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CamelBak Circuit Review

A comfortable and effective entry-level running pack at a reasonable price but that lacks in some key areas
CamelBak Circuit
Photo: Backcountry
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Price:  $85 List | $64.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, breathable, affordable
Cons:  Lack of features, lack of storage
Manufacturer:   CamelBak
By Jeff Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2021
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51
OVERALL
SCORE


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

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. This pack really is a hydration pack, meant to provide the runner with water on the move and not much else. 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.

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CamelBak Circuit
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Price $64.95 at Amazon
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$159.95 at Backcountry
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$89.95 at REICheck Price at REI
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$23.98 at Amazon
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable, breathable, affordableComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatileAmple storage, simple and successful design, approachable priceHighly visible, simple, affordableAffordable, carries water and gear well, simple design
Cons Lack of features, lack of storageExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyLower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distancesUncomfortable, poor suspensionLower chest strap isn't placed well, no front pockets, hard to secure properly
Bottom Line A comfortable and effective entry-level running pack at a reasonable price but that lacks in some key areasA top-notch running pack, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fitAn entry-level hydration pack for trail running with a great price and ample storageFor runners who value visibility, this hydration vest is a great valueA versatile pack for lower intensity activities at a solid price point but lacking front access pockets
Rating Categories CamelBak Circuit Salomon ADV Skin 12... REI Swiftland Hydro Ultimate Direction... Vibrelli 2L Backpack
Comfort (30%)
6.0
9.0
6.0
5.0
4.0
Features (25%)
4.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
4.0
Hydration System (15%)
5.0
8.0
6.0
5.0
5.0
Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)
4.0
8.0
4.0
6.0
3.0
Pockets (15%)
6.0
9.0
7.0
5.0
4.0
Specs CamelBak Circuit Salomon ADV Skin 12... REI Swiftland Hydro Ultimate Direction... Vibrelli 2L Backpack
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 11.8 oz 13.4 oz 13.7 oz 8.5 oz 14.5 oz
Carrying Capacity 3.5L 12L 5L 5.4L 2L
Included Liquid Capacity 1.5L 1L 1.5L 2.6L 2L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 0.29 0.90 0.37 0.64 0.14
External Storage? Not included Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, mesh storage pockets, bungee
Type of Water Storage 1.5L reservoir Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included) 1.5L reservoir Two 300ml hard bottles 2L reservoir
Pole Holders? No Yes No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

We have recognized the Circuit for its great value many times in the last decade, and while this pack is mostly unchanged from prior versions, it doesn't compete with new affordable entry-level packs that can carry more. Nonetheless, this pack functions well and fits comfortably, and we still recommend it to lots of runners looking to push a little farther.

Performance Comparison


Trimmed down to the essentials. While it doesn't carry a lot of...
Trimmed down to the essentials. While it doesn't carry a lot of gear, that just means you don't have to pack as much, so you're out the door quicker!
Photo: Jeff Colt

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. Another consideration is the quality of the materials the vest is made with. Higher-end vests tend to use more comfortable form-fitting materials. The Circuit incorporates "3D Micro Mesh," which we found to be soft, nonabrasive, and highly breathable. It closely competes with the best vests in feel, but lacks some in fit.

The sternum straps on the Circuit are among the easiest to adjust 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.
Photo: Brian Martin

Simple fit adjustments on the sides and chest of the Circuit offer an adequate 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. Unlike some other entry-level vests designed with a square fit that accommodates more body shapes (albeit usually poorly), the Circuit features more tapered lines and a form-fitting feel. This contributes to the pack's fairly effective suspension.

The side adjustment straps can tighten or extend the size of this...
The side adjustment straps can tighten or extend the size of this pack a great deal.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Side adjustable v-straps keep the pack snug around your rib cage and from bouncing up during each stride. We did notice that this pack can ride up on the back more. Other vests have solved this by having a longer vest design that better distributes weight and uses the taper of the torso and materials that seem to grip a bit better than the Circuit's mesh paneling.

Features


The Circuit just offers the bare essentials. One zippered pocket for stowing a credit card or keys, reflective banding, and some accessory tags on the back if you want to add an external bungee for some more storage, but that is not included. A hose clip was added to help manage the hydration hose, but this feature isn't well-executed.

The hose clip is wildly challenging to get the hose into and is...
The hose clip is wildly challenging to get the hose into and is still a tight pull to get things in the right position.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Hydration System


The 1.5L reservoir with a classic CamelBak screw top comes included with this pack. The pack is designed to allow for routing of the hydration hose over either shoulder, though the hose clip is stationary on the right shoulder. The hose features a locking high flow bite valve, which we find is the easiest hydration option to drink out of when managed properly.

CamelBak still has the true blue color and really nice bite-valves...
CamelBak still has the true blue color and really nice bite-valves with easy indicators showing open and closed.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Two chest pockets give you the option to carry soft flasks in addition to or in place of the bladder. 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 snacks.

The large handle on the 1.5 liter reservoir allows you to fill it...
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.
Photo: Brian Martin

While the hydration system is effective, there are a few things we don't especially like. The hose clip is nice on paper, but our testers found it difficult to get the hose in and out of it in reality. Additionally, the rear pocket that stores the hydration bladder implements an overlap closure. This makes getting the bladder out of the small pocket a pain.

Volume to Weight Ratio


This pack doesn't have a massive amount of storage capacity and is just about average for weight, leading to a poor volume-to-weight ratio. The eye toward efficiency and slimming this pack down to the essentials translates into an 11.9-ounce running vest. While this is light, we judge the packs on both weight and carrying capacity, of which the Circuit has next to none.

We couldn't fit our standard kit in this pack, but for runners...
We couldn't fit our standard kit in this pack, but for runners interested in carrying some water on a hut summer day, there is room for some shades, snacks, and sunscreen.
Photo: Jeff Colt

The Circuit holds what you would 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 award-winning packs in our review. But, depending on what your objectives are, this pack might be the perfect size. With the hydration reservoir full, we had to slim down our standard testing kit to just 1,000 calories of nutrition, a phone, headlamp, the smallest rain shell we could find, and not much else. We can't recommend this pack for runners looking to explore the high alpine or any environment that calls for extra layering and emergency essentials.

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.

While there aren't a ton of pockets or options, the front pockets...
While there aren't a ton of pockets or options, the front pockets are easy to use and balance well with the bladder.
Photo: Jeff Colt

The Circuit has fewer pockets than other options in this review, but it is worth noting that they are all independent in the space they occupy. We prefer this to some other vests that have one pocket that renders another pocket useless when full. The Circuit is definitely suited to shorter outings, and for the runner seeking simplicity, there are no superfluous pockets sewn all over.

Value


There is no question that the Circuit is still a great value hydration pack for running. Since comfort is king and we find this pack to be comfortable, we're confident you will too. If you are a runner and you want a slimmed down to the essentials pack, you'll love this. 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.

Conclusion


We feel like the CamelBak Circuit is a great hydration pack for runners. Not necessarily mountain runners or the rugged ultrarunners, but runners just looking to get out and have extra water on a hot day. The pack is also a bargain. 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.

On a hot summer day, the Circuit is really the companion we are...
On a hot summer day, the Circuit is really the companion we are looking for.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt