As an outdoor enthusiast, you probably know everything about the importance of staying hydrated while being out there in the wild. Fortunately, staying hydrated during long (or short) hikes is as easy as taking a few sips from your trusty water bottle every now and then.
And if you’re looking to buy your very first bottle for trekking, there’s a good chance you’re wondering whether to go with a stainless steel or plastic model. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question: it all depends upon your needs and the size of your budget.
To help you make a decision, I decided to compare one of the world’s most popular stainless steel bottles with one of the best-selling reusable plastic bottles on today’s market. Continue reading this Nalgene vs Hydro Flask comparison to find out which one is better for you.
Nalgene Wide-Mouth 32 oz Bottle
- Available colors: 21
- Empty weight: 6.4 oz
- Material: Tritan copolyester
- Volume: 32 oz
The name “Nalgene” was pretty much synonymous with the term “hiking water bottle” before stainless steel drinkware rose to popularity. This is a classic brand in every sense of that term and one whose products – and by this, I mean plastic bottles – remain extremely popular even today.
In my opinion, Nalgene bottles are by far the best plastic water bottles you can buy right now and they stand as a great choice for most trekkers and campers.
Most of these bottles – including the one I’m going to review here – are inexpensive, user-friendly, durable, and versatile. As such, they provide a tremendous value for the money.
Ease of Use
Out of all hiking bottles I tested in the last couple of years, the Nalgene Wide-Mouth 32 oz probably has the widest mouth.
As you can already guess, this makes filling it with drinks and ice as easy as it gets. In fact, you could even use this bottle to catch rainfall, although I hope you’ll never find yourself in a situation where you have to do something like that.
Unfortunately, there is also a disadvantage to this. It is quite challenging to drink from this bottle’s wide mouth without splashing water all over your chin and chest. Obviously, doing this on the go can create an even bigger mess. Consider buying a splash guard if you’re planning to use this bottle for running.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that one-handed drinking isn’t the easiest thing to do with this bottle. The reason behind this is in the model’s larger volume – it feels somewhat unwieldy and cumbersome. Furthermore, you’re bound to have a hard time fitting this bottle into most car cup holders.
On the other hand, Nalgene Wide-Mouth 32 oz never leaks, no matter how much it is jumbled in the backpack during scrambling and trekking. For that matter, I give it my full confidence when it comes to hiking and similar activities, even though it may not be the best everyday-use bottle on today’s market.
Both the body and the lid of this Nalgene bottle are made out of BPA-free plastic (Tritan copolyester, to be more precise). However, the model still easily endures tumbles and successfully maintains its integrity even during the more severe accidental drops.
To test its durability, I dropped this Nalgene flask from a height of 3 feet onto a concrete floor a few times. It ended up with only a couple of minor scuff marks and scratches.
However, I’m pretty sure that dropping this bottle from a height of over 7 feet would result in it being shattered into pieces – it is, after all, made out of plastic.
The Nalgene Wide-Mouth 32 oz has a rigid body while still being a genuinely lightweight bottle. This kind of combo is something you don’t see every day. I think I can safely say that it’s one of the lightest products of this type I’ve had a chance to use so far.
In fact, the model is so light that it easily beats some collapsible bottles in this department. This low weight is probably its biggest advantage and the thing that turns Nalgene Wide-Mouth 32 oz into a phenomenal choice for multi-day backpacking adventures.
Although it’s made out of (BPA-free) plastic, this bottle does not impart any kind of unpleasant flavors to the drinks inside of it. While I still prefer stainless steel and glass when it comes to hiking bottle materials, this Nalgene bottle performed quite well in my taste tests.
I filled the model with clean water and left it sitting for one entire day. Later, I took a few sips from it and noticed no strange flavors whatsoever.
For my next test, I filled the Nalgene with a sports drink mix and let it stay like that for 24 hours. After that, I washed the bottle with warm water and dish soap, dried it completely, and then filled it with clean drinking water. I took a few sips and there were no lingering flavors once again.
However, one very important thing to mention here is that the Nalgene did retain a very, very faint and hard-to-notice smell of its previous contents. After thoroughly cleaning the bottle with baking soda and vinegar, the smell disappeared completely, though. It is an excellent Hydro Flask alternative.
Photo by sk via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
While it’s certainly not the best hiking bottle I’ve had a chance to test so far, the Nalgene Wide-Mouth 32 oz does provide a pretty good value for the money. Once we take into account the fact that it costs just above $10, we get to a conclusion that this model actually offers quite a lot for its price.
In fact, I think I can safely say that finding a better hiking water bottle at this price would be extremely challenging.
