Camelbak Mule

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Camelbak Mule

Camelbak Mule Features: offering the ultimate combination of organsised and overflow storage with enough hydration for over 3 hours out on the trail, ...

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Review of "Camelbak Mule"

published 14/04/2006 | LegendaryMrDude
Member since : 09/09/2004
Reviews : 79
Members who trust : 44
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Excellent
Pro Weight, Construction, Water Capacity
Cons Storage Space, Cost
very helpful
Value for money
Durability
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" M.U.L.E. Love it"

Old (on the left) and New (on the right)

Old (on the left) and New (on the right)

Mules aren't normally renowned for their water-carrying abilities. That's something that Camels are far more famous for, which is probably where Camelbak got their name from. You see Camelbak specialise in the creation of "Hydration Systems".

Simply stated, a hydration system is a rucksack with a water bladder and drinking hose built in. But Camelbak have managed to make it so much more and the M.U.L.E. is just one of an ever-expanding range of "systems" (currently numbering close to 50!), each of which tends to be tailored to the specific needs of a fitness niche. In the case of the M.U.L.E. which stands for Multi-Use Long Expedition, their target market is primarily composed of mountain-bikers and trail runners.

But before I dive into the detail, let's get the basics covered. A Hydration system is essentially composed of two parts - a rucksack and a water bladder. The idea is that the rucksack gives you somewhere to store your gear and the water bladder (complete with drinking tube) means you have water readily available at any point during your exercise.

The M.U.L.E bladder holds up to 3litres of water and the rucksack has room for just under 9litres of cargo. So in the scheme of things, it's one of the smaller rucksacks on offer. This small size is both a good and a bad thing - it means you're not carrying any more weight than you absolutely need to but it also means you're limited on what you can take with you. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The M.U.L.E is one of Camelbak's most popular lines. Over the years it's been re-designed several times, each one aiming to improve on the features and fit of the overall package. I own two of these rucksacks, one is a model from 4 years ago which cost about £50 and the other a 2005 version that I received as a present earlier this year (although a quick scan of the Web shows that they now retail for around £60). For the sake of completeness I will cover both here, and describe some of the changes, advantages and disadvantages between the two.

As I've mentioned, it is aimed at mountain bikers and trail runners - providing moderate load storage with excellent water capacity. It's constructed fairly typically for a Camelbak. Everything is made from high-density nylon with good tear resistance , but not very waterproof. Stitching is solid, zips robust and everything is put together to a high standard. Physically, there is a dedicated compartment for the water bladder which sits closest to your back to ensure good weight distribution. The bladder compartment is lined with closed cell foam for insulation, more to keep the water cool than anything. On the older models the bladder compartment is accesses through a velcro'd opening at the top of the sack which could mean that getting the bladder in/out was a bit of a chore. In the latest models things have improved significantly, with a zipped opening that exposes half of the back panel makes fitting/removing the bladder far more straight forward.

The main storage compartment is a moderate size and probably accounts for 3/4s of the available storage space on both the old and new designs. It's got a double-zipped opening that provides good access, with the zips extending half-way down either side of the compartment. It's easily big enough to fit a mini cycle pump, some food and the usual emergency repair kit type stuff with a little room to spare. That said, you will be struggling to fit much more than this in here - 6 litres isn't all that much space. What's more, the newer version was designed in the age of the iPod, so it comes with a padded pocket at the top of the main compartment specifically designed for carrying an MP3 player. With a felt lining and a weatherproof zip, it should protect your iPod reasonably well BUT I am of the opinion that a cyclist unable to hear is a cyclist unable to get out of the way of trouble. So an iPod pocket that encourages cyclists to be oblivious to the sounds of the everyday world is actually a bad thing - in my view at least.

Next up is a buckled mesh pocket that sits between the main compartment and the smaller, outer compartment. Because it's mesh and because it's only got a strap and buckle for closure it's not all that flexible for storage - you can cram stuff in here but you can't guarantee that it will stay there, despite the compression straps to hold it in place. So I usually use it for fruit, particularly bananas as the mesh is easy to clean should they inadvertently get mashed en-route.

On the older model there is a second, slightly more capacious mesh pocket that sits between this and the outer compartments - it's not got a closure as such but it's reasonably deep and will do a good job of holding some bulkier items of clothing.

It's also at this second mesh pocket that the biggest differentiator between old and new is to be found. On my trusty 4 year old M.U.L.E. I have a shock-cord bungee type arrangement that loops between the outer mesh pocket and around the outer compartment. While it might not make it look particularly pretty, what it does mean is that when the weather is changeable, I can carry a couple of items of extra clothing secured on the outside of my 'sack by the bungee. This most useful of features is sadly lacking on the modern design, effectively reducing it's load-carrying capacity quite significantly.

