UPDATED 12 September 2009

The Curse of the hard-shell plastic G.I. Canteen

Flexible plastic 1 quart canteens are here to solve Soldier's problems

100 feet over Nijimegan Drop Zone, Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Looming ominously below the Paratrooper under full T-10D canopy is a hard-packed earth runway hard as concrete, too little altitude and no forward thrust to steer clear, he knows he is going to go in for a hard landing. The best he can do is pull a two-riser slip in the opposite direction of the gusting winds and hope it takes some power off as it slams him into the runway.

Feet and knees together!

Elbows in to the side, head looking out onto the horizon...then a slow pause, an eerie silence and the ground rushes up and whacks the Paratrooper ready to roll into a parachute landing fall....as he slams and rolls into the runway all is well--the shock is dissipated until......

He reaches the two hard shell plastic canteens slung low under his butt on his load carrying harness...the roll violently stops as his body smashes into these two hard objects not budging an inch against the runway. Something must give and its the Paratrooper's muscles and bones which are bruised. The energy finally spent, he releases a canopy riser to prevent dragging and slowly checks himself over and gets up to collect his parachute and turn it in----very painfully----he is lucky he can walk, others break backs and hips. This is not a fantasy--this was a jump by 1st Tactical Study Group (Airborne) Director Mike Sparks!

10 miles behind hostile Arab Lines

An Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Paratrooper patrol is moving quietly into an ambush position to kill a terrorist leader in a motorcade. They have marched all night and are thirsty, so they stop to drink some water. Since they have hard-shell plastic canteens, only one Para will remove a canteen and will pass it around the patrol until its completely empty because a half-full canteen will slosh around making noise which could get everyone killed by revealing their presence to the enemy. The Para who donated the water gets an empty canteen to carry around in his fighting load.

Continuing into their ambush site, they take up positions and wait. As the motorcade approaches one of the Paras sneezes from the cold he caught from one of the other men while sharing canteens. An Arab boy nearby spots the Paras and shouts an alarm. The motorcade stops and reverses direction as guns fire throughout the valley. The hunters have become the hunted. Again, this is not a fantasy construct--this is what IDF Paratroopers told LT Sparks when he was going through their jump school in 1990. Its IDF SOP to pass a hard canteen around amongst a patrol to empty it and stop the sloshing sound of a partially full one.

So why are we still using hard-shell plastic canteens?

If the Army Airborne is going to drop Paratroopers onto hard runways to seize them it behooves them to get softer canteens and pad the back pack tray area of the new ATPS parachute system so their men land FIT-TO-FIGHT not injured and limping.

Consider the current G.I. 2-quart canteen.

Its made out of soft, flexible plastic.

If you land on it in a parachute jump, it will give way and actually act as a cushion. As you drink water you pinch the sides so there is no trapped air for the water to slosh around and make noise. When you empty your canteen you are not wasting space on your load carrying belt or in your rucksack carrying an empty shell, you squeeze the 2-quart into a ball and stash it until you find a water source to fill it up again. You can use the pouch it came from to carry M4/M16 carbine/rifle magazines. Civilian backpackers have known for years to use collapsible water bottles (canteens) to efficiently use carrying space and save weight. The most famous of these collapsible water bottles is the "Platypus®" by Cascade Designs. The Platypus® has a push/pull drink spout so you can hold it in one hand and drink-on-the-move. Not hands-free like a CamelBak® but better than having to stop and guzzle down an open topped G.I. canteen. Problem is Platypus® bottles will not fit into G.I. canteen covers. So in 1998 we wrote and suggested they make a G.I. 1-quart version that would fit into the canteen cover. They could get the NBC caps from other manufacturers, all they'd have to do is mold a soft plastic canteen with a push/pull drink spout and a fill neck/spout with threads for the NBC cap.

Here is the drawing we passed on to Cascade Designs through our old geocities AES web page of the G.I. Platypus®:

Not too hard, right? This is the "modern" era, right?

WRONG! Corporate greed comes before troop welfare in the case of at least one company...

Anyway, you can never have enough water, so you can carry several flexible canteens in your rucksack and fill them up when you have the water source and when you are done collapse them. If you are using rigid canteens you will be hard pressed to carry a half dozen or so in your rucksack without taking up space and being noisy. Drink-on-the-move systems like Camel-Bak® are great but they are a one-time shot of 100 ounces at your back, for bulk water above this you need small canteens that you can stuff inside your rucksack's pockets and at least one draped loosely on your body during a parachute jump to avoid a Camel-Bak® at your back under your parachute packtray which is still not allowed by the "Airborne Nazis".

Why hasn't the U.S. military fully adopted flexible canteens?

The 1-quart rigid canteens the Army uses are not made like the larger 2 quart canteen--flexible and collapsible. However, spreading two quarts of water into two makes for two small bulges rather than one large bulge which helps when crashing through vegetation and crawling under wire. So Soldiers wear two 1-quart canteens rather than one large 2-quart on their belts. But this all begs the question...why not make 1 quart canteens out of the same soft, flexible plastic as the 2-quarts?

