Reviews

6

I switched from Nalgene to disposable water bottles…

Rating: rated 4.5 of 5 stars
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $1-2 depending on sales and size

Summary

I switched from Nalgene to disposable water bottles for most (3+ season) trips. If you go that route, the Smartwater bottles are the sturdiest disposables out there except for Gatorade/Powerade, but have some distinct advantages over those brands. They are my regular water bottle on the majority of trips and haven't let me down, and at least let me reuse, rather than just recycle, if I have to buy bottled water sometimes.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy (for the type of bottle)
  • Flip cap option
  • Fit a Sawyer water filter
  • Easy to get in/out of side pack pocket
  • Price
  • Avoids recycling if you have one already
  • Comes with free water!

Cons

  • Long term durability (extended trips)
  • Not good for winter use
  • Potential BPA/other plastic chemicals
  • Can't take boiling water
  • Thin mouth
  • Not environmentally sustainable!!!!

Note that there is a recognized health risk associated with reuse of disposable bottles due to the release of BPA and other chemicals. Other research indicates there may be other issues associated with BPA Free bottles as well (due to the use of BPS and BPF). This review is not a recommendation to use these type of bottles and ignore these risks. It is a comparison of this bottle vs other disposable/recyclable bottles and not an endorsement of the practice (and certainly not a recommendation by Trailspace or any staff or members). You should thoroughly research the safety of this practice before making a decision to take this approach.

Please note that this review is not about the water itself, but the bottle. Also, the rating is not a comparison of a recyclable/disposable bottle versus a designed bottle such as the ever present and indestructible Nalgene. The rating is based on a comparison to other disposable bottles. That is why there is a long list of inherent weaknesses for the TYPE of bottle but my rating is high. I am not sure you can consider the Smartwater, or any, disposable bottle as "Gear," but since these are really prevalent now I thought it would be good to review.

Water bottles have evolved a lot since I started backpacking, from metal canteens to the white plastic bottles with inner plug and outer cap, to Nalgene products. Now you see a lot of disposable water bottles on the trail, which I admit to having carried for about 5 years in combination with other water storage. Thought it was time to review my current favorite...Smartwater.

Summary:

If you are going to carry disposable water bottles as part of your kit, you can't do much better than the Smartwater series. For this class of cheap bottle, they are extremely light, sturdy, adaptable (different caps, accept the Aquaclip, and fit a Sawyer filter), and easy to use. Their negatives are basically the same for any disposable bottle: long term durability, three-season limits, potential release of chemicals, and not environmentally sustainable.

I would recommend these if you like to carry disposable bottles, as part of a storage system that also includes something like a Platypus SoftBottle and maybe a regular Nalgene, for short to mid length trips from spring through fall. For those of you doing long distance hikes, I will let your experience guide you on the increased risk of failure. In winter, I recommend switching back to sturdier options that can handle boiling water and freezing temperatures.

And of course, in the quest to have less environmental impact, I can't recommend purchasing these specifically for equipment but rather using them if you happen to have to buy a drink in a gas station so you can reuse rather than recycle the bottle.

Specs:

The Smartwater series of water bottles come in a range of sizes including 1 liter, 750 ml, and 591 ml.  I use all three depending on the length of trips and terrain/availability of water.
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Weights range from 1 3/8 oz to 1 oz depending on the size and cap. Basically they weight almost nothing — the picture below is the 750 ml version.
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Durability:

The construction is sturdy compared to most water/soda bottles you can buy in the store/gas station. Gatorade and Powerade bottles are even sturdier, but slightly heavier (I don't really consider a few grams an issue but some might) and don't have some of the benefits listed below (the reason I prefer Smartwater). These bottles can be squeezed and do show some creases (hope you can see them in the picture below) but I have never had one fail. 

I use these with my Sawyer filter a lot and put them through a significant amount of squeezing and pressure without an issue. The 1-liter size works best with the Sawyer as it has a greater length to squeeze.
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I have dropped them many times on rocks, hard ground, concrete (loading the car), etc. and none have broken.  The longest trip I have taken using these as the primary water holder is five nights, but I have reused several bottles for at least a year before changing out just in case.

I filled a 750 ml and 1 liter bottle and did a little "testing" on my concrete patio. Both bottles were dropped, full of water, from a height of about 8 ft (as high as I can reach). First test was right side up, followed by a drop directly on the caps.
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As you can see, the bottles were deformed after testing — the 750 ml bottle was bulged out a little on the bottom (slight slant in the picture) after the first drop, and both caps were compressed in by the second test when dropped directly on the cap. These issues were fixed easily in a couple of seconds, and both bottles recovered to their original shape:
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The cap-drop test did scuff up and damage both caps, but the integrity of each seemed unaffected. I guess if you had worries/issues you could carry an extra cap for almost no additional weight in your repair kit.

