CamelBak MULE Hydration Pack Review Facts
The CamelBak M.U.L.E is an old workhorse and in the company’s lineup for well over 20 years. With a range of mountain bike related features, the M.U.L.E is capable of keeping you comfortable and well hydrated during a full-day hike. It comes equipped with several pockets as well as a straightforward drinking system. Many people believe that though the pack has always performed well, it fails to stack against the modern day packs and hydration systems.
The storage capabilities of the Camelbak M.U.L.E will never disappoint. As well as being a water reservoir, there is storage for anything from clothing to food. With a full-length pocket even stowing maps, pumps and a small stove is easy. Another handy internal zipped pocket
is great for use on the go. And yet another, with mesh, key clip and pump strap for a shock pump provides even more storage options and with compression straps
, everything is kept neatly in place when you are up and running.
The M.U.L.E comes in with a 9L overall capacity and a bladder capacity of 3L, which is the perfect balance between being able to hold enough water
and be light enough to carry on a day’s hiking. It has a narrow width, which means it is not bulky like other bags in its class and this means less having to shift it around as you go.
The style and design have not changed significantly over the years, which may be because it works. However, today, there is a range of colors to choose from. A screaming orange called ‘Poppy’ has visibility thrown in, as does the ‘laser orange’ but the ‘charcoal’ and other more subdued colors are equally smart. It means you can easily find what suits your style and still keep you visible on the trail
The 3L Crux hydration bladder on the M.U.L.E is in the innermost section of the pack behind the main storage compartment. It has its own insulation and dedicated hydration sleeve. The drinking tube uses a quick disconnect feature that allows easy no hassle filling. It passes through the shoulder strap
and out for easy drinking on the move. The tube placement is quite similar to that of the Platypus Duthie, Osprey Syncro, and Osprey Raptor.
Ease of Drinking
When you buy the M.U.L.E specifically for keeping you hydrated on long rides and wilderness races, you're making a sound choice. With its new Crux hydration system, it is now capable of delivering 20% more water per sip. Of course, it is not that easy to quantify "per sip" quantities, but it is true that the pack
delivers water efficiently. Interestingly, if you need to, you can also gulp water from the Big Bite valve and it still delivers water without a hitch.
Ease of Refilling
Refilling will not be an issue either because it comes with an ergonomic handle
that simplifies the task. You will also find the Magnetic Tube Trap and an on/off lever that keep the reservoir secured and prevent leaks at the same time. It is worth mentioning though that some people think that the process to fill up the Crux bladder could have been simpler, like that of the Osprey Syncro.
The quick fill process is quite straightforward, but the issue is that the bladder has a double-hooked hanger to prevent it from sagging into the bottom of the pack but there is nothing included to hang the bladder. To resolve the issue, you may consider sliding its handle into another sewn loop. It works quite the same in the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18.
The shoulder straps on the CamelBak M.U.L.E are very comfortable with anatomical curves and cuts for excellent fitting. They are made using ventilated foam padding with nylon over the bottom and mesh over the top half. There are small Velcro tabs added to the shoulder adjustment straps that you can use to secure the extra straps with ease. The M.U.L.E is quite comfortable to use for a full day on the trail, but you may find the straps being a bit wider, which may be an issue for women.
The M.U.L.E performs reasonably well on breathability but the competition in this area is tough. The back panel uses the Air Direct system with a mesh panel that stretches over the rigid foam sections. One half of the pack sits right at the lower back whilst the rest fits snug under the shoulder blades. On warmer days, it is noticeable that the M.U.L.E is not as breathable as other packs on the market today, possibly because the pads make too much contact with your back. Your shirts may become soaked through in no time, which is an uncomfortable drawback.
A waist belt makes the M.U.L.E comfortable and secure. Although only ¾ inch wide, this webbing strap does the job and has adjusters on both sides and a quick release buckle, all of which, help to stop the pack flopping around on technically tricky ground. The sternum straps help to improve stability further to some degree but overall, with such tough competition around, a better belting system wouldn’t go amiss.
The insulation is reasonably good; water does stay cool even on sunny days and being able to add ice to the reservoir is a bonus. The segmented channels on the back of the M.U.L.E may not be super efficient at keeping your back cool when riding but for hiking are more than satisfactory.
