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Camelbak Mule

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Camelbak was the pioneering manufacturer of hydration packs, an accessory for which these days the word “ubiquitous” seems hardly sufficient. Despite the appearance of, at last count, about eighteen thousand rival manufacturers, Camelbak has managed to maintain its leading position. The Mule has been its most popular pack for quite a while, and the 2006 incarnation is completely redesigned.

We’ll get the vital statistics out of the way first. The Mule features a 3l bladder and 8.8l of storage capacity, putting it firmly in the long ride category. You might need a top-up if you’re out for a full day in hot weather, but the Mule’s status as the most popular pack in the range suggests that it’s just the right size for most people, most of the time.

The reservoir lives inside its own compartment, accessed by a zipper around the edge of the back panel. It can still be a little awkward to manouevre a full bladder into a full pack, but it’s a lot less tricky than trying to drop it down into a top-loading pocket as before.

The reservoir itself has a big screw-top lid, detachable hose and a lever on the bite valve to prevent embarrassing in-car leakage. When in the pack, it hangs from a loop to prevent it from all scrunching up at the bottom as it empties.

The pack itself is feature-laden without straying too far into gimmickry. The MP3 player pocket in the top is perhaps a feature too far – being old-fashioned types we’ve been keeping loose change in it. The rest of the storage is well thought out. There’s one big compartment nearest the wearer (typical contents – extra clothing layer, pump, food) and a piggy-back comparment with organiser pockets (keys, multitool, inner tube). Between the two sections is a space into which a jacket can be securely stashed and held in place with two compression straps on each side. There’s also a mesh outer pocket that’s handy for snacks and things. There’s no raincover, but the bottom part of the pack features a heavy-duty fabric panel to ward off the worst of the stuff coming off your back wheel and resists the inevitable abrasion from putting the pack down on the ground.

Holding all this on to your back is a completely new shoulder strap system. Rather than being stitched directly to the pack, the straps are mounted to curved plastic tabs that allow them to articulate to better accomodate a range of shoulder widths. The chest strap is easily vertically adjustable, which is a neat touch. We very much like the Velcro tabs that let you roll up and tidy away the long ends of the various adjustable straps, and the hose routing is neat and unobstrusive. Raised perforated panels maintain airflow across your back – it seems to work, we’ve been out with the Mule on some spectacularly hot days and not found it at all unpleasant.

The icing on the cake is the choice of colours. But you can’t go wrong with black.

Positives: Comfortable, versatile, just the right size, well made

Negatives: We could live without the MP3 pocket

Verdict

It’s not hard to see why the Mule is so popular. It does everything that you want and very little that you don’t.

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