After all, there are a few good reasons why Nalgene managed to remain one of the best-selling brands in this industry. What makes this feat even more impressive is that the company succeeded at staying relevant even after the rise of the popularity of stainless steel water bottles.
- Wide mouth: easy to fill with drinks & ice
- Extremely lightweight yet very tough
- Resists flavors
- Doesn’t fit into car cup holders
Hydro Flask Trail Series 32 oz Bottle
- Available colors: 3
- Empty weight: 11.8 oz
- Material: Stainless steel
- Volume: 32 oz
Over the last few decades of trekking, I’ve used countless Hydro Flask water bottles, mugs, cups, and tumblers. One common feature of all these products is their amazing build quality – they’re all expertly crafted and, therefore, work just as advertised.
Once I realized that Hydro Flask is now also manufacturing lighter water bottles, I immediately wanted to know whether these will feature the same outstanding design and construction quality as their older cousins.
Because of this, as well as due to the fact that the Nalgene bottle I described above is very light, I decided to go with the HF’s most popular bottle from the Trail Series lineup for this comparison. It’s a light model that provides decent all-around performance.
Ease of Use
This particular bottle sports a minimalistic but practical design that all Hydro Flask products are so well-known for. But still, there are some differences here – the carrying handle is slightly lighter and the model’s body has a somewhat slimmer shape.
Cleaning the gasket and the threads of this stainless steel bottle is as easy as it gets – you only need a brush. However, due to the model’s towering height, cleaning its bottom takes a bit more time (and effort).
One really good thing here is that, despite its size, the model still easily fits inside most car cup holders. This is thanks to its slender shape and the 2” base diameter.
To test this bottle’s resistance to wear and tear, I dropped it onto a concrete surface a couple of times. It didn’t end up with any indentations or scratches.
I should also mention that I used this very same bottle – albeit with a different volume (24 oz) – for about two weeks before I got the 32 oz variant for this comparison.
There were never any signs of leakage whatsoever and I was never concerned about just throwing the bottle into my backpack upside-down.
Drawing a parallel in the Hydro Flask vs Stanley durability debate, Stanley bottles have similarly been recognized for their ruggedness.
In the context of the Hydrapeak versus Hydro Flask discussion, many users have also noted Hydrapeak’s commendable resistance to daily wear, making it a worthy contender in the durability arena.
The fact that this is one of Hydro Flask’s first truly lightweight bottles is probably the result of the company finally addressing the user complaints about the bulkiness of some of their products.
Despite the fact that it weighs just a bit less than 12 ounces, the Hydro Flask Trail Series 32 oz features the same high-performing insulation as the rest of the company’s reusable bottles. The portability is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of this model’s best features.
I’ve never seen a Hydro Flask bottle that imparts flavors to beverages until I came into contact with this particular model.
There’s a sort of Catch-22 situation when it comes to insulated stainless steel bottles and flavors. While it’s completely possible to use this kind of drinkware with carbonated beverages and hot tea or coffee, there’s always a chance you’ll have to give your bottle a thorough cleaning after filling it with such drinks.
Unfortunately, the Hydro Flask model I’m reviewing here doesn’t really respond well to laziness. In order to prevent your Trail Series flask from retaining the flavor of coffee or tea, you’ll have to give it a good rinse every now and then.
I would like to point out that I haven’t noticed any plastic or chemical smells after unpacking the bottle, though. This is almost never the case with cheap bottles made by the no-name brands and it’s something that tells a lot about the overall quality of the product, in my opinion.
In summary, Hydro Flask Trail Series 32 oz did very well in almost every department. As far as I’m concerned, this particular piece of drinkware is a fantastic choice for anyone looking for a versatile and reliable stainless steel bottle.
While it’s true that this model requires frequent cleaning because it’s prone to flavor retainment, I think that its advantages effortlessly outweigh this flaw and turn it into a truly worthwhile purchase.
- Practical, user-friendly design
- Durable construction
- Lifetime warranty
- Requires frequent cleaning
Wrapping It Up…
Although I really like the Nalgene model, I have to admit that it simply cannot beat the durability, performance, and features of the modern stainless steel bottles, including the Hydro Flask model I reviewed in this article.
When it comes to longevity and thermoregulation, the Hydro Flask Trail Series 32 oz bottle blows its rival out of the water. It’s a better choice for multi-day backpacking trips that take place in extremely hot or cold weather and involve scrambling.
But the Nalgene bottle still has a few advantages over the Hydro Flask model, though. Since it’s pretty cheap and lightweight, it’s a great choice for those looking to cut as much backpack weight as possible, as well as for those with tighter budgets. If you want to go with Hydro Flask, check out our Hydro Flask vs Yeti comparison as well as our Hydro Flask vs Klean Kanteen comparison.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.