CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 Review
Cons: Bladder is hard to access, bite valve magnet is fickle
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CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14
$129.96 at Amazon
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|Check Price at REI|
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Check Price at REI
|Check Price at REI|
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|Pros||Large storage capacity, breathable, good flow rate bite valve||Breathability, excellent storage, comfort and support||Good storage, easy to access bladder, hip belt pockets, comfortable bite valve, lightweight||Big volume, lightweight, great price||Lightweight, sleek, solid performance in a minimalist pack, nice price|
|Cons||Bladder is hard to access, bite valve magnet is fickle||Expensive, thin hip belt||No rain cover, only comes with 2-liter bladder||Fewer pockets, lacking breathability||Almost no storage, shoulder straps are snug for users with wide shoulders and lats|
|Bottom Line||This mid-volume pack has a super breathable back panel, ample storage, and a 3-liter bladder making it a great choice for all-day adventures||This comfortable, breathable, supportive, and full-featured hydration pack earns our highest praise||It's hard to find many faults with this well thought out pack that has a great blend of storage capacity and comfort||A simple bag with a functional design and an excellent volume to weight to price ratio||Not just a classic, but THE Classic in minimalist packs and our recommendation for minimalists and those on a tight budget|
|Rating Categories||CamelBak M.U.L.E. P...||Osprey Syncro 12||Evoc Ride 12L||Gregory Nano 18 H2O||CamelBak Classic|
|Ease Of Drinking (20%)|
|Ease Of Filling (20%)|
|Ease Of Cleaning (10%)|
|Specs||CamelBak M.U.L.E. P...||Osprey Syncro 12||Evoc Ride 12L||Gregory Nano 18 H2O||CamelBak Classic|
|Pack Size (liters)||11 L||12 L||12 L||18 L||0.5 L|
|Bladder Capacity (liters)||3 L||2.5 L||2 L||3 L||2.5 L|
|Weight (measured)||35.2 oz||34.0 oz||24.0 oz||25.6 oz||11.2 oz|
|Weight (claimed)||30.0 oz||27.5 oz||20.8 oz||18.4 oz||5.0 oz|
|Waist Belt||Lightly padded||3/4" webbing||1" webbing with light padding at back and 2 pockets||Removable 3/4" webbing||None|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Camelbak Mule has been a staple of the company's mountain bike hydration pack line-up for years and the Mule Pro 14L is one of the company's newest iterations of the classic pack. This is a pack that our testers found takes some getting used to and is even frustrating to use at first. The hydration bladder is a side load and is initially awkward to take in and out, and depending on your torso size, the bite valve may come off its magnet. But, there are many great qualities to this pack, such as a breathable back panel, standard 3-liter bladder, easy-to-use zipper pulls, and lots of storage space, making it a great choice for all-day activities where you need to carry a lot.
Ease of Drinking
The Mule Pro 14L uses Camelbak's 3-liter Crux™ bladder with a large diameter hose and comfortable bite valve with a very good flow rate, and that is easy to drink from. A flip-on/off switch is located next to the bite valve, which stops the flow of water into the bite valve. This is not a feature we used on the trail, but it is nice to have when you have your pack in the car or lying on the ground so that it does not leak.
The bite valve is held in place by a magnet on the sternum strap clip and can not be moved. Our female tester, who has a smaller torso, had the bite valve repeatedly knocked off the magnet by her left arm while hiking and mountain biking and could not find a location where this did not occur. She also had trouble with getting the bite valve to sit squarely on the magnet.
Our taller tester initially also experienced the bite valve being knocked loose by his left arm, but after making repeated adjustments, he was able to find the "sweet spot" where the magnet holds the bite valve in place, even on technical singletrack and while hiking. Other reviewers also state that the bite valve magnet does not stay in place, and while we do not disagree, we do feel that torso size is a contributing factor.
Ease of Filling
The Mule Pro uses Camelbak's 3-liter Crux™ bladder, which has a large screw cap opening and large ergonomic handle that is easy to hold while filling. The cap easily threads onto the opening but can take a bit of force to unscrew, especially if it has been closed for a few days. The opening is large enough to fill the bladder from various water sources, including spigots, faucets, lakes, and streams.
Removing the bladder from the pack is a bit cumbersome. To access the bladder, you unsnap the cover to reveal a blue (water) zipper pull on the side of the pack. The compartment unzips the entire length of the pack and does not open very wide. However, the more we used the pack, the more pliable the materials became, allowing us to open it a bit more, which made taking the bladder in and out a bit easier.