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Overall sturdiness is excellent for this type of bottle but obviously doesn't compare to Nalgene or other designed bottles. I often carry the 1L version in my side pack pocket and do a lot of off-trail hiking which sometimes lands me in brush terrain. These bottles have been poked and prodded by branches and snagged by vines and briers, but have not been damaged yet.

Benefits:

There are many benefits of using a bottle like this as well as some distinct disadvantages, and I am not going to try to convince anyone to switch off the reliable and indestructible Nalgene or other designed outdoor gear.  However, if you already use disposable bottles and are looking for one with more reliability, don't want to carry multiple Nalgenes, or want to have another backup to a water bag type, this may suit you.

I find these bottles so lightweight that I don't mind throwing in an extra one for good measure if water sources are iffy. I tend to use the smallest for a sipper bottle on my shoulder strap (using either an Aquaclip or built-in straps). In most of my trip reports, you will see the small size clipped to my shoulder to allow easy hydrating.
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Some of them have standard lids, but I keep around the "flip-top" lid for my sipper bottle as I find it convenient and so far surprisingly leak-proof.
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The smooth sides and thin shape on these bottles make them very easy to slip in and out of a side pocket on the pack if you don't carry a sipper bottle like me or carry more than one. However, you probably should be careful if your pockets are low that they don't slip out. Both my regular backpacks have deep side pockets so this hasn't been an issue for me.

One of the main benefits of using the Smartwater brand is that their threads fit a regular Sawyer water filter.  Most other disposables do not. While I usually use a Platypus or the Sawyer bag (although it can have issues) on the filter, it is nice to have this option especially when it is easier to use a bottle to collect the water, which happens occasionally depending on the source.

The light weight and variety of size allow for a flexible approach to water storage. I always carry a sipper bottle and a Platypus soft bottle, then supplement with additional water bottles (like the 1L) or another bag type storage depending on the time of year and terrain. In fact you will often find me with up to four different storage containers as I do a lot of dry camps well away from streams.

You can see three bottles in the photo below along with the Sawyer water bag on the right (and there is a hidden 2L Platypus as well) as I was loading up at an AT shelter source before taking back off onto wilderness trails and camping on a dry ridge. I usually carry most of them empty and load up like a mule for the last hour or two so I have a surplus of water for the evening through lunch the next day just in case. 

These bottles are so light that carrying an extra is a question only of space, not weight.
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I also tend to use one of these bottles for storing alcohol for my stove on longer trips where my standard container may be a bit small. In fact now that I think about it, one of the bottles in the photo above is a fuel container. I have stored alcohol (not gas!) in one of these bottles for up to 6 months and seen no decrease in fuel efficiency or degradation of the plastic. Just make sure you CLEARLY distinguish the fuel from the water — I store my duct tape there.
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OK, I guess I have to mention the "free water" that comes with the bottle...

Negatives:
As I mentioned above, the negatives of the Smartwater bottle for backpacking are basically the same negatives for any disposable bottle (therefore the high rating). 

  • Long term durability of any non-designed water bottle is suspect at minimum. I have used bottles for at least a year with no issues, but tend to acquire another one or two by then and switch them out.
  • They freeze much more quickly than a Nalgene and I would not recommend using them in winter. I have used them into the low teens without issues, but keep the bottles inside the tent where the air is warmer.
  • Thin mouth on the bottle is easier to drink from (in my opinion) but some like wider mouths better for drinking, collecting water, or being able to use a device like a Steripen.
  • They don't handle boiling water, which is another reason not to use them in winter (snow melting). In addition they are not dishwasher safe when you get home...even if they were see the next bullet for reasons I wouldn't do either of these.
  • Long term use of these cheap bottles may have health issues related to the chemicals released into the water. The main one you hear about is BPA. However, if you look at recent articles and research, others like BPS are maybe just as much an issue and are apparently in most plastics including those of permanent water bottles. I am not an expert in this area, so don't begin to claim that anything is safe or dangerous.

Probably the biggest negative to me is the sustainability of these bottles. I carry Nalgene or stainless steel every day, but occasionally am in a situation where I need a bottle of water on the road. In that event, I will buy Smartwater over other brands so I can reuse rather than recycle the bottle. 

