Until last summer, I was only familiar with the Nalgene water bottles by name. I had certainly seen their immediately recognizable, all lower-case logos on high school study hall desks, within the hands of trail hikers, and at my local gym, but I’d never actually pursed one to my lips.
The circumstances surrounding my first hands-on encounter with such a seemingly simple product were extreme. My close friend, an Eagle Scout, had convinced me to trek deep into the Boundary Waters extending across the Minnesota border and into Canada for a 12-day dispersed camping retreat. The longest outdoor stint I’d done previously consisted of two days on my family farm with a pickup loaded with whatever items we desired.
With my Eagle Scout friend as a guide, we embarked via canoe at a launch point near Minnesota’s most northern town. Our loadout consisted of frame packs full of gear and compact tents, coolers full of beer and food, and a spritely German Shepherd. After a number of exhausting portages, 25 miles of paddling, and 24 hours of unbridled alcohol consumption, we had failed to locate one of the three targeted camp sites and found ourselves on a beach in total wilderness.
“I also asked the Eagle Scout why he’d chosen a Nalgene specifically. ‘They don’t break. You can literally throw a full one 20 feet in the air,’ he said.”
I was tasked with the entirely necessary task purifying water. I broke out a collapsible bucket and a big, bulky thermos I’d planned on using as my primary water container. Unfortunately, the pump’s spout didn’t easily fit into the thermos’ mouth. A relatively high center of gravity combined with a relatively narrow bottom made the thermos especially unstable on uneven surfaces—good luck finding a flat-top table in the middle of nowhere. Plus, I couldn’t see easily see how much purified water had been collected through the thermos’ non-transparent metal construction. Mild inconveniences like these were amplified by the stress of being somewhat lost, hungover, and parched.
My Eagle Scout buddy had wisely brought Nalgene’s 32-ounce wide-spout Tritan. Confronted with my thermos woes, I asked if I could use it as a receptacle for purifying water. It was the perfect tool for the job—stable, see-through, and large-capacity. I spent around 25 minutes filling it three times.
With our thirsts quenched with safely treated Boundary Water, we once again consulted the map only to finally conclude that we’d overshot our planned destination and ended up in Canada. Illegally no less, as international travel was restricted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic Who was going to enforce border law in the middle of nowhere. We ultimately found and settled at a tranquil Canadian campsite, where we didn’t see a single soul for the duration of out stay.
I volunteered to be the designated water purifier—easier than chopping firewood. Over the coming days, I’d spend hours purifying water into the Nalgene, pumping milliliters at a time into the bottle. I also asked the Eagle Scout why he’d chosen a Nalgene specifically.
“They don’t break. You can literally throw a full one 20 feet in the air,” he said shortly before doing just that. There were no cracks or leaks upon inspection after the fall.
I’m aware that this sounds like a overkill love letter to that Nalgene, and that’s partially true. I did form something of a bond with it—as our primary purified water collector, it immediately became indelibly linked to our literal survival and well-being. That’s also why my little story isn’t overkill in this context. The next time I’m in the wilderness, I’ll be packing a Nalgene.
There are core tenets that the entire Nalgene lineup shares. Most are made entirely in the U.S.A. if not mostly, which both benefits the American economy and reduces emissions when compared to imported products. They’re also built to last—every Nalgene bottle has a lifetime warranty. You can throw one in the dishwasher or a freezer without worrying about compromising the construction’s integrity. Just be sure to fill the bottle no more than two-thirds full if you take the latter option to allow for expansion and prevent cracking.
As an added bonus, the bottles are all free of bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical that’s been used to make polycarpbonate plastics and epoxy resins for decades. Any product that contains zero BPA is worthy buying—the Mayo Clinic reports that “exposure to BPA can have possible health effects on the brain and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. It can also affect children’s behavior. Additional research suggests a possible link between BPA and increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” Even though words like “suggests” and “possible” aren’t conclusive, why take the chance?
If you’re eco-conscious—dare I say woke—then you should know about Nalgene’s initiatives. Nalgene recently partnered with mother-daughter duo Jill Zarin and Allyson Shapiro, who have parlayed success selling tie-dye face masks into a full-fledged fashion brand focused on philanthropy. Jill & Ally worked with Nalgene to design the “Tell Me Everything” bottle, a limited-edition 32-ounce, raspberry-colored Nalgene wide-mouth with a teal cap. Ten percent of each sale will benefit the Fresh Air Fund, an organization that provides free summer experiences to children from New York City’s underserved communities. That bottle is available on JillyandAlly.com for $25.
The Jill and Ally collaboration is just one of Nalgene’s many worthwhile initiatives. Another is the new Sustain line of water bottles, which are made with 50 percent recycled content using resin synthesized from landfill-bound plastic—more on that below. And obviously, any reusable product is always better than a single-use product.
Below, browse six distinct different Nalgene water receptacles that’ll make you think twice about buying a disposable Dasani from the corner convenience store.
Picking the Right Water Bottle for the Job
For Dispersed Camping: 32oz Wide Mouth Tritan
Not only is this the first Nalgene I had the pleasure of using, it’s the bottle that put the brand on the map. A generous mouth accommodates most filtration devices, ice cubes, powders, or even fruit infusions. And as my buddy so elegantly demonstrated with a 20-foot drop test, the Tritan is capable of withstanding anything you—or nature—can throw at it.
For General Use: 20oz MultiDrink
As the Rochester, New York-based brand puts it: this is the multi-tool of water bottles. Unscrew the Loop-Top cap and drink from the mouth for voluminous gulps, or sip from the pivoting straw on-the-go. A lower volume also cuts down on bulk, making the MultiDrink a solid choice for quick hikes or trips to the beach.
For Backpackers: 48oz Cantene
If you’re a regular backpacker who likes to take as little gear as possible while journeying for as long as possible, this could be your best bet. It’s got the largest capacity of any entry on this list, yet it also takes up the least amount of cargo room when empty and rolled up. Don’t let it’s flexible shape fool you—this pouch is strong enough to hold up against moderately rough use. Side note: That clever “Cantene” spelling is no typo.
For the Environmentalist: 32oz Narrow Mouth Sustain
This is an example from Nalgene’s aforementioned new Sustain line. Nalgene is the first to the reusable water bottle market with a new resin powered by next- generation recycling that converts landfill plastic into rugged, BPA-free bottles. Each Sustain bottle is made from 50 percent recycled content—Nalgene boasts that the equivalent of eight single-use bottles is recycled in the production of one Sustain product. Functionally speaking, it’s just as rugged and handy as the 32oz Tritan. And while many standard Nalgene products are available in bold colors like pink, yellow and blue, the Sustain line gets an exclusive earthy hue dubbed Woodsman, along with a “50% Recycled Content” sticker.
For Urbanites: 24oz On-The-Fly Lock-Top Bottle
This is for anyone looking for a reusable bottle for everyday use, whether they’re commuting to work, heading to the gym, or hustling to class. The slim shape will fit in cupholders or a bag’s water bottle sleeves. The contents can be easily accessed with one hand at the push of a button, which allows the spring-loaded top to pop up. A combination of convenience, a modest volume, and the same rugged Tritan plastic used in other Nalgene bottles.
For the Philanthropist: Water Fund Exclusive Bottle
While many brands drop limited-edition gear to boost their bottom line, Nalgene’s annual Water Fund release is all about supporting domestic communities struggling to access clean water. This year’s beneficiary is the Navajo Nation. For every purchase of the a bottle emblazoned with the Navajo phrase for “Water Is Life,” Nalgene will donate $5 to the cause.