The gods of the road leave many interesting things for the two-wheeling gutter caste. A long while back, I found a fancy polycarbonate NALGENE bottle, an $8.50 value according to REI. These are spiffy vessels for putting drinking water in. They are favored by the people who are slightly cooler than the cool because to have one of these is to show that you’re concerned about the environmental impact of the bottled water habits of typical yuppies. Unfortunately this path to environmental utopia is marred by reports such as this from Stuff White People Like:

Previously, the gold standard was the Nalgene bottle, however recent studies have shown the plastic can leak toxins into the water. Currently, white people on the cutting edge are really into metal bottles of water with a twist cap. It is recommended that you buy one of these as soon as possible.

I’ve had a lot of experience with water carrying and I’ve never seen the appeal of these Nalgene bottles. I used to use the normal bike water bottle for riding, but they are delicate, stinky, plasticy, hard to clean, too small, leaky, vulnerable to UV damage, expensive, and bad at handling both physical and thermal shocks. Perhaps the Nalgene bottles are a big improvement on that, but why mess around with another type of bottle that is expensive?

I buy my water bottles now at Trader Joe’s. They’re only $.59 and they even put some water in them to get you started. These incredible vessels never cease to amaze me with their indestructibility. I’ve sent them flying into the road to get batted about by cars several times without losing any water.

I was cleaning the garage and I came across this Nalgene bottle. Given the kind of people who own this kind of bottle, it’s probably free from leprosy, but because of its unknown provenance and my complete lack of enthusiasm for it, I started to carry it to the trash.

Then the enthusiasm hit me - destructive testing! I have to say that I didn’t plan the test very well, I just chucked the thing into the air as high as I could (which just clears the roof of a second story structure). Then it lands on the concrete with a satisfying smack. The Nalgene bottle was filled about half full (same water I found it with). After two rounds, the top came askance and water leaked out, but I resealed it and it seemed fine. However after four landings, there was a gurgle following the impact crack of landing. Hmmm, not indestructible after all.

That itself was interesting, but then I wondered how that would compare to my Trader Joe’s bottle. I then made a mistake by filling it 2/3 full which was the ultimate capacity of the Nalgene bottle. I had forgotten that the Nalgene was only half full. So the Trader Joe’s bottle got a more challenging challenge. After three successful launches, I was completely unsurprised. But on the forth, I was quite surprised to see a rent in the bottom of the bottle. Hmm, so they are not indestructible either.

nalgene vs 1.5l

I think that a lot of people think that a polycarbonate bottle is going to be stronger and that is their motivation for the increased liability of it. But my test, strongly indicates to me that this is a not necessarily true. For hiking, biking, climbing, and other weight sensitive endeavors, it’s worth noting that the empty 1 liter Nalgene bottle is 150g. The Trader Joe’s bottle which has a maximum volume of 1.5 liters weighs 38g.

Notice I didn’t say that it was a 1.5 liter bottle. Unlike the Nalgene bottle, you can flatten it when it’s not in use. This makes it much less than a 1.5 liter space liability when you’re trying to pack it.

Two more things to bear in mind. First having a Nalgene bottle lying around to destroy was a special occasion. Having a Trader Joe’s bottle on hand for destruction, despite the fact that it was in active use, is completely mundane. But here’s the most incredible part: now that these bottles have big holes in the bottom of them they are worthless, right? Well, the Nalgene one is. However, the State of California will buy back my destroyed Trader Joe’s bottle for 17 cents on the dollar. Posted by xed at 16:09

UPDATE 2008-04-23

The Onion shares my feelings on this topic.