Saturday, July 17, 2010

REVIEW - CI Sport Dual Compartment Lunch Box

I never thought I'd say this, but I totally love a lunch box.  Let me explain.  I was suffering from lunch box envy.  I know that sounds silly, but I saw a really cool lunch box that I loved and it made my (reused) plastic grocery bag seem super-lame.  I  looked up this really cool lunch box and I nearly had a heart attack at the price.  So I decided that I'd look for something more in my budget.

I've looked everywhere for a lunch box that I would feel happy to use, but I couldn't find anything that I liked.  Earlier in the week, I went to Costco to look for an air mattress.  I left with a sportbrella (like an umbrella & sunshade in one) and a new lunch box.  And a $5 roasted chicken.  No air mattress.

It was another scorcher today, so we went to the beach.  I was excited to test out my new lunch box (and the sportbrella!) and see how well it held up in the intense heat between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.  At 10:30 am, I packed the lunchbox with watermelon, pineapple, cherries, string cheese, veggie sticks, goldfish crackers, and a couple of cold packs.  I left it on the sand in the shade under our fabulous new sportbrella.  We stopped to grab a burger on the way home and I left the lunch box in the car for about thirty minutes.  When we arrived home at 3:00 pm, everything was still cold!  I'm amazed and how wonderful it works!

I should add that I also subjected a small Coleman cooler to the same treatment, only the Coleman was packed with ice and water bottles.  The ice was long gone before we even left the beach and it was only cool, not cold, by the time we arrived home.

I'm sorry that the Amazon link is not the exact lunchbox that I purchased, but it was the closest that I could find.  I bought a CI Sport Dual Compartment lunch box by California Innovations. I bought it at Costco for a little less than $12.  It is red, black, and grey and it came with a dual purpose pack (cold or hot) and a stainless steel water bottle.  This lunch box has several features that make it very user friendly and, while I can think of a few improvements to the design, I can't recommend it highly enough.

- It has a swing away handle, meaning that the handle opens so that you can attach the lunch box to something.  I can see this being a particularly useful feature when going on stroller walks to the park. 

- The rubber swing away handle is one piece and it flexes with your hand.  It's hard to explain what that means, but this style of handle makes it very comfortable to hold even if the lunch box is packed with heavy food.  I probably had around 10 pounds of food in it today because four of us went to the beach. 

- It also has a detachable and adjustable shoulder strap.  I initially thought this was a dumb feature, but I actually had to use this today so that I had a free hand to hold onto my son when we were walking back to the car.  Yes, yes, I could have worn him on my back in the Ergo (and that's exactly what I did walking to the beach), but I didn't want to get the Ergo dirty, sandy, and wet.

- The main compartment is very large with a zippered closure.  I can fit four lidded Gerber baby bowls and still have extra space for a couple of medium-sized apples. 

- The main compartment utilizes high performance insulation and a reflective radiant barrier.  This is a fancy way to say that it keeps your cold things cold.  Alternately, it keeps your hot things hot.  Note that you can't have both at once though; fried chicken or potato salad - not both in the same lunch box.

- The main compartment has a clear plastic lining held in place with both a zipper and a hook & look closure.  This clear plastic lining is leak proof and removable so that you can clean it should you have a messy spill.

- The outer compartment rolls shut and remains that way with a bungee and a hook & loop tab.  This compartment is insulated and is expandable via hook & loop tabs.  This is where I stashed the dry snacks because this compartment won't keep things cool for nearly as long as the main compartment.

- There is a mesh pocket on the side for water bottle storage.  This pocket also has an adjustable bungee to keep your bottle secure.

- It has a mesh pocket on the inside of the lid so that your cold or hot packs don't mingle with your food.  This mesh pocket has a hook & loop closure.

- The stainless steel bottle probably holds 16 ounces or so, but it is not insulated so it's very cold to hold if you have an icy beverage.  For obvious reasons, you shouldn't use it for hot beverages.

- The bottle cap screws on and off.  I don't care for this style, but flip tops are probably more expensive to manufacture.

- There is a carabiner clip on the bottle cap so that you can attach your bottle to a variety of things.

- I like that the dual purpose pack offers the flexibility of using it as a cold pack or a hot pack.  My gripe, however, is that most people keep cold packs in the freezer and this means that you can't use it as a hot pack on a whim.

- I did not use the dual purpose pack today because I have several cold packs already in the freezer.  Because I do have an abundance of cold packs, I plan to use this pack strictly as a hot pack.

- To use as a hot pack, you can heat it up while submerged for three minutes in a pot of boiling water on the stove top.  Or you can submerge it in a container of water and microwave it for around 45 seconds.  I think it's pretty cool that it's microwavable and heats up in such a short period of time.

Overall, I'm thrilled with my purchase.  However, there are some things that could definitely be improved.  A big one is the depth because it just isn't all that deep.  Another is that they should have designed it so that you can also transport it on it's side rather than upright.  As it's designed, you load it on it's side and you carry it upright.  This means that your food shifts 90 degrees and you're going to end up with a big freaking mess if you have foods that are wet and you don't have a perfectly airtight container. 

I used to bring leftovers for my lunch nearly every single day and this lunch box wouldn't have been a good choice for me back when I was working for wages.  If you want to tote a bowl of soup or containers of leftovers, this probably isn't the lunch box for you and you'll be far happier with one like in the Amazon link above.  These days my lunches consist of things like sandwiches, salads, fruit, veggie sticks and stuff like that so this lunch box is perfect for me now.

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