What are Nalgene Bottles? (with picture)

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Nalgene bottles are Lexan plastic containers favored by hikers and outdoors-folk to carry water and other liquids. They are produced by Nalge Nunc International, since the 1970s, and are both affordable and extremely durable.

Many hikers carry Nalgene bottles.
Many hikers carry Nalgene bottles.

In the late 1940s the Nalge company began producing laboratory equipment out of high-grade polyethylene. They made beakers and test tubes, bottles for centrifuges, and containers of all shapes and sizes. The polyethylene containers were not only substantially lighter than their glass counterparts, they were also virtually indestructible, making them ideal for lab use.

As early as the 1950s there is anecdotal evidence to suggest scientists were borrowing Nalge equipment from their labs to take on outdoor excursions. After all, with the light-weight and durability, these containers were perfect for carrying everything from liquid to food stuffs. In the 1970s the president of Nalge picked up on this use and began encouraging the production of containers specifically intended for and marketed to outdoor enthusiasts. Thus was born Nalgene Outdoor Products.

Most consumer Nalgene bottles are now made out of Lexan, an extremely strong polycarbonate material similar to Plexiglass, but much stronger. In recent years there has been some concern that materials such as Lexan may pose health risks, though Nalgene argues this is not the case. Nalgene bottles made out of polyethylene are still available, however, and these may prove less harmful.

Nalgene bottles are available in a range of shapes, sizes, and colors. The smallest are a mere 1/4 ounce (7 ml.), and large containers are available in sizes upwards of one gallon (3.7 liters). Mouth sizes vary as well, from very thin mouths to completely open tops. Many people have begun using Nalgene bottles for purposes other than transporting liquids, and shapes and sizes have varied accordingly.

Popular additions to Nalgene bottles, often available from third parties, include splash guards which fit on the lip of the bottle to help keep liquid from splashing out when drinking while on the move. Also, insulating cases for carrying a Nalgene bottle, and filters which screw on to the mouth to ensure pure drinking water. Most of these components are fitted for Nalgene bottles featuring a standard mouth size.

Nalgene has also recently begun producing backpack hydration systems, similar to the popular Camelbak systems, which have garnered much praise from reviewers. The GoCup is another innovation of Nalgene, intended to provide a single product serving most purposes a backpacker needs. The GoCup has an inner insulated bottle of 18oz. (1/2 liter), ideal for hot liquids, as well as a larger outer measuring cup. Clips allow for easy attachment of a spoon or fork, as well as a carabineer to carry the cup. And the entire bottle has a handle, allowing it to be used more as a mug than a traditional bottle.

Nalgene bottles are available through many different retailers, and considering their durability and wide range of uses, are very affordable. Nalgene offers a lifetime guarantee on its bottles, so if one does happen to break (a very difficult endeavor), Nalgene will replace it--occasionally with not one, but two bottles. Many outdoor stores, colleges, and wilderness clubs offer custom branded Nalgene bottles, and finding a bottle fitting your personal aesthetic is sure to be an easy task.

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How can you find out if these bottles actually do pose a health risk?

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    • Many hikers carry Nalgene bottles.
      Many hikers carry Nalgene bottles.