DSC06645We began with a Syncro 10 pack from Osprey  in our series of hydration packs for the upcoming summer season.  We continue with three packs from Camelbak.  We have a Lobo, a MULE, and a MULE NV.  We begin with the smallest of the three packs, the Lobo, which was reviewed by J.T. aka The Pragmatic Cyclist.

DSC06677Lobo: By The Pragmatic Cyclist

KEY PACK FEATURES:Magnetic tube trap, external fill, dual compression, bike tool organizer pocket, helmet hooks.

DESIGNED TO CARRY:Multi-tool, pump, spare tube, phone, wallet, keys, energy bar.

ANTIDOTE® RESERVOIR FEATURES:Quick Link™ System, 1/4 turn – easy open/close cap, lightweight fillport, dryer arms, center baffling and low-profile design, patented Big Bite™ Valve, HydroGuard™ technology, PureFlow™ tube, easy-to-clean wide-mouth opening

CamelBak® Got Your Bak™ Guarantee: If we built it, we’ll Bak it™ with our lifetime guarantee.

  • Hydration Capacity: 100 oz / 3L
  • Total Capacity: 6L (366 cu in) + 3L Reservoir
  • Total Weight: 1 lb 2 oz / .49 kg (pack only)
  • Dimensions: 19 x 9.5 x 2 in
  • Torso Length: 16 in / 41 cm
  • Back Panel: XV™. Multi-Layer EVA foam pods provide superior cross ventilation in a lightweight design.
  • Harness: Independent suspension™ with ultra light 3D mesh.
  • Belt: Removable 20mm / .75″ stability
  • Fabric: 70D / 210D diamond ripstop nylon w/ 70D / 140D block dobby nylon
  • MSRP of $99.00

When it comes to hydration packs, I can’t think of a company that’s been in the business longer than Camelbak. And the Lobo model has been around for as long as I can remember. With its low profile, 3-liter reservoir and limited but useful 366 cubic inch capacity, I’ve always thought of the Lobo as the quintessential hydration pack for any journey lasting over a couple of hours but under a day.

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JT with the Lobo, heading towards the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains.

As is the case with most Camelbak packs, there’s no question about the quality of the Lobo’s construction. I suspect the seams and zippers will function flawlessly for years. This refinement extends to the Antidote reservoir. Its wide mouth opening is among the largest in the business, which eases filling and cleaning. It also eases adding ice to the reservoir for riding in hot weather. The indicators on the reservoir cap that make it easy to ensure a reliable seal with a quarter turn seem silly unless you’ve ever dealt with an improperly sealed reservoir cap that allowed water to run through your pack, soaking its contents as well as your back, or worse yet, the entire back seat of your car as you drive to the trailhead. Regarding the reservoir itself, a center baffle divides it into two chambers. This prevents sloshing and excessive ballooning, which makes for a more balanced ride on the back. There are also little plastic arms built onto the reservoir that allow it to be easily aired and dried between uses. The reservoir also boasts Camelbak’s Quick Link System at the junction of the reservoir and the hose. This allows for the easy addition of insulated hoses or flow meters, two options I don’t envision myself needing but might be nice for some racers or fat bikers who enjoy riding in frigid conditions that might otherwise freeze the contents of the hose and negate the benefits of carrying a hydration pack in the first place.

IMG_0417For all of Camelbak’s attention to detail regarding the filling, sealing and overall structure of the reservoir, they haven’t neglected the business end of the system. I consider Camelbak’s Big Bite Valve the best bite valve in the hydration pack business. Anyone left gasping for air by extended attempts to suck water from less efficient bite valves will appreciate the ample water flow it allows. This flow can also be turned off completely with a twist of the valve itself. And much to my delight, the Lobo now has a magnetic hose retention clip that attaches to the right shoulder strap. Its plastic construction doesn’t seem all that robust, nor is it as elegant in its simplicity as the magnetic clip on my Osprey Viper. But it’s a vast improvement over previous Camelbak offerings, and I appreciated it immediately. Also, it’s removable, so I transferred it to the sternum strap, my preferred location.