This conclusion is exactly what U.S. Army Natick Labs realized 2 years go for its upcoming 21st Century Land Warrior (21st CLAW) program. Attaboy Natick! There ARE some good people who work there. See photo on top of this web page! The 1-quart canteen made out of flexible soft plastic is ready for Soldiers to use; IT HAS A NATIONAL STOCK NUMBER (NSN)....all we need is to get them to Soldiers from the official U.S. Army canteen manufacturer:

Ordering Information

Manufacturer wholesale (Large Orders):

The Lighthouse Store
P.O. Box 14959 Seattle, WA 98114 - 0959
Voice (206) 322-4200
TTY (206) 324-1388
Fax (206) 329-3397
www.lighthousestore.com/shop/open/product/other/index2.htm (SCROLL DOWN to "Canteens" and look for collapsible canteens)

Stock # Description Unit Cost

CN 0040 1-quart canteen, collapsible $7.20

NSN 8465-00-NIB-0041

Canteens come with NBC mask drinking tube interface cap.

Add your state sales tax, and shipping/handling for the box needed to send the number of canteens you ordered.

And the first company to tackle this problem head-on was Mitch Werbell's Brigade Quartermasters--a company for decades that has been getting "good gear to the good guys" by mass-producing in its catalogs a "field manual" of information of the better gear that is out there for units that want to get the job done and come home alive.

Retail (Small Orders):


At last, a way to get rid of all but one of the old faithful hard shell 1 Qt. canteens. Made to flex or collapse as water is consumed, you can stash extra the Echo Flex Canteen for more water on refill, and use the space for other gear, ammo or rations. Soft and pliable, it reduces injuries when landing on your side; something parachute troops know well. Reduces noise of sloshing water of half-full canteens. Same size as the hard shell, and nests inside the canteen cup. Equipped with the expensive M-1 cap for use with drinking tube equipped gas masks. Fits in the standard issue LC-2 One Qt Canteen Cover. Troops operating in combat areas need this item!

Item No. Our Price


Brigade Quartermasters LTD. (Mail-Order)
1025 Cobb International Dr NW
Kennesaw, GA 30152
Ph: 770-428-1248, Ext 201
Fax: 770-426-7211
Web: www.actiongear.com

Flexible 1 Quart Canteens @ Fort Bragg, North Carolina:

SERVMART Self Service Center (Walk-In)
Building 8-2244
Macomb St.
Ft. Bragg, NC 28307
(910) 436-0865
FAX: 1390


In fact, the flexible 1-quart canteen greatly improves the water flow through the drinking tube of your M40 Field Protective Mask because the canteen body can be squeezed. Edgewood Arsenal Tests (Chemical Biological Defense Command) showed 2 times the water flow rate while drinking through the new Joint Services Protective Mask using the flexible 1-quart canteen compared to old, hard-shell plastic canteens.

So, have you got some flexible 1-quart canteens yet?



Brigadier General David L. Grange, Army Ranger, Green Beret and Infantry Division Commander writes:

"The new flexible 1 quart canteen is made of thicker plastic compared to the current 2 quart canteen so it will flex and not break from field use. Grunts need a way to carry lots of water during operations deep inside enemy contested territory so they can have maximum freedom of action and not be compromised by resupply. Flexible 1 quart canteens give troops an ability to carry large amounts of water efficiently and as they empty their canteens pack them out of the way until a water source is provided. Flexible 1 quart canteens give commanders the flexibility to adjust their water supplies as the action progresses to accomplish the mission"

A veteran Paratrooper writes:

"About time.

Hope they plan to issue it soon".

A LRSD Soldier writes:

"At the scout unit I was with last, we pushed to get 2 qt canteens on the SOP because they didn't break your hip on landings and they didn't slosh loudly when moving. Supply: but what will we do with all of the 1 qt canteens? My suggestion, colorful as it may have been, was not followed.

Glad to learn about the flexible one-quarters."

A retired Belgian ParaCommando writes in:


I have just been reading your article on the collapsible 1 quart canteens.

It sounds good, but what about the canteen cups?

This piece of equipment is one of the most useful items a trooper is being issued.

And, one more thing though, while working in Africa, I have had to replace dozens of 2 quart collapsible canteens. All of them had been pierced by the thorns all vegetation bore over there...I never had to replace a 1 quart though!

My suggestion: Keep at least one hard plastic 1 quart canteen with it's cup.

Anyhow, even better, have a metal one, like we used to have previously, the advantage: heat up the water inside [Editor: to boil and purify it]. (Can't do that with either a collapsibe, nor a hard plastic one)

Kind regards,

MSG (Ret)
3(BE) Para-Cdo Bn



I agree---just put the hard canteens (one with a Natick stove and another a canteen cup to boil water) in your rucksack so it lands away from your body during a parachute jump. If you get injured and immobilized by landing on a hard runway, NOTHING FOLLOWS! You must first get to the ground safely and without injury, all other considerations must take a "back seat" until your back seat (4th point of contact) is intact and functional for mission mobility. THEN---you can switch the hard canteen and/or Natick Stove/canteen cup to your LBE's canteen cover for ground operations if you want. I'd just transfer the Natick Stove/canteen cup to the flexible 1 quarts on my LBE and call it a day.

Thanks for replying with the excellent feedback!


Mike Sparks

A USAF Security Force Paratrooper writes:

"Mike, I dug this out of my old e-mails and can say that the flexibile canteens are much improved. I've jumped mine at least six times without incident. I'm developing a chest rig with a small gear maker and will incorporate the flexible canteens into the overall design."

Private Murphy's View

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