Lightweight and organized, surprisingly streamlined with tons of pockets
The Mule is one of the original mountain biking backpacks and the first version goes back decades.
For a long time it has remained a top choice for mountain bikers and now seems to find its way among day hikers. It’s packed with features like ventilated padding and offers a lot of adjustment options.
The spec sheet advertises a 3 liter bladder and a 12 liter storage space spread across different pockets and pouches.
I’ve had the CamelBak M.U.L.E. for years and have used it while riding in the sun, rain and mud. I can say it has a good design and ample functionality, but it needs to enhance a couple things to get it up to speed with modern backpacks.
Overview of the CamelBak M.U.L.E
Let’s start with the primary features of the CamelBak Mule.
- The bag fits decently for torsos between 17-21 inches and waist sizes of up to 46 inches.
- The 100 ounce Crux reservoir is stored separately from the main storage compartment and the drinking hose is found on the right shoulder.
- The water reservoir is detachable, offering more space when water isn’t the main concern.
- The pack is not made from waterproof fabric, but it can handle a little moisture. It would certainly be nice to have weather sealed zips and more flex in the back panel.
The bag itself has 5 storage compartments, offering plenty of space for snacks, tools, valuables, and extra clothing.
- The top most pocket is a kangaroo pouch with compression straps on the side.
- Next is a huge compartment with zippered pockets and mesh holders. This is the most used part of the bag and for me holds all the bike tools, repair kits and snack bars.
- The most underrated feature is a little padded compartment at the top that is not very deep but can hold valuables like glasses or keys.
- The smaller pocket has its sleeve in this fourth compartment, which offers plenty of space without any tiny compartments or organizers.
Lastly, there’s the compartment that houses the 100 ounce bladder, which is more than enough for a day’s ride. The zipper on this pocket runs throughout the length of the hydration pack but doesn’t fully unzip so the bladder won’t fall out when trying to change it.
Diving deeper into the review, I found this bag performed well on two stages during my mountain biking trips.
The first is when packing and the second when I’m on the mountain bike, riding through any old terrain.
The bag has many pockets that serve different purposes and offers a lot of storage. It is extremely light and weighs just under 1.5 pounds when empty. I like having light bags so I can stash more tools and snacks without adding as much weight. But there are other factors to consider as well.
CamelBak packs are known for their hydration packs. They are sort of the pioneers of putting a water reservoir in a backpack. The M.U.L.E offers just enough space for a day’s ride despite having a 100 oz hydration bladder.
On top of this, the external pouch has side straps that double as a helmet holder. The straps have mounts on the outside where you can hook your helmet.
There’s enough gear capacity in this pack for a full day of hiking.
The first compartment after the exterior pocket opens up to reveal a zip pocket underneath which there are 2 individual mesh panels. There’s also a stretchy elastic band that can hold cans or round pumps in place.
I found the pockets helpful in organizing the space. It was perfect for storing repair kits and pointy tools which would otherwise be bouncing around in the bag. I didn’t have to search through the bag to find my tools or screws because everything in the main compartment was hitched in place.
The next compartment offers unrestricted space for stuffing extra layers and any other gear. It is big enough to hold a first aid kit, flashlight or any emergency GPS device.
The Crux reservoir is in the last compartment and is held in place by plastic hooks.
A neat touch to the bag is a blue colored zipper for this compartment so you always know where the bladder goes. The blue zipper for water is also easier to spot in dim light or at night.
The storage on the CamelBak mule is great, but there isn’t any quick access pocket.
I would love to see a front pocket that can hold things like a phone for quick access on the new hydration pack design.
The water reservoir is just under the shoulder straps in the innermost pocket. There’s light insulation in this compartment to prevent heat reaching the water reservoir.
The bladder holds 100 oz of water and can be removed from the bag.
One thing I noticed in extreme heat is that the water does tend to get warm after a few hours. One solution to this is to fill the bladder the night before and then pop it in the freezer overnight. Ensure you leave some air in the bladder so the frozen water doesn’t puncture the reservoir.
The hose intake sits at the bottom of the bladder with a quick release button to detach the hose from the bladder. The hydration hose comes around to the shoulder for drinking.
I found the water flow to be better than the previous reservoirs, but it depends on how big your sips are.
The star of the show is the bite valve on the hose. It has a convenient switch to stop any water flow and the magnetic bite valve naturally finds its place on the shoulder strap. It offers easy access and I cannot express how convenient a magnetic tube trap is.
Filling the Bladder
Filling up the reservoir is another challenge. The cap is fairly large, but filling it in the bag requires effort and there’s a risk of a water spill.
There are hooks around the cap that keep it from sinking and bulging at the bottom of the bag and you have to work your way around removing them to pull this bladder out.
It’s not that alarming, but doing it every time before you set out is annoying.
