Water is one of the main things you’ll need to take care of when you’re in a survival situation. Being well-prepared is key with at least one or more quality water containers is often the difference between life and death. This is where survival canteens come in. A great alternative to bottles and hydration pouches, survival canteens have been a survivalist’s staple for centuries.
What is a survival canteen?
A survival canteen is any durable canteen that can be safely used in survival situations. Large, durable, comfortable, and made from a safe material, such a canteen will be by your side for years.
Survival canteens are usually made out of metal with stainless steel and titanium being the two best choices. High-quality BPA-free plastics are also rising in popularity as they are both lighter and more affordable. Glass canteens have been used in the past too, usually with a cloth, straw, or plastic cover for protection, but not anymore. The glass is both too heavy and fragile compared to the high-quality metal and plastic options today.
What to look for in a survival canteen?
The purpose of survival canteens is pretty clear – they are durable and safe water containers to help you get by. That simplicity doesn’t mean there aren’t multiple factors to consider, however. Here are some of the main points to keep in mind when picking a canteen for your survival gear:
- Size and shape. The larger the volume of the canteen, the more water it’s going to hold. However – the heavier it’s going to be too, both full and empty. This is a key point for any survivalist or hiker as there’s only so much we can carry. Even if you let your canteen hang from your gear and not take any space, it’s still extra weight you’ll have to carry.
- Our general recommendation would be titanium first, stainless steel next. Don’t look down on thick, quality, BPA-free plastics either, however. They are very durable and can last for years, and are even lighter than metal canteens.
- The cap. This is a key part of a survival canteen that a lot of people ignore. The cap should be both secure and water-tight as well as easy to work with. Many canteen caps have a hoop to help hang them from your gear. Alternatively, some caps can double as cups to pour the water, coffee, or tea in.
- Grip and design. Survival canteens should also fit well within your hands and assist your grip. Very often in survival situations, we’re forced to drink from our canteens with wet or dirty hands. And the last thing you’d want is to drop and lose your survival canteen because it wasn’t comfortable to hold.
- Fit for your needs. Every survival situation is different so every canteen, bottle, or hydration pouch is more or less suitable depending on the circumstances. That’s why you should always aim for two things:
To always be prepared for any situation. This usually means having more than one water container in you.
2. To try and anticipate the circumstances you’re going to face. For example, consider your area and state, and the environment there.
- How wide should the neck of the canteen be? Narrower openings mean easier drinking and less spillage. On the other hand, wider openings mean easier cleaning.
- Survival canteens can come with many different accessories. The most common one is a custom bag that fits the canteen perfectly and has a shoulder strap and a pocket or two. Alternatively, your canteen can also have a carabiner or a strap for its cap.
- Boiling water. Do you want to be able to warm up things such as coffee, tea, or a soup? Some canteens have wide enough cups that are also made of fire-resistant metals. This can allow you to boil water in them if you want to. Alternatively, there are also canteen-style cups you can also take with you.
Different types of canteens, bottles, and other containers to choose from
While survival canteens are the norm, they aren’t the only type of survival water containers you can and should consider. Survival water bottles, canteen cups, lifestraws, and hydration pouches all have their benefits.
- Canteen cups. Typically made of metal, these cups usually have a wide cylindrical shape. They are covered so they can be used as your main water container instead of a standard canteen. Their main advantage, however, is the wider base which allows you to boil water in them.
- Water bottles. A good survival water bottle is very different from the thin plastic bottles sold in supermarkets. Instead, a survival water bottle is very similar to plastic survival canteens – it’s durable, BPA-free, safe, comfortable to hold and use, and can last you for years. The main difference between a survival water bottle and a plastic survival canteen is mainly in the shape and the design.
- A nice side variant of survival water bottles, lifestraw bottles have a built-in straw with water filters inside of it. These filters need to be replaced after a while so packing a few extra straws is usually worth it. And, of course, they aren’t as comprehensive as those in a whole-home reverse osmosis system. However, a good lifestraw will still be able to filter ~99% of waterborne microbes and bacteria. And that is the main thing to worry about in wilderness water sources anyway. This allows you to fill your bottle from most water sources in the wilderness and drink it safely.
- Hydration pouches. Also called “hydration bladders”, these pouches are made from safe, BPA-free, and water-proof plastic. They will also normally have a second cloth pouch over them for extra protection. They have several main benefits over survival canteens and water bottles:
– Their shape is flexible which makes for easier storage both when they are full and when they are empty.
– They can easily be tucked inside a vest or in a backpack in most circumstances.
– They have a long tube extending from the pouch that you can drink from. This allows you to carry the pouch in your backpack or jacket and drink with your hands free. The tube is usually attached to the straps of the backpack and/or the collar of your jacket so it doesn’t flail around. This makes hydration pouches great for any survival situation that includes climbing, running, or carrying extra baggage.
