Winter Water Bottle

Winter Water Bottle

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Ice Climbing

Keep Your Water from Freezing!

Drinking water is extremely important in the cold. Often times your natural thirst is absent because you are cool, making it more likely for dehydration to set in. In addition to the typical dangers of dehydration, it can accelerate frostbite, and is an attributing cause of hypothermia. Avoid eating snow because it can lower your core temperature.

Frozen water is dead weight. Here are a few tips for keeping your water drinkable on winter hikes or overnight trips.

Prevent Freezing

The obvious tip is to prevent freezing in the first place. A frozen nalgene requires a lot of time, energy and effort to thaw because you cannot apply heat directly. The primary preventative measure is to store your bottle in a place that will best prevent freezing (in your pack, close to your body or in your jacket, sleeping bag, etc.). Placement inside your pack is better than an outside pocket, though it may be more cumbersome to access. Don't let the inconvenience discourage you from drinking, though.

Warming your water before putting it in the bottle will extend the time before it freezes, as well. The myth that hot water freezes faster than cold water only holds if a large amount (up to 1/4) evaporates, leaving less water to freeze. In a sealed water bottle, there is no evaporation, and it will remain unfrozen longer.

Using chemical heat handwarmers stuck to or stored with the bottle will keep your water from freezing, and may last longer than simply warming the water. Using handwarmers in combination with the wool sock insulating sleeve, described below, is a winning combination. (As an aside, sticking the warm water bottle in your sleeping bag is a great way to make it cozy.)

Finally, use Gatorade. The salts contained in Gatorade or other electrolyte drinks will lower the freezing temperature of your water. The impact may be minimal, but the changed freezing properties can make for a great tasing slushy.

Using a Bladder

When using camel backs and like products, try these recommendations:

Enough water-supply

1. Keep the bladder close to your back, or try hanging it from your neck with a makeshift lanyard;
2. Use an insulated tube;
3. Drink frequently, to keep a flow of unfrozen water;
4. After each drink, blow the water back into the bladder, so it is not in the tube where it can more easily freeze, clogging the tube; (Thanks 96avs01!). Repeat after taking your bag off; the tube may refill with water.
5. Shove the tube inside your jacket (through the collar or pit zips).
6. Consider removing the bite valve, which can quite easily become frozen.

Even though most bladders are designed to withstand freezing (the bladder/tube won't burst), under truly cold conditions, the tube will freeze and so they are not an ideal choice. You're probably better off with a nalgene bottle, so save the bladder for warmer weather.

Upside Down

To improve your chances of being able to drink water that is freezing in your bottle, always place it upside down. Your bottle will freeze from the top down because ice floats, and the ice that forms will rise to the top. This phenomenon is particularly notable in an agitated bottle, as is the case when stored in your backpack. With a bottle that is always stored upside down, even if the bottle starts to freeze, you can access the liquid portion from the capped end. The only caveat is to keep the cap tight!

By the way, Nalgene bottles will withstand freezing (they won't crack or burst, even if full of water before freezing).

An Old Wool Sock

Before you throw away that mismatched wool sock, consider saving it for the noble purpose of extending the length of time your water will stay liquid.

Image 1
Image 1

The simple method is to double up the sock and slip it over the nalgene. Fold it in a counterintuitive way, with the top of the sock folded inside; this makes for a tidier insulating sleeve (the two can be compared in the image). The insulation will help prevent freezing in your pack, and is quite useful if you have your bottle in your jacket, to insulate the water from the portion of the bottle pressing against your outer shell.

A craftier way is to assemble the insulater as follows. Cut a 1/2-inch slit horizontally in the sock (reinforce with thread or duct tape if you like), at the location where the sock layers are at the top of the bottle. An ideal location for the slit is the heel, where there is some exceess, non-symetrical material. Remove the cap ring from the bottle, squeeze it in half and insert it through the slit (see Image 2). Now the sock is hanging from the cap loop, with the cap and ring on either side. Slide the sock over the bottle, replace the ring, and the sock will stay in place (see Image 1). The socks can also serve as a spare pair of dry socks or mittens in a pinch.

Commercial solutions are readily available (see comment section below).

Heating Element

TNF has a patent for a heating element to prevent the tube from a water bladder from freezing. I wonder if they will be able to develop something that makes it to the market. The patent can be viewed here:


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Viewing: 1-20 of 37

rhyang - Feb 12, 2007 5:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Good start

Outdoor Research also makes insulators for nalgene bottles you can strap to your waistbelt, etc.

Not as cheap or as light as an old wool sock, of course.


lalpinist - Feb 12, 2007 6:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good start

Expensive and bulky, but much slicker.


rhyang - Feb 12, 2007 7:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good start

I would never pay retail for these of course (I think has them on sale right now). But bulky ? One thing about them is that you can attach one to your waistbelt and free up pack pocket space for snacks or what have you. I suspect that they also offer more insulation as well.

On multipitch ice routes where I think I might want to carry some water I attach one to the haul loop on my harness in back.

