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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 | $84.95 at Backcountry
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Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, highly breathable, adequate storage, affordable
Cons:  Lack of features, straps gradually loosen
Manufacturer:   CamelBak
By Brian Martin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 13, 2020
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 12
  • Comfort - 30% 6
  • Features - 25% 4
  • Hydration System - 15% 5
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 4
  • Pockets - 15% 7

Our Verdict

The Camelbak Circuit performed quite well through all our rigorous testing. There have been a few tweaks to the Circuit over the years, but it is largely the same comfortable, simple running pack we have loved for years. 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 options in this review. While it works well for half-days out on the trails, it's not sufficient for all-day use for most runners.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Circuit is our Best Buy Winner for several years running (literally!) While this pack is mostly unchanged from prior versions, it did gain a few necessary tweaks and a small drop in retail price. It's more affordable than most of the products in our review and, 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 does well in managing all of these potential pitfalls.


The simple but effective fit adjustments on the sides and chest of the Circuit 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 many of the higher-end models aren'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" on this vest is soft, nonabrasive, and highly breathable. This is one of the highlights over the last iteration, and we're happy to see it continue. For the price, this is one of the most comfortable vests we tested, and the 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 isn't a huge issue, if you're heading out for a 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 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, however, is how slim it is on features. The Circuit just offers 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.


Last year 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 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 you 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 mitigates 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 don't especially like. The hose clip 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.

Volume to Weight Ratio


This pack doesn't have a massive amount of storage capacity and is just about average for weight, leading it to score relatively low for volume to weight ratio. The eye toward efficiency and slimming this pack down to the essentials translates into an 11.9-ounce 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, they aren't. The frustration of running with a heavy, ill-suited pack is exactly why these running packs exist in the first place.


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. But, depending on what your objectives are, this pack 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 packed this full does detract a bit from the comfort, but it was important for us to have an idea of what the limit of this vest was.

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. The attention put into making sure everything on the Circuit has a purpose and is functional is part of why it claims 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.

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 would have allowed it to fit and 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 would have allowed it to fit and keep everything a bit more organized.

The Circuit has fewer pockets than other options in this review, 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. The Circuit is definitley better suited to shorter outings, though, as it is on the simple side, saving you from having superfluous pockets sewn all over.

Value


Taking home the Best Buy Award, the Circuit is a great value. We find this pack to be comfortable, well thought out, and slimmed down to the essentials we look for in running equipment. This is one of the most affordable packs in our testing group, and it performs well. It lacks some of the features you might find in the more pricey running options, but the critical components are there.

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.

Conclusion


We feel like the CamelBak Circuit is an excellent running pack and a bargain. 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 reservoir and took along less bulky soft flasks instead. 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 sufficient support when you need all-day nutrition, hydration, and equipment, but we find it 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.

Brian Martin