Riding with the M.U.L.E
The M.U.L.E is quite efficient to use on trail rides with pockets to store lots of things and access to 3L of fluid on the go. It is quite lightweight at 1lb and 12.8oz, and only 620g without the bladder in there. Depending on what gear you keep in it, you may not feel you really have it on your back. If you're a tall guy, the pack fits perfectly and offer good stability while riding. Shorter guys may have some issues in this regard though. You may have to fiddle a bit with the straps to find the sweet spot for comfort and fit according to your body type and size.
The best thing is that you can pack the M.U.L.E along its whole length, which is ample storage space for most trips. Another good thing is that the pack stays close to your body for maximum stability during the ride. Beware though, overloading the pack may negatively affect its stability, so you have to strike a right balance here.
The MULE won't disappoint you with its storage capacity. As mentioned already, there are enough pockets to help you carry loads of stuff, but the availability of a stretchy external pouch really makes the MULE suitable for all day rides and hikes. Attached to a couple of quick release buckles, the pouch is connected to the central portion of the pack and has integrated tabs for hooking. You can use these tabs to carry your helmet. The storage looks quite good, but it may not be as refined as many other packs in this category, such as Platypus Duthie A.M. 10.
Ease of Cleaning
Another good thing about the MULE is that you do not have to go through a lot of hassle to clean it. But, you should still bear in mind that scrubbing out the hydration bladder can be a cumbersome process. The zipper access is quite good, but for proper cleaning, you need to have access to the bottom of the bladder compartment. You need to go to the bottom to disconnect the drinking tube and get the bladder out entirely.
Once you have removed the bladder, it will be much easier to clean the interior, but you will still find it much more complicated than the Deuter or the Osprey packs that come with the full opening capability to wipe, scrub, and dry.
With its reasonable storage capacity, sturdy material, and a low price tag, you are sure to get a good value for money by opting for the MULE. While the difference in price is not much, you will still find the MULE to be a well-rounded pack quite suitable for anyone on the lookout for a good all mountain hydration pack. The old CamelBak Rogue has been a popular choice for many people, but you are going to get an extra liter of water along with some impressive storage space from the new Camelbak M.U.L.E.
There may be little niggles with strapping but M.U.L.E is a good multi-purpose pack. Many hikers and riders have used it without issues. It will serve you very well on biking rail-trails or out on a short hike if staying hydrated is your primary focus rather than how the pockets or straps are organized. It is a simple bag with straightforward drinking systems, so it performs well whether you use it while biking, kayaking, hiking, or simply running. You can buy the M.U.L.E with the confidence that it will do the job it is intended to do.
Comparison to Other Brands
In terms of comfort, the M.U.L.E is right up there, but it is true that it may not compare with some newer packs from Osprey, Platypus, and Deuter. The reason is that these newer and more expensive packs offer better ventilation as well as a better stability and reliable connection. If you're a more casual rider and are more concerned about the price, the M.U.L.E will serve you well.
The storage capacity is 9L, which is good, but you can find newer packs with better capacity; in fact, the MULE LR has 16L of storage, but of course, it costs you more as well. You will find the MULE to work extremely well when you need something to be properly equipped on big days in the hills. It is also a great choice for anyone looking for a pack suitable for wilderness races.
If you have high hydration needs, you may have to look for a better alternative, such as the Octane XCT. It outperforms the M.U.L.E because it is super light, sits low in the pack, and is capable of carrying some stuff in the hip pockets. You may have to revert to the M.U.L.E though if you need something for all day endeavors.
In terms of weight, the M.U.L.E is among the lightest daypacks around. However, it isn’t lighter than the Osprey Syncro 10 though. If you're among the real weight weenies, you may be better off putting your money on the CamelBak Classic or the CamelBak Rogue.
The Bottom Line
There are so many reasons why the CamelBak M.U.L.E is one impressive choice for anyone interested in hiking and riding. Yes, the insulation could have been improvement along with breathability and the overall storage space, but it will serve you well if you are someone who likes to hike, ride, and run for the long haul without having to carry the greatest and latest gizmos. You will love it for its simple to use hydration system, which will keep you hydrated whether you take it as an everyday bag for work and play or use it on your long rides.