Hydration packs are a dime-a-dozen these days, so what’s the market leader to do in order to stand out. Well, CamelBak isn’t about to just sit back and let everyone else catch up and the new MULE LR is a great example of that hustle.

CamelBak MULE LR Features:

  • New Crux LR reservoir delivers 20% more water per sip and keeps keeping weight positioned low on your back
  • Airfoil™ back panel provides maximum comfort and ventilation
  • Magnetic Tube Trap™ keeps your tube secure
  • Stabilizing load-bearing hip belt with cargo pockets delivers a custom fit
  • Reservoir compression straps cinch the reservoir into the small of your back
  • Included rain cover
  • Built in helmet carry hooks and secures a XC helmet
  • Separate zippered compartment with gear organizer and tool roll
  • Additional top zippered pocket has a microfleece lining and holds your media player
  • 2 compression straps for overflow storage (jackets, layers, etc.)
  • Reflective accents
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs (actual, with bladder and hose)
  • Storage Capacity: 15L
  • Bladder Capacity: 3L
  • MSRP: $150
Camelbak MULE LR Hydration Pack Review

The MULE LR carries quite well with ample storage for a long day hike.

The evolution of hydration packs

Believe it or not, I remember a time in the not far distant past when hydration packs didn’t exist. Yes, it’s true, we used to have to carry our water in Nalgene water bottles. While that may sounds like crazy talk, I lived through it and the CamelBak MULE LR is a great example of the continued evolution of hydration packs.

When hydration packs were first introduced, they were nothing more than a medical-grade water pouch with a straw, but today’s hydration packs are much more sophisticated and easy-to-use. In recent years, CamelBak has been playing around with bladder placement. as it turns out, carrying water around the lumbar is actually quite efficient and comfortable. It’s with that premise that the all-new MULE LR hits the market.

Camelbak MULE LR Hydration Pack Review

The 3L bladder has a wide mouth, but can be splashy with some refrigerators.

The improved design of the Crux LR reservoir makes for easier stashing and filling. Well, filling isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly one of the best. My gripe here is it’s hard to engage the water paddle of my refrigerator without the water hitting outside of the giant bladder opening. The initial push and release are met with spraying water all over. That huge mouth comes in quite handy when it comes time to add ice cubes or clean things out (yes, you should clean your bladder, folks). My suggestion on filling is get in and out quickly.

All hydration bladders are more like giant sea slugs when full and the Crux LR is still awkward to some extent. However, that wonderful paddle handle helps keep things from getting too unwieldy. And, the paddle guides the bladder back into place inside the bladder sleeve. It works pretty well and helps stabilize the bladder itself.

Camelbak MULE LR Hydration Pack Review

Compression straps keep the bladder from sloshing around.

Speaking of bladder stabilization, no you don’t need a prescription from your doctor, but you will appreciate the dual compression straps located in the waist belt. These little numbers pull the bladder closer to the small of your back to prevent sloshing and enable better water flow. During the course of a long hike, this feature comes in handy — particularly when nightfall approaches and your hike turns into an impromptu trail run. That fast-paced activity is handled quite well by this pack.

Water flow is excellent with sufficient flow to satisfy even the thirstiest of drinkers. The bite valve is simple and the on/off valve is always a must-have (unless you want to inadvertently leak the contents of your bladder all over your back seats).

Camelbak MULE LR Hydration Pack Review

That bite valve is drop-dead simple with plenty of flow.

Camelbak MULE LR Hydration Pack Review

Comfortable, breathable back panel for carrying loads.

On the MTB side, the MULE LR is equipped with all the features you’d want during a long day of singletrack adventures. It includes a rain cover, tool roll, a helmet carry and ample storage pockets to keep all your nutrition and extra gear handy.  Unfortunately, I only hiked in the MULE LR, but the stability of this pack is well beyond any other hydration pack I’ve tried so I’m confident it will carry well in the saddle. I’ll update on MTB use later this spring.

A couple of quibbles

While the new wide mouth bladder opening is easier to use, I still cross-threaded it on one occasion and was rewarded with a soaked back panel (yay, not yay). It’s not foolproof, so still double-check for leaks before putting it in your pack. Speaking of putting the bladder in… I recommend doing it before your pack is filled to capacity. Inserting the bladder while the pack is full is much more difficult. I’ll also add that the back panel does have a tendency to pull your shirt up. I had to constantly pull my shirt down while hiking.

The Good

  • Low Rider bladder placement is quite comfortable
  • Cargo pockets in waist belt offer handy storage
  • Tons of pockets and storage area everywhere
  • All touch points are nice and comfortable
  • Love being able to compress the bladder as volume decreases
  • Magnetic bite valve clip keeps things in place
  • Great water flow

The Bad

  • Filling is a splashy affair (at beginning and end)
  • Lumbar pulls your shirt up when hiking
  • It’s quite heavy

The Bottom Line: CamelBak MULE LR

The new CamelBak MULE LR carries a ton of water in the small of your back for a stable, comfortable experience. This evolution in hydration packs is worthwhile and works well for hiking, fast packing and even occasional trail running.

Buy Now: Available at REI.com

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

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