Highlighting the pros and cons of using water bottles vs. using water reservoirs.
Water is an obvious necessity when working in the field. The experts say you’re supposed to consume a liter per hour while playing outside which can make the logistics of carrying and consuming a bit tricky. Water weighs just over 2 pounds per liter, so you don’t just want to load up with 10 liters and haul away as you’d be looking at over 20lbs in weight. Unless you’re hiking in desert areas, the best way to go about managing your water supply is through smaller refillable options like bottles & reservoirs. Let’s break down the up and down sides of both.
Things to Consider:
- Storage, Shape & Size
- Water Consumption & Refill
First off, I’ll be upfront with you and tell you that I’m a bottle guy. I’ve tried the reservoir thing and it just doesn’t work with the way I pack my gear and the rate at which I consume water. That being said, I completely understand and respect the reservoir thing and wish that I wasn’t such a stubborn old fart who doesn’t change his ways.
Bottles offer a number of pros that reservoirs don’t, such as a defined shape and increased durability. The defined shape makes a number of things easier. It’s much easier to guarantee that iodine tabs and other purifiers reach 100% of the water within your container when it has a defined shape. It’s also much easier to clean when you need too. The other big factor is durability, and this is especially serious if you’re constantly working with and around sharp objects like tent steaks, knives, ice tools or crampons. I, personally, have punctured a reservoir by storing it too close to my crampons on a trip. Yes, it was a dumb mistake that could have been avoided, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened and it wouldn’t have happened if I had been using my preferred Nalgene bottles. Another big up for bottles is that if you’re a fast drinker, they’re much easier to refill and replace than a reservoir (when stored correctly in a backpack. We’ll get into this more when we talk about reservoirs.)
Bottles do have some downsides as well. Shape, for example, is both an upside and a downside. Objects with defined shape are the same size whether their empty or full. Sometimes, on shorter days or on days when I know I’ll have consistent access to water, I’ll only fill one bottle to save myself some weight. If I were using a reservoir I’d save both space and weight, but because I use bottles I still have to find room for them. Weight is another downside, a good durable bottle is usually going to weigh more than your standard reservoir and backpackers know that every ounce counts.
So, the biggest thing with reservoirs that makes them so damn cool is the access to your water. Yup, there’s a hose that you can drink out of on the move, on the go, and when you stop. Believe it or not, that’s not all. Studies show that using a straw (hose) actually increases the rate at which you consume water, AND, it keeps you more effectively hydrated. Essentially, when you’re using a bottle you hike for a while building up heat and sweating out moisture. Then you stop, drink a bunch of water and “re-hydrate”
Consider the above chart, with a tiny grain of salt, I’m not really a numbers wizard but I’m trying to illustrate the concept. Assume that at the start of the day, you down a full 1L of water and start hiking. As you hike with a bottle (blue line) you deplete your water source and replenish it, however, while hiking with a reservoir (orange line) you maintain a consistent level of hydration. So, this is the first big upside.
The next couple upsides speak directly to the downside of bottles. Reservoirs don’t have a definitive shape so you fit them just about anywhere be it full or empty. They’re also bigger so you don’t have to fill them as often which is great for days when you might be scarce on water supplies or have super long hikes. They’re normally lighter in weight as well, so from a “base weight” perspective they’re a little more efficient.
On the flip side, there are some downsides. My big personal hiccup comes with storage and refilling. A 3L reservoir is going to weigh about 6.5lbs, so right off the bat, it’s one of the heaviest and most dense items in your pack. Per packing standards, this means it needs to be carried close to your shoulders in the middle of your torso which is conveniently where everything else needs to go too. The issue comes when you have to refill, you need to pull everything out of your pack to get the reservoir out and put it back in. The “out” part of this is easy, but the lack of definitive shape makes it very hard to “stuff” this into a backpack. The other big hiccup is purifying your water. If you’re using some form of a dissolvable tablet then it’s tough to guarantee 100% purification. I put a little extra emphasis on that because this is really only for you germaphobes out there… and the lawyers I suppose. And lastly, like I mentioned before, the durability is a factor. Reservoirs are impressively durable, however, they can still be punctured and that would be a horrible thing to do on day 3 of a 10-day trip. The last thing, and this is super minor, but in shallow water it can be tough to fill a reservoir by sticking it in the river. Essentially this leaves you two options, either bring another bottle to fill with or keep hiking downstream until you find a source with a better collection point. It’s just more work.