CamelBak MULE Review 2019

  • Day Hiker

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CamelBak MULE Overview

The CamelBak MULE is aptly named — it really, truly, is a work mule. While originally billed as a mountain biking day pack, the MULE is suited for other types of adventures, namely hiking, because it has about one million pockets (okay, eight), a light frame, and hugs your body when moving fast.

CamelBak MULE Star Rating
  • Comfort
  • Durability
  • Packability
  • Fit and Adjustability
  • Hydration
4.2

Summary

A backpack for bikers and hikers, and all types of closer-to-home adventurers, the CamelBak MULE is designed to hold lots of things and be super tough, all while being a lightweight hydration pack.

Due to its overall capabilities, we’ve awarded the CamelBak Mule our Classic Pick hydration pack for Mountain Bikers.

The MULE rocks for hiking, too, but we think if you want a dedicated hydration pack for hiking the CamelBak Rim Runner 22 and Helena models are more functional. They carry more and have hip belt pockets, which are perfect companions for a hike. That said, the MULE excels as a smaller backpack that performs really well for many activities, so if you’re the type that wants a single pack for your hikes, bike rides, treks downtown, and on-plane carry, this may be the one.

Before you head out on your next bike-hike-day trip, read the full CamelBak MULE review.

CamelBak MULE Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 1 lb 5 oz. (620 g) A moderately heavy pack for the size. Weight is due to robust construction, included bladder, and plenty of straps.
Capacity 9L + 3L Hydration Just enough space for a day’s ride or hike with a full bladder. If you leave the bladder out it’s a good-sized light day pack. Learn more about backpack capacity in our Guide.
Frame Panel Air Director Back Panel A solid back panel that lets air circulate and keep your back cool. Fairly stiff.
Hip Belt Fit 26-46 in. (66-117 cm) The hip belt fits a wide range of people. Learn more about backpack hip belts and how to measure in our Guide.
Torso Fit 17-21 in. (43-53 cm), Not Adjustable The torso is a bit long overall, but fits a wide range of people. It’s not adjustable or offered in other sizes, so make sure to try it on. To learn more about backpack torso measurement and adjustable torsos see our Guide.
Number of Exterior Pockets 5 A good amount of pockets for maximum organization without going overboard.
Hydration Bladder CRUX Reservoir w/ Quicklink The CRUX is the latest reservoir from CamelBak. It works well.
Main Pack Access Zippered Most day packs have a zippered main access, and the MULE is no different.
Trekking Pole Loops No No loops for trekking poles on the MULE. Slightly limiting, but not essential.
Sternum Strap Yes, with MagneticTubeTrap A solid sternum strap that magnetically keeps your drinking tube in place. Great for riding or hiking.
Materials Not Listed We really wish CamelBak would list their material specs! They feel very high quality.
Load Range 10-20 lbs. (4.5-9 kg) A solid load range for a little pack.
Warranty Got Your Bak Guarantee Limited lifetime warranty, so get in touch if anything breaks, like a zipper or buckle.
Retail Price $110.00 A solid price for a solid product. You’re paying for brand name, original hydration pack innovation, and a rugged pack that’ll last you years.

Gear Review of the CamelBak MULE

CamelBak and I go way back to a time before hiking was a well-planned activity, better known as my bicycling years. Truth be told, I am still primarily a bike rider, but I am always trying to smartly bridge hobbies when it comes to purchasing gear to keep my closet consciously consolidated.

My backpack of choice for over five years has been the CamelBak Magic, which is the MULE’s female-specific, closely-related, slightly smaller cousin. The Magic and I have developed a strong bond, having traveled thousands of miles via foot and pedal, in towns and backcountry all over the world, so I had high expectations for the MULE.

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After only a couple months with the MULE I can tell they are not only clearly related but, between you and me, I may be enjoying the MULE a little more than the Magic.

For comparison’s sake, the Magic has a shorter torso frame and noticeably less storage room — specifically, the Magic is a 70-ounce hydration pack, whereas the MULE is a 100-ounce hydration pack. The MULE also has updated techy features that come in handy for organizing all the necessary hike/bike things.

