For ravers, Lunchbox is the clear (literally) choice of hydration packs [Review]
In a market saturated by hydration packs of various materials, sizes, colors, and prices, a water backpack touted as “the most secure way to rave” warrants a closer look. This is some of the first messaging that visitors of Lunchbox Packs‘ website meet with, and the claim is interesting for several reasons. For one, many of the hydration packs available today are not advertised as providing features other than those customary of a water backpack. Broadly, they usually offer some degree of item storage (though some, like the Sojourner hydration pack, do not), with a bladder averaging two to three liters of water storage.
Anti-theft capacity has not been a customary, widely-available feature of the hydration packs purchased and worn to festivals and, as a result, the presence or absence of this functionality has not guided pack purchases as decisively as it could have. It’s also worth noting that many of the hydration packs sold by online retailers like Amazon are not created with raving in mind. Frequently, the water-funneling backpacks are aimed at hikers and runners, who, by virtue of these intended uses of the packs, face less pickpocketing threats than someone who uses the same hydration pack at a festival. All of this, however, changed in 2018 when Lunchbox CEO and founder Tom Worcester launched the company, which has since gone on to sell two types of hydration packs (one solid and newly, one clear) and two kinds of fanny packs (one solid sling pack and newly again, one clear). Lunchbox calls the fanny packs “snack packs,” in a nod to the schoolyard whimsy of the brand’s namesake.
The motivation to establish a line of hydration and snack packs specifically designed for ravers stems from Worcester’s experiences at Ultra Music Festival’s flagship Miami festival. “From the moment I entered the festival grounds, I knew I was where I was meant to be,” Worcester wrote in a 2018 article titled “Our Story” that reflects on his first year attending Ultra Miami (2013) and the ripple effect that it would have on his life thereafter. “It was perfect, and I felt at home. It was there, between the city skyline and the Miami oceanfront, that my life radically and unexpectedly changed trajectories.”
When Worcester returned to Bayfront Park in 2018 for his third iteration of Ultra Miami, he faced issues with the festival’s security checkpoint. Staff confiscated his bag for being too large; he scrambled to shove his personal items into his friend’s CamelBak. Later, he missed the artist he was most excited to see due to hour-long wait times in one of the festival’s water lines. To add insult to injury, three of his friends’ iPhones were stolen by pickpockets who notably “come prepared to slice flimsy bags and spot unguarded pockets.” Though perturbed, Worcester was also inspired. These unfavorable circumstances became the catalysts for Lunchbox and its line of hydration and fanny packs preemptively tailored to the needs of ravers.
Theft at festivals is not unique to Ultra, and it remains one of the most prominent problems faced by attendees. Indeed, at Ultra Miami 2023, where I took Lunchbox’s clear hydration pack, putting it to the test of three intensive days of raving among a population of 160,000-plus ticket holders, two of my friends’ phones were stolen. It’s an unfortunate reality that theft is a part of festivals. Although it is the antithesis of what events like Ultra Miami stand for—unity in the love of music, mutual respect for fellow attendees, etc.—the persistent threat of theft requires of festival-goers a level of vigilance that can detract from the experience of being at one.
Holding one’s phone in hand for the duration of the event is neither convenient nor enjoyable. While placing it in one’s pocket is more comfortable, it leaves the attendee susceptible to theft. Putting it in a traditional water backpack, fanny pack, or other bag (especially those that open away from the wearer) creates similar vulnerabilities. For these reasons, I’ve shied away from tucking my phone (and other valuables, like my ID, credit card, and cash) in my pockets or in the non-raving-specific bags that I’ve often toted to festivals. At my first Ultra Miami in 2016 and my second in 2017, I held my phone in my hand. I did it again at various iterations of Electric Zoo in New York, Spring Awakening in Chicago, EDC Vegas, the list goes on. Candidly, this aspect of attending festivals has always been my least favorite. There’s also a certain irony to it. Immersed in a crowd and in the music, I—like many other festival-goers—hope to detach from the digital world and revel instead in what is in front of me and around me. Feeling my phone buzz with emails and other notifications unrelated to what I am currently doing reminds me of the transience of the event and intrudes on my ability to be fully present in that moment. Still, it’s a small price to pay amid the ever-looming threat of phone theft (to me, at least).
