Nalgene Plastic vs Stainless Steel Bottles

Nalgene is most well known for their reusable plastic bottles, but what many people don’t realize is that they make stainless steel bottles as well.

So how exactly do stainless steel Nalgenes stack up to plastic Nalgenes and which is the best one to buy?

When comparing plastic vs stainless steel Nalgene Bottles, their plastic bottles are less expensive, lighter weight, and come in more sizes and colors. Stainless steel Nalgenes are more durable, safer for use with hot liquids and worth the investment for people trying to avoid plastic as much as possible.

For everyday use most people should just grab the regular plastic Nalgene bottles, but for people wanting to boil water and cook things in their bottle the stainless steel is the obvious choice.

Tritan Plastic Nalgene Bottles are a solid basic bottle for everyday use and plastic Ultralite Nalgenes are my favorite bottles for hiking, climbing, and any other activity where weight is an important factor. 

Stainless steel Nalgenes are one of the few non-insulated stainless steel options on the market and, as a result, fill a pretty niche role among reusable bottles — they’re great for camping because you can boil water directly in them and are one of the best options for use as a hot water bottle. 

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Best For:
Most people looking to buy a Nalgene
Best For:
People looking to avoid drinking from plastic bottles or want to use hot water in their Nalgene
Most Popular
4.9
Price and Value:
Durability:
Color Options:
Portability:
Dishwasher Safe:
Water Safety:
Best For:
Most people looking to buy a Nalgene
Healthiest Option
4.6
Price and Value:
Durability:
Color Options:
Portability:
Dishwasher Safe:
Water Safety:
Best For:
People looking to avoid drinking from plastic bottles or want to use hot water in their Nalgene

Price And Value

For a lot of people price and value is going to be a major consideration here and I have to say that the regular plastic Nalgene bottles far outweigh the stainless steel ones in both price and value.

Tritan Plastic Nalgene Bottles typically run between $14 and $17 dollars, with Ultralite Bottles falling between $12 and $16. A pretty reasonable price for a bottle that will more than likely last for years

Stainless steel Nalgenes cost a decent amount more — somewhere in the $30 to $35 range. This doesn't sound too bad until you consider the fact that stainless steel Nalgene bottles are non-insulated and you can get vacuum insulated bottles from reputable (and expensive brands) like Hydro Flask, Klean Kanteen and Yeti for similar prices.

In fact, when it comes to Nalgene vs Hydro Flask (at least on the stainless steel front) Hydro Flask are a clear winner.

But what really makes any Nalgene Bottle a tremendous value is Nalgene’s lifetime warranty. Not only are defects covered, but Nalgene will also replace damaged bottles (so long as the damage isn’t caused by fire, freezing, or chewing).

Even if you break the bottle yourself by dropping it off a cliff then Nalgene will still replace it free of charge. I'm yet to find a single example of Nalgene refusing to replace a broken bottle.

I’ve only had to take advantage of it a couple times (it’s hard to break a Nalgene Bottle), but I got a replacement each time, with free shipping, and no questions asked.  

Winner: Plastic Nalgene 

Plastic Nalgenes are about the cheapest high-quality water bottles you’ll find. If you're on a budget it's the #1 brand I'd recommend because of their price, simplicity and durability. Camelbak do give Nalgene a run for their money and might be better value but overall I still prefer my Nalgene.

Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle (32 oz)
$16.35

Made with BPA-free Tritan Renew plastic these Nalgene bottles are made with 50% recycled plastic.

This is the best selling water bottle that has been around for 30 years (and likely to last you 30 years). Suitable for warm and cold beverages (-40 to 212ºF) this is marked with milliliters and ounces for easy measurement.

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01/31/2023 10:08 am GMT

The same can’t be said for stainless steel Nalgenes. There are better stainless steel bottles available in a similar price range, and sometimes for even less — the Classic Klean Kanteen, for example, is a better bottle overall and only costs about ⅔ the price.

Klean Kanteen Classic Water Bottle (27 oz)
$19.95

These classic Klean Kanteen water bottles have some of the best insulation of any stainless steel water bottle and are extremely durable and long lasting. The leak-proof sports lid gives you easy one handed drinking all day long.

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01/31/2023 02:38 pm GMT

Thermal Insulation

Plastic Nalgene Bottles aren’t insulated. And more surprisingly, neither are their stainless steel bottles.