When I first got into snow-camping I actually made something similar out of duct tape and a piece of old sleeping pad foam. Now that was heavy and bulky :)


lalpinist - Feb 12, 2007 7:40 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good start

The waistbelt approach mitigates towards the commercial solution, too, as with more exposure to the air, you'd want something that completely encloses the bottle.

Rob A

Rob A - Feb 14, 2007 5:38 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good start

water bottle parka

it works great


b_betts - Feb 18, 2007 7:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good start

I still use the foam & duct tape insulation method! :)


nartreb - Feb 12, 2007 8:44 pm - Hasn't voted

why mess around?

Worth every gram.


rasgoat - Feb 12, 2007 10:52 pm - Hasn't voted


Combined with Nalgene/Parka

The Nalgene bottle parka kept the water warm all day in 15 degrees with good winds and I had it attached to the lower section of my backpack's shoulder strap. It rested nicely at my side, unobtrusive and easily accessed. I do not like to have to take off my pack for every sip of water. I am confident the water would not freeze in much colder temps. Even exposed as it was.

Poor Climber

Poor Climber - Feb 13, 2007 7:23 pm - Voted 10/10

Good article

I really appreciate that you pointed out that keeping the nalgene upsidedown lets you drink from it longer.

Back when I used to do winter adventure races; the people who knew what they were doing used nalgenes stashed in their packs upsidedown; and NEVER used hydration packs if the forecast called for below freezing temperatures.


96avs01 - Feb 13, 2007 8:12 pm - Hasn't voted

Just a tip

You can still use your hydration bladder in the winter with an insulated drinking tube. The catch is that after each drink you need to blow all of the water in the tube back into the bladder. This keeps the tube free from potential freezing and allows for a more convenient hydration option than a Nalgene buried in your pack. One caveat is that you need to be selective in the type of bite valve you use as certain brands have the potential to freeze with the minimal amount of residual water from the tube, I have experienced this problem with the Nalgene bite valve, but have always had an ice-free experience with the Camelback big-bite valve. Just my 0.02


lalpinist - Feb 13, 2007 10:27 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Just a tip

Great tip! Thanks.


WalksWithBlackflies - Feb 22, 2007 5:21 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Just a tip

It's been my experience that you DO NOT want to blow on the tube. It pressurizes the bladder, which then forces the liquid back into the tube. Instead, squeeze the bite valve above your head in a Statue of Liberty pose. The liquid will run down into the bladder without pressurizing it. When you return the hose/bite valve to its normal position, be sure to squeeze the bite valve again to release the few drops that dripped down the hose. In this way, I have used insulated bladders to -10F with no problems (I haven't been able to test it in lower temps for extended periods of time).


96avs01 - Feb 22, 2007 6:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Just a tip

I have never had a bladder force the water back into the tube. I have attempted your method and found that when my hydration bladder was in a tightly-packed backpack against my back there was enough pressure on it to force water out of the hose while holding the bite valve open. My previous experience with Camelback, Nalgene and Platypus bladders has never once yielded a frozen hose with the blow back method, however the bite valves are another story as described above.


ReticentMarvel - Feb 13, 2007 9:11 pm - Hasn't voted

In a pinch...

This works:

It's cold in Patagonia

My waterbottle froze solid overnight (oops - should have kept it in the sleeping bag). The water in the pot kept the nalgene from melting. Took forever though. And I agree that hydration packs are a bad idea. If it's not that cold you can make it work, but on a really cold day blowing out the water doesn't stop it, putting the tube in a sleeve in your jacket doesn't stop it... Never again.

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Feb 13, 2007 9:31 pm - Hasn't voted

_old_ sock?

Why carry extra weight? I just use a regular spare layer for insulation, a sock or a glove maybe. And the bottles are filled with boiling hot water to begin with.


chrisferro - Feb 18, 2007 7:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: _old_ sock?

Exactly, I'll take two bottles, fill them both up with hot gatorade, and wrap one of them up in my bivy jacket or spare mitten or something and stick it in the bottom of my pack. By the time I drink the first bottle, that second bottle is probably still hot.


nebben - Feb 13, 2007 11:38 pm - Voted 10/10

Upside down

I never thought of that...good tip!

aemter - Feb 14, 2007 4:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Try a thermos

I have to agree with the above post about using an insulated thermos. The weight of a 1L Lexan Nalgene bottle and an OR Insulated Bottle Parka is a combined 10.8oz. Now I'm sure that most thermos type containers will weigh more, but the thermos will keep your drink warm much longer than the Nalgene/Bottle Parka combination, not to mention the fact that you can get a good thermos for the price of the Bottle Parka alone (I got my SS Thermos for $10 on sale).


damio - Feb 14, 2007 5:00 pm - Voted 8/10

ditto the thermos

Its -15C, night time, you are very cold, under the influence of altitude, tired and lagging in moral strength: there is nothing worse than forcing yourself to drink soon to be frozen water filtered through a honeycomb of ice slowly taking over the inside of your bottle, knowing that within an hour or so it will be a solid block, several hours before you are back in civilisation. It makes my throat lump just thinking about it.

I love my thermos.

tradmonkey - Feb 14, 2007 5:50 pm - Hasn't voted

My solution...

See this thread...

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