When hiking or backpacking in freezing weather, you run the risk of your water freezing. Even if the water doesn’t completely freeze, drinking icy-cold water can also cause problems since it will reduce your body temperature.
So, how do you prevent water from freezing while hiking in winter?
Here are some solutions for preventing water bottles from freezing, and the best water bottles and bottle insulators for winter.
Problems with Water Bottles when Winter Hiking
When going hiking in freezing weather, you have to deal with these potential issues:
- The water can freeze in your bottle
- Water can get into the cap threads or tube/mouthpiece (for bladders) and freeze, making it impossible to get open
- Drinking cold water will make you even colder
The best solution to all of these problems is to:
- Get a wide-mouth HDPE Nalgene bottle or Hunersdorf bottle
- Fill it with very hot water before you start hiking
- Put the bottle into an insulating bottle “parka” (preferably one with Velcro because it’s easier to open)
- Clip the insulated bottle to the front of your backpack straps so it is easily accessible. If the water isn’t accessible, you won’t drink enough!
- Put any other water bottles that you aren’t drinking from right away in your pack, next to your back, where they won’t freeze.
This isn’t exactly an ultralight solution to winter hydration. But, across the board, it is the most fool-proof. Below, I’ll talk about other options for winter water bottles and tactics for preventing your water from freezing while hiking in sub-zero temperatures.
Using PET Bottles in Winter
For 3-season hiking and backpacking, thicker PET bottles (the kind that bubbly water and Gatorade come in) are great. They are very cheap and incredibly lightweight.
I’ve heard of people making insulators for PET bottles and bringing them for winter hikes. However, there is a big problem: You can’t fill PET bottles with boiling water!
Since you will probably want hot water while hiking in winter, this is a HUGE drawback. Even if you don’t mind freezing yourself by drinking cold water, you also won’t be able to use the PET bottle for things like a boot warmer.
Water Bladders in Winter
Some hikers do use water bladders in winter. The idea is this:
- Keep the bladder next to your back. Body heat should prevent it from freezing.
- Use an insulator for the bladder (like this one) and an insulator for the hose (such as this one).
- Each time you take a drink, blow into the hose. This ensures all water in the mouthpiece and hose goes back into the bladder so it won’t freeze (hose insulators simply don’t work well enough to prevent the hose/mouthpiece from freezing!)
The main issue with this hydration method is it is almost impossible to fill a water bladder with boiling water without burning yourself or getting wet.
So, if you want hot water while on the trail, forget about using a bladder! A bladder only makes sense for temperatures that are not far below freezing.
Wine Botas (aka Wineskin Bota Bags)
While I personally haven’t tried this, some expert-level hikers swear by wine botas. You can carry the wine bota under your parka next to your chest. Your body heat keeps it from freezing.
One hiker had this tip: Swap the carry strap for nylon webbing with a buckle that goes over your shoulder. Then you can remove the bota without having to remove your parka.
Note: Hikers warn that cheap wine botas should not be used, since they might leak. If you are going to go the bota route, pay the money for a good product.
What about Stainless Steel Bottles for Winter Hiking?
As Section Hiker points out, “Don’t even think about bringing a metal bottle on a winter hike. You’ll be laughed at before you’re kicked off the hike.”
The issue seems to be that metal can drastically change size when it is hot vs. cold. This means the lid might not fit well, causing it to leak. The only benefit of having a stainless steel bottle is that you can heat them directly on the fire (without the lid, obviously). Still doesn’t seem worth it though!
Nalgene and Hunersdorf Bottles for Winter Hiking
Nalgene bottles are great for winter hiking because many have wide mouths. This means that you can easily fill them with boiling water. Don’t try to do this with a narrow-mouth bottle!
The downsides of Nalgene bottles in winter?
Some types of Nalgene bottles have been known to crack. If you get wet while hiking in freezing weather, this could mean hypothermia and death.
You MUST use a Nalgene bottle made from high density polyethylene HDPE. These won’t crack on you. They are also lighter than normal Nalgene bottles (3.75oz vs. 7oz). You can buy one here on Amazon.
Alternatively, you can use the Hunersdorf water bottle by Liberty Mountain. It is recommended by mountain guides since it can hold boiling water and won’t crack or leak. They are 1.5 liters and have a large cap which is easy to unscrew, even with gloved hands. Like Nalgene bottles, they are easy to clean. The only real difference is that they don’t have a piece of plastic connecting the lid to the bottle.
