CamelBak Circuit Review
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|Pros||Lightweight, comfortable, breathable, affordable||Durable construction, comfortable fit, versatile features||Comfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatile||Ample storage, simple and successful design, approachable price||Highly visible, simple, affordable|
|Cons||Lack of features, lack of storage||Runs slightly large||Expensive, must buy hydration bladder separately||Lower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distances||Uncomfortable, poor suspension|
|Bottom Line||A comfortable and effective entry-level running pack at a reasonable price but that lacks in some key areas||Durable materials and ample storage combine with a comfortable and secure fit to make this pack ready for the mountains||A comfortable fit and exceptional pockets make this among our favorite packs on the market||An entry-level hydration pack for trail running with ample storage at a great price||For runners who value visibility, this hydration vest is a great value|
|Rating Categories||CamelBak Circuit||Ultimate Direction...||Salomon ADV Skin 12...||REI Co-op Swiftland 5||Ultimate Direction...|
|Hydration System (15%)|
|Volume to Weight Ratio (15%)|
|Specs||CamelBak Circuit||Ultimate Direction...||Salomon ADV Skin 12...||REI Co-op Swiftland 5||Ultimate Direction...|
|Weight (with included hydration vessels)||11.8 oz||11.7 oz||13.4 oz||13.9 oz||8.5 oz|
|Included Liquid Capacity||1.5L||1L||1L||1.5L||2.6L|
|OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!)||0.30||0.88||0.90||0.36||0.64|
|External Storage?||Not included||Yes, bungees||Yes, kangaroo pockets||Yes, bungees||Yes, back pouch pocket|
|Type of Water Storage||1.5L reservoir||Two 500mL soft flasks||Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included)||1.5L resevoir||Two 300mL hard bottles|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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