For this review, and just because I wanted to, I adopted the MULE and took it on bike rides, hikes, and runs. When I rode into town on my bicycle I would remove the hydration bladder, alleviating space for essentials: a U-Lock, spare shoes, and groceries.

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The CamelBak Mule in racing red!

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

Our first few hiking dates were a bit awkward, I will not lie. I was overwhelmed by the amount of pockets and straps the MULE has, so I stuck with the basics — the hydration pocket, the top pocket, and the chest straps. However, once I developed an organizational system and messed with the adjustments, I felt at ease with the MULE.

Camelbak-MULE-review-front-pouch-connector
Straps on pockets on straps.

The MULE is comfortable, lightweight, and has well-designed straps to avoid weird armpit/chest region chafing (even for a woman’s physique!), along with an airy back panel. After riding for two hours in the fierce Central California sun across farm roads and trails, I still felt comfortable wearing the pack, with a noticeably drier back than other packs I’ve used.

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Hiking around with the CamelBak MULE.

Digging Deeper

The MULE has features for days. Seriously, I still feel like I am figuring them out, and creating my own ways of using the bag. The MULE is a backpack that lets you use it how you need to because of its varying storage options, straps, and adjustability.

The MULE has so many pockets, which at first was overwhelming. I had to develop a personal system of where things go in order to spend less time zipping and unzipping, searching for exactly the right thing.

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Four zippered access points (left), and a few of those points opened up (right). Figure out where you want to store things, cause there are many different places.

The MULE weighs just over a pound, and is nearly 18-inches tall by 9-inches wide. It’s supported by the Air Director Back Panel, which, in fact, is airy. The foam curves underneath the mesh panel, making the pack feel even lighter. With nearly twenty pounds packed inside it, the MULE was still comfortable for me

As a hydration pack, the MULE has a few features that make it shine. For perspective, 100 ounces of water storage is roughly three liters, or three classic Nalgenes — basically a full day’s worth of water for a moderately active person. The back storage pouch for the bladder has built-in stints, like curved pieces of rigid plastic, that push the pack away from the bladder, making it very easy to pull out and put in.

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The included CRUX bladder has an easy-to-use valve to get you your water when you need it.

Finally, the MagneticTubeTrap is a sweet connector for keeping your hose stable during fast-paced activities. Also, the mouthpiece and water lever of the CRUX reservoir have been redesigned from older models, inspiring more confidence in the little plastic parts that prevent water-drippage.

Comfort – 4 Stars

The CamelBak MULE is lightweight with curved shoulder straps that reduce pressure in any one spot on the body. The ventilated back panel is better than others I have tried, but not the most amazing, mostly due to the curve of the back panel being fairly rigid. I prefer a back that’s slightly softer, and more adaptable to your movement.

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Hiking with the MULE was comfortable, but the back panel could have used a little less rigidness.

Durability – 5 Stars

The MULE is constructed with care and tough stitching. For the price, purpose and material, this backpack does what it came to do.

Camelbak-MULE-review-cat
The kitty did try to tear the MULE up — the pack withstood the attack.

For reference, my Magic shows little wear and tear after five years of use, and I anticipate the MULE will be no different.

Packability – 4 Stars

For a mountain biking backpack it certainly packs like a hiking backpack. You can store a range of goodies and essentials, and if you leave the full bladder out of the pack you can store mostly everything for a full day. If you include it, you’re more limited.

Camelbak-MULE-review-secondary-pouch
Filling up all the compartments of the MULE means you’ll have a very stocked backpack. Try to organize items for easy access.

Remember that it’s a fairly small pack overall — there are about nine liters of gear storage, and three liters for hydration storage. Added up it’s a quick and light backpack with many packing options.

I removed one star because I did feel like it was overwhelming to pack, and the sheer numbered of zippered compartments is a lot for such a little pack. Plus, it would be cool to have a hip belt pockets, a feature that’s being added to more and more hiking packs (and even biking packs!), specifically to store (and easily locate) my phone during hikes or rides.

Pro Tip: Clip on a carabiner for additional ways to keep things attached if they can’t be stored in one of the pockets! Shoes, water bottles, dog toys, etc.

