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CamelBak M.U.L.E. Bikepacking Bags Review: Versatile Starter Set, With Growing Pains

Three decades after its founder jury-rigged an IV bag to a hose for a 100-mile race, CamelBak has entered the bikepacking game. We tested its M.U.L.E. line over 150 miles up mountains, down switchbacks, through desert, and around town.

Camelbak M.U.L.E. bikepacking bags collection(Photo/Ian Graber-Stiehl)
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Surprisingly, it took CamelBak this long to get into bikepacking. The company made its auspicious start in 1989 when future founder Michael Eidson decided to get creative with his hydration system for the “Hotter’N Hell 100.” The race, as it still does today, covered 100 miles through the summer heat of Wichita Falls, Texas. He slipped an IV bag into a tube sock, tossed it over his shoulder, and ran a hose from it to him with the aid of a clothespin.

The rest is history — 35 years of it — between that first event and CamelBak’s spring 2024 release of its new M.U.L.E. bikepacking line. The lineup runs the gamut from streamlined commuting to bikepacking. Between the frame, saddle, handlebar, and stem bags, the most spacious options offer 26.5 L of packing volume — a solid base for a complete bikepacking setup.

Naturally, as someone who’s been rocking CamelBaks since Basic Training, I had to be the first to load it up and hit the road … and gravel, sand, and fire access road. I put the CamelBak M.U.L.E. bikepacking line to the test over 150 miles — from touring through northern Arizona mountains and deserts outside Sedona to commuting through Flagstaff and downtown Chicago in winter.

In short: CamelBak’s first full lineup of bikepacking bags offers a nearly complete bikepacking setup. Paired with a few cages, dry bags, or some moderate panniers, a new bikepacker can get set up and on the trail easily. However, the new M.U.L.E. line has some growing pains that might limit it to beginners and intermediates.

CamelBak M.U.L.E. Frame Pack

Camelbak M.U.L.E. bikepacking frame bag
(Photo/Ian Graber-Stiehl)

The M.U.L.E. frame pack is CamelBak’s innovative star of the show. And as far as bags go … it’s mixed.

Even on bikes with too little space on the head tube to secure a frame bag in front, the M.U.L.E.’s numerous attachment points made for a pretty straightforward and versatile setup. Between the two sizes, as long as your top tube is any kind of straight, you’ll be able to secure it — though wide top tubes may take some fiddling.

I tested the larger of the two frame packs. As someone who usually carries 4-7 L and prefers to keep the bulk of it in the triangle, a 4.5L pack is a perfect size for me. So, I was surprised to find that even the large pack’s Quick Stow Reservoir is capped at just over 2 L.

The Quick Stow comes with a lockable and flow rate-adjustable mouthpiece and a QuickLink attachment point for the hydration tube. Between a convenient tube port and a hose clip that can be Velcro-strapped almost anywhere, running a tube was a breeze.

The pack’s V-shaped zippers allowed me to splay open the main compartment — a feature I wish more frame packs offered. This made using the reservoir as a collapsable bottle quick and easy. The topmost zip also allowed access to the back of the pack.

It’s an intelligent design — a hydration system that is equal parts bottle and reservoir sculpted to fit the front half of your frame pack, a side-loading design that makes accessing it simple, and a zip that allows you to access other gear stowed along the pack’s back side.

Just one problem: The Quicklink didn’t perfectly fit the front of the pack. The mismatched flares of the reservoir and the front of the pack left me with just enough dead space to consider replacing it with a 3L HydraPak Seeker with an adaptor and tube.

Likewise, with the reservoir filled, there was little room to fit anything into the frontmost of the main compartment’s two mesh pockets. There is a compartment on the other side. However, it ran into the same issue. With the reservoir full, the front half of the pocket was already crowded.

One last issue: the zippers are protected from water, but they were chronically allergic to dust and sand.

Overall, the frame pack offered an easy and versatile setup. It balanced good water resistance with exceptional accessibility. The Quick Stow worked well enough and may fit the small pack better.

The CamelBak M.U.L.E. frame pack is full of great ideas, but I occasionally wished for more and better-fitting water storage that — whether it occupied the front, bottom, or top half of the frame — compartmentalized gear storage more effectively.

  • Volume: 4.5 L (3L small option as well)
  • Price: $150 (Small is $140)
  • Hydration reservoir volume: 2 L
  • Weight: 8.5 oz. (7.7 oz. for the small)
  • Main material: ECOPAK EPLX400 C0 PFC-free DWR
  • Weatherproofing: Water-resistant
  • Closure: Dual-sided zips

CamelBak M.U.L.E. Handlebar Bag

Camelbak M.U.L.E. bikepacking handlebar bag
(Photo/Ian Graber-Stiehl)

The CamelBak M.U.L.E. handlebar pack was slightly odd but rather spacious, streamlined, and easy to set up. It was an unexpected standout.

