An insulated water bottle sleeve is one of the ways you can keep your water from freezing on a winter hike. Most are designed to fit 32 oz (1 liter) bottles, including wide-mouth Nalgene bottles, which are better for winter use because they’re less likely to freeze closed than ones with narrow necks. Most winter hikers fill their water bottles with boiling hot water when they pack in the morning and keep it insulated and hot until it’s needed.
Unfortunately, insulated water bottle sleeves have become increasingly scarce in the past few years and hard to find. I suspect the demand for them has fallen because insulated metal bottles (Hydroflask, et. al.) have become so popular. But the problem with insulated thermos-style bottles, which you’ll quickly find out if you try to use them for winter hiking, is that they keep your water undrinkably hot. It’s important to drink a LOT of water when winter hiking, so a solution that keeps your water too hot to drink is a fail. A thermos is fine for carrying some hot soup (Campbell’s Tomato Soup makes a great mid-hike pick me up), but it’s a cumbersome solution for carrying 3 liters of hot water.
Switch Bottles When They’re Empty
I try to drink a liter of water every 2-3 hours when winter hiking and usually carry 2 to 3 one liter (32 oz) bottles of hot water on all-day winter hikes. The trick to keeping all this water from freezing is to only carry one bottle in an insulated sleeve on the outside of your backpack at a time. The rest will stay hot if you store them inside your backpack and next to an insulated jacket and the extra clothes carried in your pack. When you finish the bottle stored on the outside of your pack, just replace it with one of the ones still stored inside your pack.
Bottle Sleeves, Holsters, Boots, and Parkas
All of the insulated water bottle sleeves listed below will keep your water warm and prevent it from freezing for several hours when they’re attached to the outside of your backpack. They’re all pretty equivalent in that regard.
Nalgene Water Bottle Sleeve
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Mountainsmith Bottle Holster
Forty Below Bottle Boots
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Outdoor Research SG Water Bottle Parka
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More Tips and Tricks
Fill with Boiling Water
Fill your water bottles your bottles in the morning before you leave for your hike. An electric kettle makes this an easy process and is much faster than trying to boil water on a stove. You may also want to add a sweetener to your water to make it more drinkable. I like using herb tea because it makes cleanup so easy, but some people also use electrolyte drinks. Just remember that it has to be palatable if it’s hot.
Keep Your Bottle Upside Down
When you put a bottle in an insulated sleeve, store it upside down. This will prevent the cap and threads from freezing shut. The bottles stored inside your backpack can remain upright if they’re surrounded by warm clothes. This also helps ensure that the contents don’t leak in your pack.
Wide Mouth White Nalgene Bottles
If you use 32 oz Nalgene Bottles, I’d recommend using the white-colored (HDPE) polyethylene Nalgene Bottles instead of the clear ones. The white Nalgenes are several ounces lighter (3.5 oz vs. 6.25 oz) than the clear plastic bottles. Whatever you end up using, make sure that they’re wide-mouth bottles, since Nalgene and plastic bottles with a narrow neck are much more likely to freeze shut and are difficult to store inside an insulated sleeve upside down.
If you position your lunch in proximity to the hot water bottles stored in your pack, they’ll heat up your food. I like packing cheese and salami sandwiches in winter and the cheese has usually melted by the time lunch rolls around.
Snow Melting Starter
When winter backpacking, you’ll want to hold a cup of water in reserve as a starter for snow melting. Pour the water into your snow melting pot, heat it up to boiling, and slowly add snow to the pot to make more water. If you try to melt snow in a cookpot without a starter, the snow will burn (yes burn) in the pot, create a horrendous smell, and potentially burn a hole in your cookpot.
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