Backpacking with Ultralite Nalgene Bottles

Backpacking with Ultralite Wide-Mouth Nalgene Bottles

Ultralite Nalgene Bottles are 40% lighter weight than Transparent Nalgene Bottles which makes them a lot more attractive to use for backpacking. In the one-liter size, a wide-mouth Ultralite Nalgene, such as the one above, weighs 3.75 oz, while a transparent wide-mouth bottle weighs 6.25 oz. That 2.5 oz difference adds up if you carry two or three bottles at a time. The Ultralite Nalgene bottles are made with high-density polyethylene, while the transparent ones are made with much heavier polycarbonate plastic, which explains the weight difference.

While many backpackers and hikers carry 1L Smartwater bottles (1.4 oz) or other PET bottles instead of Nalgenes because they’re lighter weight and compatible with popular water filters, there’s still an argument to be made for carrying these white Ultralite Nalgene Bottles instead. While they do weigh more, they are far superior in terms of functional capabilities, including:

  • Much better durability over the long term (they last for years)
  • You can put boiling hot water in them for drinks
  • You can put boiling hot water in them to warm a sleeping bag/quilt
  • The caps are attached to the bottles and can’t be lost
  • The volume measurements printed on the sides are helpful when rehydrating dinners
  • The wide mouth is better to scoop water out of ponds and lakes than a narrow-necked bottle
  • Wide mouth bottles don’t freeze as quickly as narrow-necked ones in freezing weather
  • Wide-mouth bottles are easy to carry upside down in winter to prevent freezing around the cap
  • 1L Nalgene bottles are much harder to tip over in camp
  • 1L Nalgene bottles are compatible with all backpack bottle pockets. Smartwater bottles aren’t.

I switched to using the 1L wide-mouth Ultralite Nalgene bottles this summer for a different reason, although I do find the reasons above to be compelling too. I kept losing Smartwater bottles stored in the side pockets of my pack on off-trail hikes because the vegetation would rip them out. That stopped when I switched to the shorter and squatter Ultralite Nalgenes and I’ve stuck with them ever since.

Ultralite Nalgene Bottles have really grown on me this year.
Ultralite Nalgene Bottles have really grown on me this year.

Don’t Ditch Your Nalgene Bottles

Many years ago, I wrote an article titled Go Light – Ditch Your Nalgene Bottles, which in hindsight was a little idiotic, because I was over-enthusiastic about dropping my gear weight. It was based on the assumption that all Nalgene bottles weighed 6.25 oz because I didn’t know that these 1L Ultralite Nalgenes weigh 3.75 oz. While I still believe in reducing my gear weight, especially as I age, I’ve found that I prefer the functionality of these Ultralite Nalgenes over Smartwater bottles and their ilk.

I still carry extra Platypus or CNOC soft bottles with me when I’m hiking so I can carry extra water when necessary or squeeze it through a hollow fiber filter like a Sawyer or a Befree. But carrying these wide-mouth Ultralite Nalgenes, available in White, Orange, Red, or Green colors, is an upgrade over PET bottles and well worth a few ounces of added weight.

Nalgene Ultralite Bottles


Lightweight and Indestructible

Nalgene Ultralite Water Bottles are the swiss-army knife of water bottles for hiking, backpacking, and camping. 40% lighter weight than transparent Nalgene bottles, you can add hot water to them, drop them on rocks, or freeze them and they just come back for more.

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  1. I had a similar journey with water bottles. I started reusing Gatorade and Powerade bottles for years partially due to your article, but that got annoying. I circled back around to these soft Nalgene bottles a few years ago and have one at work and two at home. I usually just carry this or a cheap single-wall steel bottle, plus a bladder. It depends on the weather because the condensation is much worse on steel bottles in NC humidity compared to Nalgene.

  2. I have used this type of Nalgene bottle for years, and prefer them to the ubiquitous polycarbonate Nalgenes because the latter frequently crack and shatter. I didn’t know about the weight difference, that is bonus!

    I have been using the same couple of 1L Nalgenes for 6+ years. I also use CNOC and Platypus collapsible bladders the same ways that you do, and use the odd Smartwater bottle thrown in, but have more issues retrieving out of side pockets (or losing like you do) than I do the Nalgenes. Extra bonus over the Smartwater bottles is it’s easy to clip a carabiner to the lid strap for extra security.

  3. I may be wrong but I belive that they do retain certain odors. I don’t remember which, perhaps some of you know.

  4. Wish Nalgene made one half the size of the original 1 liter. I’m never that far away from water and the weight would be even more reasonable. I have also heard that reusing smart water bottles is not a good idea and could start to leach into the water with over use.

  5. Have you stress tested these water bottles — or any other water bottles for that matter? I have continued to carry one polycarboate Nalgene bottle, even as I experiment with a 2.5 l Osprey bladder and Smart water bottles. My theory, as yet untested, is that the polycarbonate will hold up better to things like being dropped on rocky ground or being scraped with one of the poky corners of a stove.

    • I’ve been using 1L polyethylene bottles for winter hiking for over 10 years. So yes, they’ve been stress tested. They’re soft so they don’t shatter when dropped. I have cracked the polycarbonate ones though. They’re not as durable because they are rigid.