Survival canteen vs its alternatives
So, with so many different types of water containers why should you go with a survival canteen? Several reasons:
- They are durable and long-lasting. A good titanium or stainless steel survival canteen will last decades of use and abuse.
- They have a practical design. Most canteens don’t have the standard cylindrical design of a bottle or a cup but are a bit flatter. This isn’t just a style choice. Instead, it allows you to more comfortably fit the canteen inside a jacket’s pocket. This makes canteens a nice middle-ground between bottles and hydration pouches.
- It’s the classic choice. Yes, style isn’t a priority in survival situations but if it doesn’t hurt it’s not a bad thing to consider.
There are lots of good options when it comes to water bottles and canteens. There are countless shapes, sizes, materials, and additional features to choose from. Plus, you can be certain that newer models and features will pop on the market in the near future too.
As of mid-2020, however, here are our recommendations about the best survival canteens, pouches, and bottles to choose form.
Deservedly at the top of our list is this titanium canteen from Heavy Cover. This canteen offers almost everything we’d recommend in a canteen – simplicity, quality, and design. The titanium metal ensures not only that the canteen will last for years but that it won’t develop nasty smells over time. The cap is secure and water-tight but it can also be easily attached to your belt, jacket, or backpack. With a large enough volume and a simple, classic design, this is a survival canteen that would serve you for a long time.
2. Rothco G. I.
This simple 1 Qt (~1 liter) canteen is made out of BPA-free plastic. It’s specifically designed to be as simple as possible and that’s what makes it great. Sure, it has no additional features and it can’t be used for boiling water, but it’s ideal for any survival situation. The plastic it’s made out of is sufficiently thick to survive heavy knocks and falls and the design is incredibly durable.
The fact that it’s BPA-free means that you can carry the canteen hanging in the sun and it’ll still be safe. The cap is secure and water-tight, and you can hang the canteen directly on it.
For something similar but larger and with an insulated shoulder carrier, check out this canteen from Military Issue. Also made out of BPA-free plastic, this canteen jas a capacity of 2 Qts (~1.9 liters). It has a similar design to the Rothco G. I. canteen above and is also quite sturdy. However, it also comes with its own military-style insulated carrier. This gives the canteen extra protection and it makes it easier to carry. What’s more, it also gives you the freedom to use the carrier separately if you want to.
This 20oz canteen bottle is made out of stainless steel and has been at the top of most people’s lists for years. That’s because of its simple yet ideal design. It’s thin, easy to pack, and it’s very well sealed. It’s easy to carry in multiple different ways too – in your backpack or hanging on the outside.
Fairly affordable and available in multiple colors too, this is a canteen you’ll happily carry even in the city.
Another good option from Rothco, this is a great option if you’re looking for a cup instead of a bottle. Great for survival, canteen cups allow you to not only carry and drink water but boil it as well. This is ideal for situations where you’ll be truly on your own for extended periods of time.
The Rothco canteen cup is made out of durable yet lightweight gauge stainless steel. As such, it can last you for years and for countless hours of use. Its cap is secure and doesn’t leak and its handles are both comfortable and retractable.
We can’t talk about survival canteens and bottles without mentioning a good lifestraw item. The LifeStraw Go is our main recommendation for that because of its outstanding quality. Made out of thick BPA-free plastic, this bottle is both safe and durable. More importantly, the hollow fiber membranes inside its straw are great at removing up to 99% of all waterborne bacteria and microbes.
The straw is conveniently tilted for easier sipping and the bottle itself holds 22 ounces of liquid. The bottle also has a nifty carabiner on the side for easier carrying without wasting backpack space.
A great stainless steel bottle alternative to canteens, this YETI Rambler bottle has a capacity of 26 ounces. It has excellent insulation and a clean, slick design. It can keep your water cold or your coffee hot for up to 12 hours in most conditions which is great for hiking. More than that, it’s high quality and durability make it an awesome survival option as well.
The cap is perfectly secure and water-tight, and it allows the bottle to be easily hanged from your backpack to save space. Lastly, the eye-catching powder-coat finish is also practical in that it makes your grip extra secure even with wet hands.
A nice military-style pouch, the Source Tactical Kangaroo has a capacity of 1 liter. It’s collapsable, it has its own cloth pouch for extra protection, as well as a hydration system. The latter is exceptionally good for hiking and survival situations as it allows you to keep your hands free while staying hydrated.
The whole tactical water pouch can easily be worn on a vest, belt, or inside your backpack. It’s sturdy and durable, and it can last you for years.
Classic survival canteens, hydration pouches, canteen cups, bottles, and lifestraws, all have their advantages and disadvantages for survival purposes. Ideally, you’d know exactly which ones you’ll need in your kit. Carrying a combination of a lifestraw, a nice canteen, and a canteen cup is usually a great choice. Another preferred combo is a hydration pouch, a lifestraw, and a cup.