Customized Hydration with a Twist

By Gabrielle Whelan

Outdoor adventuring has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic, and one of our designs, the MXXY hydration pack, just hit this hot market.

In 2017, longtime friends Drew Dawson, Nicolas Belgum, and Jack Elders were three college students when they decided to create MXXY Outdoor. Their decision was fueled by a shared desire for a better way to hydrate during outdoor adventures. Enter MXXY, the world’s only dual reservoir hydration system that lets you carry and dial-in a perfect balance of electrolytes and water by simply twisting a valve. MXXY was designed for extreme users and outdoor enthusiasts alike, and is endorsed by famed rock climber Sasha DiGuillian.

I interviewed MXXY Outdoor’s CEO Drew Dawson, who recently earned a bachelor’s in Business Administration at USC, and CTO Nicolas Belgum, currently working on his master’s in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University, to uncover MXXY’s unique product story. MXXY’s designers, Whipsaw’s CEO Dan Harden and Director of Industrial Design Ari Turgel, also joined the discussion to shed light on this hydration pack’s design evolution.

The concept for MXXY stemmed from a personal need. What made you decide to develop this product while you were still in college?

Dawson: The original idea for MXXY arose when we were seniors in high school. We were also athletes at the time. Nicolas played baseball. I was a football player. Jack Elders, our other founder, was a lacrosse player.

The three of us used to go on hikes every Friday evening to stay in shape, and we’d bring along an electrolyte solution to keep us hydrated, like a Gatorade or another sugary sports drink. We were really frustrated by the fact that we had to carry extra weight and fumble through our backpacks to locate those drinks. We also didn’t have the ability to adjust their sugar or electrolyte levels.

Once you get two or three hours into an adventure (or the point at which you’re really exerting yourself), you don’t want to slug down that kind of viscous liquid. That’s when we started conceptualizing MXXY. I think at that point, we called the concept a “swap pack.” We actually 3D-printed some horrendous designs that would make Dan and Ari cringe. They looked like spring-loaded plungers.

We knew the concept for MXXY had legs though, since it was born out of our own need for it. We weren’t grasping at straws in terms of a product use case.

Dan and Ari, what was your first impression of the MXXY team, and what made this concept stand out to you?

Turgel: It didn’t take much for me to see the potential for MXXY when these guys came into the studio. I’ve also done quite a bit of outdoor “adventuring” myself, since I’ve gone to Burning Man 11 times now. Being a key user helped me to understand the various needs for this type of product, whether it was for competitive bicycling or amateur mountain climbing. I was so impressed that I immediately pulled Dan into the room.

Harden: Yeah, I was very enthralled by the fact that these three young guys had the moxie to come into Whipsaw and say, “Man, we’ve got a really cool idea here.” I instantly clicked with them, and that’s kind of a prerequisite for creating good design, right? I also liked that they had each personally related to the problem and had a true desire to solve it.

I didn’t know that much about the need for it since I’m not a famous weightlifter or cyclist. We clearly live in a time when we all want customization though. I loved the ability MXXY gives users to mix their formulas according to their particular needs—whether they’re after better nutrition, more energy, or more flavor—and that’s why we accepted this challenge.

I was enthralled by the fact that these young guys had the moxie to come into Whipsaw and say, “Man, we’ve got a really cool idea here.”

Dawson: I’d like to add that Whipsaw was far and away our top choice for a design firm because we found such a balance between aesthetics and functionality in their products.

Belgum: That first meeting was where I really took a step back and thought, “This is exactly what we’ve been dreaming about since the day we thought of it.”

Dawson: We’d read Dan’s articles about the designs he’d created for Ellison and Jobs, so that first day was both a nerve racking and exciting experience. Fortunately, there was immediate chemistry between our teams. The benefit of working with Whipsaw is that we now have a hydration pack built at a level of quality also used to design products for Uber and Google.

How collaborative was the design process for MXXY?

Turgel: Nicolas had a prototype of a mixing valve, and that was enough for him to come in and say, “Hey this can work.” I came at it from the user’s perspective to specifically understand the workflow. I really wanted to grasp the users’ core need to get a drink and move on.

We ended up doing a number of configurations in that process, from hard containers that would hold the fluids, to the soft bags we ended up going with in production. Those configurations led to more design questions such as, “How do you refill a bag?” and, “What’s the easiest way to do that without having to reassemble things?”

We also had an amazing mechanical engineer, Mickey, on our team who really thought through the valve design. He ultimately pushed us towards a valve that was not on the pack or hydration reservoirs, but readily accessible on the strap where the user could actually get to it. Then it really just came down to working out the details to make something beautiful and unique.

There’s a difference between designing something beautiful and incredible, and designing something that can actually be brought to market with manufacturers who will take you on.

Dawson: We were also never pretending to be bigger than we were, so we loved that someone of Mickey’s genius could come in, tear something to shreds, and then propose something unexpected. It was a big learning process for us.

