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When choosing a water bottle for hiking, a very distinct choice I can make (amongst all the other types of materials and hardiness, size and so on) is weighing up whether to purchase a "hard" plastic bottle, or one made from a softer material that can be squashed.

What are the advantages of each, and why might I choose one over the other?

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Unclear whether you are talking hard lexan bottles (like the blue nalgene type) vs soft but semi-rigid (like the white opaque Nalgene type) or squashable bike types or foldable platypus types, or disposable Evian water types... lots of water bottles out there... –  LBell Sep 23 '12 at 6:37

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

One of the big differentiators in the past between hard and soft bottles was that soft bottles would absorb some of the flavor from drinks.

I'm not sure how much that affects soft bottles on the market today.

In contrast to what @JustinC said, I believe hard bottles are more likely to explode. Due to their rigidity they will hold their shape until the pressure reaches a critical point then the bottle would shatter where the soft bottle would deform before reaching the critical pressure.

Also I have had hard bottles break when setting (or dropping) onto a hard surface where a soft bottle would flex.

I have heard of some hikers who will go to extreme lengths to reduce weight in their pack and they use old Gatorade/Powerade bottles since they are lighter weight than even the soft bottles. But these are much less sturdy and prone to breakage.

Most of the bottles I use are the hard variety, but I believe that is just lingering distrust of the flavor saving of the soft bottles.

I'm not sure about the prescence of BPA in soft vs hard bottles, but that should not be a problem anymore since the majority of bottles do not contain BPA any more.

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+1 from me for a lot of good remarks that I missed. Not sure I agree though on the break point of a hard bottle. The pressures that we're talking about I don't think get anywhere near enough to break a nalgene bottle or equivalent. I'm thinking of a person falling on their pack. Maybe someone accidentally stepping on the bottle. Those kinds of pressures. –  Justin C Sep 21 '12 at 17:51
    
I've played basketball with hard Nalgene bottles, and driven over one with a car. No breakage. –  LBell Sep 23 '12 at 6:34
    
Like @LBell said, you can't beat a Nalgene - those things are unbreakable. –  studiohack Sep 27 '12 at 17:01

I look at soft plastic drinking bottles as a great but slightly risky way to trim weight. Soft plastic should always be lighter than hard plastic, even if the difference is minor. The same applies to thin metal bottles which have the same benefits as hard plastic.

The risk is in the ability of the soft plastic to either puncture or explode under pressure.

To balance this risk/reward I actually tend to bring both. I have a soft plastic bottle that is in a pocket on the outside of my pack, easy to grab while hiking. Then I keep a second hard plastic bottle in my pack as backup drinking water.

This way if I take a hard fall, and the soft plastic bottle gets damaged, I still have one unbroken bottle for water. Also, for the same reasons, I carry a plastic water bladder to use in campsites so I can store large amounts of water but have less to carry when hiking.

Also should note, I didn't mention how big the bottles are since everyone hikes with different amounts of water in different places.

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One benefit to a soft bottle over a hard bottle is: You can compress a soft bottle as you drink from it to reduce the sloshing of water in the bottle as you walk.

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