Fit and Adjustability – 4 Stars

In relation to the unisex fit, the MULE ranks highly versatile amongst many body sizes. The torso is long, but the adjustment straps make it easy to move it around the back and shoulders. It fit me well, and would fit many other people well, too.

Hydration – 4 Stars

I am hydrated, thanks to the MULE and the CRUX Reservoir. The hydration bladder was easy to fill and securing the lid tight was easy with the handle feature. I have had some bad experiences with other models of hydration bladder lids and the CRUX Reservoir is solid.

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There are nice pots for the hydration hose, and a fancy magnetic clip for easy drinking. The hydration bladder game is on point in the MULE.

“But why only 4 stars, Mel?”, Great question. Answer: It gets dirty too easily, and isn’t the easiest bladder out there to clean.

In addition to interior dirtiness, there’s the mouthpiece. CamelBak sells a proprietary valve cover, but it shouldn’t really be a separate purchase. Many people, myself included, spend many adventures with a dusty, crunchy mouthpiece experience every time they lay their pack down, which is all the time.

After years of using backpacks with hydration packs, you think I would learn to move the mouthpiece before tossing the bag down during a dusty bike ride, but alas, I am my own worst enemy. So, reader beware, get a mouthpiece guard before you waste precious water to clean your dirty mouthpiece — or remember to move it every time, if you can.

Grievances

The CamelBak MULE had few grievances in my book.

In terms of packing, I felt that the long torso was nice for wearing, but it meant very long pockets, too, so items would seemingly get lost in Narnia. My lip balm and favorite socks went missing for weeks, and I swear they were in another dimension. Or I didn’t look hard enough through the MULE…either way.

For hikers and bikers who appreciate a quick-access pocket for smartphones (or whatever you choose), this pack is sub-par. While the main exterior shove pocket is awesome and expandable, it is still a touch too far for my arms to reach something without unlatching the straps. At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal, but sometimes you need to quickly grab your phone to take a picture of a badass hawk eating a snake. I did not get that picture. The previously mentioned hip belt pockets would aid this as well, provided they were large enough for today’s clunky phones!

Camelbak-MULE-review-exterior-pouch
While this picture looks great, and the phone does fit in the stuff pocket, it’s not easily accessible while wearing, meaning you have to store the phone in your pocket if you want immediate access.

One small consideration for CamelBak is to include the mouthpiece guard with the backpack. It’s a low cost item, and the standard consumer may not even know about it. Including it would preserve the life of the bladder.

Lastly, and this is strictly aesthetically speaking, but the interior lime green fabric on the Racing Red model is a bit intense and unnecessary for me.

Final Word

A working donkey in every sense of the word, the CamelBak MULE is ready to sherpa your next biking or hiking adventure.

Where to Buy CamelBak MULE

We tested the CamelBak MULE 100 oz hydration pack, sometimes known as the M.U.L.E, and sometimes listed as 12-liters. There is only size of this pack, and it’s billed as a unisex/men’s design, which typically means meant for men’s physique.

Clearly, a woman tested this pack, and it worked well. That said, If you want same pack but in a women’s specific design, look for the CamelBak LUXE 100 oz (sometimes L.U.X.E. 12-liters). It’s the exact same construction, but has contoured shoulder straps and a shorter overall pack length, generally fitting women’s physiques better.

CamelBak also offers these style of packs in a Military Spec version, which is heavier, more robust, and has a different external pocket system. You can also get the MULE LR 15, which is larger overall and meant more for mountain biking.

All the models are solid, but we prefer the classic MULE and LUXE, which helped to define the hydration pack market.

Compare CamelBak MULE and LUXE prices below.

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melanie macdowell bio pic

Melanie MacDowell

Melanie is a sunshine-chaser who enjoys the nomadic digital marketing life on a farm in Central California. With an enthusiasm for self-progression through pushing beyond comfort zones, she can often be found gaining elevation on bike or by foot. In addition to playing outside, she loves ice cream, gardening, and lazy Sundays. Visit her website to learn more about her work with outdoor and wellness brands.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

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