These are also called “bottle parkas” or “bottle jackets.” You absolutely need a bottle insulator when hiking in very cold temperatures.
There are a lot of ways to make a DIY bottle insulator, such as using:
- Sool sock
- Metal-coated bubble wrap
- Beer cozies
- Old foam-cell sleeping pad, cut and taped into shape
- Flexible insulation + duct tape and Velcro
Or you can just buy one 🙂
Can’t I Just Buy an Insulated Water Bottle?
Insulated water bottles are great for things like keeping your coffee hot on the ride to work. They are NOT okay for hiking or backpacking though.
As talked about before, stainless steel bottles should be completely avoided when hiking in winter. That leaves us with plastic insulated bottles. If the water inside of them freezes (which it might, despite the insulating layer), the bottle will CRACK. That means leaks, wetness, and possible hypothermia.
Just make or buy a bottle insulator instead. It’s cheaper and probably lighter than getting special insulated bottles for a winter hiking trip.
When choosing a water bottle insulator:
- It should insulate the lid of the bottle too.
- Avoid insulators which have to be unzipped. This means you’ll have to take your gloves off.
- Get one with a carabiner clip so you can clip it to your front straps, where it is easily accessible.
The most popular bottle parka by far is Bottle Boot by Forty Below. It uses Velcro instead of zippers, which means that you can easily open it. The Bottle Boot fits both 1liter Nalgene and 1liter Hunersdorf bottles.
The brand that sells the Hunersdorf bottles also makes a bottle insulator (shown below). It doesn’t cover the entire bottle lid though, so might not be the smartest option for very cold weather or long hikes.
This is the Hunersdorf bottle insulator. You can buy it here.
Almost every bottle insulator uses a zipper. These are incredibly difficult to open with gloves! If you must get a zippered bottle parka, then make sure to attach a guyline.
Tips for Preventing Your Water Bottle from Freezing
1. Store the Bottle Upside Down
It might seem counterintuitive, but you should keep your water bottle upside down. If the bottle is right-side up, then tiny bits of water will be left in the cap threads. This water will quickly freeze, making it impossible to open your water bottle.
However, if you store the bottle upside down, then there will be lots of water sloshing around in the lid. This takes much longer to freeze. Plus, the sloshing motion will generally prevent freezing.
2. Carry Water Bottles Near Your Body
If you keep water bottles near your body, they will generally stay warm enough not to freeze. Either keep them right along your back in the pack. Or put them inside your jacket.
Note that in really cold weather, even water carried near your back can freeze. Put boiling water into the bottles, use an insulator, and wrap it before placing it near your back.
3. Sleeping with Your Water Bottles
A lot of people recommend pouring boiling water into your bottle before going to sleep when winter camping. Then you put the bottle inside your sleeping bag. This keeps you warm plus prevents the water from freezing.
But it is also risky.
You need your sleeping bag to keep you alive. What if the water bottle leaks or cracks? Not only will your sleeping bag be wet, but you will be too.
Instead, put your water bottle next to your feet on your sleeping mat. Or, take the precaution of putting your hot water bottle in a waterproof sack before you put it in your sleeping bag.
4. Reducing Weight
You can forget about going ultralight if you are winter camping! Both the Nalgene bottles and the Hunersdorf bottle are fairly heavy (Nalgene HDPE bottles are 3.75oz and Hunersdorf is 4oz). Add the Bottle Boot insulator at 4.5oz and you’ve got over half a pound.
Here are some solutions that hikers use to cut back bottle weight:
- Choose a water bladder with a wide mouth which is easy to fill, such as the MSR DromLite. It can take boiling water.
- Or use a wide-mouthed collapsible bottle. The Nalgene wide-mouth canteen can supposedly handle boiling water (I haven’t tried personally).
- Bring only one Nalgene or Hunesdorf bottle, plus several foldable canteens or bladders. Keep the hard bottle outside and keep the collapsible bottles inside your jacket or pack.
- Melt water in your camp pot and let it freeze overnight. Then carry it with you frozen in the pot. Melt when needed.
What water bottle do you use when hiking in winter? Does it freeze? Let us know in the comments!