CamelBak M.U.L.E. Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: One of the easiest drinking systems, decent storage
Cons: Poor ventilation, insufficient waist belt for the pack size, bladder not easy to clean
Our Analysis and Test Results
The CamelBak M.U.L.E. is a staple of CamelBak's hydration pack line. It has proven itself over several decades, but unfortunately, it could use some updating to compete with other more modern models in our test lineup.
Ease of Drinking
The foundation of this pack is the Crux hydration system which is designed to deliver 20% more water "per sip" according to CamelBak. While it's difficult to measure and quantify "per sip" quantities, we did find that the Camelbak packs deliver water more efficiently than most other systems in our test. Huff, puff, pant, and groan…even with that, it is still easy to not just sip but gulp water from the Big Bite valve.
The 3-liter Crux hydration bladder is stored in its own dedicated and lightly insulated hydration sleeve located at the inner-most portion of the pack, just inside the back sheet and behind the main storage compartment. The drinking hose attaches with a quick-release fitting which we found convenient when it's time to fill up. The hose is routed through a simple opening from the hydration sleeve, down the right shoulder strap, and is attached to a magnetic clip. The business end of the Crux system is the Big Bite valve which is equipped with a convenient and effective on/off switch.
We found the CamelBak Big Bite valves to be among the easiest to achieve maximum flow with no leakage, especially when flipping the On/Off valve to the forward position. Nearly three decades of experience doesn't just sound good on CamelBak's resume; the experience is also put into play with the Crux system.
Ease of Filling
While the M.U.L.E. scores well in the "ease of drinking" metric, it doesn't perform quite as well when it comes to filling up the Crux bladder. Access can be gained through opening a large zipper into the hydration compartment, and the large blue cap of the bladder is right there. Then, slide the bladder up and partially out of the bag and hang on to the shoehorn style handle - it's a quick fill.
Here's where it gets a bit tougher. The bladder is equipped with a double-hooked hanger to keep it upright and unable to sag into the bottom of the bag, but unfortunately, the M.U.L.E. isn't equipped with anywhere to hang the bladder. This can be overcome by sliding the handle into a sewn loop, which also guides the drinking hose up and out of the pack. Do note that it did take a little fiddling to slide the handle into place. If the other features of the pack are your favorite, this is a minor consideration, but a consideration nonetheless.
The comfort of the M.U.L.E. just doesn't compare with other newer packs we tested from other manufacturers. These other competitors provide better ventilation for your back, as well as a more reliable drinking hose connection, and better support and stability. For more casual riders and hikers this may not be an issue, but for riders venturing into more technical terrain and longer rides, this may not be the pack you're seeking.
The back panel is CamelBak's Air Direct construction which incorporates a mesh panel stretched over raised, ridged foam sections. One portion sits at the lower back while the other two sit under the shoulder blades. After riding on a couple of warmer days, we noticed the backs of our shirts were nearly as saturated as with older packs.
The shoulder straps are anatomically curved and cut, composed of ventilated foam padding with mesh covering on the top half and the same nylon material as the pack body for the lower half. Our testers felt the straps were more than adequate and had no complaints.
The M.U.L.E. comes equipped with the lackluster hip belt in terms of support and comfort. The belt is a simple ¾" webbing strap with adjusters on both sides and fastened by a buckle. The belt does keep the pack from flopping around on technical ground but doesn't provide any real support.
The M.U.L.E. has a large enough storage capacity for all-day rides and hikes at ~10 liters and includes a stretchy external pouch. The pouch is attached to the two buckles that secure the central portion of the pack and to the two fixed buckles on the lower load adjusters. The buckles also have extra integrated tabs on their outer surfaces for hooking and carrying your helmet.
The outer portion of the pack opens with a large rainbow shaped zipper that provides complete access to the first compartment. Inside the pack is a horizontal zip pocket that measures 8"x6" and has an incorporated key clip inside. Immediately below are two stretch mesh panel pockets that split the lower half into two sections. We found these pockets to be ideal for storing bike tools and a spare inner tube. Sewn into the outside of the upper pocket is an elasticized keeper loop that kept our air pump handy and in one place.
Move from that outer pocket toward the guts of the pack and open the next full-access zipper. Inside this next compartment is a lot of space. No extras at all, just a place to stuff your extra layers, etc. If you like simplicity, this may be your pack.
Here too, you'll see the outside of the simple nylon pocket that is accessed from a zipper on the very top of the pack. This pocket measures approximately 8"x5", and we used it for storing our phones, glasses, and goggles, although the pocket has no padding or lining.
Of our larger capacity models, the M.U.L.E. is one of the lightest at 1 lb 12.8 oz. Like most of this pack's other metrics, it falls in the middle of the lineup in this metric.
Ease of Cleaning
Although it isn't complicated to clean, it does take more time to scrub out the hydration bladder. The zipper access is straightforward, but you do need to reach into the bottom of the bladder compartment to find the quick-release button to the drinking hose to remove the bladder entirely. After removing the bladder, we were able to gain good (but not effortless) access to the interior. Other hydration bladders with full opening capability are easier to scrub, wipe, and dry. The Crux bladder offers good but not great access when compared with the wider mouth designs.
When compared to the prices of the other large capacity packs in our hydration pack test, the M.U.L.E. is on the lower side, though not by much. If you're pinching your pennies but need an all-day all-mountain pack with bike-specific storage features, take a look at this pack. If you're simply looking for a more generic daypack, there are other options that provide a better value.
If you're the kind of person who sometimes rides, hikes, and runs for the long haul and don't need all of the latest and greatest gizmos and features, the CamelBak M.U.L.E. could be the right choice for your adventures.
— Jason Cronk
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