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CamelBak Circuit Review

A comfortable and effective running pack at a reasonable price.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $85 List | $62.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, highly breathable, adequate storage, affordable
Cons:  Lack of features, straps gradually loosen
Manufacturer:   CamelBak
By Brian Martin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 1, 2019
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61
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 12
  • Comfort - 30% 6
  • Features - 15% 4
  • Hydration System - 15% 5
  • Storage Capacity - 15% 7
  • Pockets - 15% 7
  • Weight - 10% 8

Our Verdict

The Camelbak Circuit performed quite well throughout this year's (and last year's) testing. There have been a few tweaks to the Circuit since the last go-around, but it is largely the same comfortable, simple running pack we loved before. The "3D Micro Mesh" which comprises most of the pack's structure is breathable and comfortable. While the high ratings in most categories and reasonable price point might seem too good to be true, keep in mind this pack lacks many of the features and little extras you get with other packs in this review. While it works well for half-days out on the trails, it's not sufficient for most runners' for all day use.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
CamelBak Circuit
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $62.99 at Amazon$143.99 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$199.77 at Amazon
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$129.95 at Backcountry
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$134.95 at REI
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Star Rating
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable, highly breathable, adequate storage, affordableComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, very versatileComfortable, lots of storage, great pocketsTons of storage, comfortable, expandableBreathable, decent comfort, less expensive
Cons Lack of features, straps gradually loosenExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyExpensiveBulkyLacking in storage
Bottom Line A comfortable and effective running pack at a reasonable price.The best running pack on the market, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fit.Comfortable and packed with great features, the VaporHowe is the perfect companion for any adventure.The highest expandable capacity for gear and water among the running packs we tested.The Ultra Vesta is a solid choice for runners looking for a less expensive yet still reliable running pack.
Rating Categories CamelBak Circuit Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set Nathan VaporHowe 12L Ultimate Direction FKT Ultra Vesta 4.0
Comfort (30%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
7
Features (15%)
10
0
4
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
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7
Hydration System (15%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
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6
Storage Capacity (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
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10
10
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8
Pockets (15%)
10
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7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
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8
Weight (10%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
8
Specs CamelBak Circuit Salomon ADV Skin... Nathan VaporHowe 12L Ultimate Direction... Ultra Vesta 4.0
Weight (oz.) 11.9 oz 11.9 oz 12.6 oz 14.5 oz 11.3 oz
Carrying Capacity (liters) 3.5 L 12 L 12 L 18 L 10 L
Included Liquid Capacity (liters) 1.5 L 1 L 1.8 L 0.6 L 1 L
Type of water storage 1.5L bladder Two 0.5L soft flasks (included), plus bladder sleeve (bladder not included) Sleeve with 1.8L bladder One 0.6L bottle included Two 0.5L soft bottles (included), can accomodate up to a 1.5L bladder (not included)
External Storage? Yes, harness storage Yes, "Kangaroo" pockets Yes, multiple stash pockets Yes, bungees, many external zip pockets Yes, front storage for phone, keys, etc
Pole Holders? No Yes Yes Yes Yes

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.

Performance Comparison


Hydration packs for running are a key accessory for long runs in the mountains when food  water  a camera  map  and rain clothing are all required.
Hydration packs for running are a key accessory for long runs in the mountains when food, water, a camera, map, and rain clothing are all required.

Comfort


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 sternum straps on the Circuit are among the easiest to adjust of all the vests we tested and have a wide range of adjustment.
The sternum straps on the Circuit are among the easiest to adjust of all the vests we tested and have a wide range of adjustment.

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 side adjustment v-strap is positioned cleverly to keep the vest snug and is easy to tighten/loosen on the fly.
The side adjustment v-strap is positioned cleverly to keep the vest snug and is easy to tighten/loosen on the fly.

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.

The Circuit's 3d Micro Mesh is soft and breathable. This vest could be worn against bare skin for several hours before the nylon side straps started to become uncomfortable.
The Circuit's 3d Micro Mesh is soft and breathable. This vest could be worn against bare skin for several hours before the nylon side straps started to become uncomfortable.

Features


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.

The single hand tightening action on the two front pockets is a nice touch. When wide open these pockets are easy to load and equally easy to cinch closed.
The single hand tightening action on the two front pockets is a nice touch. When wide open these pockets are easy to load and equally easy to cinch closed.

Hydration System


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.

We highly appreciate the visible on/off indicator on the mouthpiece. Many bite valves don't give such obvious visual cues  making it easy to leave the water wide open.
We highly appreciate the visible on/off indicator on the mouthpiece. Many bite valves don't give such obvious visual cues, making it easy to leave the water wide open.

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.

The large handle on the 1.5 liter reservoir allows you to fill it quickly and easily. The downside is the large plastic lid and handle add a bit of extra weight.
The large handle on the 1.5 liter reservoir allows you to fill it quickly and easily. The downside is the large plastic lid and handle add a bit of extra weight.

Storage Capacity


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.

We gathered up the critical base kit we take out on the trail including things like basic first aid  warmth  salt tablets  headlamp  and nutrition to see if it would fit in all of the packs we tested. It looks like a lot for the Circuit... will it fit?
The verdict is YES  our base kit just barely fits. This was the tightest fit for our kit of all the vests we packed full for 2019.

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.

All things considered  the Circuit is a capable trail running companion without any unnecessary extras or bulk.
All things considered, the Circuit is a capable trail running companion without any unnecessary extras or bulk.

Pockets


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.

Our phone so nearly fits into this pocket. Just a tiny bit of stretch in the material or millimeters more width in the pocket would have allowed it to fit helping us keep everything a bit more organized.
Our phone so nearly fits into this pocket. Just a tiny bit of stretch in the material or millimeters more width in the pocket would have allowed it to fit helping us keep everything a bit more organized.

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.

Weight


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.

The Circuit weighs in at 11.85 ounces including the 1.5-liter hydration reservoir. It can't hold the kitchen sink but for the weight  it has a pretty good storage capacity.
The Circuit weighs in at 11.85 ounces including the 1.5-liter hydration reservoir. It can't hold the kitchen sink but for the weight, it has a pretty good storage capacity.

Best Applications


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.

If you don't need the extras  we think you'll be happy saving cash and staying minimal with the Circuit.
If you don't need the extras, we think you'll be happy saving cash and staying minimal with the Circuit.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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