Ode To A Nalgene

By Marta

Nalgenes are the best
As this haiku demonstrates
What colour is yours?

When you Google “Nalgene bottle” the first prompt for further frequent questions is:

“What is so special about Nalgene bottles?” 

After all, Nalgene claims itself to be “The original water bottle” (discounting the extended use of glass bottles for the past couple of millenia of course). This question is clearly prompted by the outdoor community’s slightly overbearing reverence for the aforementioned plastic container- one that has been around for the better part of half a century.

This Nalgene has been through it all- including the loss of its lid attachment
Image: Will Day

We as a community really enjoy the practical pleasures; if I can drop you off a crag, expose you in the freezing cold for days, or pour in my steaming brew with little consequence (sometimes all in the space of a day), then you’re a keeper.

Images: Jonathan Middleton

It’s a bottle that will take as many bumps and bruises as its weary carrier. In that vein your bottle lasts, and you can’t help but get a little attached to such a reliable bit of equipment.

Nalgene families tend to form as these bottles last a lifetime
Images from left to right: Jonathan and Angus Whitby

These qualities led hikers in the 70s to take bottles intended for laboratories out into the wilderness. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, you don’t want your water supply springing a leak leaving your bag dripping, and you having to fashion a rudimentary container (ziplocs, anyone?). This bottle has traversed the outdoors community, and it’s been noticed. Most water bottle filtration systems, lids and insulation come in a Nalgene appropriate size.

You’ve also got to be able to customise your bestie. Where else do brand stickers go? Straight on the side of your bottle. One friend of mine quite often mourns the loss of his most treasured (therefore covered in sticker embellishments) bottle to the tide of his fiancee’s forgetfulness. Another proudly totes more stickers than bottle – giving the original exterior a nice crust. This water-tight data set leads to one conclusion:

The more stickers, the better!

Without a doubt, much modern outdoor equipment uses the Nalgene as their base for size. Backpacks that have a water bottle pocket are sized with a litre Nalgene in mind – if you can’t take along your hydration companion, why bother with that particular model at all? We all carry one, so it has inadvertently become the mountain man’s gear ruler. Small tent? Only three Nalgenes in length! Foldable poles? They can pretty much fit neatly into any backpack side pocket.

Nalgenes have now been with us so long that they’ve quite literally created a space for themselves in your pack. A universal outdoor metric. Therefore:

All hail Nalgene, mighty measurer of kit.

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