Camelbak M.U.L.E. LR 15 Hydration Pack
This latest incarnation of Camelbak’s Mule LR 15 hydration pack is a complete redesign. Like its predecessor, reviewed two years ago by Andrew Major, it’s still designed around Camelbak’s Crux Lumbar reservoir that sits low for increased stability and comfort. However, where the previous model was a classic top loader, the latest iteration takes a somewhat different approach to organization.
New is a bottom compartment which houses the rain cover and tool roll and provides access to the 3 liter (100 oz) reservoir. Moving the tool roll, which previously sat high in a small pocket against the back in the main compartment, to the bottom makes sense as tools are relatively heavy and rarely used. Accessing the reservoir from the bottom sounds logical as well, but in practice I found it a bit of a hassle to disconnect and reconnect the hose and to deal with the strap that keeps the reservoir in place. At some point, I managed to only partially reconnect the hose which resulted in a flooded pack. I’m used to (and prefer) simply lifting a reservoir from the top of a pack with the hose connected and filling it like that.
Also new is a large flap covering the bottom zipper and housing the folded overflow pocket. The latter can be deployed when needed and is useful to carry knee pads, a helmet, or a wet rain jacket.
The large main compartment carries over from the previous model. It opens from the top with the zipper going all the way to the bottom on both sides. It easily fits everything you need on a big ride such as a tube, spare layers, food, map, etc. There is a small zippered mesh inner pocket with key clip. The second, smaller, soft-lined top compartment is also still in the same place and will hold and protect a phone or a pair of sunglasses.
The most mysterious pocket on the Mule is the narrow, slightly curved soft case attached to the left shoulder strap. My first thought was that it must be a phone case, but it’s too small to fit most present-day smartphones. Just about the only thing I could think of that would fit is a single energy bar. The mysterious case is stitched to the shoulder strap so it cannot be removed. It was never in the way while riding but I think it looks a bit silly and I never really used it for anything.
The back panel is different from the previous model. Where the previous model relied on perforated material sitting against the rider’s back, the new one uses two raised bands about one inch wide with a wide air channel in between. It’s difficult to say whether this change is an improvement as I didn't did back-to-back tests. Even the best ventilated backpacks get hot and sweaty but as long as there is some air flow going on, I’m OK with it and this was the case with the Mule LR.
The Mule’s fit worked well for me. Like its predecessor, the Mule LR sits low and stable due to the lumbar reservoir. It doesn’t move around much and doesn’t interfere with helmets. Out on the trail, it was comfortable enough for me to mostly forget it was there. When the time came to grab something from the pack, I found the new organizational approach slightly more complex than the previous model. This is mostly a matter of getting used to it and maybe personal preference.
I’ve always been a fan of Camelbak reservoirs and the Crux Lumbar reservoir in the Mule LR continues that trend. Water flow is excellent and opening and closing the valve using the large lever is very easy with one gloved hand.
In terms of size, the Mule is quite spacious (12 liter according to Camelbak). It can fit a lot more stuff than I usually bring on my local rides, so I generally grab a slightly smaller pack (like the Osprey Raptor 14) for those. The Mule is great for big all day rides in big terrain where you want to be prepared and bring lots of food and spare layers.
The Mule LR has a quality feel to it. I haven’t used it long enough to really test its durability but I’ve used a variety of Camelbak packs in the last 15 years and they have always lasted very long. Based on that experience, I would expect the same from the Mule LR.
Overall, once I got used to the new Mule, I found it a very comfortable and useful hydration pack. I found it slightly more complex and therefore less practical than its predecessor. I also think the large bottom flap and the weird front pocket attached to the shoulder strap make it look a bit odd and bulky (which it isn’t). It’s hard to put a finger why, but the new Mule LR just didn't click for me like the previous version.
The problem with reviewing packs is two-fold. One, packs are very good nowadays. Two, personal preference. The new Mule LR is a very good pack and I can’t really find fault with it. I would discourage you from letting my preference for the previous version prevent you from considering the new Mule LR. If you are in the market for a new hydration pack for your big rides, it’s certainly worth a look.
The Mule LR 15 is yours for 225 CAD / 150 USD (currently 25% off at Competitive Cyclist).
More information on the Camelbak website.