While the lack of insulation may seem like a big downside, non-insulated bottles do have a few advantages:

  • They can be used as hot water bottles to provide warmth while backpacking or camping. 
  • Non-insulated stainless steel bottles can be used to boil water in.
  • They’re lighter weight than insulated bottles. 
  • You can use the cold from them to keep other items cool in your backpack. I personally use my iced Nalgene to keep chocolate cold on hikes.

There is the obvious downside of not keeping drinks cold (or hot) for very long. Also non-insulated bottles also tend to sweat which can wet your table. I have to be careful having my Nalgene near my computer or notepad in summer. 

These issues can be (partially) solved by using an insulating sleeve, that will keep drinks cold for a few extra hours and absorb most of the sweat. But this won't compare to a fully vacuum-insulated bottle which can keep drinks hot for 12+ hours and cold for 24+ hours.

On super hot days I'll always take a vacuum insulated bottle with me because even an iced Nalgene will become lukewarm pretty quickly on a hike.

One of my favorite Nalgene hacks can also help offset the lack of insulation. Pre-freeze a half full bottle on its side the night before to make a large chunk of ice that will stay cold for much longer than individual ice cubes.

Winner: Tie

With no insulated bottles to speak of, we have a pretty obvious tie. If insulation is an important factor to you, a Nalgene probably isn’t your best bet. 

Klean Kanteens have by far the best thermal insulation of any bottle I’ve owned — with some models keeping drinks hot for 38 hours and cold for an absurd 100 hours.

Durability And Longevity

Plastic Nalgene Bottles are surprisingly tough for a bottle made from plastic. They’ll survive some nasty drops and can even handle boiling water (Tritan Bottles better than Ultralite).

I've got friends at climbing who have owned their Nalgene for 15+ years and it's still going strong with only the measurements on the outside fading away over time.

Stainless steel Nalgene Bottles are pretty much indestructible, even compared to most other stainless steel bottles on the market. However, stainless steel bottles do tend to dent a lot easier than plastic ones, meaning they'll show their damage a lot more.

What make Nalgene bottles a bit better than other similar sized stainless steel bottles is they have a thick wall design which makes them more durable against denting.

Still I'm yet to have a stainless steel bottle fully break on me and I've broken many a plastic bottle.

No matter how dented, dinged, heated, or abused they are, they have no vacuum-insulation to lose.

Winner: Stainless Steel Nalgene

Plastic Nalgenes are tough but stainless steel Nalgenes will keep going and going. If you don't mind dents showing on the bottle that is.

Plastic Free
Nalgene Stainless Steel Water Bottle (38 oz)
$38.95

Made from single wall surgical grade 316 (18/10) stainless steel and featuring the same size threads as the regular Nalgene widemouth this is the perfect bottle for those wanting the lifetime warranty and durability of a Nalgene without the plastic.

Comes with a rope pack loop lid attachment.

Buy Now at Amazon
01/31/2023 06:03 am GMT

If you’d prefer an insulated stainless steel bottle that’s also tough as nails, the Yeti Rambler is a beast in its own right. 

Options

Stainless steel Nalgenes come in two sizes, 32 and 38 oz. Both are wide mouth bottles with simple twist-off lids and no color options.

The 38 oz has a similar form factor to the 32 oz plastic Nalgenes with the 32 oz being a bit slimmer and easier to hold.

The lids on the stainless steel Nalgene bottles are designed to not get lost (they have a rope attachment) but are easy to remove if you want to use the bottle for emergency boiling water or cooking.

Plastic Nalgenes, on the other hand, range in sizes from 12 to 48 oz, with wide or narrow mouths, in regular or Ultralite, and in just about every color you could imagine.

So many people at my climbing gym have Nalgene bottles and I'm yet to see a single person who has the same color Nalgene bottle as me. That's how many different color options and variations they are.

One of my climbing friends has a limited edition Nalgene bottle from her trip to Hawaii and she absolutely loves it!

I’m not particularly worried about how my bottle looks, but my kids love all the color and design options of plastic Nalgene Bottles — anything to encourage them to drink more water

Winner: Plastic Nalgene 

32 oz wide mouth Nalgenes are far and away the most popular, but if you want to mix it up and add some color, a narrow mouth, or a non-standard size, Plastic Nalgenes have plenty of options. 