The only criticism I can come up with about the hydration aspect of the Lobo has to do with the accessibility of the reservoir. To get to the filler cap, you have to unzip the main compartment.  Once you do this, the cap sits right at the top, so it’s not a big issue. Nonetheless, I prefer having the reservoir in a dedicated pocket separate from the contents of other compartments.

Regarding storage capacity, two zippered compartments run the length of the pack, allowing stowage of longer or bulkier items, such as a pump or extra layers of clothing  There’s also a smaller zippered compartment at the bottom with a built in organizer and key clip for items such as a wallet, a multi-tool or a phone.  Finally, there’s a central exterior stash pocket with its own set of compression straps sandwiched between the lower zippered pocket and the main compartment which is perfect for quickly stashing nutrition or, more likely, lighter layers of clothing or rain gear that you need to shed on the trail.  The exterior also sports retention hooks for attaching a helmet during transport as well as a strip for securing a rear blinker for those who ride to and from the trail in less than optimal lighting conditions.

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All of these features would be moot if the pack weren’t comfortable. But years of refinement as well as its XV system, consisting of eight molded EVA panels, ensure that the Lobo rides comfortably on the back while allowing a degree of ventilation. There’s also a minimalist removable hip belt for those that feel the need for one. Since, the belt lack pockets of any kind and rides securely without it, I would remove the waist belt and store it in the bottom of the main compartment in case there was ever a situation in which I wanted it.  Finally, since the Lobo lacks pockets on the shoulder straps, I appreciate that it rides high enough on my back to allow easy use of all three of my jersey pockets for nutrition, an iPod and my phone/camera.

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IMG_2801MULE: By Grannygear

KEY PACK FEATURES:XV back panel, magnetic tube trap, bike tool organizer pocket, four-point compression, helmet hooks.

DESIGNED TO CARRY:Helmet, multi-tool, pump, spare tube, extra layer, lunch, phone, keys.

ANTIDOTE® RESERVOIR FEATURES:Quick Link™ System, 1/4 turn – easy open/close cap, lightweight fillport, dryer arms, center baffling and low-profile design, patented Big Bite™ Valve, HydroGuard™ technology, PureFlow™ tube, easy-to-clean wide-mouth opening

CamelBak® Got Your Bak™ Guarantee: If we built it, we’ll Bak it™ with our lifetime guarantee.

  • Hydration Capacity: 100 oz / 3L
  • Total Capacity: 9L (549 cu in) + 3L Reservoir
  • Total Weight: 1 lb 5 oz / .61 kg (pack only)
  • Dimensions: 19 x 10.5 x 2 in
  • Torso Length: 16.5 in / 42 cm
  • Back Panel: XV™. Multi-Layer EVA foam pods provide superior cross ventilation in a lightweight design.
  • Harness: Independent suspension™ with ultra light 3D mesh and perforated foam.
  • Belt: Removable 20mm / .75″ stability
  • Fabric: 70D / 210D diamond ripstop nylon w/ 70D / 140D block dobby nylon
  • MSRP of $109.00

DSC06661I echo JT’s feelings about Camelbak hydration packs.  They have the best bite valve in the business.  It’s easy to squeeze with your teeth, feels decent to the mouth while doing so, and flows lots of liquid.  You can open it and close it one handed on the fly. The reservoir opening is large and secure.  It’s a killer deal on a part of a hydration pack that really matters.  The MULE is the first real hydration pack I ever owned back in the day.  I wore that thing to an ugly death of sweat and dirt before I replaced it but it never complained.

The MULE is, if there is such a thing in hydration packs, a ‘classic’.  Refined over the years, it is the quintessential weekend/after work pack…a Swiss Army Knife pack.  Some stand-out features and random thoughts:IMG_2792

  • I love the expandable front stuff pocket for jackets or items that are bulky or dirty or wet.  You could get light weight body armor in there too.  Super handy.
  • The internal organization is first rate, having a pouch or pocket for everything I needed to bring.  In that it one-upped the Osprey Syncro.
  • The soft pouch for electronics is less soft than you might think and is lined with nylon fabric, not some fleecy material, however it is generously large.
  • The magnetic hose holder was so well placed that I could actually just let the hose go after drinking and it would connect on its own.  Well done.
  • The reservoir is in its own compartment and is typically easy to get in and out although if the pack is stuffed full, then that always makes it a bit more of a chore to accomplish that.
  • The fit was very good, quite adjustable, and rode well on my back.  It conformed decently to my body, but it was not anything extra special either for air flow or comfort.  The Osprey Syncro still is the king of cool air and comfort with that mesh back panel.
  • I loved the color scheme and graphics.  It’s a pack worthy of Two Face from the Batman movies.
  • I never used the helmet holder or the blinky clips, but it has them.

