There is no need for me to tell you the value in staying hydrated. But if you need suggestions on which reusable water bottle to buy, that is something I can help you with.
Chances are you are wondering whether you should get a plastic or stainless steel bottle. The short answer is: it depends on what you’re gonna use it for and how big your budget is.
To help you figure things out, I compared the most popular reusable plastic bottle, Nalgene, with the most popular stainless steel water bottle—Hydro Flask.
Hydro Flask Lightweight Trail Series
- Volume: 32 oz
- Body material: 18/8 Stainless steel
- Empty weight: 11.8 oz
- Colors: 3
I’ve probably used at least 10 Hydro Flask tumblers, cups, mugs, and water bottles. I have found all Hydro Flask products to be beautifully manufactured and extremely well designed.
When I found out that Hydro Flask started making lighter bottles, I was interested to see if this pattern would continue.
Because of this, and the fact that the Nalgene is an incredibly lightweight bottle, I picked the Hydro Flask Trail Series bottle for this comparison. So far, I’ve found the Trail Series bottle to be a solid all-around performer.
Ease of Use
Much like the other Hydro Flask bottles I tested over the years, the Trail Series has a straightforward design. It has a slimmer shape overall and a slightly lighter carrying handle.
The threads and gasket are easy to clean with a brush. However, it’s a bit harder to get to the bottom of the Trail Series on a routine clean due to its towering height.
Thanks to its 2-inch base diameter and slender shape, the bottle fits into a car cup holder easily.
I dropped the bottle onto a cement surface a few times. It walked away unscathed every time.
I used the bottle for several months in total, and it never showed any signs of leakage.
I was never concerned when throwing the Lightweight Trail Series into my pack, upside down, for a day of scrambling.
Because this is the first Lightweight bottle from Hydro Flask, I’m guessing that the company had been hearing a lot of complaints about the heftiness of their products.
Even though the Trail Series weighs only 11.8 oz, it has all the same insulating qualities of previous Hydro Flask bottles. For comparison, the Standard Mouth bottle weighs 15.2 oz.
Without a doubt, portability is one of Trail Series’ strongest suits.
Until I tested the Hydro Flask Trail Series, I had never come across a Hydro Flask bottle that imparts flavors to its contents.
When it comes to flavors, many insulated stainless steel bottles present a Catch-22. You can fill a stainless steel bottle with coffee, hot tea, and carbonated beverages as well as water, but you may have to give it a good clean to prevent lingering flavors.
The Trail Series is one of those bottles that don’t respond well to laziness. To prevent it from retaining lingering flavors, you will need to clean it frequently and thoroughly.
On the plus side, I didn’t notice any chemical or plastic-y smells after I unwrapped the bottle from its packaging. It was ready to use right out of the box. This can tell you a lot about quality.
All in all, this bottle did well in every metric. I find it to be a great choice for those looking for a reliable and versatile all-arounder. The Lightweight Trail Series may require a bit more attention when it comes to keeping it clean, but I think it’s well worth it.
- Easy to use
- Lifetime warranty
- Volume: 34 oz
- Body material: Eastman Tritan co-polyester
- Empty weight: 6.4 oz
- Colors: 21
Before stainless steel bottles became so popular, the term “Nalgene” was synonymous with the term “water bottle.” A time-tested classic, the Nalgene bottle remains popular to this very day.
For most outdoor enthusiasts, the Nalgene is as good as plastic gets. Versatile, durable, simple, and inexpensive, it earns its place as a high-value product.
Ease of Use
Of all the bottles I’ve tested, this one has one of the widest mouths. Regardless of the water source, this makes filling the Nalgene a breeze. In desperate situations, one could even use it to catch rainfall.
However, I found that the wide mouth makes it more difficult to drink out of the bottle without splashing water on my chest, chin, and elsewhere.
You can expect to get a mini shower if you drink out of the bottle when you’re on the go. On the other hand, the wide mouth makes the Nalgene very easy to clean.
If you want to prevent spills while moving and drinking, you can get a splash guard like this one.
