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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 increases if you carry two or three bottles at the same 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:

  • They have 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 for scooping 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 a few years ago 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 keeping my gear weight low, I’ve found that I prefer the functionality of these Ultralite Nalgenes over Smartwater bottles and their ilk. Try pouring hot water into a Smartwater bottle sometime and you’ll quickly see why.

I still carry 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 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 carry 1 liter Calistoga sparkling water bottles. They are about the same weight as Smartwater bottles, but have a shape that stays put in water bottle pockets.

  2. Totally agree, a combination of these lightweight bottles and platypus bags is the perfect combination of long term function, durability without pushing to an extreme
    Great info as usual

  3. Also the Nalgene bottles have a significantly less environmental impact based on how long they last as opposed to swapping out Smart Water bottles constantly.

  4. The 16 oz bottle can be used for cold soaking if that’s your thing and as a mug for hot or cold flavored drinks.

  5. Yup, these are great bottles. I have several 32’s and one of the 48’s. I only get this style, because I am old(ish) and these remind me of the 90s. I ended up giving one away to a guy who was on top of Mt. Washington in January, and had no water with him. Like dude, seriously? Here, have one of my 32’s all full and keep it. I don’t want them cooties.

    They’ve changed the volume label the outside, so the top is now 30oz instead of being slightly higher and labeled 32. The bottles however have not changed and its merely a gauge label change.

  6. I carry one of the 32 oz ultralite nalgenes and one smart water bottle. I carry the smart water bottle on one of my pack shoulder straps using a Zpacks bottle holder and carry the nalgene in a side pocket. I carry the nalgene because 1) it doesn’t fall out of the side pockets of my Gossamer Gear packs, 2) the emergency warmer potential (although I have never had to use this), and 3) I use a sawyer squeeze and it is much easier to filter water into the wide mouth of the nalgene using the standard little snap cap on the sawyer squeeze. I then refill the smart water bottle from the nalgene as needed.

    p.s. – I love your little math problem bot blocker (I hate trying to identify things in photos for the Captcha test)

    • I prefer that numerical Captcha too. Glad it makes it easier to comment. I’ve lost many smartwater bottles when they fall out of backpack side pockets, but never a milky while Nalgene. Plus RE-using a Nalgene reduces landfill trash.

  7. “The wide mouth is better for scooping water out of ponds and lakes than a narrow-necked bottle.”

    I use a gallon Ziploc (with “dirty” written on the side) for scooping water from lakes and ponds. Then I carefully pour the water into a 1.5L Evernew bottle for filtering through a Sawyer.

    The Evernew does have a permanently attached cap, BTW.

  8. I use these for winter hiking in the Adirondacks where I pour boiling water in them to help keep the water from freezing, couple with water bottle coozies. Due to their soft plastic build, the boiling water changes their composure, which kind of makes them feel like they’re going to melt into a puddle. I hope no microscopic plastic particles leach into my water.

  9. I’ve hiked 8 of the 11 National Scenic Trails in the last 4 years and have seen zero thru hikers use these. Plenty of day or section hikers use them. Water bottle choice is super low on the list of things to be concerned about. Personally, I use one or more Sawyer bags and a fat Gatorade bottle and that’s it.

    • I bow to your expertise about thru hiker fashion. I value environmental impacts (less landfill waste) and utility( hot water drinks) more. Let’s face it smart water bottles are a fashion statement.

    • You hiked 8 of 11 scenic trails and obviously haven’t learned to be humble. What a jerk.

  10. These are just hard to beat. I got mine in the 80’s for a Grand Canyon 16-day kayak trip where it got severely abused. Years later, it went down Utah’s Desolation Canyon and got tossed all over the place in water, sand, dirt and rocks and then in the early 2000’s, it went back down the Grand. However, on that trip in the early morning while we were loading up the supply rafts, it floated away from me, and I presumed I’d never see it again. But late that afternoon, and after 17 MILES of some serious whitewater, one of the kayakers got me and said “Doc, we found your water bottle!” which I just presumed they found that morning and forgot to tell me. Nope. She took me over to an eddy behind a big rock and there it was, going round and round with my name written on the side. How it survived those 17 miles was one thing, but how “it found me” and got there ahead of me is quite another as our original planned camp was 2 miles back up-stream. Yes, it was weird.

    Anyway, there’s no question about their durability or life span as mine is now officially celebrating its 40th year with the only wear being a broken cap retainer strap and some yellowing. Other than that, it still functions perfectly and just got cleaned up for another trip. I’d buy a new one but I’ve kinda bonded with this guy.

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