Eyedropper Bottles: An Ultralighter’s Friend

Empty Eyedropper Bottles

One of the easiest and quickest ways to shave some weight off your pack is by reducing the quantity of a given item that you carry. For most items that’s relatively easy, you just carry less, this works for most things including toiletries, but for liquids like soap, toothpaste, or water purification drops it requires a slightly different approach.

Eyedropper Bottles

My absolute favorite technique is to use tiny eyedropper bottles. The reason for this is that the opening is very small, letting you control exactly how much liquid you dispense at a time. The combination of small opening and a separate twist cap also means it’s highly unlikely that they will leak.

Let’s use toothpaste as an example. A full tube of regular toothpaste weighs 7oz, a travel size tube of toothpaste weighs 3oz, and a bottle of liquid gel toothpaste weight 5.25oz. I mention liquid gel toothpaste because trying to squeeze regular toothpaste into a tiny container is close to impossible. I also happen to really like liquid get toothpaste. Any way you slice it that’s quite a few ounces for just one toiletry item, multiply that across several items in your sundries bag and your beginning to get a significant weight saving when you reduce the amount you carry.

Eyedropper Bottles

Ultralight Toothpaste Bottle

You can either reuse eyedropper bottles that you have in your medicine cabinet, or purchase brand new pharmaceutical-grade empty ones (eBay has them available in bulk for low prices). Typically the ones you purchase empty are transparent making it easy to see how much liquid you have left or how much you have when you are filling it up. Recycled eyedropper bottles are usually opaque which makes them a better option for photosensitive items like face creams and serums. If you do reuse bottles that previously had medicine in them, be sure to thoroughly clean them before you follow the instructions below. For this mini project you will need the following items:

  • An empty (clean) eyedropper bottle – I am using the 3ml size
  • A bottle of liquid gel toothpaste, flavor/brand of your choosing
  • A Sharpie or other method for labeling the finished bottle

Start by removing the screw-on lid from the eyedropper bottle and then pulling out the tiny inner dispensing tip. Be careful, the inner dispenser tip is the secret to these tiny bottles, make sure you don’t lose it.

Remove the Small Nozzle

Carefully start squeezing the liquid from your main toothpaste bottle into the smaller eye dropper bottle. I’ve found that it helps if you slightly squeeze the empty eyedropper bottle to expel as much air as possible before you start filling it with toothpaste. If you squeeze the eyedropper beforehand, it will feel as though it is almost sucking up the toothpaste as you are filling it.

Filling up with Toothpaste

Fill up the eyedropper bottle leaving a small gap at the top. You want to leave just enough room for the dispensing tip to fit back into place without spilling toothpaste everywhere. Press the tip back onto the neck of the eyedropper bottle until it snaps firmly into place, then twist the lid back on.

Labeling the Bottle

I think it’s very important to quickly label the bottle so you know exactly what it contains. If you decide to do this for several other items it can very quickly become confusing to tell what is in each bottle – be sure to label it! I just happened to have a geeky labeling machine, so I printed one out for the bottle, but a Sharpie or waterproof label will work just fine (office supply weather-proof mailing labels are excellent for this – made of our favorite Tyvek).

Eyedropper Bottle Filled with Toothpaste

That’s it! You now have your very own eyedropper bottle full of toothpaste. Here are the weight details. An empty half-ounce eyedropper bottle weighs 0.125oz. Based on a few of these that I have made, the final eyedropper bottle containing toothpaste weighs approximately 0.625oz. That’s a pretty big weight saving even from a travel size tube of toothpaste (3oz). Before you wonder if a half-ounce bottle of toothpaste is enough, let me say that the chances are it will last you at least a couple of days if not a full week. If you need more, make two!

One of the best advantages of using eyedropper bottles is that you don’t have to hunt around to find travel-size bottles of your favorite toiletries, or settle for some weird-smelling shampoo just because it was the only thing you could find. You can take exactly what you want.

Have you already made the switch to using eyedropper bottles? Do you have any tips or advice?