Sustainability of any cheap plastic bottle is terrible, as it takes about three times the amount of water to make one than it can hold. They don't biodegrade for thousands of years. The more I write about this, the guiltier I feel for this review if it promotes purchase of these bottles.

If you have one re-use it instead of recycling, but don't buy it just for this use!

Andy Gotto

Good review! I hope they leave the same design forever.


1 year ago
LoneStranger

I was just reading a thru hiker's trail journal and noticed they, like you and many others, were using these bottles. They are relatively ubiquitous on trail these days it seems. Having read the studies done on reusing plastic bottles intended for one time use that is the first thing that comes to mind when I see people with them. Containers intended for extended use are made to different standards. They are not without issues, but reusing the single use containers has been shown to definitely be a problem. The flexing of the plastic and exposure to sunlight both begin to break down the plastic. I'd advise those using these bottles to replace them as often as possible if they insist on using them. Not using them at all would probably be safer but I know better than to tell a hiker not to do something that everyone else has told them to do ;)


1 year ago
FlipNC

I wrestle with that as well LS and agree it is a major issue with these containers - I probably should have put the health warning/waiver higher in the review. My goal was to recommend if you are going to use them anyway, the SW ones work better. I keep them dry and cool and use for weekend trips, and don't usually backpack during hot weather so therefore feel my usage lessens the exposure. I almost stopped using them until I found that the BPA replacement chemicals (BPS and BPF) in many permanent and disposable bottles had similar issues. It is difficult to weed through all the warnings in our industrialized society, and every day things change. Has anyone really tested the Platypus soft bottles, etc? Apparently handling printed "shiny" receipts we are getting from all the stores has way more exposure than BPA/BPS/BPF than any bottle. That said, if there is any concern at all that this may be taken as a recommendation to use these bottles (versus a recommendation if you are going to use them anyway) then we should probably delete this off the site. I don't want that on my conscience. I'll probably continue to use my SW bottles for a while but certainly can see a day where I switch, but it will probably be back to stainless steel rather than another plastic. Who knows what will be figured out next?


1 year ago
LoneStranger

People are going to use them no matter what we say Phil because everyone is using them. I too wonder if down the road they'll say the Camelbak bottles and Platy bags I use do even worse things, but I can't ignore what the existing research says about reusing this type of container. I wasn't trying to knock your review. Just saying out loud what I say in my head every time I see people with these on trail. Of course they all think I'm nuts for carrying a 3.6oz bike bottle instead so it all evens out in the end.


1 year ago
FlipNC

I didn't take it as a knock on the review...just a very valid ppint worth considering and as usual presented in a repspectrum manner. I still think it is worth thinking about either removing the review or me editing a big bold disclaimer and warning at the top. I still debate if using these occasionally and switching out is better or worse than using a Nalgene or other bottle for years. I can't fault your logic for avoiding them.


1 year ago
FlipNC

Point and respectful should be inserted into the first sentence for the typos.


1 year ago
Patman

I've been using these too. The smooth thin bottle works very well for spooling fishing line when used for hand-line fishing.


1 year ago
FlipNC

I threw a waiver up front as I think LS's point is important to make clear from the beginning.


1 year ago
Alicia TRAILSPACE STAFF

Thanks for the review, Phil. I think it's very fair, given the info you have available and share here (probably more than the average person considers when purchasing a bottled water). I agree that one should use reusable water bottles designed for that purpose whenever possible (I use stainless for every day, and BPA-free plastic bottles or reservoirs for outdoor use). BUT, if you end up having to buy something like this, finding one that can also do double duty is good to consider. In that case, reusing is generally better than immediately recycling.


1 year ago
AlexT.

I was thinking about using Smart Water bottles because of the weight benefit and because everybody else seems to be using them these days. But after reading LS's comment I must agree that it's just a hype and one should know better than just follow a crowd instead of thinking. So I will stay with my reusable plastic bottle intended for long use.


1 year ago
Bob Withrow

Would have a hard time giving up my Nalgenes...had them for years...some for decades.


1 year ago
FlipNC

You guys are smart...pun intended. Stick with what works for you and don't just go with the flow. With the newer research about BPS and BPF I am questioning the long term use of any plastic (which is worse...short term use of disposable with higher potential for chemicals vs long term use of another plastic with lower potential). No right or wrong answer. I'll continue with these, and known risk, for a while if I occasionally pick them up traveling. I can see gong back to stainless steel one day as weight savings in other areas make that less of an issue. It'll be interesting to see what the continued research into BPS and BPF says and what result that will have on the market and what people carry.