Cleaning the Bladder
Nothing’s perfect and there are a few annoying bits with this reservoir.
It is a pain to clean the bladder. There’s a partition in the reservoir so you can’t reach inside easily to wipe it.
There are hanger arms to dry the bladder, but they are of little help. Drying this thing is still not that great.
Having a hydration pack that fits you comfortably, doesn’t move around while riding and doesn’t weigh you down is crucial to your happiness with this product.
The fit on this hydration pack is great. After attaching the chest strap, there’s still room for adjustment. The bag doesn’t move around and there’s a carrying strap up top sewn into the fabric.
It has angled shoulder straps to allow more space and weight distribution away from the neck, but I found them to be narrow which is something to keep in mind if you have broad shoulders.
Using the CamelBak mule with my mountain bike on technical terrain, it sits very well on the back and the velcro tapes on the two straps are a small detail that keep any extra length rolled up. So, I’ve had no issues getting caught in branches or any hanging obstacles.
The CamelBak mule hydration pack tries to offer a comfortable ride, but this classic pack does not compare with the newer hydration packs. I was expecting better weight distribution towards the hips with the waist strap, but other than keeping the bag from wobbling around when pedaling really fast it serves no purpose.
The bag is designed to keep the back panel and any straps breathable. The air director back panel has suspended air mesh on the back for airflow which does work to keep you cool, but on hotter days there was still a lot of sweat draining into my shirt.
On longer rides you can really feel the need for more airflow. I also found stuffing in too much can bulge the bag so the airflow suffers further and there’s less storage in the main compartment.
There’s foam padding underneath the back mesh panel around the shoulders and waist area for cushioning which helps keep the bag’s shape.
Buying a hydration backpack, you will naturally want to stay hydrated.
The drinking hose is just perfect and a full bladder is more than enough for day hikes.
I think the CamelBak mule has one of the best water flows compared to other models. The drinking tube protrudes from the top of the pack and can be directed towards either shoulder strap where a magnetic clip holds the tube secure.
The hose and the magnetic tube trap together offer convenience and quick sips during bike rides.
There wasn’t any leakage and the on/off switch is a good addition to stop water from dripping out of the bite valve.
Value for Money
CamelBak mule hydration backpack isn’t the best pack out there, but it still holds its own among other packs. With its large storage, ample gear capacity, and lightweight footprint, it’s perfect for hiking.
At this price point it offers a durable product and you could use the same pack for years.
The pack has a great design and with great organizer pockets for mountain biking, but it doesn’t beat the heat on a long ride.
This might not be a big deal for shorter rides and hiking, but definitely a consideration for hot weather. With a price under $100, there aren’t many alternatives to this pack with the same features and exterior pockets.
CamelBak M.U.L.E Hydration Backpack Reviews
CamelBak mule has been around for a long time and buyers have held it in high regard with almost no complaints of leaks or broken products.
About 95% of buyers who use it from traveling to exploring recommend this pack to new buyers.
With over 1,700 verified reviews, it stands the test of time with a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
Here are a couple opinions of people about this pack
“Went for a 9 mile hike with it and it was great. There was a stop about 3/4 of the way to get more water. It lasted me enough time. I usually drink 181oz of water on a daily basis so for me, this was the perfect size.”
“Worth every penny, I have always bought cheap $40/50 hydration backpacks because I thought what’s the point it’s going to get wet and muddy anyway, how wrong I was. I finally splashed out on having this and it is better in every way! “
You can read more helpful reviews on Amazon.
If you’re not completely on board with the CamelBak M.U.L.E, there are a few alternatives that are around this price.
Osprey Manta 24 Men’s Hiking Hydration Backpack
The Osprey brand is a reliable one and the Manta packs have built a reputation for their over the top design and features. There’s a great warranty on this bag, so don’t worry about any tears.
It is a bit pricier than the CamelBak but provides better airflow and there’s a side pocket that is easily accessible during rides.
A pouch on the outside, like the CamelBak mule can hold your rain jacket. The looping hose might not be for everyone, but other than that it’s up to the mark.
Hydro Flask 14 L Down Shift Hydration Pack
The Hydro Flask is fairly new in backpacks but they have been making water reservoirs for a long time so you can expect a good delivery system and no complaints with the 2 liter reservoir.
It is about the same size as the CamelBak so you can carry your gear easily. However, it is slightly heavier with a weight of 2.2 lbs.
For a backpack riding this far into time with a few tweaks, CamelBak have really outdone themselves.
In a lineup full of competition, it is almost impossible to find a backpack with a 3 liter reservoir and more than 10 liter storage at 1.5 lbs, let alone the $100 price for such premium quality.
If you are planning to go hiking or biking, this pack is good for carrying your equipment on shorter trips and through terrain. While there may not be many new features, this pack does a perfect job of performing the classic functions.