28 reasons why Nalgene bottles are great for lightweight hiking and backpacking.

Despite constantly trying to lower my pack weight, I never go out without my Nalgene 500ml HDPE* bottle. Nalgene's are amazing, multifunctional pieces of kit that deserve a spot on any outdoor and travel kit list (I even make my daughter carry one!)

28 reasons why Nalgene bottles are great for lightweight hiking and backpacking.
My 10+ year old, well used (and in need of a clean) Nalgene 500 ml (16 oz) bottle.
  1. Drinks bottle. Get the first and obvious one out of the way. It holds water, therefore juice, fizzy drinks, alcohol... any drink you want, safely and securely.
  2. Lightweight. It's only 69 grams. Considering how multifunctional it is, 69 grams is fantastic!
  3. Leakproof (and indestructible). In over 20 years of using them, abusing them and dropping them (we have even played 'catch' with them) I have never had one leak or break.
  4. Environmentally friendly. HDPE* bottles can be recycled. HDPE is the same material that is used for milk cartons from the supermarket.
  5. It's a cup and a mug. Use it as a mug to make hot drinks such as tea, coffee and soup so you don't have to carry an extra mug in your cook kit.
  6. Keep hiking. Make a brew, pop the lid on and off and you can keep hiking with a warm drink. Great for when it's too cold to stop for long breaks and you just want to keep hiking! Can't do that with a titanium mug, I've tried!
  7. Holds hot & cold liquids. HDPE can hold hot and cold liquids, making it ideal for any drink. Can the walls get hot, yes but so does a titanium mug! My solution is to wrap a buff around it, which also insulates it and stops it from going cold! (sometimes the walls can bend inwards, just open the cap to release the pressure and it will be as good as new). You could even make a dedicated cosy for it using foil wrap as you might for a cooking pot.
  8. Use it as a bowl. Get a long-handled spoon and eat from it! Cold-soaked oats, pasta, cous cous, anything you want and it saves on gas. Or even put hot food in it, screw the lid on and take it with you or just keep it warm for later on.
  9. Hand warmer. Fill it with warm water and you have a hand warmer for those cold mornings and chilly evenings
  10. Fits in cup & bottle holders. It will fit in the cup holder in your car and the bottle holder on your bike. I carry mine on the shoulder strap of my backpack in an old Lifeventure pouch
  11. Dry socks and clothes. Fill with hot water, put your socks on it and watch them steam dry before your eyes. You can speed this up with a buff by wiping the water droplets off as they come to the surface!
  12. Warm-up clothes after a cold night. This method can also be used to defrost or warm up socks after a freezing night. Fill with hot water and do the same as you do for drying socks and it will make them toasty when you get dressed. I usually make coffee in the morning and put it in my socks so I can have warm socks to put on, especially if my trainers are frozen or wet!
  13. Dry your trainers and boots. As with the socks method, fill them with water and put them in your trainers. Be careful if you have Goretex or leather boots!
  14. They fit children's hands. They fit nicely into children's hands as they are narrower.
  15. Glove-friendly. Using the wide-mouth variety, means you don't need to take gloves off when trying to open them. The narrow ones can be harder to open with gloves on!
  16. Hot water bottle. Fill with warm water, wrap it in something like a buff and then a dry bag (just to be extra safe) and throw it in your sleeping bag! You can do this in the morning or if you are having a cold night holding in between your thighs next to your Femoral vein. I do this all the time!
  17. Wide-mouth. Having a wide-mouth bottle comes with loads of advantages, from cleaning to putting things like ice cubes or fruit inside to spice up your drinks.
  18. Milk shaker. Enjoy a Latte on the summit of a mountain! Mixing milk powder can be hard to get right, so just put some powder in your bottle with cold (not hot!) water and shake. A hard shake will create froth, you can then pour coffee into it for a latte or shake it gently for use in tea!
  19. Spare water supply. Being small it can fit into a backpack without taking up much extra room. I regularly fill mine with water and pop it into my bag as 'spare water' on very hot days. Remember the heat wave of 2022 it was always filled with water just in case a water source was dry!
  20. Prevent water from freezing overnight. Larger bottles work best for this. On a freezing night, hide it under your backpack or other fabric, you can even turn it upside down and bury it in the snow to stop it freezing. However, if it does freeze, it will freeze from the bottom, meaning you can still get it open.
  21. Clip it and hang it anywhere, everywhere. Due to the design of the cap being connected to the bottle, you can use a small karabiner to clip it onto your bag. We use this method when canoeing. Using the small lip just under the mouth, you can rig up a near-infinite amount of ways to secure it onto a bag or even a shoulder strap of a backpack. Some 3 mm shock cord is perfect for this or maybe some thin (2mm) Dyneema cord off eBay.
  22. Volume measuring tool for cooking. They come with markings on the side for measuring volumes. You can use this for cooking food that requires specific amounts of ingredients. We regularly do this to cook pancakes! If you are keen you could use a Sharpie pen to mark exact volumes of other ingredients such as where 100 grams of flour comes to, or American cup volumes, the choice is yours!
  23. No removable parts to lose or replace. Technically, the whole cap can be eased off and replaced if needed, however, there are no silicon seals to go mouldy or cap springs that might turn rusty! Nalgenes are foolproof.
  24. Accessories. Just take a look on the Nalgene website or search eBay and Etsy and you will find loads of accessories from carrying handles to insulators.
  25. Mood lighting or wildlife trap. Pop your head torch inside to defuse the light, creating some ambience or even just a lamp to hang up and play a game by. We do this in the evenings by hanging it in a tree, to attract moths or even popping it into a lake or loch to attract small fish
  26. Waterproof container. You don't have to use it as a water bottle, keep anything you want in it. An accessible first aid kit if you are on water or mix coffee with some milk powder to keep it dry... this list is endless.
  27. It's not disposable. Enough said!
  28. Save money. Think of all the things that this bottle can replicate or do better. No more buying disposable hand warmers. Use it in coffee shops for discounts as you're not using their disposable cups (Starbucks and Costa offer this). No more buying disposable bottles to replace broken or when they get dirty

*High-density Polyethylene

Now for the negatives! (there aren't many)

Nalgenes can't be all perfect, and they're not. There are a few things that I do not like about them.

  1. Drips. When unscrewing the cap I always get a few drips that nothing can prevent! My response to this is to make sure the cap is always underneath the bottle, to capture the drips so they don't land on me or in my sleeping bag!
  2. Drinking while walking. Unless you want to waterboard yourself, you will have to stand still to drink. You can get accessories to help with this, but these are very hard to come by for the 500 ml wide-mouth bottles. The ones Nalgene produces for the 1000 and 15000 ml bottles are poor quality and they will not work at all with warm liquids (they permanently deform)
  3. Weight. It's heavier than a disposable bottle, but that's the point, It's not disposable. You can do so much more with it and save more weight in other areas meaning a lower pack weight overall!
  4. Made in the USA. If you live in the USA, perfect. I live in Scotland. The bottles have to fly (or sail) from America to Europe/UK creating a huge carbon footprint. This sits very uncomfortably with me!

There you go... multiple reasons why everybody should carry a Nalgene with them, regardless of their target pack weight or where they are hiking.

I'm sure that if you remove just some of the items a 500 ml Nalgene HDPE bottle can replace, you will save weight, as well as make your time outside more comfortable and fun.

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How do you use your Nalgene? If you can think of any other uses for a Nalgene or water bottle, please let me know. I would love to hear what you use them for?