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Water storage

May be a dumb question. Just starting out with backpacking and was wondering which is easier for carrying water. Is it better to go with nalgene bottles or use a hydration bladder?

7 Replies

The system of choice for backpacking in the US is a Sawyer Squeeze or Mini combined with reused disposable Smart Water bottles and maybe a CNOC bladder to gather water. Or something similar.

Hydration bladders are good for day hiking but many have stopped using them for backpacking.

Nalgene bottles either have a taste (polythene) or are heavy (polycarbonate).  I still use a single 32 oz polycarbonate one because my pack has an accessible holster for a Bottle that size. Plus in theory I can use it as a hot water bottle although I never have.

Just to expand on my previous post a little...

From my experience the pros and cons of a hydration bladder for backpacking are:


  • Convenient to sip as you hike.
  • Provides flexibility on how much water you carry without getting in the way.


  • Can be difficult to know how much water you have left and to fill without unpacking the pack.
  • Can be a problem to pack with things like a bear can.
  • Can rupture and connections can leak inside your pack
  • Tube requires some management which can be annoying. Easy to get the bite valve dirty when you take off your pack and the bite valves occasionally fall off or break compromising the system.
  • Sip tube can freeze solid in cold weather.
  • Easy to forget about it on your return and can be hard to clean.
  • Somewhat heavy and expensive.
  • It is hard to use a bladder from inside your tent.

This is why I have moved to using Smart water bottles.  Smart water bottles are light, cheap/free and you just replace them once they wear out, recycling the old ones. They use the same thread as the Sawyer filters and CNOC VECTO bladders which is common across most disposable water bottles in the US. They fit in the mesh side pockets that most modern packs have, some better than others. If you plan to use this method and you don't have a pack yet it is a good idea to make sure the pack you get allows you to carry them conveniently.  Some people use pouches or hooks to attach them to the pack shoulder straps to address this.

Other disposable bottles work but the slim shape of 1L Smart bottles is generally convenient and they are a thick enough to last a good while. They have strong enough collar that you can secure to a paracord prussik loop with a clove hitch and carry a one of two, bandolerro style for day hikes off the main trail. You can find bottles with "sport caps" which are nice to sip and can also be used to back flush Sawyer filters on the trail.

If you are backpacking in an area where it is necessary to carry more water then things like the CNOC bladder can provide temporary collapsible storage for unfiltered water that take up less room than additional Smart water bottles. You can use the Sawyer Mylar bottles but they have disadvantages which is partly why the CNOC bladder was developed.  Note the platypus bottles use a different thread to the others so while good for collapsible bottles they are less convenient unless you go all Platypus.

For a long day hike or overnight backpacking trip, I use one of each. The hydration bladder allows me to hydrate without stopping. Since I can not always rely on finding water about the time my bladders is empty, I also carry a Nalgene bottle to drink from when I do stop and to refill my bladder when it become empty. Unlike OldGuyut, I have filled my Nalgene with hot water while winter camping, thrown it in the bottom of my sleeping bag before turning in, and crawled into a toasty bag and slept warm all night long. I could not do that with a bladder.

aka "Boonerelli"

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I follow the same philophy as @John .  Both.  I put water in the bladder, and sip on that throughout my hikes.  If it's a long hike, or particularly hot and humid, I'll carry a Nalgene, or SmartWater bottle with extra water, and/or possibly a sports drink.  I also keep an empty collapsible Katadyn BeFree in my pack as an emergency back up.  

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no, it's always a good topic.  Like others have said, if you backpack - a lot- you'll probable morph over to the smart water bottle and ditch the bladder.  The SW bottle is super lightweight and convenient.  I have a bladder I used to use, but ditched it when I started counting ALL the ounces.  Like has already been stated, anything with a lot of hoses tends to freeze.  If the bladder starts to leak, especially in cold weather, in you're pack, you'll have a whole host of new problems.

REI Member Since 1979

It's something that you kind of work out as you go. I have a bladder and nalgene bottle. I use the sawyer squeeze, having changed from the mini for speed. While I watch ounces, it isn't the only factor in my decisions. I've tried using soft bottles, they're harder to drink from and I busted one dropping it in landscaping mulch getting out of my car. They are also hard to get into the side pockets on my backpack, where the nalgene bottle is much easier. I use the bladder more for storage than drinking. I fill it up at the last water spot before stopping for the night, and use that water for cooking and cleaning. I usually have some in it thru the day but not full, unless I know I'm going to have a  long time before more water is available.

It's a matter of "what works for you". I change some with the seasons too, if it's really cold I do without the bladder, frozen hoses are a pain. If it's really hot and dry, I keep the bladder full.

If you use the sawyer mini or squeeze, be sure to keep an extra bag because they DO bust. I've never had a bladder leak, but maybe I'm lucky.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

The (mylar?) Sawyer "bottles" reportedly can split after they have been used a while.  Plus you can't see what is in them and they are difficult to gather water with.  I don't bother using them generally but since I have one and they are light I carry it for extra capacity in case we want to dry camp and need to gather extra water. 

Definitely take a look at the CNOC Vectro "bladder/bottle" if you use Sawyer filters.  You can use it to squeeze or set it up to gravity filter since it has a handy dandy handle to tie it to a rock or a tree.

And yeah drinking from a soft bottle is a bit of a non starter...why people use Smart water bottles and similar.