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When backpacking in freezing weather, water in a canteen often turns to ice. I am looking for a canteen that

  1. Will not burst when the volume of water increases due to freezing
  2. Will make it possible, and not too difficult, to extract the frozen water, by melting, by breaking into chunks and shaking out, or by some other convenient way.

What kind of canteen or other container should I get?

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Mix it with alcohol to prevent it from freezing. –  RoflcoptrException Jan 31 '12 at 22:14
    
Do you want to hear suggestions for a day trip or multiple days? –  RoflcoptrException Jan 31 '12 at 22:30
    
It's not a great answer, but whatever bottle you choose, leave air space inside for expansion if (when) it freezes and store it upside down since often the lower part of the bottle is better insulated in your pack and the last to freeze over. –  bmike Jan 31 '12 at 23:13
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10 Answers 10

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Another option is to keep your water bottle inside your jacket and use your body heat to prevent the water from freezing. Many mountaineering jackets have internal elasticated mesh pockets for this purpose. Alternatively, I find I can just put the water bottle inside my jacket and use the waist belt of my rucksack to prevent the bottle from falling down inside the jacket. The other advantage is easy access to water without having to go to your rucksack.

  • If storing the bottle within your jacket, keep in mind that this will drain body heat.
  • To keep the water bottle from freezing without sacrificing body heat keep the water bottle in a 'water bottle parka'. These can be purchased at many outdoor retailers.
  • You can also make these out of old "ensolite" sleeping pads by making a tube with a top and bottom.

Nalgene bottles such as this one advertises it "withstands sub-freezing to boiling temperatures". Just be sure to not fill it completely as the cap will pop and potentially split the side of the bottle if a perfectly full nalgene bottle freezes completely through.

For a good practical review of different storage vessels and their performance in freezing conditions, see this excellent article

Example Bottle Parka by Outdoor Research

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500 ml and 20 oz water bottles from a convenience store will freeze without breaking. You can carry them inside your clothes, in your pack next to your body, and keep them inside your sleeping bag to help keep them from freezing.

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Sometimes the cheapest containers do better than all the fancy rugged bottles. Do keep in mind that the more plastic the bottle (or soft), the less likely it will shatter in extreme cold. –  bmike Jan 31 '12 at 23:17
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@bmike: soft drinks PET bottles are pretty strong and flexible, and do not shatter or tear easily. I have seen someone taking a PET bottle that was completely frozen, whacking it with the blunt side of an ax until the ice was pretty much completely pulverized, shaking the ice into a pot and melting it (the ice, not the bottle) over a fire. The bottle was pretty warped and beaten up, but it was still usable and did not leak. –  Jan Hlavacek Feb 1 '12 at 3:35
    
The usual mode of failure for my nalgenes (until I realized how to prevent it) was the lid popping off due to expanding water. The main bottles are nigh indestructible, the lids, not so much. –  bmike Feb 1 '12 at 18:21
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For winter hiking, I prefer to wear a hydration bladder inside my coat and you can fill it with warm water if desired for an extra heat bonus when you start out.

When camping in the very cold, you can often find / treat water and just heat up enough for a day or half day and carry that water closer to your body. Also, a bottle inside a spare fleece, sweater or sleeping bag won't freeze after a long day unless the outside temperatures are really quite far below zero.

Also, inverting the bottle or bladder lets any ice that may form rise away from the hose or opening so that you can still open / drink if the water happens to succumb to the freezing temperatures despite your actions to insulate and warm it.

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It's also a good idea when camping in freezing weather to pour some water into your cooking pot before going to sleep so that if it freezes overnight it will freeze in the pot rather than the container. It's a lot easier then to melt the ice in the pot rather than the container when you wake up in the morning and want the water for breakfast or a hot drink!

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Personally I'd recommend soft plastic type water bottles if they'll be frozen (though still check that this is ok with the manufacturer.) I've heard some people recommend Nalgene bottles for this, but have heard stories from more than one other source about them splitting when left to completely freeze. A softer plastic will allow for a bit of expansion when freezing - you could also squeeze it a bit when you add the water so it expands into its normal shape as it freezes.

As pointed out already, you can if you wish mix the water with a bit of alcohol to stop it freezing so easily, and you can also insulate the bottle with cloth / foil to try and keep as much heat in as possible.

