A Letter to My Nalgene Water Bottle

She doesn’t want fancy camp cups and Thermoses—all she needs is a little BPA-free plastic.

I’ve seen a lot of drinking vessels in my time. Stainless steel wine glasses built for the backcountry wino, collapsible backpacking cups my dad’s been using since the 1980s, expensive but awesome insulated bottles, pointlessly expensive insulated tumblers for sitting around on the porch; there are plenty of cups, glasses, tumblers, even boxes and bags out there to tempt me. But I’ve always stayed true to you, Nalgene. You don’t keep my hot beverages all that hot, or my cold ones very cold. I’ve spilled your contents onto my face more times than I can count, thanks to your unwieldy mouth. You don’t fit in most cupholders and are too girthy for many backpacks’ mesh water-bottle holders. But you’re the most reliable, versatile beverage-holder I’ve known.

Maybe it’s because, when I inevitably lose you, I know it’s not going to cost much to replace you. I’m not proud of it, but you tend to be a temporary possession—after a year or two of dragging you everywhere with me, you get left on the airport floor as I sprint to catch my flight. You roll under the seat of the car I’ve hitched a ride in and become somebody else’s adventure buddy. You get appropriated by my good-for-nothing roommate.

I admire, above most things, your resilience. You don’t get bent out of shape like metal bottles do when I drop you or smack you against rocks and trees as you dangle from my pack. In fact, in my lifetime of using Nalgenes, I’ve never once had you fail me. Which could definitely be related to my incapacity to hang on to you for upwards of two years, but still. Never a leaky seal, a cracked side, a busted lid. Just my steadfast, scratched-up Nalgene.

There’s something to be said, too, for your unique size and shape. Your wide mouth has never frozen over in subzero temps, leaving me cold and dehydrated, trying to crack through an inch-wide, three-inch deep wall of ice with the tip of my ice axe. It also means you’re super easy to fill with a water purifying pump. You hold the perfect amount of liquid—two of you in my pack has me re-filling just once during long days on the trail, and I can keep track of how well I’m hydrating easily (not so with my Camelback, though that little wonder deserves an ode, too). Cleanliness is my job, not yours, I’m grateful for your easy-to-clean, hard plastic construction. After filling you with Tang and powdered lemonade, wine, cowboy coffee, whiskey and hot cocoa, I can rinse you out with a bit of Dr. Bronners and keep on chugging.

You’re a true classic, simple and endlessly useful. I’ll spend some serious cash for exciting, techy new gear, but something to hold water (and any other beverage I’d want to drink in the backcountry) doesn’t have to be complicated. I don’t need fancy features. I just want something reliable, practical, and with plenty of space for cool stickers.

Need a little help figuring out what to drink out of that good ol’ Nalgene? Here are two of my go-to camp beverages:

Power Cocoa:

During brutally cold or draining missions, getting lots of calories into your body (including plenty of fat) is crucial, but it can be tough when you’re living off of dehydrated food, oats, beans and rice. And particularly hard when altitude and extreme physical effort leave you drained and appetite-less. During those tough journeys, this is my go-to. Drink half in the evening to help your body stay warm all night, and enjoy cold chocolate milk in the morning when you wake up.

2-3 spoonfuls powdered milk

5-7 spoonfuls hot cocoa mix (this is really to taste, dependent on what kind of cocoa you’re using)

Pat of butter

Nalgene full of just-boiled water (with a couple inches of room!)


Drunken Cowboy Coffee:

I’ve never been above any kind of coffee—gas station, instant, you name it—but Cowboy Coffee is definitely my favorite, erm, “rugged” way to get my caffeine in. Like a french press without the french, or the press, it’s an easy way to make coffee on the go if you don’t want to deal with any utensils beyond the very bare minimum. If you’re game for a full Nalgene’s worth of coffee, follow the recipe below. Usually I make half a bottle’s worth or less—just adjust your grounds to be between one and two tablespoons for every 6 ounces of water.

6-8 tbs of roughly ground coffee

Teaspoon of cinnamon

Splash (or two) of whiskey

Nalgene full of just-boiled water (with a couple inches of room!)

Shake, let sit, and enjoy in about 4 minutes. Watch out for grounds when you get to the bottom.

Photo by Kyle LeBoeuf

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Showing 9 comments
  • Aimee Gasparre

    We love this article, Abbie!!! Thanks so much for your support!!

  • Timothy G. Huguenin

    I love my sticker-clad Nalgene! However, i have had one break on me. After much abuse and use, i dropped it from a mere 4.5 feet onto my dorm room’s linoleum floor and it shattered. To Nalgene’s credit, i emailed them a picture of it, and while they said they no longer advertise them as indestructible, they still sent me a brand new one for free.

  • peter amend

    I’ve felt the same way for years, so happy to hear some echo my sentiments in a way better than I could 🙂

  • Linda Moe

    My 15+ year old purple Nalgene with Obama HOPE sticker will be my classic favorite forever. I hope I never lose it!

  • Rad Boarder

    Hot gatorade (orange flavor) made from campstove-boiled continental snowpack, preferably with a couple of floaties (pine needles work best). Be generous when adding the orange powder, after all you’ll just have to carry that weight back to the car from the yurt in a few days. Don’t jump the gun and drink it right away, or you’ll get burned. Rather, leave it inside your rucksack, wrapped in your down parka as you skin towards a windy ridgeline. Your nangene’s lack of insulation just became an advantage, pre-warming your coat before a powdery descent.

  • J

    “Like a french press without the french, or the press” officially my favourite description of cowboy coffee ever. I love my nalgenes when I’m going light and fast i take “smart water” style bottles but for cool weather, winter or high altitude trips you can’t beat a nalgene I use mine as a hot water bottle on winter nights.

  • Bob

    These are great for winter camping….boil a litre of water, poor it in and toss it in your sleeping bag….I don’t trust other bottles to handle that.

  • Zach

    I found my Nalgene in a TH parking lot. After 4 years and plenty of abuse, it’s still my favorite and certainly my go-to drinking vessel for any occasion. Love this article!

  • dike

    I have been a nalgene bottle user since i’ve started going outdoors in fact the first gear i bought was a nalgene and liked it so much I even buy them for xmas presents and it never fails to amaze people for first time users…. from the philippines with love tnx and more power!

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