1 year ago
Twig

This is a well-constructed review, bravo! As to the bigger issue of whether to use one-time-use plastic or any kind of plastic container over glass or steel, consider my personal experience. I admit, it's a bit in the 'freak accident' category but it should give you pause before you say that soft plastic containers should be ruled out. As background, I try to drink water throughout the day, including while I'm commuting in a car. My preference for every-day use is a glass or steel container, because of the health risks associated with plastic. While carpooling to a hike last year, I was involved in a head-on collision. I happened to be holding a glass container in my hand at the time. The passenger side air bag deployed, pushed my hand up into my face, and the container shattered against my forehead. I had lacerations all over my face and hand, and was picking small shards out of my forehead for over a month. I'm lucky that there was no permanent damage done, especially to my eyes. My point is that everything has its risks. Having gone through such a thing, you can see why I went back to using a simple Gatorade bottle in the car and not worrying about the minuscule exposure to BPA. I also use the SW bottle for backpacking and think they are great. At home and work, it's back to ceramic, ss steel, or glass. Everything in moderation.


1 year ago
Twig

One more relevant point, the cap of the Smartwater bottle works great as a backflush apparatus/adapter for the Sawyer filter. I use this in lieu of having to carry the plunger that comes with the filter. It is worth buying a SW bottle if for nothing else but to have this cap (for those wishing to cut weight and excess at least).


1 year ago
Alicia TRAILSPACE STAFF

Wow! I'm glad your accident wasn't any worse, Lah. That sounds scary. I have one glass container, but rarely use it for daily use, mostly because it leaks. I'll stick with my stainless for everyday and various plastics ones for on the trail.


1 year ago
FlipNC

I echo Alicia...glad you're OK. This is am interesting little discussion. I think I'll post a thread on the forum and see what everyone's thoughts are. Always interesting.


1 year ago
AlexT.

Good point on secondary use of SW bottle cap for back-flushing, Lah. One more tool to add to my collection.


1 year ago
norockets

What puzzles me is why people don't just buy a water bottle intended for long term use, boiling water, etc., rather than use, discard, then buy another and another and another "Smart Water" or other some such bottle. You aren't saving money and you are increasing your impact on the environment.


1 year ago
FlipNC

I agrwe about the impact...I only buy these when I am working in the field and run low on water. It's not a regular purchase. I did feel bad doing this review that it might promote purchase of non sustainable bottles, but thought if someone is going to buy one anyway, might as well reuse it.


1 year ago
Twig

To put things in context, it's a very select, small group (thru-hikers and some backpackers) using these water bottles in this way. In comparison to the mind-boggling, wasteful consumption of bottled water by the general public, the impact is negligible. So far I have bought a total of 2 of these bottles, mostly for the cap as mentioned previously, and I am still using both. I first began re-using Gatorade bottles in this way because such a product has to come in some sort of packaging anyway, why not get a few uses out of it before recycling it? I never buy bottled water (or soda/juice) otherwise (filtered tap works for me) and I consume the Gatorade only when hot conditions prevail and I need to replace electrolytes. I'm actually switching to powder packets/tabs now. So I'll go through maybe 10 of these bottles in a year, probably fewer. In taking a pole of other thru-hikers and backpackers, they would probably report similar numbers. Compare that to a family of 5 drinking soda, bottled water, and other similar products on a daily basis and you're talking 1000's of bottles in a year. That is the true focus and magnitude of the problem.


1 year ago
Andy Gotto

That's a good way to put it in perspective, Lah. I'm buying just a handful of SM bottles a year. I'm still trying to wrap my head around using the cap in place of a sawyer plunger? norockets myself and those I know that use them do so because they're lighter and easier to pack and drink out of on the move compared to a Nalgene. I'm sure there are alternatives out there but none come to mind. I saw a "lightweight" semi-soft Nalgene bottle the other day, but, it was not lightweight and the plastic was soft and not as slippery as an SW. Would be much harder to pull out of a packs side pocket.


1 year ago
Twig

here's a video demonstrating the backflush method with a flip-top SW cap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjITyLFelWc


1 year ago
Andy Gotto

Sweet! Never thought about using the flip tops. Also nice that you don't have to keep track of the cap.


1 year ago
Twig

The guys selling Sawyer bottle top backflush adapters online for $10 would rather you not know of this hack either but hey, the information is out of the bag.


1 year ago
DrPhun

Cool. I have already been saving the tops to use as replacement platypus tops.


1 year ago

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