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We've been using flexible Platypus reservoirs and have had no trouble thus far. I have knitted an insulation tube (six-stitch I-cord in a sport weight wool) that runs the entire length of the drinking tube-- that's where we've seen the most issues with freezing because of the enormous surface area of the tube. When the reservoir isn't in my pack, it's near me staying as warm as I can keep it.

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In my experience, it generally works fine if I simply use cheap, lightweight water bottles (e.g., a 2-liter soda bottle), and put them inside my pack while I'm hiking. The surrounding material in the pack insulates the bottle from the cold air, and my body heats up the pack, so the water doesn't freeze. If the weather is very cold, I can use extra care in packing my pack so that the bottle is close to my body.

Some of the answers have suggested putting the bottle inside one's jacket or clothes. This seems like it would be extremely uncomfortable and impractical, especially with a large water bottle. In my experience (down to about 0 F or -20 C), this isn't necessary, and the water stays unfrozen inside the pack, if it's close to my body.

If I need water to stay unfrozen overnight in cold temps, I can put the bottle inside the tent or even inside the sleeping bag -- but in this situation I'm probably depending on melted snow for my drinking water anyway.

The most common problem I've seen during the day while hiking is that when people use platypus-style bladders with a mouth tube, the water inside the tube freezes. This is one of the many disadvantages of these systems, and it's one of the many reasons I don't use them.

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Go to your nearest military surplus store and ask if they have any arctic water bottles.

These water bottles are made out of aluminum, they are generally round. They are fairly good to hold a lot of water for their size, the water should last about a day or two before we need to be filled (Depending on how much water you drink).

They will never freeze. I've tried these things out at 40 below zero and still haven't been able to get one to freeze solid. I have one in my winter gear and one in My pickup truck (for if I get stranded in the winter) and also one extra.

These water bottles are the same water bottles used by the US military for down in Antarctica

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This doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't matter if the bottle is made of aluminum. If the temp is -40 Fahrenheit, and you leave the bottle sitting out overnight, the water is going to freeze. If it doesn't freeze, it's because you protected the bottle from the cold. –  Ben Crowell Mar 17 at 1:12
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@BenCrowell, the OP isn't asking how to prevent the water from freezing. The main answers do address this problem but the OP wants to know what water carrying bottles will not break if frozen, so I'd say this answers the question? –  Liam Mar 17 at 14:38
    
@Liam: I don't think your interpretation is consistent with what he wrote: "They will never freeze. I've tried these things out at 40 below zero and still haven't been able to get one to freeze solid." –  Ben Crowell Mar 17 at 15:21
    
Hi @BenCrowell, I think we're talking at cross purposes, your saying that it not freezing below 40 is unlikely (which is a valid point but not how I interpreted your first comment). My point was, this isn't off topic (which was what I thought you were saying) as it doesn't claim that the water won't freeze to some degree, the OP never asked how do I prevent water from freezing. –  Liam Mar 17 at 15:40
    
They are probably aluminum thermoses. Makes sense in that case. –  Lukasz Mar 17 at 18:00
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When winter camping I warm up the water on the stove and then keep in my coat--net effect is to warm the body and prevent freezing.

I also store some boiled water in a vacuum thermos to save the energy spent on boiling.

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Why exactly do you need to carry frozen water?

  1. If the temperature is about 0 C, the water will not freeze for a long time anyway.
  2. If it is way below 0 C, than you are probably having snow nearby, which you can perfectly use for cooking. You can melt snow during your breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you want to avoid spending time on boiling at lunch, take a thermos with some hot tea from breakfast. In a good thermos it will remain quite warm for a half of a day.
  3. If temperature in the evening is above 0 C and in the morning all the running water gets frozen (typical in mountain trips), fill some plastic bottles with the running water in the evening and put them inside your tent. Depending on the temperature you may need to put some of them inside your sleeping bag (well, that's life).
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I don't know where you are, but around here we often have -20 degrees Fahrenheit and no snow in the winter. Even if there is a bit of snow, after it sits on the ground for couple of weeks, you would not want to use it for cooking without filtering it first. –  Jan Hlavacek Apr 1 at 14:42
    
I've been to many places but never met a place with such a weather. Well, it's never too late to learn, and you have answered my "why" question. But please let me leave my answer here for the googlers living in less harsh conditions. –  Steed Apr 1 at 15:29
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