Finally there's the outer compartments. It's here that I keep my multi-tool, mobile phone, puncture kit, change, keys etc - basically all the fiddly stuff that you might want easy access to. The obligatory pockets, dividers and key-ring fasteners all help keep your stuff organized. Again, the closure is a double zip and access is easy. It's not the biggest of compartments though so much more than the stuff I mentioned above and you will be struggling to fit it in. On the older design, the divider in the outer compartment was made of high-visibility luminous yellow material, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time but they obviously came to their senses and realised that nobody would be riding with their rucksack's front pocket turned inside out, so it's disappeared on the later design.

On the face of it then, the older model actually sounds better than the newer and, in terms of storage and load handling, I think that's a fair statement. Where the newer model scores well though is in the fit. The contoured air-flow padding on the back panel has remained from the original to the new (and it still doesn't work!) but the reasonably comfy contoured shoulder-straps have been replaced by even comfier "floating" shoulder straps that adapt far more readily to the postures usually found when cycling. The waist and sternum straps remain, although on the newer model the height adjustment for the sternum strap is far more positive and the overall effect is that the new design feels much more stable when it's strapped on than the old one did. There have been a few safety driven improvements as well. The Reflective bar to take a cycle light remains but the new version also prints the Camelbak logo in reflective material - all useful stuff especially if you ride at night.

Finally then, we get to the "other" component of a hydration system - the bladder. Camelbak have long prided themselves on their bladders - big, blue and with a huge opening they used to be made of an extremely durable silicon rubber type material. My old bladder was one of the first with their "Omega" opening, which is big enough that even my hand will fit inside the bladder which is great for cleaning. It is big enough to hold just over 3 litres of water - easily enough for a good 4 - 5 hour ride and the flexible plastic tube is long enough that it reaches out of the opening and snakes through the retaining loops on the shoulder-strap, leaving the mouthpiece within easy reach while riding. It was also the first bladder to come with their "ergo-lock" angled mouthpiece which put the "big-bite valve" at right angles to the tube, making it much more comfortable to drink from. The locking feature means that you can shut it off, thus preventing unwanted leakage when in transit. The Big-Bite Valve is still one of the best in the industry, made of soft silicone rubber, you just bite it with your teeth and suck the water out. It delivers water at just about the right rate, much slower and you'd be struggling for breath while you tried to drink and much faster and you'd probably take too much.

Not much has changed on the most recent model, there's still the 3l bladder with the omega opening and the ergo-lock valve fitting. What has changes it the materials - the bladder is now made from "hydrotanium" which seems to be a much more robust plastic than the previous model and the tube is now a multi-layered "pureflow" construction. In terms of use, the bladder feels like it will be a lot more resistant to punctures, while the tube tastes noticeable less "plasticy". The new bladder materials also seem to have reduced the scourge of Camelbaks, specifically the ugly grey goo that can build up in bladders and tubes after prolonged use. My old bladder regularly furs up and requires concerted effort to remove the unwanted muck. The new one hasn't yet encountered any growth, despite frequent use and the same routine for sterilisation (I use 2 steradent tablets dissolved in 3 litres of warm water in the bladder itself). So they have made improvements in the bladder.

In summary then the M.U.L.E. is a great hydration pack for a spring / summers day of riding. It's got enough space for tools, food and light weather gear as well as an excellent water capacity. The ergonomics are well sorted, access to stored gear remains easy and it sits comfortably and is very stable when riding. It's not quite so well suited to long days riding in the winter as there's simply not enough space to carry waterproofs or changes of clothes - and the loss of the bungee cord on the newer models is a disappointment.

If you are aware of it's limitations and buy it for what it's good at then it's a perfect choice. So while it has failings, they are much along the lines in which a hammer is no use for sawing wood…

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Comments on this review

  • n13roy published 03/05/2006
    Nice, easy to read, very informative and detailed review there..........Roy.....
  • DarkDave published 01/05/2006
    thinking of getting something similar to this for when I'm (motor)cycling long distances..trouble then is, what about when you need a wee!? Cheers, DD
  • bodsquidge published 24/04/2006
    very useful.
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Product Information : Camelbak Mule

Manufacturer's product description

Camelbak Mule Features: offering the ultimate combination of organsised and overflow storage with enough hydration for over 3 hours out on the trail, The hardcore mule features camelbak\'s latest dynamic suspension harness to maximise stability and comfort while riding. Featuring an easy access padded top pocket for a media player or headtorch battery pack, tear resisitant hypalon compression anchors and a splash guard to underline its go-anywhere style. Hydration capacity: 3.0l, Cargo capacity: 9.0l Colours available: Blue, Orange/Grey Black/Grey Coyote/Brown

Product Details

Long Name: Mule, Mule NV 3 Litre Hydration Pack, Mule 3 Litre Hydration Pack 2008, Mule 3 Litre Hydration Pack

Type: Hydration, Hiking Backpack

Subcategory: Hydration Packs

Manufacturer: Camelbak

EAN: 0886798625560

Genre: Large Hydration pack

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Listed on Ciao since: 07/05/2007