The pack’s built-in aluminum stay/spacer bar gave cables some breathing room. There are two sets of straps to secure the pack to the handlebars: one Velcro and the other voile-style. Built into both the stay and the rear of the bag, the strap placement was adjustable enough to work around other handlebar-mounted accessories. Finally, elastic loops at the top and bottom of the pack tethered it to the stem and head tube.

When cinched down, the back fabric of the bag was pinched. Instead of a flat surface, it took on some creases that allowed a cutting board I shoved in to catch on a seam, nearly tearing it. However, for those who don’t feel the need to bring a santoku and cutting board into the backcountry or have the sort of common sense to which I can only aspire — this likely wouldn’t be a problem. (It just means my campsite has better food.)

With the stay bar spreading the top of the bag out and no spacer for the bottom’s elastic tether, the bag angled forward quite a bit. While this made it slightly more difficult to access gear while mounted, it made for a streamlined carry. Even loaded up with 8-10 pounds of gear, the bag was snug, with no undue sway.

The stiff lip of the bag and central snap made rolling it shut, even when stuffed, easy. However, the outer edges of the roll top often flared out — leaving me wishing for a strap to cinch them down. Extra straps to roll the ends flat and flush to the pack would be worth the extra weight.

But, overall, 12 L of space, a narrow span, a rolltop closure, and abrasion-resistant ECOPAK fabric made a winning combination.

  • Volume: 12 L 
  • Price: $100 
  • Weight: 13.4 oz.
  • Main material: ECOPAK EPLX400 C0 PFC-free DWR 
  • Weatherproofing: IPX5-rated waterproof
  • Closure system: Roll-top

CamelBak M.U.LE. Saddle Bag

Camelbak M.U.L.E. bikepacking saddle bag
(Photo/Ian Graber-Stiehl)

And, 9 L is on the small side for a bikepacking saddle bag, in my opinion. But for the CamelBak M.U.L.E. saddle bag, it made sense. It’s a lot easier to make a 9L holsterless saddle bag with minimal tail wag and plenty of tire clearance than an 11-16L pack. It also keeps the pack in a less competitive price range.

Thankfully, the pack offers three positions for the Velcro strap that attaches it to the seat post. With the aggressively acute angle of the seat rail straps, I found it best to fill the pack and secure those first, before dialing in the seat post strap.

Even fully tightened, the seat post strap seemed partial to slowly descending. But it never came close to compromising tire clearance, even on 29-inchers. Stopping this slippage would be as easy as wrapping a piece of old inner tube around the post.

However, noticing some moderate tail wag, I found myself cinching down all the pack’s straps tight enough to compromise a small amount of internal space. After that, any tail wagging wasn’t noticeable.

A central snap held the bag shut while rolling the opening down and securing side-mounted straps. Even when stuffed, the CamelBak M.U.L.E. handlebar bag was easy to close and compress. The shock cord loop that stretches and criss-crosses over the top of the pack was a nice touch. It extended the space and cordage to cinch things on top of an otherwise small bag.

Where the pack fell a mark short was its waterproofing and abrasion resistance. ECOPAK’s EPLX400 fabric is known for both these things. However, after a full day of rain, I found a bit of moisture inside the bag — barely enough to notice, but enough that I’d run the pack with a liner in monsoon season. And just after a week of bikepacking, I found a small hole on the underside of the pack.

Still, at $90, the price is right. The pack’s biggest competition would be options like the Topeak Backloader series and the Rockbros Waterproof Saddle Bag. If budget is the biggest concern, cyclists might get more bang for their buck out of Rockbros. However, at under $100, the CamelBak M.U.L.E. seat pack is a good value.

  • Volume: 9 L
  • Price: $90
  • Weight: 12 oz.
  • Main material: ECOPAK EPLX400 C0 PFC-free DWR 
  • Weatherproofing: IPX5-rated waterproof
  • Closure: Roll-top 

CamelBak M.U.L.E. Bikepacking Bags Conclusion

Over 3 decades after the company was born from an ingenious approach to cycling hydration, CamelBak finally gambled on a dedicated bikepacking bag line that wears some of its design challenges.

The line’s approach to hydration delivered best-in-class accessibility — provided the zippers aren’t choking on dust. The reservoir/bottle hybrid sculpted to fit the pack is a stroke of brilliance. However, imperfect fit and storage that wasn’t keen to compartmentalize around the reservoir slightly hampered utility.

Even at its worst, though, the CamelBak M.U.L.E. system gets quite a bit right.

The roll-top handlebar bag offered far easier access and more clearance for drop bars than most horizontal dry bag-style setups. In its weight class, the M.U.L.E. saddle bag delivered plenty of storage and performance. And, for buyers concerned with environmental friendliness and durability, the ECOPAK recycled 400D EPLX fabric, with a PFC-free DWR, is a plus.

That said, I’d like to see a bundle deal when the CamelBak M.U.L.E. bikepacking line launches in March of next year. A core bikepacking setup for under $350 is a competitive offer. But for a lineup bound to work best for cost-wise beginner and intermediate bikepackers, a cost-effective bundle could make the CamelBak M.U.L.E. bikepacking system a proper steal.

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