2013 Camelbak M.U.L.E. NV: Final Review- by Grannygear

When I saw the new Camelbak M.U.L.E. NV at Interbike 2012, I was struck by the unique new NV back panel that looked like separate little support pods, like some kind of sea creature’s sucker pads. Giant squids have nothing on this pack.  I figured this would be boom or bust…little room for in between…that it would be really good or really bad, that new back panel.  Which was it?  To begin, we had an Out of the Box where we poured over the details of the pack.  Then we used it on short rides with less in it and longer adventures with it pretty well packed up.  It was still summer then, so it was plenty hot too.  How did it pan out?

The good:

  • The new NV back panel is dramatic but really effective.  When I first got it out of the box, I put it on empty and walked around the house in it a bit, adjusting straps, etc.  I was not impressed with the new NV panel.  It felt odd, like several little hands pressing on my back.  But, put water and gear in there and all of a sudden it gets waaaay better.  You know how they say “the bike just disappears beneath you”, as to say, you don’t notice it, it just works?  Yeah, that.  The first ride was a multi hour loop on the SS with a long climb and techy, winding single track tossed in the mix.  In the first few minutes the pack just vanished and remained that way.  Honestly I never thought about it again except to be impressed.
  • The external stuff-it pouch is so sweet.  Great for jackets, gear layer changes, holding your wife’s stuff too, it is really useful.  I even had 2 water bottles in there during summer rides.  However, you would not carry anything in there that is fragile or too heavy as it would be a saggy thing stuck way out there.
  • It rides very snug to the back, not as much as the Camelbak Charge series does, but this pack carries a load better.  I rarely had it shift around or get off center, even in places where I was trying very hard to stay on center myself!  Very stable.
  • The organization is typically Camelbak which is to say, good.  I loved the slash pocket on the very front layer of the pack.  Great for big smart phones and anything you want to have right at hand.
  • The features are pretty diverse from rain cover to helmet hooks to hip belt pouches.
  • The size is perfect for all around use.  It wears smaller than you might think and still expands to carry quite a lot, but mostly due to the stuff-it pouch.  If you want it all inside, then maybe not.
  • Best bite valve in the biz on the reservoir.  One handed use and plenty of flow.
The less than good:
  • The hip belt pouches do not close with velcro or a zipper, rather there is a stretchy ‘flap-over’ deal that will keep small things like Shotbloks in there, etc, and can be accessed with one hand, although it is a bit fiddly to do so.  So this is not really bad depending on what you want to keep in there…then it might be.  Still, this is better than a zipper that is balky or velcro that is too strong to open easily, something I have seen on two other packs I have.
  • Ahhhhh…..hmmm.  It is better slightly full to very full then when empty, as far as back panel comfort goes.  I suppose the cargo helps the articulating back pods conform better to your shape.  Dunno.
  • The rain cover stayed put OK, but there is little to keep it over the top of the pack while riding.  If that clipped in place or…maybe a spot where it hooks or something?  It was not an issue, but I can see a time when it might pull away from the pack under a strong wind, etc.
Besides that, I can’t think of anything I can complain about.  And that is revealing as I always can think of things I would do to make a product better.  Really well done, Camelbak.
Note: Camelbak sent the pack to Twenty Nine Inches at no charge. We are not being paid, nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.