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For me, the high points of the pack were the excellent storage/organization features and the general ‘sorted out’ nature of the pack.  Nothing was odd or not well considered, although it was just an average fit for me.

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DSC06663MULE NV

KEY PACK FEATURES:NV back panel, magnetic tube trap, integrated rain cover, helmet hooks, bike tool organizer pocket, dual waist belt pockets.

DESIGNED TO CARRY:Helmet, multi-tool, pump, spare tube, extra layer, lunch, phone, keys.

ANTIDOTE® RESERVOIR FEATURES:Quick Link™ System, 1/4 turn – easy open/close cap, lightweight fillport, dryer arms, center baffling and low-profile design, patented Big Bite™ Valve, HydroGuard™ technology, PureFlow™ tube, easy-to-clean wide-mouth opening

CamelBak® Got Your Bak™ Guarantee: If we built it, we’ll Bak it™ with our lifetime guarantee.

  • Hydration Capacity: 100 oz / 3L
  • Total Capacity: 12L (732 cu in) + L Reservoir
  • Total Weight: 1 lb 13 oz / .84 kg (pack only)
  • Dimensions: 19 x 10.5 x 3 in
  • Torso Length: 16.5 in / 42 cm
  • Back Panel: Bike NV™. Articulating pods and flexible back panel deliver maximum comfort and superior airflow.
  • Harness: Independent suspension™ with ultra light 3D mesh and perforated foam.
  • Belt: Removable 20mm / .75″ with cargo pockets
  • Fabric: 70D / 210D diamond ripstop nylon w/ 70D / 140D block dobby nylon
  • MSRP $139.00

DSC06674If the MULE is a Swiss Army Knife, then the MULE NV is one of those knives that has so many features on it that it does not really fit in your pocket.  It’s a MULE on steroids.  The NV refers to the NV back pad system, giving you 4 padded ‘pods’ that can articulate individually, conforming to your back and allowing air to get in there as well.

Other differences between the packs are a hidden rain cover on the NV, side ‘wing’ pockets on the waist straps, and an extra front ‘slash’ zippered pouch in front.  Note that all this adds a half pound to the pack. It uses the same excellent reservoir.

Here we go.

  • If you regularly carry more stuff and do it across wider conditions and in foul weather, the NV makes a lot of sense.  It is a bit big as a quickie after work ride pack and in that situation the extra 8oz of weight is just in the way for the most part.  But it will go farther into the ‘long ride on the weekend’ realm than the normal MULE will.
  • I love the wing pockets on the waist straps, one being zipped closed and one just an overlapping flap.  Super handy for things you want to keep right at hand and big enough to carry more than a chapstick.
  • I also loved the very front-most zipped pocket, another thing unique to the NV model. Very handy as a snack holder, glove keeper, or whatever.
  • The electronics or sunglasses soft pouch is actually soft on this pack.
  • The NV back panel is cooler as it flows more air, nearly as well as the Osprey Syncro 10.  But the comfort fell just a bit short for me as the pods lower down the back just did not quite feel right all the time, like they were having a hard time conforming to my bent over shape.  It was not bad, just not great.

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The NV will pack quite a bit and do it with more grace over the standard MULE and the NV pads do their part to keep air moving over your back.  And if it rains or is a muddy sloppy mess of a ride, the built in rain cover is there to keep things dry and covered up.  It also has good looking graphics in my opinion and an overall great build quality as you would expect…zipper pull cords, strap adjustments for fit and load compression/stability, plus all the other goodies from the normal MULE…helmet holder, magnetic hose keeper, etc.

Between these three packs, there ought to be one that meets your needs.  The Lobo travels fast and carries less, the MULE nearly does it all, and the MULE NV takes the MULE almost into the HAWG category.  All of them are sound choices.  Choose wisely.

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Note: The Camelbak products shown here were sent for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.