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Curiosity 10 – Water reservoirs or bottles?

To go along a bit with my thread on water treatment, I was also curious about the method for carrying water.


I have seen a number of recommendations for bottles over water reservoirs (since it seems folks don’t like to call them water bladders any longer).  It seems like the pendulum is swinging a bit back from reservoirs to bottles.  I see a lot of folks simply using the SmartWater water bottles especially when using a Sawyer Squeeze or Mini.


So, to the topic.

  • What do you use for water storage on the trail?
  • What do you think about water reservoirs?
  • What do you think about bottles?
    • What about silicone bottles?
    • What about Nalgene bottles?
    • Or, other bottles?
  • Do you think the mentions of SmartWater bottles is due to that you buy SmartWater drink it and simply reuse the bottle on the trail?
  • Do you prefer one over the other?
  • What are the pros and cons?


24 Replies

I use water bottles.  Typically the 1L SmartWater bottles but I'm not picky.  If I need one and find a cheaper 1L bottle with the same thread pattern, thats what I get.  I like the caps from the 750ml bottles.  I have a Sawyer Squeeze and a Cnok bag (it's probably getting replaced, that's another thread) for dirty water and my SmartWater bottle(s) are for clean water.  I don't particularly care for the water bladders because (in my experience):

  • the water gets hotter faster
  • I think it makes my back hotter, so I sweat more.  I'm a bigger guy and just don't need any help in that department 🙂
  • When I have to refill it, I have to empty and then re-pack my pack to get it back in
  • It's harder to clean






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We use a couple different options as well.

If we are carrying the packs, (for an overnight, or for conditioning/training) we have a reservoir/bladder in them (usually two). It is just so convenient to have the drink tube popped out and clipped to the shoulder strap.

I also have a few bottle type options that I carry so I can add some flavor to my water, either Nuun electrolyte tablets or Mio. My better 3/4 does not like flavored water, so she doesn't bother. I have a vintage Camelback bottle which have charcoal filters that integrate in the straw. I carry this so I have an additional option to improve the flavor of water after passing it through the Sawyer. The Nuun tablets pressurize the bottle and it can often leak, so that is something to be aware of.

I have a nalgene that I got at REI on sale this year, and I got a straw top lid for it for Christmas. I'm trying this out to see how I like it. It seems more difficult to re-holster in the side pocket though.

In response to @nathanu 's complaint of having to remove the bladder from the pack to refill, I have modified all of our reservoirs and the sawyer squeeze with quick connect fittings. It is thus simple to disconnect the drink tube and clip in the Sawyer, then squeeze water into the reservoir while it is still in the pack. Years ago I put together a drawing of all the fittings to make a shopping list. I'll try to find it and post it this weekend.

Last point - one downside to the reservoir in the pack is that you can't see how much water remains. We had one hike where we got to a dry campsite with just enough water to rehydrate a meal and drink for the night. We found water the next day, but the lesson I took away was that each of our packs now has a standard disposable 500ml water bottle stashed in it. We've never needed it, but I feel more comfortable knowing that if the sip tube runs dry in both our packs, we still can have a hot meal and hydrate while we solve the problem of finding water. The bottle can also be cut up to use as a scoop if required for shallow water sources.

Pretty much the same thing here, too.

  • If I need new bottles, I get a couple 1L bottles of water.
  • I always save the sport caps from the 750ml bottles and run them through the dishwasher so I swap them out with the regular bottle caps on the 1L bottles
  • I use a 2L CNOC bag as my dirty water bag
  • Sawyer Squeeze to filter it

I tried using a bladder but I didn't like the feel of it against my back and, as @nathanu points out, it's a terrible PITA to refill while on trail

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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@Dad_Aint_Hip  I was hiking on the AT a few winters ago, in Va, Tar Jacket Ridge, to the Seely-Woodworth shelter, when my butt started getting cold, just around my belt area.

Turns out my bladder had sprung a leak and was filtering south towards my butt. Winter, snow on the ground, I was fairly alarmed! lol

Took the bladder out of my pack, couldn't use it anyway as the hose was frozen.

I was very worried. turns out, with all my huffing and puffing along, and some miracle of wicking layers, my rear area just about dried up...Hallelujah and praise the hiking gods!

trivia story: did you know that St Bernard (of St Bernard dogs fame) is the patron saint of 'those who travel in the mountains, and St Christopher is patron saint of those who 'travel on foot'. At the gift shop of the monastery at the Grand St Bernard pass in the Alps, I found a little medallion with St B on one side and St Chris on the other! I would wear it backpacking, but it's too heavy (that's a joke)


ps oops almost forgot, that bladder was fired from the first team and relegated to backup status in the garage for punishment.

REI Member Since 1979

I  use a Platypus 1 liter bladder to carry water while hiking.  It has a hydration tube, but I seldom bother with that.  I also carry a 3 liter collapsible jug for water in camp. That gives me a gallon of water, plenty for overnight. I like to fill it up late afternoon/early evening at a convenient source, then hike on until I find a nice spot to camp.  Tops of mountains, for example.  Used to use Nalgene, but now they seem really heavy.

Retired medical technologist and engineer
REI member since 1978
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I have a bladder (2 gallons I think, but can't remember) that I take to camp that I've had on my last 2 and love it.  I think I got it at Wal Mart (it was an impulse buy that I packed "just in case one time and is mow permanent).  Also, on the Nalgene, I've never taken one on trail.  I bought one a few months ago (had some divideds to spend and it was on sale) but I had the same thought, it's heavy.  It's cool and seems sturdy and it'd be nice to actually *measure* water for meals :), but it's heavy.

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For me, it depends.

I use a reservoir for mtn bike racing as I cannot pull a bottle, drink and control the bars all at the same time. But they require the most upkeep, and cannot be filled in a hurry.

For road riding and paddling, I prefer a bike style water bottle for the quick access "pop up" tops.

For certain times on the trail I prefer a nalgene as it can be filled quickly from any source and can handle hot liquids best.

It seems that Smartwater bottles have become popular because they really are much less weight than a nalgene and almost as durable plus as you state, they fit a Sawyer.


Does it hold water?  Does it not leak?  Does it hold enough water? If so, it is fine.  you can tell I am an old desert rat.....

one thing I like about bladders is that they position the weight of the water right where it should be.  I have all sorts of canteens, including several Nalgenes, and even more repurposed sport drink bottles.  If I had only retained a classic GI metal canteen, I could start a canteen museum.  I generally include a metal cup which fits snugly around the base of the drink bottle or the Nalgene.

And I always try to carry enough water.....

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Would love to see a canteen museum lol:)