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Not too long ago, I picked up a cheap silicone travel bottle from Walmart. I wanted something to take backpacking that would hold the olive oil needed to prep my nightly couscous.
After ending up with an oily mess in my backpack, I decided to go back to the drawing board. I researched and then tried out the most popular containers hikers use to carry oils and sauces.
I learned that carrying oils and sauces with you when backpacking doesn’t have to be messy. You just need to know which containers work.
Here are 5 leakproof, ultralight options you can use on your next trip into the backcountry.
1. Nalgene Travel Bottle
If you just need to take a small amount of oil or sauce, a tried-and-true option is a bottle from the Nalgene Medium Travel Kit.
This kit is a collection of leakproof plastic bottles with capacities of 1, 2, and 4 fluid ounces. Having bottles of varying capacities makes minimizing bulk and weight a cinch — you can always select the lightest and least bulky container that meets your needs.
The bottles are all compact, lightweight, durable, and dishwasher-safe. I’ve found them to be the perfect size for short camping and backpacking trips, such as overnighters or weekend excursions. They’re also versatile and suitable for holding pretty much anything, from spices to alcohol stove fuel to biodegradable soap and shampoo.
Nalgene also makes a Small Travel Kit that doesn’t include the 4-fluid-ounce containers. And you can also purchase individual bottles at REI stores.
2. MiO Bottle
Not looking for an entire bottle kit?
Consider an empty MiO bottle.
MiO is a liquid water flavoring that comes in a lightweight yet durable plastic container. Just pop the top, pour out the contents, wash the bottle, and it’s all set to hold roughly 1.5 fl oz of hot sauce, olive oil, or your flavoring of choice.
3. Platypus SoftBottle
Sometimes you just wanna bring along a whole lot of olive oil.
Maybe you’re setting out on a thru-hike. Maybe you’re prepping food for lots of people. Maybe you’re craving the calories.
In these situations, a Platypus SoftBottle is the best option. It’s a leakproof, ultralight, and compressible bladder available in two sizes: 0.5-liter and 1-liter.
I particularly love this option for large quantities because as you use it up it takes up less and less space in your pack. Eventually it’ll reach a point where it can fit inside your backpacking cook pot, reducing its added bulk to zilch.
4. Reusable Food Pouch
Designed for baby food, reusable food pouches are similar to Platypus bladders except for one important difference. You fill them up from the bottom via a resealable zipper, rather than from the top.
The zipper on my pouch didn’t leak at all when I tested it. Though to be frank I’d be worried about the zipper wearing down over time and springing a tiny leak.
It’s hard to beat the size and weight of these pouches though. And you do earn style points for taking a panda pouch with you on the trail…
…at least in my book.
5. Mini Soda Bottle
A mini soda bottle: you might have one in your fridge or recycling bin right now. (If not, you can find packs of 8- or 12-fluid-ounce soda and water bottles at most grocery stores.)
Congrats, it’s now your oil or sauce container. Just wash it and peel off the label.
Plastic bottles are cheap and lightweight — a 12-ounce plastic Coke bottle weighs 0.88 oz. They’re reliable too: I occasionally use a 12-ounce soda bottle as my alcohol fuel container and have never had a problem with it leaking.
Individual Pouches: An Alternative to Plastic Containers
A classic pre-trip ritual for many backpackers is to grab a meal at a nearby fast food joint before driving to the trailhead.
To ransack the restaurant’s condiment station.
You can find the classic condiments there of course, but some restaurants such as Chick-fil-A also put out individual packets of hot sauce. To get your hot sauce fix on the trail you might not even need to bring an extra container with you. Just pick up some free packets.
I’ve never seen individual packets of olive oil at a fast food restaurant, but you can find them online. Marconi packets are a popular option among backpackers which you can buy in bulk. You can no doubt find individual packets for sale online of whatever oil, sauce, condiment, or flavoring you want to take.
This method is lightweight, non-bulky, and convenient. The only downside is the increased amount of food waste you’ll need to pack out.