When you spend time outdoors in cold, wintry conditions you’re bound to run into the inevitability of having your water bottle freeze. At minimum, it can be annoying. At worst, it can bust your water bottle and, potentially, be the only liquid water onhand with which to melt additional snow.
Here are four tips to prevent your water and bottle from freezing.
Note: If you’re just stepping out into the woods for the first time in winter, learn some background info in our post ‘The Bracket Seasons: Wet vs. Dry Snow‘:
Sleep with it.
Temperatures typically drop to their lowest at night, with the coldest hour right around dawn as wherever you are on earth has been losing its sun-warmth all night. If you’re sleeping outdoors without a heat source to warm the ambient air, strongly consider placing your water bottle inside your sleeping bag with you.
Your body heat will keep the water well above the freezing point – which means you get to wake up to lukewarm liquid water in the A.M.!
If the temperatures are cold enough during the day to freeze your water (not uncommon), follow the same practice. Just keep the bottle inside your outer clothing layer as you hike, ski, snowshoe, or do whatever you do outdoors.
Like wintertime skills? Check out our 3-part video lesson on Digging an Emergency Snow Trench Shelter:
Turn it into a ‘hot water baby’.
One of my favorite tips for keeping warm through cold winter nights is to sleep with a hot water bottle. (The students in my college classes love to call it a ‘hot water baby’. Seems a little creepy to me, but wate(r)ver floats your boat.)
Shortly before bedtime, heat to near-boiling enough water to fill your bottle. My preference is to use an unpainted, single-walled stainless steel bottle, such as one made by Klean Kanteen. (A double-walled metal container is ‘insulated’ so you won’t feel the heat outside the bottle. Painted is O.K. in this application, but I prefer unpainted in the event I want to put it directly on the fire. You can’t do that with a double-wall (BOOM!).) Plastic bottles can melt or become deformed. Wouldn’t want to drink out of one after that.
I like to slide the hot water bottle (‘baby’) inside a wool sock (metal is a conductor; you don’t want that heat directly in contact with your skin) and toss it into my sleeping bag 15 or so minutes before bed (or whenever I’m heading to my tent/shelter). Do that, and you never need to climb into a cold sleeping bag again!
I move the bottle around throughout the night to different parts of my body: clutch to my chest, groin, down by my the feet. Whatever needs a little warmth.
Typically, come morning, your water is still plenty warm. Can’t tell you what a sip of warm water on a negative-40 morning feels like. You’ll just have to try it yourself.
Make a coozie.
This is a trendy, but useful method employed by outdoor rec folks. Got an old closed-cell foam sleeping pad? You know the ones. Popular through the 80’s and 90’s (and still readily available today), prior to the advent of the inflatable ‘Thermarest’-style pads.
Cut off a strip wide enough to cover the height of your bottle – and long enough to wrap around the circumference. Secure in place with duct tape (which, of course, has its own applications in the outdoors).
The coozie/insulation technique will, of course, slow the cooling (or warming) of whatever you have inside, but won’t prevent it from freezing altogether. It’s a handy piece of gear to employ during the day to slow your ‘Nalgene’ from freezing.
And, you know, more importantly, it may make you look cool.
Planning to stay out for a few days? You may want to consider building a Quinzhee:
Snow stash: Upside-down.
As crazy as it may sound, sliding your water bottle into a snow bank is a great way to keep (at least some of) your water thawed. Why? Snow is a fantastic insulator. Here in Colorado, it can be around 90% air by volume! (only 10% water) And dead air space is what gives insulation its magical abilities.
To keep the cap from freezing shut, be sure to slide the bottle into the snow upside-down. The greater volume of water (as opposed to wet threads surrounded by air) will stand a higher likelihood of not freezing.
This method may be your best option when resources and gear are at their minimum like, say, a survival situation. Don’t have a sleeping bag? Can’t make fire? Want your water still liquid by morning? Stash it in the snow! Upside-down.
So there you go! Get out this winter and put these tips to the test. Amaze your friends. (And don’t tell your enemies.)