Words Lester Perry
Image Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $179
Distributor Southern Approach

Let’s face it: most people avoid riding with a backpack at all costs, particularly on hot summer days. Out on the trails, we see all sorts of things strapped to bikes, but if you’re hoping to go further afield and into the outback then you need more than that tube, a CO2 canister and a tyre lever strapped to your top tube, let alone the need for extra hydration.

The CamelBak M.U.L.E is a worthy attempt to solve the problem of not wanting to wear a pack, whilst carrying almost as much gear as a small pack, along with some extra hydration. The hip-pack weighs in at 320 grams and offers a 3.5-litre capacity. It’s sewn from a hardwearing, lightweight 200D Nylon Ripstop material. An Air Support back panel helps with airflow between the pack and the body, using an open mesh and foam combo to help air move between the two.

The M.U.L.E has lots of storage options; the main compartment has a pocket for the bladder and some internal pockets to help keep small items in place and right where you put them; and there’s also a smaller outer pocket. On either side of the main compartment are bottle holders, designed for a regular-sized CamelBak Podium bottle but ideal for whatever you want to stuff in them. The waist strap helps support the load on the hips and adds stretchy pockets with envelope closures on either side of the main compartments, ideal for small items you want easy access to without needing to rotate the pack forward. Compression straps can be cinched up to hold the contents in place and help keep the weight close to the body. Along the bottom of the pack are some elastic loops, offering additional external storage, ideal for a jacket, large salami, or half-eaten baguette.

The M.U.L.E comes supplied with a Crux 1.5L hydration bladder, offering effortless access for your sipping pleasure thanks to its nifty QuickLink magnetic holster and high-flow bit valve. If you wanted, you could forego the bladder and add bottles to the side pockets for a more versatile and adaptable setup.

Having a waist pack on some of our hottest days, rather than a full pack, has been great - it’s so much cooler to wear.

As you can see, there’s quite a lot going on with the M.U.L.E. I’ve found it a versatile piece of kit, using it on some lengthy rides, sans bladder, mainly as a place to stow some tools, food, and a jacket, while keeping bottles on my bike. I’ve generally left it loaded up after each ride so I can just clip it on when I’m heading out for a dawn raid, knowing I’ve got everything I need for every eventuality, within arm’s reach. Having a waist pack on some of our hottest days, rather than a full pack, has been great – it’s so much cooler to wear. Without a full bladder in there, the capacity is quite large and I can’t imagine anyone would need anything bigger than this to carry a day-trip worth of gear.

On adventures where I’ve added the 1.5-litre bladder into the mix, I’ve found the pack quite heavy, probably a good couple of kilos hanging off my hips. When I was breathing heavily while seated (think a steep hour-long climb) the waist belt got in the way of breathing freely – not ideal. Trying to remedy this, I’ve taken to fitting the strap as low on my hips as possible; this helps to a point, but doesn’t solve the problem. I have found it’s better suited to riding a more relaxed, upright position (i.e. on an Enduro bike) and when I’m not puffing hard it’s certainly not as noticeable.

Does it work well? Yes. Is it comfortable and unobtrusive to use? Sort of. It’s comfortable to wear and I’ve appreciated being able to have a bunch of kit on hand, but when the bladder is full, all that weight hanging off my hips and interfering with breathing kills the advantages of using it for me. I’ll keep using it to carry gear and food when required, but only use a full bladder when there’s really no other option.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #113

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