There’s also a difference between designing something beautiful and incredible, and designing something that can actually be brought to market with manufacturers who will take you on. Dan and Ari were able to help us find backpack and plastics manufacturers we could trust. Beyond just design, I think that having the backing of the Whipsaw brand was unbelievably valuable to our team.

Harden: You brought up a good point that this all goes so far beyond aesthetics. You know, it’s a plumbing problem. It’s a cleanability problem. It’s a storage problem. It’s a wearability and comfort problem. We always like challenges with multiple layers where we can actually start to mitigate some of the problems and pain points.

There also isn’t anything on the market that lets you customize exactly how much fluid you want from one container versus the other. It all comes back to that original notion of giving the end-user exactly what they want at a particular moment in time. People have come to expect this level of precision with almost everything in their lives.

Can you talk about your user base, from extreme users to everyday folks?

Dawson: We needed MXXY to function at a high level of quality and specificity in its dilution settings, and to provide a timely delivery of nutrients without hindering the user’s experience. To do all of that correctly, we needed the influence of professional athletes. We therefore ran all of our ideas by professional athletes, even when we were just making minor changes to very specific details.

There’s a very specific set of criteria for developing a product for a professional athlete. MXXY had to check a lot of boxes, including the capacity and volume of the reservoir, and the flowrate of the tubing. I think it really speaks to Whipsaw’s experience that we were able to achieve this.

The pandemic restricted indoor gym use. Outdoor adventuring can still be enjoyed with few limitations however. Where do you think it’s all headed?

Dawson: On a macro scale, I think there will be a higher adoption rate of outdoor sports, which we’ve already seen with the bicycling category, for example. I think we need to ask what the takeaways will be from this experience. Is there going to be renewed and lasting focus on health? Is there going to be an increased need for supplement use that has to do with immunity? 

Belgum: As far as we know, Dan can’t see into the future, but I think that if he had known what was coming with COVID, it might’ve created even more of a need for this product offering, which is really interesting. Our company will continue to center around our lasting interest in individualized health and wellness.

We’ve traditionally viewed nutrition as coming from our food and the vitamins we take. Hydration just hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, until now.

Harden: I would second that by saying that because of the pandemic, there is going to be a higher focus on the awareness of our individual health. We’ve traditionally viewed nutrition as coming from our food and the vitamins we take. Hydration just hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, until now.

There are a lot of energy drinks out there, but MXXY offers a customized solution that actually makes a positive contribution to your overall health. I think MXXY is perfectly positioned to meet this increased awareness.

Turgel: Hydration packs have obviously been around for a long time. The extreme sports, hands-free people who rigorously monitor their health want them, but so do the regular outdoor folks that like to eat fried chicken for dinner. To have a convenient way of hydrating on a hot day when you’re on a hike is great. This product answered that need when nobody else was able to. It handles the nutrition side of hydration. That’s massive.

What was it like forming a company with the friends you grew up with?

Dawson: It’s been an amazing experience. We’ve all known each other since we were 12-years old, so tensions do run high sometimes though. We always come back together because we’re 100% committed to MXXY. This is our entire lives.

Turgel: I appreciated the camaraderie you guys had as a team, because we operate that same way at Whipsaw. We’re friends, so when we get into the room together, we’re able to stay open, toss around ideas, and dig to the meat of the matter.

Harden: You know, it’s funny. I had a pro and a con view about you forming a company as three longtime friends. I thought, “Boy, this could all collapse quickly.” But instead of bickering, you guys pulled together and came through this process even stronger. I could see how tight you guys were during that first meeting. You had a maturity that I intuitively felt would carry the company forward.

Dawson: I’ll add that we definitely went through some make-or-break moments during this process, but we were able to stay grounded.

Turgel: I think those moments are balanced out by the sheer fun of the challenge. In this case, this is just a really cool product. It combines both hard and soft goods, and it borders on being a leisure, wearable, and medical product at the same time.

How does it feel now that MXXY is finally out in the world?

Dawson: I’m so excited to have this product exist as more than just a Kickstarter concept or a prototype. Now that it’s gone to market, we get to say, “Here it is. And by the way, it does everything that we said it would do, and more.”

If you look ahead five years, MXXY will have several takes on the role quantitative and personalized hydration plays in our lives as it becomes more profoundly accepted.

Belgum: A big part of what’s so exciting is actually getting these things into the hands of consumers. It will be amazing to see people using MXXY to meet their hydration needs on their adventures.

Dawson: We wanted to work with Whipsaw because they understood how far something like this can go. For us, this is a long-term partnership. I think if you look ahead five years, MXXY will have several takes on the role quantitative and personalized hydration plays in our lives as it becomes more profoundly accepted.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, MXXY launched its product line on January 1, 2022. It is currently available direct-to-consumer in ash black and space grey.