If you’ve been mountain biking for as long as I have, you’ve almost certainly owned Camelbak MULE at some point. This old standby was one of the original mountain bike hydration packs and much beloved by many.
Now the Camelbak MULE has been completely redesigned and updated for modern mountain bikers. There are a couple of versions, but the top of the line pack is the MULE Pro 14 100 oz (reviewed here).
So how does the new version compare to the old?
There are several features–like the full length stuff pocket–that are definite upgrades in the new design. But there are a few things–like the not-so-easy to access tool pouch–that have us pining for the good old days.
Still, if you’re in need of a pack for all day epics and big backcountry rides, this is one of the bigger, better packs out there.
Review In A Nutshell
- TONS of interior storage
- Full length stuff pocket fits a jacket easily
- Straps for helmets and pads on the exterior
- Amazing back ventilation
- Compatible with the CamelBak Impact Protector™
- E-bike battery sleeve
- Bite valve hit my arm
- Pocket for the hydration bladder is a little weird
- Tool pouch is hard to access
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TONS Of Storage
Okay, let’s get right to the real attraction of this pack: it can carry everything you might need for a LOOOONG day in the saddle. In addition to the 3L hydration bladder, there’s space for a jacket, food, tools, cell phone, emergency blanket, and on and on and on.
Front Stuff Pocket
My favorite part of the pack was the full length stuff pocket on the front of the pack. My primary rationale for carrying a backpack-style hydration pack (as opposed to a hip pack or bottles) has always been to carry extra layers.
And yet, alot of packs still make this ackward. On my much-loved Osprey pack for instance, I can stuff my rainjacket in most of the way, but a bit still sticks out. The same thing goes for the older version of the MULE.
On the new Camelbak MULE the front stuff pocket is DEEP and you can get your jacket in fully. No more worrying that it might fall out.
The main zippered pocket has additional pockets to help separate and organize all your gear. There is a zippered pocket with two seperated areas–one for your tool pouch, and one for whatever else.
There’s also another large pocket, intended for an e-bike battery (more on that later), but for all of the rest of us not carrying a battery, it’s roomy enough for spare clothes, food, etc.
On the front of the pack, there is another zippered pocket with a soft lining, ideal for sunglasses.
Noticeably, there is NOT a clip for car keys–one interesting omission…..
Like the original Camelbak MULE, this pack comes with a handy tool pouch large to contain your smaller tools: a multi-tool, tire levers, tubeless repair kit, chain breaker, spare link, patches, spare bolts, etc, etc, etc. You can even take this out of the pack if you want to throw it in another pack for shorter rides, which we appreciate.
Compared to the original MULE, however, access to the tool pouch isn’t quite as handy. The pouch goes inside the main zippered compartment, so if you have it stuffed full, you may have to take things out (or have them fall out) in order to access the tools.
Side Zippered Pocket
There’s a good-size zippered pocket on the side of the pack. It was large enough to fit my oversized cell phone. This pocket could also work well for a wallet.
I liked this separate access so I didn’t have to open the main zippered compartment everytime I wanted my phone.
There are small non-zippered pockets on both hip straps. These are just the right size for stashing a gel (or a gel wrapper). I did wish that they were zippered (like many packs are) so that you can be certain that nothing will fall out.
And There’s Exterior Storage Too!
As if you there wasn’t enough space inside the pack, there are also straps on the outside for carrying both your helmet and pads. You could also use these straps to lash on pretty much anything else you’d like as well–i.e. a backpacking mug, Chacos, another jacket, you name it…….
Next-Level Back Ventilation
I’ve tried a lot of packs, but I’ve got to say, the Camelbak MULE has the best ventilation system I’ve seen. The pack is suspended WAY far away from your back to help prevent the dreaded sweaty back.
Does it entirely keep your back from getting sweaty? No. But it does a much better job than most and certainly helps keep you cooler.
Hydration System Is Just So-So
If you’re buying the Camelbak MULE just for its hydration system, you might want to look elsewhere. We’ve seen better.
That said, the reason you’re probably considering the Camlebak MULE is for the all-day storage, in which case the small complaints I have about they hydration system are probably east to overlook.
For starters, the pocket that the bladder goes into is awkward. It’s a side-zip pocket, so instead of “dropping” the bladder in from the top like you would with most hydration packs, you have to kind of wedge it in. Not bad, but awkward–at least at first.
The reservoir itself has they typical screw-top Camelbak is known for. This may be a personal preference, but I far prefer the ziplock style bladders to the screw top. I’ve just had way to many times I thought the cap was screwed on correctly, but it wasn’t–and I’ve ended up with it leaking everywhere. The fill hole is also more ackward to fill up, in my opinion, than the top-fill reservoirs.
My final complaint is that once you’re on the bike, the magnetic holder (which isn’t that strong by the way) is positioned so that the bite valve hits your arm. Several times, I adjusted the magnetic clip so there’d be less hose sticking out, and each time it eventually moved back so the hose would again be hitting my arm.
The bite valve has good flow and has an on-off switch.
Chest Strap and Hip Straps Are Adjustable
The chest strap can move up or down to accommodate your bust, and unlike your traditional buckle, the straps attach to one another via a magnet. The hip straps were also adjustable, and while I’m not usually a fan of hip straps, they’re pretty much needed on a pack designed to carry this much gear.
Comes In Both A Men’s And Women’s Version
The only noticeable difference between the two packs are the straps. The “women’s” version has s-shaped shoulder straps to better accommodate narrower shoulders and chests, and shorter hip straps for a smaller waist.
Obviously, if you’re petite, these differences will be appreciated. But if you’re a woman with broader shoulders, a longer torso, or a wider waist, there’s no reason you shouldn’t buy the “men’s” version of the pack.
There are two features of the Camelbak MULE that I can’t really comment on, but that are worth mentioning. The first is that you can use the CamelBak Impact Protector™ (sold separately) with the pack.
This add-on helps protect your back in the event of a crash. I’ve never used it, so can’t speak to that.
The other feature is an e-bike battery sleeve. If you’re riding an e-mtb far into the backcountry, you’ll need a second battery and it’s possible to carry with this pack. Haven’t tried it, but seems cool.
Who Shouldn’t Buy The MULE
Don’t buy the Camelbak MULE if you’re doing short rides close to home. All by itself, this pack weighs over a pound and once it’s loaded with water and jackets and tools, etc, it’s HEAVY.
This extra weight can put a lot of strain on your back and shoulders and just isn’t necessary if you’re doing shorter rides. Personally, for anything under 3 hours, I use a hip pack instead.
But if you ARE doing big rides, then getting a big pack like the MULE is a no brainer.
Bottom-Line: A Great Pack For All Day Rides
If you’re headed out into the backcountry and need to carry a bunch of water AND a bunch of stuff, the Camelbak MULE Pro 14 is a great choice. The back is well ventilated, there’s tons of storage, and there’s that fantastic stuff pocket.