  6. Also easier to wash.

  7. FYI that if you do manage to break the plastic loop that attaches the lid to the bottle (like I did once) replacements are readily available on Amazon.

  8. I totally agree with you on their utility! In terms of durability, I had one UL Nalgene bottle for thirty years and it was still in great shape when I donated it to a vet who needed it as a replacement water canister for a pet teeth-cleaning machine. The fact that you can put boiling water in them means you can clean and sterilize them easier than bottled-water bottles. The large mouth also means they dry out much quicker for storage after washing them than a narrow-neck bottle (which can take days to dry out in the humid NE). Finally, when I get to a scrambling section, I’ll take 30 seconds and run my backpack side compression straps through the lid loops to lock them in as extra protection against their loss.
    I have 3 1L UL Nalgenes and 1 half-liter UL Nalgene that I originally used only for winter hiking (I take some combination of these 4 bottles–not all of them at once) but increasingly I’ve been reaching for them year-round.

  9. I have to come clean that I am a long-term Nalgene bottle user. I like the fact there are now Ultralite ones. I have never had a Nalgene bottle fail me where I have bladders and other bottles fail.

  10. CAPT Gary Andres USN ret

    A little self deprecation there Phillip: “…which in hindsight was a little idiotic…”. How many of us long on this orb, can’t say that about something that we used to do! Good article, sir. The best point wrapped it up, in that as we get older, wiser, we are willing to sacrifice ounces, maybe even miles per day…to improve our comfort, and enjoy the miles with more smiles.

  11. I do use one of these… as my ‘pee bottle’. And I’ve used the smaller ones for foods like gorp, so I can ‘drink’ in in the winter and avoid getting a mouth full of fleece from my mittens/gloves. I have found that eventually they do become stiff and crack.

    • I’ve never had one crack and I drink about 4-5 liters of hot tea out of one all winter long. Then again, I don’t use it as a pee bottle.

    • Interesting. We use the Nalgene HDPE laboratory containers at work. 2l, 4l and 10l sizes. The only chemical we commonly use that makes them brittle is Nitric Acid, we require those containing nitric to be disposed of before 6 months. They are sitting in a cabinet in a temperature controlled building instead of being exposed to the variables involved with year-round backpacking, of course.

  12. I added a Nalgene Ultralight bottle to my kit last year just for the hot water option. Serves me well to this point. I havent added a second yet but the option is there.

  13. Also they are compatible with the MSR water pumps. While neither is ultra lite they both will last a long time.

    I picked up one of the light Nalgene bottles during a REI sale for half off. We will see if it meets my needs. I found the 1L Smart Water bottles easy to reach from the side pockets. Never lost one yet.

  14. I love the lightweight Nalgene bottles! I have 2 more reasons:
    -Because the material has a bit more give than the traditional Nalgenes (but still strong), you can freeze water in it and it will expand with the ice. Then you can let it melt over the course of a hot hike and you have refreshing ice water.
    -I have also found them to be great for snacking during a winter hike – put trail mix in the wide mouth and you can easily access food even while wearing gloves. The snacks might be solid but they’ll defrost in your mouth, unlike trying to bite into a rock solid Clif bar! I just strap it to the outside of my pack for fast snacking.

  15. I’ve had many of both over the years, mostly because I keep losing them. I do think the soft bottles are better. I didn’t realize there was that much weight difference. The polyethlene and polycarb bottles are both quite durable. I’ve seen the soft bottles dropped 50 feet or more with no real damage. However, one time I had a soft white bottle in the fridge, not freezer, filled with water. I was going somewhere so I was carrying it to the car and dropped it on the sidewalk from waist high. It shattered like glass into many shards Never saw that happen before or since.

  16. Nice article. I think for those of us who value the environment, the longevity of the Nalgene is its key virtue. Less materials extracted, processed and transported, and less post use waste are all add up to a more environmentally sustainable product (if that exists).

  17. I started carrying these for winter hiking as I can pour boiling water in them and then tuck into my bottle insulator. They are also nice and cheap (compared to the other Nalgenes but not compared to smartwater bottles). I summer hike with a Granite Gear Scurry pack and Nalgenes don’t work well for me in that pack – too hard to get in and out of the side pockets on the move although they technically fit. I use smart water bottles for that.

    • In the long run a Nalgene is cheaper than an Smartwater bottle. You buy a Nalgene and it’s basically good for life. Not so for Smartwater bottles as eventually you will be buying replacements. Not to mention I see disposable water bottles thrown away on the trail all the time. I have never seen that with a Nalgene.

  18. Daniel R Windmueller

    Would everyone who commented on this post please email nalgene and ask them to make the narrow bottle longer – like a double capacity in the same diameter. I’ve emailed them in the past about making that bottle and they never have, and never returned my email. I think that would be an Ultralight go to bottle if it were the same diameter and more capacity.

  19. i cary 2 of these even when i am using a blader. i’ve had quite a few bladders fail but never my nalgens. they are light enough to strap empty to my pack just in case. it is also a direct fit for my MSR filter.

  20. Does Amazon not sell the 32 oz Ultra Lite option? Seems that the only wide mouth 32oz they have is the 6.25oz..maybe thats why you only linked to REI.

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