Long-Term Test: CamelBak M.U.L.E. NV

A steed for your stuff

CamelbakMuleNV1

CamelBak M.U.L.E. NV | $135.00 | Camelbak.com

It's been a year since I first reviewed this pack and back then I promised a long-term review, so here we go. I've been humping this thing around in the rain and mud. It's seen the inside of my washing machine more than a few times and wound up being my go-to pack anytime I wasn't hauling the entire kitchen sink with me on my rides. That's not to suggest, however, that the M.U.L.E. is shy on the cargo space. The pack accommodates 12-liters of stuff. That's 732 cubic inches, if you speak 'Merican.

What's more, all that storage is well laid out. You've got the monster pouch that accommodates tools and tubes and other bulky crap that doesn't stow easily in pockets, then there's the more organized secondary pouch; this one is complete with little velcro'd pockets for all that critical-but-tiny stuff that'd invariably go M.I.A. in your main pouch and leave you howling in frustration at some point (master links for your chain, that kind of thing). There's also the plush-lined pouch up top, which is always a good spot for sunglasses and iPods. Finally, there's another small zippered pouch that's great for car keys and the like.

There are a ton of places to stash your spare tubes, pumps, keys, gu packs, master links and God-knows-what-else.

There are a ton of places to stash your spare tubes, pumps, keys, gu packs, master links and God-knows-what-else.

Oh, wait, did I say "finally"? There are also zippered pockets on the hip belt and you can stuff some fairly bulky items (that rain jacket you were so sure you were going to need) in the outer stretch overflow pocket. At least, I think that's what they call it. Whatever the proper nomenclature, it's something that gets a fair bit of use on my rides.

So, yup, lots of storage. But we're still scraping the surface here. The CamelBak also comes with the company's excellent 100-ounce Antidote bladder. The Antidote is easy to open, easy to fill and, crucially, once closed, it stays closed. Win. It also features the usual quick-disconnect hose and a bite valve that is about as close to perfect as possible.

They look weird, but CamelBak's articulating pods greatly reduce that "My hydration pack is trying to kill me" sensation that you experience four hours into a ride.

They look weird, but CamelBak’s articulating pods greatly reduce that “My hydration pack is trying to kill me” sensation that you experience four hours into a ride.

Of course, being able to stuff a lot of crud onto your back does you no good whatsoever if doing so also makes you feel like you've got an angry midget dry-humping your back. Comfort is key. To that end, the M.U.L.E. NV also sports the usual plethora of straps that help to evenly distribute the load across your back and waist. This pack also features the NV back panel, which sports four "articulating pods" that are supposed to improve airflow. I was dubious—this looked like a potential case of over-engineering, but nope, it's comfortable. More comfortable than the competition? Nah, I don't think so, but it's right up there with the best.

What didn't I like? I know, this has been a bit of a love fest so far. Well, I've had problems with past CamelBak sternum straps popping off during the middle of the ride, but these stayed put all year long. Um….now I'm kinda searching here. Okay, the zippers could be waterproof. Yeah, that's all I've got. Seriously, it's a pretty damn dialed pack. If you want max storage or you want to strap your full-face helmet to your pack, you should go with something larger. For rides like that, I'm a fan of the Osprey Zealot 16L. But for a lot of people, the M.U.L.E. NV covers the bases quite well and then some.