Weight And Portability

BottleWeight (grams/ounces/pounds)
Nalgene 32 oz (Wide Mouth)182.8 g / 6.45 oz / 0.40 lbs
Nalgene 32 oz (Narrow Mouth)166.9 g / 5.89 oz / 0.37 lbs
Nalgene 32 oz Ultralite108.6 g / 3.83 oz / 0.24 lbs
Nalgene 32 oz Narrow Mouth (1995 version)175.7 g / 6.20 oz / 0.39 lbs
Nalgene 32 oz Stainless Steel329 g / 11.63 oz / 0.73 lbs
Nalgene 38 oz Stainless Steel379.3 g / 13.38 oz / 0.84 lbs

A standard 32 oz plastic Nalgene weighs about 0.4 lbs, with stainless steel bottles weighing a little more than double that — both right in line weight-wise with other comparable bottles of the same material. 

Though if weight is a concern, Nalgene’s Ultralite Bottles weighs in at only 0.2 lbs — easily the lightest reusable bottle I’ve found. 

Winner: Plastic Nalgene 

Even though I’ve moved away from Nalgenes as my daily driver, I still find myself reaching for an Ultralite Nalgene when I’m headed to the climbing gym, trail, or any other activity where the weight of my bottle matters. 

Health And Water Safety

Plastic Nalgene Bottles are made of materials that have been approved as safe for use with food and drink by the US Food and Drug Administration and are free of any known or suspected harmful compounds. 

But unfortunately, when it comes to plastic, there’s always a risk that new compounds will be found harmful in the future. 

In 2008 it was made aware to the public that BPA (a harmful endocrine disruptor) leaching into drinks, especially at high temperatures and could be a health risk. However, despite most companies moving away from plastics containing BPA it's interesting to note that as of the time of writing plastics with BPA are still approved as safe for you by the FDA.

I personally try to avoid plastic water bottles wherever possible. When I do use them I only use them for cold drinks (never hot) and I discard water after a few hours to minimize any potential leaching.

Nalgene bottles are considered safe to drink out of and are BPA and BPS free and they seem to be one of the safest plastics to drink from. However, I still like to be careful where possible and stick to stainless steel, glass and ceramics.

Stainless steel bottles, on the other hand, are completely free of any compounds that can leach into your water — even if the bottle is scratched, aged, or heated. I did a deep dive into the safety of stainless steel water bottles and I couldn't find any studies to show they are dangerous to drink from.

Winner: Stainless Steel Nalgene

Even though plastic Nalgenes are more than likely completely safe, stainless steel is one of the safest materials for food and drink storage.

I’m personally still comfortable using plastic Nalgenes with cold drinks but, because heating plastic causes it to leach more chemicals, never with hot drinks.

Regular Plastic Nalgene vs Stainless Steel: Which Should You Buy?

For most people I think the regular plastic Nalgene bottles are going to be the obvious choice.

They are super affordable, really durable and are also lightweight. They come in a variety of colors so you can pick one you like and they are safe to drink from.

They are backed by Nalgene's lifetime guarantee and overall they are incredible water bottles and probable one of (if not THE) best valued water bottle on the market.

Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle (32 oz)
$16.35

Made with BPA-free Tritan Renew plastic these Nalgene bottles are made with 50% recycled plastic.

This is the best selling water bottle that has been around for 30 years (and likely to last you 30 years). Suitable for warm and cold beverages (-40 to 212ºF) this is marked with milliliters and ounces for easy measurement.

Buy Now at Amazon
01/31/2023 10:08 am GMT

Really the only people who should consider a stainless steel water bottle are people who either:

  • Want to avoid drinking out of plastic altogether or
  • Want to be able to boil water and cook in the Nalgene bottle

Nalgene stainless steel bottles seem to be aimed at the “emergency preparedness” niche of the market and provide a great bottle for hikers and backpackers who want to be able to boil water (for safety reasons) before drinking it.

Plastic Free
Nalgene Stainless Steel Water Bottle (38 oz)
$38.95

Made from single wall surgical grade 316 (18/10) stainless steel and featuring the same size threads as the regular Nalgene widemouth this is the perfect bottle for those wanting the lifetime warranty and durability of a Nalgene without the plastic.

Comes with a rope pack loop lid attachment.

Buy Now at Amazon
01/31/2023 06:03 am GMT

Another great option for water safety is a Hydro Flask bottle with the Waatr UV Cap which kills 99.9999% of bacteria, protozoa and even viruses.

But this adds extra cost (and weight) to your bottle.