Since this bottle boasts a larger volume, it can feel a little cumbersome to drink from one-handed. Moreover, I wasn’t able to fit this bottle in any cup holder I came across.
But it didn’t fail me when being jumbled around inside my backpack while hiking and scrambling. Leakage was never a problem.
It may not be the best bottle for day-to-day use, but I give it my complete confidence when it comes to outdoor activities.
The lid and the plastic body can endure many tumbles and drops and still maintain their integrity.
But, when dropped from a height of over 6 feet onto a hard surface, the bottle may shatter as it’s made of plastic. However, through regular use, it will show only minor scrapes and scuff marks.
The Nalgene is a lightweight bottle with a rigid body—this is not something you see very often. It’s one of the lightest bottles I’ve tested.
It even beats out some collapsible water bottles. The Nalgene is an excellent bottle for multi-day trips in the backcountry as it weighs only 0.2 oz per fluid ounce.
Even though it’s a plastic bottle, it doesn’t impart any plastic flavors to its contents. I still prefer glass to any other water bottle material, but I must admit that the Nalgene performed admirably in my first taste test.
I filled the Nalgene with water and left the bottle to sit for 24 hours. When I took a few sips, I couldn’t taste any plastic-like flavor in my water.
Next, I filled the bottle with a sports drink mix and left it to sit for a whole day. Then, I washed it with dish soap and warm water before filling it with cold drinking water. I couldn’t detect the taste of the sports drink.
However, the bottle still retained a faint smell of its previous contents. The smell disappeared completely after I cleaned the bottle with vinegar and baking soda.
This may not be the best water bottle I’ve ever seen, but it does provide exceptional value. Considering it costs just a few bucks, it’s impressive how much utility it offers.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better bottle at this price.
There’s a good reason why the Nalgene has remained so popular among outdoor enthusiasts even after the emergence of stainless steel bottles.
I would feel confident using the Nalgene in just about any backcountry activity.
- Easy to fill
- Simple design
- Resists flavors
- Too big for cup holders
Side by Side Comparison
I never expected the Nalgene to keep my drink cold or hot for very long. But, for the sake of this comparison, I decided to test the insulation of each of these bottles.
I filled each bottle with 54°F tap water and 10 ice cups. I left them sitting in my kitchen, at room temperature, for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, the temperature of the water in the Hydro Flask was still ice cold and all the ice cubes were still there. As expected, the ice in the Nalgene melted and the temperature rose to 58°F.
I saw no point in doing a similar test with hot beverages, but I poured piping hot coffee into the Nalgene just to see whether it would damage it.
Turns out, it is completely safe to fill the Nalgene with boiling-hot water. But holding a Nalgene bottle full of hot coffee is uncomfortable, to say the least.
To mimic realistic scenarios, I dropped each bottle, completely full, onto concrete several times from shoulder height. Both bottles survived the first test.
Then, I moved on to the second test. I knocked each bottle off the roof of my van onto concrete, and I wasn’t gentle. Only one bottle survived. Yep, you’ve guessed it, it was the Hydro Flask.
While the Hydro Flask sustained only a couple of small dents at its base, the bottom of the Nalgene shattered.
Many people who have used Nalgene bottles may find this surprising, but the fact of the matter is that these bottles aren’t as durable as they used to be.
Nalgene’s reputation for durability came from the old plastic that had the substance BPA in it.
The new material may not be as robust, but at least it isn’t harmful to your body in any way. Moreover, every Nalgene bottle is covered by a lifetime warranty.
The Winner: Hydro Flask
I really like the Nalgene, but there’s no way a plastic bottle can outperform a stainless steel bottle in this day and age.
When it comes to thermoregulation and durability, the Hydro Flask wins in a major way. But, when it comes to price and weight, the Nalgene still stands out.
On long backpacking trips, I might use the Nalgene instead of a Hydro Flask bottle. Sometimes, I’d rather cut weight and lose durability.
But if I’m going scrambling, I’d rather bring a Hydro Flask as I know it will survive rock smashes as well as keep my water cool.