But at Ultra Miami 2023, I did something I’ve never done before at a festival where I didn’t necessarily expect to have a new experience: I didn’t hold my phone in my hand. I put it in my Lunchbox hydration pack and I danced freely, without concern for its security. How? Lunchbox’s hydration pack has two main storage compartments (there is one at the top of the pack and one at the bottom) that use anti-theft zipper clips and inverted zippers to effectively discourage theft. If pickpockets were bold enough to try their usual tricks, it’s unlikely that the wearer wouldn’t feel the unclipping of the anti-theft zipper clips and tugging on the zipper that is necessary to open these areas of the pack. For these reasons, I was able to store my phone out of my immediate sight without compromising my peace of mind. While the inverted zippers were sometimes a little more difficult to open than traditional zippers, they maneuvered better when I unzipped them slower than I would a standard zipper. Overall, I consider this a benefit, as it means that wearers are that much more likely to feel someone tampering with their bag should someone try.
Although the hydration pack comes with a dedicated mesh phone pocket that sits shoulder-length, keeping the phone immediately accessible for quick videos and the like, I did not use this pocket, choosing instead to store my phone in the top and bottom compartments throughout the weekend. However, I did use the secondary mesh pocket, which is located on the other shoulder strap and is designed to provide easy access to smaller items like charging cables or lip balm. This accompanying mesh pocket securely held the items I put in it (specifically, a pack of Starbursts and a travel-sized tube of sunscreen).
Security aside, from a storage perspective, I appreciated that I had a choice to stow the items I brought in one of two separate compartments, rather than in a single-pocket jumble. During the course of the festival, I held several items in the hydration pack for my boyfriend. Being able to put his items in one of the compartments and mine in the other left us more than enough space for both of our phones, sunglasses, and other accessories while easing retrieval. All we needed to do was remember whose items were in which compartment, top or bottom. Wearers who intend to keep the pack’s two-liter water bladder filled the entirety of time that they are using the bag should keep in mind that doing so will limit the space available in the bottom compartment, where the bladder sits. I did not keep the bladder filled at all times, meaning that I had more storage space available in the lower area of the pack.
It’s also worth mentioning that the top compartment comes with a medium-sized zipper-protected pocket that’s ideal for holding smaller valuables, like IDs, credit cards, hotel room keys, car keys, and cash. I stored our IDs and payment methods in this pocket the entire weekend and did not worry about their safety once. To access this pocket, thieves would need to first open the top compartment—something that seems virtually impossible given that the zipper to this top compartment is outfitted with locking clips and is positioned on the interior of the bag, coming directly in contact with the wearer’s back.
Lunchbox’s clear hydration and snack pack are its response to the increasing prevalence of clear bag policies at live events across the nation. In a credit to Lunchbox’s comprehensive and forward-thinking approach to crafting wearable packs fit for a new generation of ravers subject to more restrictive bag policies than in past years of event operation, users can personalize the clear packs with skins that can be inserted after they’ve completed security checkpoints. The hydration pack comes with a basic black insert that can be placed inside the pack to hide the contents, further deterring thieves. I did not use the insert provided while on the ground at Ultra, meaning that everyone in my vicinity who looked could see just about everything that I had in the hydration pack’s storage compartments (with the exception of the contents of the zipper-protected pocket, which is out of view given where it is placed in the bag). I personally did not mind this, but for those who do, it’s worth mentioning that the insert is easy to use and can be removed and refastened relatively quickly.
The size and storage capacity of Lunchbox’s hydration pack met Ultra’s security requirements, described as follows:
I was asked to remove my items from the backpack for inspection on the first day of the festival only; on the subsequent days, security simply looked inside the clear bag before permitting me to proceed into Bayfront Park. Needless to say, this was a better, much easier user experience for me, as I did not need to disturb any of my things to gain entry to the festival. It also helped the security line move faster, fulfilling Lunchbox’s aim of its new clear line.
When it came to filling (and refilling) the water bladder, this process was as seamless (and as spill-less) as could be, thanks in large part to the separate zipper compartment on the lower right-hand side of the pack that supports easy removal, refilling, and restoring of the water bladder. The bladder did not leak at any point during the festival.
As one of the largest dance/electronic festivals on the East Coast, Ultra Music Festival Miami is a formidable event at which to evaluate the user experience and anti-theft effectiveness of a hydration pack. After the performance of Lunchbox’s hydration pack on the ground from March 24 – 26, Dancing Astronaut can unequivocally declare that when it comes to choosing a hydration pack for festival use, Lunchbox’s latest pack is the clear choice.
The brand’s clear hydration pack retails for $109 and the clear snack pack for $45. Skins, lightshow wires, and other accessories are sold separately and can be viewed on Lunchbox’s website.
Featured image: Cody Lidtke