The Lowly Water Bottle

As the late, great comedian Rodney Dangerfield was known to say – “I get no respect!”.  And so it is for the lowly water bottle.

Water is one of the most important items we carry with us on a hike, paddle or bike ride and yet we often give short shrift to the container that carries our water.

How much Water?

Before you even think about what water bottle you should use, consider how much water you are going to need on any outdoor adventure.  The recommended intake of water each day is 8 cups or 64 oz. of water.  If you’re hot, add more.  If you’re at altitude, add more.  If you’re on a strenuous hike, add more. Notice a trend yet?

If you’re out for a 1/2 day of hiking, the minimum amount of water you should consume is 1 quart = 4 cups = 32 oz. of water.  Add hot weather or a strenuous hike and you might want to think about 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of water.  Remember that you’re better off with a little too much than a little too little.

Bottled Water

One of the big mistakes I see is hikers who bring bottled water with them on a hike into the backcountry.  For starters, a bottle of “store-bought” water usually comes in 16 oz containers.  As you’ve already seen, you want to think about at least a quart for a 1/2 day hike, so a single bottle of water is only going to cover 1/2 of your requirements.

The other big problem with bottled water is that the containers themselves are not very durable nor are the easily refilled.  With the introduction of new “eco-friendly” bottles, store-bought water bottles are almost downright fragile!  Do you really want to depend on a flimsy, fragile container for such a critical item?

Finally, as many of the big water brands are just filtered tap water, do you really want to pay good money (not to mention generating that extra waste) for something you can get free at home?

“Sippy Cups” and Other Gimmicks

If you take a close look at a bicycle water bottle, which is designed to sit neatly in a water bottle cage on your bike, it consists of a simple snap top with a bite valve that allows you to sip on the go.  This is a great idea on a bike trip, but the bottles don’t seal completely and are subject to leaking if tossed around in a backpack.

Other bottles give you flip tops, built-in straws or let you squeeze water out of the bottle. Any of these gimmicks can leak if not carried carefully.

It doesn’t make these bottles bad, but consider your outing carefully before packing one of these “sippy cups” in your pack.

Metal Bottles

Sigg, Kleen Kanteen and others make bottles from metal rather than plastic. They became very popular a few years ago when the chemical BPA, found in many plastic bottles at the time, was found to have potential health risks. Metal bottle makers stepped up marketing campaigns touting them as BPA-free alternatives to polycarbonate bottles.

Metal bottles are made from aluminum or stainless steel and claim to be tough, taste-free and seal well. While I find these better than store-bought water bottles or the squeeze bottles, there are downsides to metal.

Metal transfers heat quickly, so unless the bottle is insulated (which adds weight and cost) they aren’t useful for hot beverages and will tend to warm up your water if left exposed to the sun – much more so than plastic bottles.  While they are sturdy, they will dent or deform if dropped or banged.  Because metal expands and contracts more than plastics, I have found the top difficult to open on occasion.

The Classic Wide-Mouth

My go-to bottle of choice is the 32-oz, wide-mouth Nalgene bottle.  After BPA became a concern, Nalgene and other makers of plastic bottles re-engineered their bottles to use a BPA-free Lexan.  (Nalgene markets these bottles as their “Everyday” series).

The design of this bottle is simple and straightforward – no gimmicks or gadgets.  The top is secure and leak-proof and stays attached to the bottle with a plastic strap.  The mouth is wide enough to drop in an ice-cube or two on a hot day or a tea bag on a cold winter trip.  It’s also wide enough to make cleaning the bottle easy. The bottles are translucent, which allows you to see exactly how much water is left and there is a measurement scale on the side to make it easy to measure water in camp.

One other advantage is that packs, water filters and a lot of accessories are all designed to fit or accommodate the 32-oz wide-mouth bottle.

One small disadvantage is that the wide-mouth design makes drinking on the run a bit of a challenge as water tends to splash out easily.  For that you can buy a splash guard for a couple of bucks that sits snugly in the mouth and prevents splashing common to the design.

I have used my Nalgene as a hot-water bottle in the winter, as a mixing bowl for pancakes, and as a measuring cup for cooking in camp. It’s held water, tea, soup, Gatorade and other sports drinks.  I’ve dropped it down a steep rocky trail, banged it around in my pack, had it freeze up in the winter and it’s still works just as well as the day I bought it. Even when I’m using a hydration pack, I still carry a spare Nalgene to make cooking and cleaning tasks easier.

These bottles are about $10 or so and are in every outdoor store around. Compare that price to the $1-a-bottle price for store-bought water and you quickly see how truly economical these bottles are!

So drop the store-bought water habit and go get yourself a couple of good, wide-mouth water bottles for your pack.  You’ll be glad you did!