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Hands-on Gear Review
CamelBak M.U.L.E. Review
Cons: insufficient hip belt, hard to clean bladder
The Camelbak M.U.L.E. has since its inception been one of the most popular hydration packs for tons of uses. But how does it stand up to the test of time? While Camelbak had the market cornered with their early innovation in the at one time small market of hydration packs, they're now under fire from manufactures all around the globe. Camelbak revamped the M.U.L.E. to meet some of these demands by updating details of the hydration bladder, various accessories, and the overall fit.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The M.U.L.E.'s strap system did a pretty good job providing the pack with stability while on the bike and while hiking. We really liked the contoured shoulder straps and its confluence with the pack, that widens into a patch that sits well between your shoulders. We found that overall, the pack was very stable. The well designed adjustable height sternum strap also provided additional stability.
However, we were thoroughly unimpressed with the simple webbing hip belt. We'll be the first to admit that we didn't use it on this pack, but maybe if it weren't so insignificant, it could've propelled the M.U.L.E. even higher in the rankings.
Ease of Drinking
As with all CamelBak packs, water delivery is very good with high flow from minimal effort. We were happy to see that CamelBak has updated the M.U.L.E. with a clip that helps keep the hydration hose at bay while riding rough trails. However, we got spoiled by the magnet on the Osprey that holds the mouthpiece right in front of you and gives hands free or almost hands free use, and preferred that design.
Ease of Filling
As with all the CamelBak bladders tested, the side opening of the bladder is easy for filling in a shallow sink, but proves difficult to clean and to fill in other situations.
This pack is very light considering how much gear it carries, and came in on our scale right around the Osprey Raptor 10.
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. However, the mouthpiece design of the CamelBak pack seems rudimentary to the other packs we tested, and tended to become a bit squished over time, leading to leaks.
Ease of Cleaning
While CamelBak's bladder design is good for shallow sinks, it's somewhat of a pain to clean in comparison to top zip bladders. Though CamelBak has a cleaning kit, it adds cost, complexity, and one more piece of gear to break/store. We much preferred the top zip due to ease of cleaning, which was a large priority to our testers.
The Camelback gets high marks for the amount of storage it has relative to its weight. There are three zippered pockets 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 a day hike or ride essentials: food, rain jacket and a 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.
Out of all of the helmet carry designs, we found this one to be the worst. Unless the pack is almost empty, the helmet can't fit into the sleeve, rendering it useless.
CamelBak Cleaning Brush Kit
— Tommy Penick
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