A: Ah, yes. The ubiquitous Nalgene bottle. How many of them, I wonder, are even now stashed away in a gear locker, or sloshing around the sun-warmed pocket of a backpack in the Sierras, quietly breeding enormous quantities of microbes. Because I really doubt that people wash these things out thoroughly, particularly if you've been swilling fruit punch Gatorade mixed with orange juice (my personal fave).


That's also one of the knocks on re-using the lightweight polyethylene bottles that sports drinks or bottled water typically come in. They're difficult to wash, and once you've wrapped your lips around the wet end of one, you've launched a little armada of bugs into a growth-friendly microclimate. But sure, I see them used a lot, and there's no reason not to do so. Myself, I don't find them all that durable—a hard ding against a sharp rock while scrambling up a hillside—could easily leave you without a water bottle. However, some people do wrap them in duct tape to help beef them up.

That said, spending $6 each on a Nalgene bottle or two remains a good investment and is hardly going to break the bank. The things last literally for years (and some believe them to be absolutely indestructible), so your actual cost is pennies per trip. Plus, they offer a host of advantages over your downmarket plastic bottle. They're much more rugged, for one thing. And the threaded top is compatible with many water filters. Finally, they're easier to clean. All in all, reason enough to stick a couple of them in your pack. If you're worried about the girth of some of the bigger bottles, check out the slimline N-Gen ($10; family of water carriers that come in snazzy colors like parrot green and fire-engine red.

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside
Lead Photo: courtesy, Nalgene
More Gear