Nalgene Bottles are surprisingly durable for bottles made of plastic — but they aren’t quite indestructible and from time to time they can break.
In all the years I’ve used Nalgene Bottles, I’ve only managed to break two by dropping them. Though I’ve destroyed a few others by being careless.
Nalgene Bottles are tough to break, but not impossible. They’ll survive most reasonable drops, unless they happen to land right on the corner or on a jagged surface. Tritan Nalgenes are more likely to crack from falling than stainless steel or Ultralite Bottles. Damage from freezing and fire are the other most common ways Nalgene Bottles are broken.
Among the reusable plastic bottles I’ve used, Nalgenes have withstood the most abuse and they are hard to beat in terms of durability.
Even though many other brands have started making their bottles from Tritan Plastic (see my CamelBak vs Nalgene review), Nalgene Bottles are more simple and have less parts that can break.
Damage From Drops
Nalgene Bottles will easily survive most average falls.
Me and my kids have dropped ours countless times from chest height and below onto a variety of surfaces with nothing more than a few scratches to show.
But where things get more sketchy is when the fall is from higher. While you might get lucky, a drop from head height and above onto a hard surface becomes more and more likely to break your bottle the higher the fall gets.
The amount of water in your Nalgene also plays a big role. An empty Nalgene would likely survive just about any fall, (even from my 4th story balcony) while a half full Nalgene will survive many drops that a completely full bottle would have no chance of.
Tritan Bottles will still sometimes crack even from average falls if they land on a jagged, uneven surface or bottom-corner-first on any hard surface because hard plastic doesn’t absorb impact as well.
Ultralite Nalgenes are more resistant to damage from drops because the HDPE they’re made of is more malleable and can flex to absorb impact.
Oftentimes a drop that would have cracked a Tritan Nalgene will only dent an Ultralite Nalgene, and you’ll usually be able to simply pop it back out.
Stainless steel Nalgenes are pretty much indestructible, but will still dent when dropped — though unlike Ultralite Nalgenes, the dents are more or less permanent.
Stainless steel Nalgene bottles are made from a thicker stainless steel than most other stainless steel bottles. This makes them one of the most durable stainless steel bottles on the market.
Damage From UV Over Time
One of the biggest cause of breakages for Nalgene bottles is prolonged UV/sunlight exposure which will weaken the plastic over time making it more brittle and likely to break.
This is especially true for the the lids which seem to wear down and break much faster than the bottles themselves.
You can purchase a variety of good Nalgene lids if yours happens to break or if it's just the strap that breaks then I've got some DIY Nalgene Lid Strap Ideas that will have that fixed in no time and will be even stronger than the original.
But just because your lid breaks doesn't mean you should get a whole new water bottle. You can purchase replacement lids directly from Nalgene.
Damage From Freezing
Freezing is another common killer of Nalgene Bottles.
Because Nalgenes are made of plastic, they tend to crack when overfilled and frozen. Fully frozen Nalgenes are also more likely to crack when dropped.
If you’re going to freeze water in your Nalgene, only fill it about halfway. Any more and the water won’t have enough space to expand as it turns to ice.
Damage From Fire
Although plastic Nalgene Bottles can handle boiling water without being damaged, exposure to open flame is another story entirely.
Keep your Nalgenes well away from campfires, gas stoves, and bonfires. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more than once and have the melted bottles to prove it. It's one of the very few things Nalgene says they won't cover in their lifetime warranty.
Breaks from drops and smashes sure, but breaks from fire or freezing they don't cover.
Stainless steel Nalgenes, on the other hand, aren’t harmed by fire. You can even boil water directly in them over an open flame. This makes them a great emergency water bottle and a great bottle to take hiking if you feel you may need to boil water prior to drinking it.
Nalgene Will Replace (Most) Broken Bottles
Before you throw away your broken bottle, keep in mind that Nalgene actually covers most damage under their lifetime warranty.
The only things not covered are damage from chewing, freezing, and fire — though their customer service is so great that it’s probably worth a shot anyway.
Also if you have an Nalgene bottles that are past their best and you don't want to drink from them anymore then don't throw them away. There are some great things you can do with old Nalgene bottles to extend their lifespan and reduce waste.