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Kit review: Camelbak Mule backpack

Written by Fiona April 25 2011

I’ve always liked clothing and kit with pockets. I can recall as a child being given a secondhand anorak from a cousin and the best thing about it was the numerous pockets. There was a secret inside pocket. A pocket on the sleeve perfectly shaped to home a pen. Two pockets on the chest and large, zipped pockets with furry linings for my hands. I think the jacket was designed to resemble a mechanic’s anorak with pockets to keep all kinds of tools and gadgets. Anyway, since then I have never been able to pass a jacket, rucksack, bag and even wallets that display lots of exciting pockets.

As a child I loved jackets with lots of pockets

Of course, kit with lots of pockets can be both useful – and frustrating. I have one jacket with so many pockets (it even has a zipped pocket within a pocket!) that I spend ages hunting for the particular thing (maybe money, maybe lip salve..) that I have stowed in a pocket. I can never seem to recall the pocket I’d so carefully chosen!

Still, I’d prefer more pockets than less in most cases. One recent trend has seen kit being made to be as lightweight as possible. I love this idea and have lots of great lightweight items such as rucksacks, jackets, sleeping bags and tents, but one asset that does seem to be compromised is the pockets. I know there are only so many pocket that are useful but I still would prefer there to be a couple of pockets even if it adds a slight weight to the product. If you’re a maker of outdoors kit, take note. Why not keep one outside pocket and throw in a couple of zipped pockets somewhere, for example on the waistband of a rucksack?

Camelbak MULE Hydration Pack

Last week, a Camelbak backpack arrived for my testing. The guys at Webtogs were keen to know what I thought of this new and versatile pack. The Camelbak Mule Hydration pack has had a great redesign and now includes a new weather-resistant MP3 pocket, a hydration bag that offers enough space for 3 litres of water and a new and dynamic suspension harness.

Before I took the Camelbak out for a test run I was instantly attracted to the pockets! There seemed to be just about the right number of pockets for stashing “things” and then an added extra pocket or two for stashing even more “important things”. I spent ages oohing and ahhing over all the pockets!

You’ll see from the picture of the Camelbak Mule that there is a main hold, with a long zip so that it’s easy to access all your kit. An additional outer pocket has  lots of space for spare gloves, keys, snack bars and also has three useful inner pockets for stowing all kinds of things like energy gels, pens, sunglasses, or whatever! On the outer part of this pocket is another useful meshed pocket and between the outer pocket and the main bag is a larger meshed pocket. All this is held together with useful straps so that it’s possible to make the pack as small or as large as required, and according to how much you are carrying.

Then there’s the waterproof, zipped pocket at the top of the pack, which can be used for an MP3 player, a phone or for keeping your cash dry.

I also like the large zipped pocket at the back of the pack which offers easy access to the hydration system. Too many times with other packs you need to faff around trying to get the water bag in and out of the main hold of the bag, but with this Camelbak Mule it’s just a simple case of unzipping a large pocket and popping the water bag inside.

The straps system and back is also nicely padded and even though I’m pretty slim I found I could adjust the shoulder straps, chest strap and waistband to a small enough fit so the pack doesn’t move around while running.

Out for a test-run: I ran to and from the swimming pool last week and managed to find space for my swimming costume, towel, goggles, swim hat, shampoo, moisturiser, brush, mobile phone,  money, spare running top and socks. Once adjusted the pack stayed nicely in place as I ran and although I was wearing a vest top I suffered no chaffage from the shoulder straps. The pack felt light and comfy and caused very little sweating.

Out for a test-cycle: I packed the Camelbak Mule with enough kit for a cycle trip to Fort William this weekend. I planned to get the train from Glasgow to Taynuilt, then jump off with my bike and cycle the 45 or so miles to Fort William, where I was meeting the G-Force (he’d headed up north earlier so he could summit a couple of Munros). Into the pack went water (litres of it!), a rain jacket, two spare tops, waterproof trousers, phone, money, lots of snack bars, a book, spare gloves, arm warmers and bike pump. They all went into a range of pockets, although it did take me some amount of arranging and rearranging before I was happy with the kit distribution! After adjusting the straps (out the way, to make the pack comfy while cycling) I headed off northwards.

The pack was brilliantly comfortable and whenever I needed to access another item of clothing, my money or phone I quickly located what I was looking for. When the sun came out I popped the rain jacket into the useful mesh pocket… and when I felt a few spots of rain I stopped, easily located the jacket and was back on my bike in no time.

I know that if the 9-litre backpack was bigger I would have been tempted to add even more kit into the bag, but this would have made it uncomfortably heavy. Also, if the pack were smaller I wouldn’t have had enough space for all my cycling kit. So, as well as the generous number of pockets, I also like the size of this pack.

The G-Force says I can’t possibly need another new rucksack (I have a collection of numerous rucksacks for all occasions, similar to other women who have handbags to suit all occasions) but I beg to differ. Every outing requires a different size, style and type of backpack and I just don’t think you can have too many rucksacks.

If there is just one thing I’m not so keen on with this Camelbak, it’s the colour. Brown and beige is not my favourite combination but it does help to differentiate from my other rucksacks!

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