Making Toothpaste Dots

Another super convenient way to repackage toothpaste so that you only have to carry just the right amount is by making toothpaste “dots”.

To make these you will need a dehydrator, some wax paper and of course your toothpaste of choice. Protip: regular toothpaste works better for these rather than the liquid type shown in the bottle trick above. Here’s how you make toothpaste dots.

  1. Place a sheet of wax paper inside one of the trays of your dehydrator
  2. Squeeze out small drops of toothpaste onto the wax paper making sure to leave plenty of room between each drop
  3. Put the lid on your dehydrator and set to a low warm setting
  4. Check back in 2-3 hours to see how they are doing. You’re looking for a completely dry and firm consistency
  5. When done, pick them off the wax paper sheet and store in a ziploc baggy or small container of choice
  6. Add a pinch of baking soda to the container to stop the dots sticking together during storage

To use the dots, simply pop one in your mouth, chew on it for a few seconds until it is back to a paste-like consistency, and then use your tooth brush as normal. Easy!

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    Brian-mini dropper bottles are a great way to cut weight and save space. I’ve been using a variety of dropper bottles for a couple of years, small contact lens and eye drop bottles are great too.

    Tip- if you put something in a dropper bottle and it’s too difficult to squeeze out for example toothpaste, you can make the hole in the tip a little larger by inserting a small nail and twisting.

    Labeling the bottles is a must, I use the same labeling method as you show in the pics. Another option for labeling is to use a Sharpie pen and write directly on the bottle, let it dry then place small strip of clear tape over the writing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16554784533149166651 Lighthiker

    Sometimes a little syringe from your local pharmacy works wonders if you need to put e.g. toothpaste in the little bottles. It also helps to add some water to the toothpaste making her more fluid so you can squeeze her out a bit easier from the little bottle. A great source for various sizes of small bottles in Ultralight Outdoor Designs:
    http://ultralightdesigns.com/products/packing/miniBottles.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    JJ, thanks for the tip on enlarging the whole, I can see that be necessary for a lot of instances of this. I could probably use my little pin vise to do the same thing. Love it!

    Lighthiker, that’s a brilliant and simple solution to the problem, thanks for sharing! Wish I had thought of that :-)

    I bought my stash of dropper bottles through eBay from a guy in Thailand for about $4 for 15 (here’s a link). They arrived 3 days later, which is super fast! YMMV.

  • SherpaDad

    These little dropper bottles are the perfect size for so many useful things. If you are going to the trouble of buying and using these to save weight why carry the water weight of a paste? I just eliminate the dropper tip and fill the bottle with dentifice powder instead. A few taps of the finger tip on the bottle and the powder comes out quite easily. Baking soda works too. Clean up after the trip is a cinch as well. It sure beats using Bronner’s in your mouth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    if you repackage AquaMira drops in smaller dropper bottle be sure the part “A” is in an opaque bottle

    Also changing from the 1oz dropper bottle that AquaMira comes in to a smaller dropper bottle “MAY” change the drop size. I’m not sure how to measure drop size…any suggestions?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    SherpaDad, that’s hardcore. I hear you about the extra weight of the water which accounts for most of the actual weight, but the reason I prefer liquid gel toothpaste in the first place is because I don’t care for the gritty/abrasive feeling of tube toothpaste – using the powder stuff would be even worse I would imagine. But hey, more power to you and a great tip. Bronner’s in your mouth (shiver) yuck!

    JJ, you raise a good point about the need for an opaque bottle for part “A”, that’s exactly what I do. I naively thought that a droplet was a droplet, and the size is based on the surface tension of the liquid to form a drop? Philip Werner would definitely know more about this :-) Anyone else care to confirm or deny?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01083656879698000328 Frank Jacob Heide

    I also heard the drip sizes may be different. someone should definitely check out how to measure drop size

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    I did some playing around with dropper bottles this afternoon, the method I came up with id not scientific or considered to be precise, but it did shoe me not all dropper bottles release the same size drop.

