Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Looking Back at 70 Years of Nalgene, the Most Iconic Water Bottle

Nalgene is one of those brands that has been around so long, the brand name is synonymous with the product. You don’t say, “Hand me my cylindrical shatterproof screw-top water bottle.” You say, “Hand me my Nalgene.” Its status goes way past the current trend of outdoor lifestyle. Its timeless simplicity and functionality make Nalgene the stuff of legend.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

So it’s sort of strange that, as revered as the Nalgene bottle is, few people know its provenance. It’s one of those things that has just always been there, a staple of hikers, campers, and climbers, crunchy college students, hippy-dippy festival-goers, and anyone who aspires to an active lifestyle. But as it happens, Nalgene just celebrated its 70th anniversary, making this the perfect time to learn a little about the ubiquitous water bottle that has accompanied generations on their outdoor adventures.

We connected with Fernando Galiana, a product engineer who has spent 25 years helping Nalgene perfect its flagship product.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Manual: Where was Nalgene “born” and how did the bottles get so popular?

Fernando Galiana: Back in 1949, a Rochester, New York chemist named Emanuel Goldberg developed the first plastic pipette holder. Along with three workers, he began the Nalge Company in a small building at 625 South Goodman Street. For years Goldberg and his growing team developed the Nalgene line of state-of-the-art polyethylene laboratory equipment: centrifuge bottles, filter units, storage tanks. Obviously, it wasn’t the kind of stuff you toss into your backpack for a weekend in the woods. But there were rumors floating around about scientists taking the smaller, more convenient bottles out of the lab and using them on hikes and excursions.

By the 1970s, this “unofficial” use for Nalgene bottles caught the eye of Marsh Hyman (President of the Nalge Company in Rochester, New York). Marsh had a son who was in the Boy Scouts. He and his fellow Scouts used Nalgene lab bottles on the trail. They were perfect as water bottles; for storing powdered drinks and pancake mix; and for carrying matches and shampoo and snacks and all sorts of camping supplies. When he learned about these great new uses for his lab bottles, Marsh Hyman went to the Nalge Specialty Department with a mission: “Spread the word to outdoorspeople all over! Tell them about this new line of high-quality camping equipment.” And that’s how Nalgene Outdoor Products started.

TM: When and how did the brand really take off as a cultural icon?

FG: A couple of trends intersected in the early 2000s that helped propel us to where we are now. As people began to drink more on the go (think Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks) and the use of single-use water bottles grew and grew, people thought they could save money and reduce waste by using a reusable bottle at school or in the office.  That’s when we went from being a camping/hiking/rock climbing product to more of an everyday bottle. We were “athleisure” before it was a thing. We added colors to our products in 2002, and the combination of colors and the macro trend to consume more water exploded our business.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

TM: What are some other ways that Nalgene has led the reusable water bottle market?

FG: We were the original bottle made from Lexan. Lexan was super durable, almost unbreakable, transparent and (probably most important for our customers) did not impart a “plastic” taste to the water.  It was very odor-resistant and easy to clean. So you could have lemonade vodka one day and plain water the next, and not have the taste from the night before.

TM: Any clues as to what the next 70 years might bring from Nalgene?

FG: I think we will continue to be in the forefront of materials in the category and evolve our products to meet the changing consumption demands of our customers.

Fun Facts About Nalgene

  • Seventy years since their inception, Nalgene bottles are still made just as they were back in 1949: BPA-free plastic pellets are melted into a tube, then inflated with 150 PSI of air to create the classic 32-ounce bottle.
  • Not only are Nalgene bottles made in the United States, but the resin they are made from is sourced in the U.S. as well — the company ships 45,000 lbs of resin at a time from Tennessee and holds them in storage silos until ready to use. Compared to similar bottles made overseas, the Nalgene model has a 90% lighter carbon footprint.
  • Nalgene isn’t just the darling of outdoorsy types — it’s a celebrity favorite. The bottle has appeared in feature films like 127 Hours (2010) and Wild (2014), been touted by Oprah on national television, and even shown on the White House Lawn as part of Michelle Obama’s “Drink Up” event.
  • Up until 2002, the Nalgene bottle was only available in grey. Our interviewee, Fernando, was part of a two-person team who took the Nalgene bottle from monochrome to full color. Today, you can choose a Nalgene bottle from over 75 different tints and patterns. Most recently with color, Nalgene created its “Inspired by Nature” collection, where a set of seven colors were selected on moods and feelings in nature, from earthy browns and purples to vibrant orange and greens to serene blues. However, we’re partial to the limited-edition bottle with its throwback mountain lion logo, just released to celebrate this anniversary.

Here’s to you, Nalgene, and to another 70-plus years of fueling adventure, endurance, and environmental stewardship.

Chelsea Batten
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Chelsea Batten is a writer, photographer, and Kerouac groupie. One of the original digital nomads, she was seduced from life…
Samsung’s incredible outdoor TV is $4,000 off right now
Samsung The Terrace outdoor-ready QLED smart TV lifestyle image on patio.

While there are a lot of TVs catering to the average living room, for those who have outside patios and spaces, there aren't a lot of options. Having to contend with dust, rain, and other parts of the weather that electronics don't fare well in, it's no surprise that a lot of TV manufacturers don't really bother with making TVs focused on the outside. Luckily, Samsung has your back, which is good because it's a company that excels in making great TVs, and in this case, we're talking about The Terrace TV. Not only is it IP55 rated, which means it can handle both dust and rain relatively well, but it's also a QLED TV, which gives you an excellent picture and a high peak brightness, so the sun won't interrupt your viewing too much. If you're interested in grabbing one of The Terrace TVs, you better act quickly, because Samsung's Discover sales event is going to end soon, and you'll miss out on a great couple of deals, including

and a whopping

Read more
You may want an electric mountain bike, but you probably shouldn’t buy one – here’s why
Spoiler alert: You can blame the government for this, too
A large sign on a tree on the side of a mountain bike trail telling riders that e-bikes are not allowed

There is really one more type of mountain bike that should be added to the list of mountain bike categories that make up the sport. Electric mountain bikes have broken onto the scene and have rapidly grown in popularity.

One look at these electric mountain bikes, especially if you look at the suspension travel numbers, would have you thinking that they fall into the “trail” or “enduro” mountain bike category. And while these bikes do look similar, the pedal assist of an electric mountain bike means that long cross-country rides aren’t out of the question.

Read more
Make winter sports stress-free: Visit these phenomenal all-inclusive ski resorts
These are the best all-inclusive ski resorts for you this winter
Skiiers shred slopes

All-inclusive vacations can be a great way to save money and relieve stress when planning a trip. The resort handles the logistics of buying lift tickets, renting ski gear, booking lessons, cooking meals, and even supplying drinks. All you have to do is show up and enjoy yourself. If you're the type of person — or family — who enjoys the ease of taking cruises in the warmer months, an all-inclusive ski vacation might be just the thing for you.

While we appreciate that not every all-inclusive will suit everyone — perhaps you've got your perfect ski setup already and don't want to pay for a rental package you won't use. But with such a variety of packages on offer, isn't it time that you took the stress out of your ski holiday and found yourself an idyllic ski resort that not only catered to all of your skiing needs but also where you had your meals and drinks and everything else sorted before you arrive? Well, check out these 10 all-inclusive ski resorts because it's time to get booking.

Read more