The Camelbak MULE (Medium to Ultralong Endeavours) is an absolute staple in the Camelbak range, and it really set the bar for hydration backpacks when introduced over two decades ago. It would be wrong to consider the Camelbak MULE as only a bag for the trail riding set – the current version of this lightweight, narrow gauge backpack suits all day training rides as well as wilderness style mountain bike races.
Inside the Camelbak MULE
I remember buying a MULE in around 2000, and even then it wasn’t much more than a lightly baffled bag with a couple of small zip up pockets and a mesh pocket up top, with a small bungey cord to help strap a vest on. The current model is a world apart.
There are 3 major zippered compartments. One takes the bladder, which is the latest Crux Reservoir. It can take 3L of fluid but it’s up to you how much you put in. It has a baffle to prevent sloshing and a handle attached to aid filling. The tube is removable as well for better cleaning and drying. If you don’t need 3L and only put say, 2L in as you know you have places to refill, this pocket is great for some extra gear you hope to never need, but don’t want to be hard to access. Like a compact first aid kit, or rain jacket.
The next pocket is cavernous and will eat up clothing, and bulky items like spare tubes or real food. It’s full length so it would easily take real maps, quality mini pumps, or even a small stove and aeropress if packed smartly.
The main compartment is cavernous. No options to sort things, but plenty of volume.
The next big pocket is probably best for your trail side needs, with an internal zipped pocket up high that suits small spares like a derailleur hanger or small Leatherman or similar. This is also where the key (or wedding ring) clip is. A mesh pocket down lower has a pump strap included for a mini pump or shock pump, and would suit other tools or tyre levers too. There’s still plenty of volume in the bag for extras.
The outer most pocket has the ability to sort things, with some internal pockets.
Beyond these three main compartments the front flap is mesh sided and can have more food or clothing jammed in pretty securely, and two compression straps each side will help keep it all in place and close to the back panel. There’s a small pocket on top that hangs into the main compartment that suits a phone, or sunglasses. It’s not a soft pocket like on some bags, as this Camelbak MULE is actually nicely stripped back on faff and uses light materials to keep the weight down.
The top pocket is useful for anything you don’t want squashed – or you want to get to quickly.
Out back with the Camelbak MULE
The last MULE I had was in 2014 and it was a Camelbka MULE NV, which has the pretty intense back system, not unlike that on the Sequoia day bag. This is just as useful but less bulky and a lot lighter. Mesh covers three formed ribbed sections that help promote airflow between a sweaty back and the MULE. I still get sweaty. But it doesn’t feel like I have a bag glued to my back.
The straps are perforated foam in an S shape, with options to port the hose over your left or right shoulder, with a magnetic clip for the hose to keep it stable. This function is well-thought out but in reality I could do without it. The hose can pull out the the magnetised holder that clips out anyway, so it does just add a part to lose, in my opinion. There’s an adjustable sternum strap and a very basic, and removable, waist strap. That’s the most interesting thing here, that for a larger (but not heavy) bag, the MULE has a very light waist strap.
Riding with the Camelbak MULE
Thanks to the ability to carry 3L of fluid and lots of things, I’ve used the MULE for trail rides where non-lycra clothing means you lose the ever-useful 3 pockets. But also lycra clad training rides in hot areas, where I have no interest in running out of water, food, spares or even suncream.
The bag itself is light at 620g without the bladder in there, but just 860g with it, which is really light for the capacity.
Stability when riding is really good, and the adjustability for the fit is top notch. Bear in mind it’s pretty long, so if you’re short, maybe it won’t fit so well. There are women’s specific models that have shorter back lengths which might help for this.
At about 22cm wide it never feels like a cumbersome bag, and also it doesn’t sit too far out thanks to being able to be packed well along the whole 45cm length. The only problem I found was that when a little more loaded, the stability wasn’t quite there.
I always fiddle with the straps of bags to find the sweet spot for fit and comfort. Hiking, running, riding, travelling – it doesn’t matter. And it’s the same with the Camelbak MULE. While I like that it has no big hip belt, sometimes I wish it had one, if I was really packing lots of heavy things in it.
But, I don’t think that’s the calling for the MULE. The MULE LR is a larger model with the Low Rider name as the bladder sits low, it has 16L of storage to this MULE’s 9L, and therefore has a much more serious waist belt. That’s about perfect for exploring or light over nighters. This MULE hits the mark for riders who want to be well-equipped on big days in the hills, or have a bag that suits for wilderness races. This thing could easily handle the spares for something like The Pioneer (where I used a Camelbak Octane XCT) or anything where the need for more clothing might arise. The low weight and hi bulk of extra clothing is ideal for the Camelbak MULE.
The Camelbak Octane XCT still suits races where fluid, and overall weight, counts.
For me, I’ll still reach for my 2011 Camelbak Octane XCT for race days with high fluid needs. It sits low, it’s super light, and it can take some spares/food in the hip pockets. But for all day endeavours I’m loving the Camelbak MULE, as the Octane XCT hits it’s storage limit beyond a few gels and a multitool, whereas the MULE can just swallow it up, along with a camera, first aid gear, clothing and real food. If that sounds like something you need, then this bag is highly recommended.
RRP: About $179.95
Photos: Matt Staggs