We found it easiest to put the bottom of the bladder in at an angle and then slide in the top. There is a small pocket inside the compartment to hold the base of the bladder; however, we never used it as it was difficult to get a full bladder into the pocket, and it is not necessary. At the top of the compartment is a loop with a clasp designed to go around a double hook hanger on the top of the bladder. This allows the bladder to hang and prevents it from sliding down and bunching as you drink from it. Getting this tiny clip undone and threaded around the double hook hanger takes a fair bit of dexterity and patience and is difficult to use. The Mule Pro scored lower in this metric because getting the bladder in and out of its compartment is rather cumbersome, especially compared to packs where the bladder drops in from the top.
The Mule Pro has a highly adjustable sternum strap, comfortable length, and supportive mesh back panel. The pack sits nicely on the back, even on our shorter tester's torso, and does not hang down too low. The base of the pack tilts upward and away from the body and does not sag, keeping the load off of our hips.
The hip belt is wider towards the pack itself and tapers to one-inch webbing. The wider part of the hip belt is where the pockets are found and are a comfortable size that wraps the waist.
The Air Support™ Back Panel is very breathable on the upper back and has great airflow, especially on cooler days. The pack breathes very well, and it was only on a hot desert hike that we had a sweaty low back. The bottom of the back panel has lumbar support, which is not as breathable as the upper back leading to the sweaty back.
A unique feature of the Mule Pro is that it is back protector compatible. This is an accessory that is sold separately but is a useful safety feature for mountain bikers.
The Mule Pro is built for day-long expeditions where you need to carry a lot of water, food, and layers. It has large zipper pulls that are easy to use even with gloves on. The main zipper compartment has a large, divided zipper mesh pocket to keep valuables secure and even has an e-bike battery pocket towards the bottom that can be used for other items as well. However, we found it difficult to access the lower interior pocket when the bladder and main compartment are both full. Inside the main compartment, you will also find a tool roll that can carry tire irons, quick links, and other small items.
The pack has a rectangular shape from top to bottom, which we find fits square and rectangular items better, such as first aid kits. This shape also allows us to use more of the pack's storage space compared to packs that taper to their base.
On the side of the pack is a fairly deep zip pocket located between the main compartment and the bladder compartment that is best suited for thin objects such as wallets and cell phones due to its narrow nature. The hip belt has a mesh pocket on each side, which we enjoy having because they provide quick access to items such as lip balm and snacks. However, the pockets only have a mesh flap closure. We pulled out our lip balm on a hike and had it get caught up in the mesh flap and fall out. Luckily, we felt it and could retrieve it, but we do not feel comfortable having items of value in these pockets.
The front of the pack has a voluminous, expandable, open-top sleeve that is great for stashing quick access items like a jacket. On the compression straps are clips to carry a helmet, and the base of the pack features two adjustable length straps for carrying additional items such as mountain bike pads, a bulky jacket, or even trekking poles horizontally. Overall, the Mule Pro has good interior storage with some well-designed exterior features, such as the adjustable straps at the base that make it well suited for long days of adventure.
On our digital scale, the Mule Pro 14L weighs 35.2 ounces (2.2 pounds) with the included bladder, making it one of the heavier packs in our test. In part, this is due to features such as the base straps, which add materials and weight.
Ease of Cleaning
The wide-mouth opening of the 3-liter Crux™ reservoir is large enough to place a small-sized hand in, or a long-handled brush can easily be put in, allowing you to clean the inside of the bladder. There is a quick connect at the base of the bladder, which allows access to one end of the hose, and the bite value can also be removed, allowing you to clean the tube with a tiny long-handled brush.
The pack itself sheds moisture and dirt fairly well and can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, and opening the zippers allows you to shake debris out of the pack's compartments.
The Mule Pro is the most expensive pack in our line-up, and in terms of value, other packs offer similar storage, comfort, and bladders at a lower price point. It is the only pack in our test that can have a back protector for mountain biking, but it does not include a rain cover or integrated whistle as found in other packs. Because of this, we feel other packs are a better value than the Mule Pro.
The Camelbak Mule Pro 14L performs very well in some metrics and not so well in others. But, that is not to say we don't recommend it, because as our testers learned, it takes time to learn the pack's nuances, such as where to place the bite valve magnet and how to best get the bladder in and out. It's not a pack for short jaunts into nature or those looking to go light and fast and is best suited for all-day adventures.
If you're looking for an all-day pack with great support and are willing to spend some time dialing in its fit and bite valve, the Mule Pro is a great choice because it has great breathability and excellent storage.
— Tara Reddinger-Adams
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