CamelBak Circuit Review
Cons: Lack of features, straps gradually loosen
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Circuit is once again our award winner in the Best Buy category. While this pack is mostly unchanged in its most recent "update" in 2019, it did gain a few necessary tweaks and a small drop in retail price from last year. It's the most affordable product we tested, but more importantly, it is a comfortable and functional running hydration pack.
Several factors help or hinder the overall comfort of a running vest. Does it breathe well? How much does it bounce as you run? Are there adequate fit adjustments? The Circuit did well in managing all of these potential pitfalls.
The simple but effective fit adjustments on the sides and chest of the pack offer a massive range of adjustment within arms' reach. You can run through the entire range of fit, even moving the sternum straps up and down the clip-in rail without taking the vest off. This is something even our Editors' Choice Salomon ADV Skin 12 isn't capable of.
The "3D Micro Mesh" proved to be soft, nonabrasive, and highly breathable. This was one of the highlights from the last iteration of this vest, and we're happy to see it back again. For the price, this was one of the most comfortable vests we tested, and this breathable mesh fabric is a crucial component. Additionally, side adjustable v-straps keep the pack snug around your rib cage and keeps the vest from bouncing up during each stride.
The Circuit does tend to ride back a bit if you don't have any weight in the front pockets to counteract the pull. When we added soft flasks to the front pockets or had them loaded with snacks, the pack felt much more balanced. While this wasn't a huge issue, if you're heading out for longer adventure, it can become a bit annoying every time you fill the 1.5 liter water reservoir and weigh the back down. Other vests like the Salomon ADV Skin have solved this counterweight problem with a much more precise fit and material that seems to grip a bit better than the Circuit's mesh paneling.
For everything you get with the Circuit it is a pretty good bargain. One glaring downside of this bargain is how slim it is on features. The Circuit is really slimmed down to the bare essentials. One zippered pocket, two large cinch pockets on the front for food or soft flasks, and a main compartment on the back which contains the 1.5-liter reservoir.
2019 saw the addition of a hose clip to keep everything managed while you're moving, which was a great addition. It isn't the easiest-to-use clip, but it gets the job done. The vest does feature bright reflective lettering and markings as well as a simple to use shutoff on the hydration pack bite valve.
Camelbak did a nice job matching the included hydration reservoir size with the overall gear hauling abilities of this hydration pack. A two-liter reservoir would overwhelm this small pack and would make it ride down in the back. The 1.5-liter reservoir seems just about right, and the two large pockets on the front give you the option to throw in about one more liter of capacity with soft flasks. If you do max out the water capacity (about 2.5 liters), you won't have much room for snacks at all, and we never had a situation where we drank 2.5 liters of water while running and didn't also need to refill our glycogen stores.
An option that would increase the versatility of this vest out of the box would be including two soft flasks along with the hydration reservoir giving you the option of foregoing the reservoir and using the large rear compartment for equipment. We could see this being useful when water resupply options are plentiful, and we need a rain jacket and headlamp in the pack. That being said, the included reservoir is easy to fill and the on-off valve is labeled in a way that mitigated any confusion.
While the hydration system is effective, there are a few things we didn't especially like. The new hose clip addition is nice on paper, though in reality, our testers found it difficult to get the hose in and out of. The magnetic clip designs on other models are really the easiest to use of the varying types we have tested. Additionally, if we had the option to include front soft flasks instead of the rear reservoir, we might do it as the reservoir hogs up all of the space in the back of the pack.
Depending on what your objectives are, the Circuit might be the perfect size. We gathered up about a thousand calories and our critical base equipment and crammed it all into the Circuit with the reservoir completely full. It was a tight fit, but critically, everything did make it into the vest. Having it this packed full did detract a bit from the comfort, but it was important to have an idea of what the limit of this vest was.
Our award winner for Best Buy doesn't have a massive amount of storage capacity though it does get the job done. The Circuit holds everything you need for an afternoon trail run without any of the hard-hitting extras you get with larger packs. If you need some extra storage capacity for a big day out, check out the other award winners, because they can pack it all in.
Everything about this pack is modest and reasonable. It can hold the necessary food, equipment, and water for an after-work trail run but lacks the cavernous storage needed for a big all day mountain adventure.
As we stated previously regarding the overall storage capacity of the Circuit there aren't a lot of extras. This holds true with the pocket layout. There are two large cinch pockets on the front of the pack, one zippered pocket, and a mesh stuff pouch. The rear compartment is almost completely occupied by the reservoir, though you could certainly cram a few bars or thin liner gloves in there with it.
We found the pockets to be adequate in holding enough food and supplies for about a half day out trail running. Our biggest gripe with the pockets was not being able to fit our average sized iPhone 6 (with Lifeproof Case) into the only zippered pocket. We ended up having the phone/media player/heart rate tracking in one of the large cinch pockets on the front.
If you look strictly at the number of pockets available between the Osprey Duro and Circuit, the Duro definitely has more sewn on, they just aren't as functional. Two of the flank pockets on the Duro simply aren't snug enough to keep things from working their way out and the zippered front pocket can't hold anything if you're using the stuff pouch it shares space with. The Circuit has fewer pockets but they are all independent in the space they occupy and are fairly generous in size, making them more efficient in their use of space. Both of these vests are suited for shorter outings, but the Circuit is just a bit simpler and saves you from having superfluous pockets sewn all over.
The eye toward efficiency and slimming this pack down to the essentials translated into a properly lightweight running vest. The Circuit isn't the lightest hydration pack we tested but it's pretty close. While a few ounces might sound like a total non-issue but it isn't. The frustration of running with a heavy, ill-suited pack is exactly why these running packs exist in the first place.
The attention put into making sure everything on this vest has a purpose and is functional is part of why it claimed our Best Buy Award. The fact that this vest could perform so well in so many categories while retaining such a low weight (and price tag) set it apart.
Would we take this running vest out on a big, all-day trail run/scramble up into the mountains? Probably not, unless there was abundant water and we ditched the water reservoir and took along less bulky soft flasks. This hydration pack is suited best to add a boost to your after-work trail run or supported weekend getaways. It lacks the overall capacity to be a sufficient support when you need all-day nutrition, hydration, and equipment. We found the Circuit to be an excellent, lightweight solution to slake our thirst and hunger when out getting in some mileage.
Taking home the Best Buy Award in Hydration Packs for Running, the Circuit is a great value. For the second year in a row, we found this pack to be comfortable, well thought out, and slimmed down to the essentials we look for in running equipment. This is the most affordable pack in our testing group, and it performs well. It lacks some of the features you might find in the more pricey running packs, but the critical components are there.
We feel like the CamelBak Circuit is an excellent running pack and is a bargain. It lacks some of the extras and isn't ultra comfortable, but it is a great companion for getting in some mileage and making sure you stay fed and hydrated.
— Brian Martin