    I filled clean/dry AquaMira bottles both A&B, a mini dropper purchased from BPL.com, one that looks like the ones Brian just purchased and on made by Nalgene.

    I removed the plunger from a syringe and squeezed in 14 drops from each bottle, repeating this 3 times per bottle. The results vary from bottle to bottle even the AM bottles have a slight variation.

    I’m sorry I can’t state how much of a variation due to the syringe isn’t measured in cc/ml increments. It’s in lbs for measuring meds for my dogs weight.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    I’ll admit that I have no idea how to measure or compare droplet size, but an easy method would be to measure the correct dosage amount using the original AquaMira bottles and then see how many drops it takes from the smaller bottles to deliver that same amount. Then just add that information to the label or mark it on the new bottle with a Sharpie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408579400303294769 TOTHEWOODS

    Hey Brian,

    I like the Eye dropper idea. Cool thinking. I have something to go along with it. Check out my Blog:

    http://abackpackersjournal.blogspot.com/2011/03/lightweight-toothbrush-substitute-for.html

    It will make your kit more lightweight, if only a little!

    Best Wishes,

    Andy

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    I’m not sure about using a dog’s toothbrush for my backpacking needs, but the two pack that you show in your blog post look very much like the Ultralight Outfitters toothbrush that Jason Klass demo’d a little while ago. Thanks for sharing though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12336405315814453842 Matt DeWitt

    I just starting taking the wisps, all in one toothpaste and brush . pack it out. one per day .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    Brian- can you tell me what size the mini dropper bottles are that you show with the toothpaste?

    I checked the link you supplied, they’re available in several sizes from 3-30 ml.

    I have several mini’s all in opaque white, at times it can be difficult to tell how much is inside the bottle, I think I’ll order a batch of the translucent ones.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    JJ, I guess I never mentioned that in the main blog post – hmm. I ordered the 3ml bottles because I’ve found them to hold plenty of most products for a multi-day hike. The 5ml size is great too, I just went for the absolute smallest I could find. Way cheaper than buying them on BPL too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Matt, aren’t the Colgate Wisps kinda expensive?

  • SherpaDad

    These little dropper bottles are the perfect size for so many useful things. If you are going to the trouble of buying and using these to save weight why carry the water weight of a paste? I just eliminate the dropper tip and fill the bottle with dentifice powder instead. A few taps of the finger tip on the bottle and the powder comes out quite easily. Baking soda works too. Clean up after the trip is a cinch as well. It sure beats using Bronner’s in your mouth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    JJ, thanks for the tip on enlarging the whole, I can see that be necessary for a lot of instances of this. I could probably use my little pin vise to do the same thing. Love it!

    Lighthiker, that’s a brilliant and simple solution to the problem, thanks for sharing! Wish I had thought of that :-)

    I bought my stash of dropper bottles through eBay from a guy in Thailand for about $4 for 15 (here’s a link). They arrived 3 days later, which is super fast! YMMV.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    Brian-mini dropper bottles are a great way to cut weight and save space. I’ve been using a variety of dropper bottles for a couple of years, small contact lens and eye drop bottles are great too.

    Tip- if you put something in a dropper bottle and it’s too difficult to squeeze out for example toothpaste, you can make the hole in the tip a little larger by inserting a small nail and twisting.

    Labeling the bottles is a must, I use the same labeling method as you show in the pics. Another option for labeling is to use a Sharpie pen and write directly on the bottle, let it dry then place small strip of clear tape over the writing.

  • http://twitter.com/theinfamousj Jai Infame

    The exact volume of the drop size doesn’t matter, so long as both drops (part A and part B) are the same size. It is a 1:1 ratio of both parts, not dependent on the volumetric measurements.

    Oh, unless you mean for determining the correct amount of water treatment. Still, if I recall correctly from my college microscale chemistry lab, a drop (as in falls under its own weight) of liquid has a standard size of 1/20th of a mL. Anything smaller is held in place due to the hydrostatic force which is at that point stronger than gravity and anything larger would have already fallen when it was the standard size.

