In most outdoor pursuits where water bottles aren’t quite right for the task at hand, the instant go to and point of reference is Camelbak; and while Camelback is a name within the wider pool of brands that offer hydration bladder solutions, its often what many of us will say when thinking of an alternative solution to squidgy, water bottles.
Much like saying ‘Google’ it.
For the most part, when riding and heading out onto the trails for a few hours, a day or even a week plus, we would ideally resist the urge to plant anything on our shoulders, the gift of bikepacking luggage is to offset this load around the bike, freeing up our upper body and minimising fatigue from the waist up.
Then again if you’re rocking a full squishy to send down the trails or if you’re loading up the bike with a full suite of bags you may be lacking bottle cages for that all important elixir of life.
Thats where the Camelbak Mule Pro comfortably struts by and says “hey, yall thirsty”?
*it doesn’t speak or have a ‘smart device’ function*
At face value the Mule Pro isn’t a modest sized backpack or all that light considering its intention is to house 3kg of the clear fluid of which makes up to 60% of our bodies. That being said once the bag is loaded up and the straps have been adjusted correctly, it does become rather comfortable.
All contact points for the bag have been carefully considered, with each strap being made up of a crosshatched mesh along with a sponge centre for maximum ventilation, the traditional shoulder straps have a runner system for easy adjustment of the chest strap too, minimising the cutting sensation on the armpits, an all to common problem when wearing an ill fitting and heavy backpack.
The chest strap itself connects through a twist-n-pop mechanism by way of a magnet, and is an essential part of the bags makeup as this is how the magnetic clasp of the hose attaches. I’ll come back to this element after a run down of the other features.
The soft and supportive waist straps help offset the bulk of the load to your hips in order to minimise pressure on the shoulders, each side offering neat storage pouches for smaller snacks, a bank card or things like tubeless plugs for instant access, a smart and uncomplicated touch.
The back of the bag itself uses a suspended skeleton of mesh in the ‘Air/Support Pro’ system making sure there is a decent amount of airflow to avoid the ol’ wet back conundrum of a backpack. Underneath this mesh sits a solid panel with sponge panels designed to rest on the lumbar and two that run alongside the spine. It’s really well conceived and makes for an almost limitless amount of adjustment to fit most body sizes I’d imagine. There is also a dedicated women’s backpack, incorporating design features for an ergonomically superior fit.
Flipping things over to check out the public-facing side of the Mule Pro, it becomes immediately apparent with great size comes great packability and there are all sorts of interesting pockets, pouches, and stuffable sleeves to ensure you will have everything at hand for a day at the trails or to stash a basket load of goodies at a pit stop en route to point B.
Working bottom to top there are some nicely placed straps which can be cinched closed for storing maybe a roll mat, waterproof layers or even a pair of sandals if your feet do what mine do after 11 hours cooped up in socks and trainers. The main visible panel is the front of a pretty healthy sized stuff pouch, which has been great for throwing in a down jacket and gloves for rides that go into the night, or better yet some tinnies for some late evening field based socialising.
Two clips on either edge of the main body are there to keep a helmet in place while not riding but also help cinch close the pouch, securing anything that’s crammed in there. Moving up to the top of the bag see’s Camelbak introducing a very tidy soft lined pocket away from any areas that are prone to crushing, with a shower cover over the zip itself this pocket is great for phones, or even sunnies if your are luckily enough to be showered upon …. Er lucky.. Yeah.
The large storage space within the bag houses numerous pockets, with one deep down at the bottom for storage of a batter charger, cables and the like. Helpful as you want to keep the heavier items down below and away from hitting the back of your head if sending drops etc. Not only that a zipped compartment home to a tool wrap makes for good area to keep spares, tools and anything else you want to keep doubly safe in the bag.
14L of space in total is a lot and can easily be over loaded, however if sensible with what is packed down in there and if correctly worn the bag remains comfortable no matter what is thrown at it.
So while the bag’s fit is excellent and stable while out hitting new lines and figuring out the best way of not going OTB there is something to consider when mixing up the bikes you ride while using the MULE Pro…
There is a fabric lip which links the two shoulder straps at the top of the bag, depending on how high the bag sits and if you were to sling it on when riding a drop bar bike it may press into the back of the neck.
Some time spent adjusting the bags position may remedy this, and again this is only my fit and body.
Neatly hidden inside the bag between the extra squishy, mighty comfy ventilation and bladder compartment is a sleeve to throw in Camelbak’s own line of back protection panels. While not supplied here, they are available in most good bike shops.
The main event! Water reservoir
Now that the dry regions of this aquatically equipped bag have been investigated and tested its time to talk bladders. The Mule PRO 14L hosts a very spacious 3L or 100 Fl/oz bladder suitable for most days out and about at the trails or bike park, and of course more than helpful for longer rides that may see you riding in more remote parts of the backcountry.
Easily accessible via a full length zip down one side of the bag, the bladder can be removed and refilled with ease down to its helpful handle design, and large opening towards the top. Plus the quick release hose connection negates too much faff in feeding it in and out each time a fill up is required; of course great for cleaning also!
Unlike some models in the Camelbak range the hose connections on the MULE Pro are magnetic as opposed to the older edge like clips which some of you may be familiar with and used to. While the magnetic fastening is fairly solid once connected, sometimes when riding and shifting around on the bike the small round magnet on the house can twist sometimes making getting it to ‘pop’ in with confidence difficult especially if on the move. But a little pause and some twisting and pulling it drops into place no problem.
As mentioned earlier though, I was hoping to rewind back to the chest strap that I had mentioned being rather vital to the bags operations, by this I mean that the chest clip must be secured together for the hose to be able to connect which is fine, but may leave you with a flapping hose if you don’t want to run with the chest clip fastened. The hose though can be run through both sides, easily fed through gaps just above the main compartment and shoulder straps, when run on the alternate side there is a tidy lil zip pocket in the bottom to tuck in the mouthpiece, to avoid it getting dirty when popping the bag on the floor.
At least thats what i used it for.
The Camelbak Mule Pro 14L verdict
Overall I was really impressed with the comfort and convenience of the bag’s design and despite its initial bulk on picking it up minus the water, the hip straps and lumbar pad really help distribute the weight nicely.
It was extremely stable when jumping through trails and hitting berms at mach 6.5 (not quite mach 10, soon though…. soon).
3 litres is plenty of water to be taking with you and to add onto that the extra nooks n crannies for layers and tools, this is bag is a great addition to your days on the bike.
Personally for endurance endeavours I would favour perhaps their ‘Chase’ line of vests with a smaller bladder option, but thats me.
If you are looking to park up, get the bike out and head into the hills for a day though, this is a pretty great option!
Camelbak Mule Pro 14L£140 $150
Last modified: 29th June 2021