CamelBak Circuit Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Lightweight, comfortable, highly breathable, adequate storage, affordable
Cons: Lack of features, straps gradually loosen
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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.
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 "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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Brian Martin