  • http://twitter.com/theinfamousj Jai Infame

    The exact volume of the drop size doesn’t matter, so long as both drops (part A and part B) are the same size. It is a 1:1 ratio of both parts, not dependent on the volumetric measurements.

    Oh, unless you mean for determining the correct amount of water treatment. Still, if I recall correctly from my college microscale chemistry lab, a drop (as in falls under its own weight) of liquid has a standard size of 1/20th of a mL. Anything smaller is held in place due to the hydrostatic force which is at that point stronger than gravity and anything larger would have already fallen when it was the standard size.

  • Anonymous

    Brian,

    I wanted to shoot this your way. By making small Hershey Kiss style drops of the “white-paste” on wax paper and placing it in a dehydrator, my wife and I make little toothpaste “bits” that can easily be chewed up and brushed! Huge weight savings if you grab a little zip lick from REI. Dont forget to roll them around in baking soda to prevent caking.

  • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

    There’s always the toothpaste drops and dehydrator method!

    • http://www.facebook.com/lorenwit Loren N Witherspoon

      Curious as to where I can find information on how to make this.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    There’s always the toothpaste drops and dehydrator method!

  • Asdfasdf

    Drop size will not change.

  • Asdfasdf

    Drop size will not change.

  • Matt Dewitt

    No not to bad in price 2.00 bucks for 4 of them. I guess it depends in how long you are going. They are all in one and easy to pack. I do like the dropper idea for a group like family camping . I  usually buy the wisps for solo trips.

  • Matt Dewitt

    No not to bad in price 2.00 bucks for 4 of them. I guess it depends in how long you are going. They are all in one and easy to pack. I do like the dropper idea for a group like family camping . I  usually buy the wisps for solo trips.

  • Su8910

    You may be able to find the eye dropper bottles at an art supply store in the painting section!

  • Su8910

    You may be able to find the eye dropper bottles at an art supply store in the painting section!

  • Myra Kotrla

    just be aware that some medicines that come in eyedropper bottles render the bottle unsafe even if washed. unsafe enough to send you to the ER. no clue on the med that one involved but tells me one should always be certain if reusing.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Good point Myra. Luckily the bottles I am using are all new and have never been used, but a great word of warning for others. Thanks!

  • Myra Kotrla

    just be aware that some medicines that come in eyedroppers render the bottle unsafe even if washed. unsafe enough to send you to the ER. no clue on the med that one involved but tells me one should always be certain if reusing.

  • Esme

    I love this! Definitely saving on space with this…

  • Esme

    I love this! Definitely saving on space with this…

  • http://www.facebook.com/lorenwit Loren N Witherspoon

    Curious as to where I can find information on how to make this.

  • Karen Roth

    Just found your site; I don’t backpack but as a CWHP (Chick Who Hates Purses) who desires to be uber-prepared everywhere, even when required to dress fancy-schmancy I’m always looking to ultra-light or at least ultra-small everything. I’m also el-cheapo so hate buying travel-size or single-use anythings. Having cruised through your site I want you to know you’re my hero. With your help, I might be able to live out of an Altoids tin for a week.

  • Karen Roth

    Just found your site; I don’t backpack but as a CWHP (Chick Who Hates Purses) who desires to be uber-prepared everywhere, even when required to dress fancy-schmancy I’m always looking to ultra-light or at least ultra-small everything. I’m also el-cheapo so hate buying travel-size or single-use anythings. Having cruised through your site I want you to know you’re my hero. With your help, I might be able to live out of an Altoids tin for a week.

  • Linda luscombe

    Have you ever tryed putting toothpaste in the single use straw containers?

  • buonvisel

    Hi everyone! Just approaching to light-backpaking and I find very this site very interesting. I wonder if a 3ml eyedropper can be enough for containing liquids like soap or suncream for a 1-2 days trekking?
    Thanks for help!