Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Great storage, light, 3-liter reservoir, durable.
Cons: Bite valve flops around.
Best Uses: Full day bike rides and hikes.
This is the best overall hydration pack we tested and gets our Editors' Choice award. We feel the hydration packs are best for full day hikes and rides and the M.U.L.E. gives a lot of storage in a lightweight, comfortable and durable package. It did not blow away the competition in any one test or category, but was overall the most well-rounded pack. See our complete Hydration Pack Review to see how it compared to others.
CamelBak loves acronyms with double meanings. So while your first impression when shopping or researching on the internet is to type in "Mule" (as in the offspring of a donkey and horse), you really need to type in "M.U.L.E." to get the maximum number of search results which stands for Medium-to-Ultra-Long Endeavors.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This is one of the more comfortable packs we tested. It has generous back padding and ventilates relatively well. It is highly adjustable and has some padding on the waist belt (but not much).
There is plenty of stability for bike riding and hiking. It is not a pack to take running because there is too much vertical bouncing. It is easy to adjust most of the weight tight to the body.
Ease of Drinking
As with all CamelBak packs, water delivery is very good with high flow from minimal effort. That said, there is no clip or magnet to hold bite valve in place close to your mouth. This was irritating for some testers while riding bumpy terrain. We got spoiled by the magnet on the Osprey that holds the mouthpiece right in front of you and gives handsfree or almost handsfree use.
One general drawback to hydration packs is that it is difficult to gauge how fast you are drinking water and how much is left. The M.U.L.E. has a big L-shaped zipper that lets you easily see how much water is left. It was the only pack we tested that was this easy to check.
Ease of Filling
This bladder was the easiest of the CamelBak packs to fill. Just unzip the back panel and pull it out. When filled, it slots back into a dedicated zip pocket. There is a generous plastic handle that allows you to hold the reservoir perfectly flat to get max fill. It especially out-performed some of the competition in shallow sinks and drinking fountains that emit just a little trickle.
This pack is very light considering how much gear it carries. It is much lighter than the comparable Osprey packs like the Raptor 14 or Synchro 15.
As with most CamelBaks, we give this high marks for durability. No leakage was detected and we expect this to last longer than average before the bladder or plastic parts need to be replaced.
Ease of Cleaning
It is relatively easy to clean the main compartment with the brush. It only scores behind the Geigerrig which just goes in the dishwasher. As with all hydration systems, you need a fairly specialized brush if you want to clean the hoses. Hunt one down at the hardware store or just buy the CamelBak Cleaning Kit.
There are cool little hidden plastic clips under the handle that help the bladder dry out.
The Camelback gets high marks for storage relative to its weight. There are three zippered pocket and an exterior sleeve where you can stuff in a jacket. All the packs that have more storage are generally much heavier. The M.U.L.E. hits the sweet spot of being light but having plenty of room for day hike or ride essentials: food, rain jacket, light warm layer. The only option that gives more storage for weight is the Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL which has a lot more storage and is lighter.
This is one of the few packs we tested with a 3-liter water reservoir.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Camelbak Products M.U.L.E. NV is a more tricked out and expensive option. The NV is short for N.V.I.S. (not Nevada) which is CB's more tricked out back panel system. The regular M.U.L.E. is the original and streamlined option and the NV ads a rain cover, storage to the waist belt, more adjustability to the shoulder straps and better air-flow between your back and the pack. It costs $135 and is heavier. We prefer the original M.U.L.E. because we value a lighter and more simple design (for less money).
The CamelBak Classic, $65, is still one of our favorites and wins our Best Buy award.
The CamelBak Marathoner Vest, $100, is one of the lightest hydration packs we tested. It uses a light backpack design with no waist strap.
The CamelBak Octane LR, $100, is great for light mountain biking and is a running workhorse because it's very versatile.
Check out the women's specific Camelbak, the Camelback Women's L.U.X.E., $100.
If you're looking for a kid's version of a Camelbak, check out the Camelbak Kid's M.U.L.E., 50 oz, for $50.
The CamelBak Racebak, $100, is the only hydration pack integrated into clothing that we tested.
The CamelBak All Clear, $99, treats water directly in your bottle.
The CamelBak Ultra LR, $130, is designed for long distance runs.
CamelBak Antidote Reservoir, $35.
The Camelbak Eddy, $15, is a consistently high-performing sipper-lid bottle.
If you're looking for a durable bottle that will filter tap water while you drink, then the Camelbak Groove, $22, is for you.
CamelBak Cleaning Brush Kit, $10.
The CamelBak Antidote Thermal Control Kit, $20, can help keep your tubes from freezing when temps dip down.
— Chris McNamara and Adam Pilger
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: August 20, 2013
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