Review: Is the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system worth the cost?
So many pockets, so little time.
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably noticed that summers in the United States are getting increasingly hotter, with 2021 on track to achieve the dubious honor of being the warmest on record. While I don’t live in Death Valley, summers in the Washington DC and southern Maryland area are no joke. You can literally die doing outdoor summer activities.
Because I don’t want to die any time soon and do want to be able to run in all four seasons, I am always on the lookout for affordable, well-fitting, and easy-to-clean hydration systems. For about 15 years, I was committed to a one-liter CamelBak system that I received for free way back when I was on my second recruiting duty tour in the Marine Corps. It is, admittedly, the only piece of gear I own with a Marine Corps logo on it, and while I did get tired of being asked if my husband served almost every time I wore it, it was the chafing and cleaning difficulty that finally prompted me to retire it in favor of a new hydration system.
Enter the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14, a high-end $150 hydration system from the storied brand. The M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system is touted as perfect for medium and ultra-long range endeavors (hence the acronym), so I was especially excited about testing it out on my daily running and hiking excursions and my weekly trail runs. Its lightweight, ventilation-promoting materials, strappy harness system, and 100 oz bladder made me eager to test out how well it could keep me hydrated and energized during even the most sweltering of southern Maryland summer days.
When I received my CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 and unpacked it, I was shocked at how big it was. It is really the size of a day pack. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the specs on the website, but the photos made it look much smaller online. The good news is that I knew the four big pack pockets would give me a lot of space for my glasses, phone, snacks, and long sleeve shirts on hikes and long trail runs.
I was impressed with the simple design of the actual hydration system, which tucks inside the main zipper compartment. The drinking tube simply pops out of a space in the compartment’s zipper and can be worn over or under the arm. I quickly figured out that unlike previous CamelBak hydration systems, the tube has a magnet on it that is supposed to connect with another magnet, or tube trap, on the top buckle to the harness.
Within seconds of opening the front zipper of my CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14, I found a warning pamphlet that produced some serious reservations about whether the strong magnets on the system’s tube trap would result in bodily harm or the destruction of my phone during my runs. I mean, I like to listen to podcasts about true crime and murders during my outdoor activities, but I never want to be the subject of one.
I am not ashamed to admit that I spent the next 10 minutes researching the health implications of the “strong magnets,” and by the autofill search results that popped up in my Google browser, I am not the only person concerned. Luckily, I didn’t find any results that were too alarming and quickly resumed exploring the M.U.L.E Pro 14’s many features. More on the magnets in a minute.
Truth be told, the system I purchased was designed for a male frame because the women’s version of the M.U.L.E. Pro 14 was sold out. So admittedly, I tested a version that is too large for my 5-foot 4-inch, 119-pound frame which could have contributed to the chafing I experienced, and most likely made the breathable 3D vent mesh harness and body mapping technology less effective than advertised.
How we tested the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system
For the purposes of this review, I tested the M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system out by wearing it on my daily 7-8 mile runs and my weekly long trail run at my local state park. Luckily the weather cooperated, averaging 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit, not even counting the high humidity. For my shorter runs, I tested it with the bladder partially full, which reduced the weight load and profile of the pack. I appreciated the flexibility of the large bladder and being able to right-size the amount of water based on the anticipated length of my runs.
I also tried it out on a few long hikes in my local woods so I could load up the pockets with keys, my phone, snacks, and a warming layer. And although I didn’t take it out for a spin on my bike, it gets high reviews for mountain biking. It even has a pouch to store an impact protector panel that can be purchased separately for $50.
When I wore the system for running without a bunch of gear in the pockets, I immediately noticed the bounce of the bladder in its zip pocket. I also noticed that the stiff backing of the Air Support panel and the stiff nylon harness and shoulder straps caused chafing of my upper back and arms. With its large size, the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 is the Cadillac of personal hydration systems and is ideal for larger framed people who enjoy mountain biking and hiking.
What we like about the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system
One of my favorite features of the M.U.L.E. Pro 14 is the handle on the water reservoir. The bladder can accommodate up to 3 liters (100 ounces) of water, and when completely full, it weighs five pounds. The handle makes it a breeze to hold and fill without losing a drop of liquid. Because my run length varies from seven to 15 miles, having a large-capacity water reservoir that I can fill based on my anticipated distance and the weather makes the M.U.L.E. Pro 14 a solid hydration system option.
Despite its one-pound weight without the full reservoir, the M.U.L.E. Pro 14 is more like a daypack than a typical running hydration system. For those long, 15- to 20-mile day hikes on the Appalachian Trail, the many pockets are perfect for stashing snacks, a warming layer, and headlamp, and the key fob holder tethered to the top pocket of the main zippered compartment is an added bonus. Plus, being that I am not the most graceful of runners or hikers, I am prone to big spills, which is why I appreciate the water and rip-proof fabric of the pack. Upping its cool factor for mountain bikers, the system includes a handy roll-up pouch for storing bike tools, inner tubes, and C02 cartridges, as well as a clip for securing a bike helmet, and a light loop for attaching a flashlight.
What we don’t like about the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system
I mentioned appreciating the handle on the water reservoir for easy filling. Unfortunately, that’s where the good design ends for CamelBak’s M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system. The Air Support back panel’s firm material and the unbelievably tiny pouch for holding the bladder in place in its zippered pocket made inserting the reservoir a little like wrestling a pig into a dress. Plus, on my runs, I didn’t have a lot of stuff to carry in the pack, and that meant the reservoir bounced around way too much for comfort.
It turned out that those magnets I was so alarmed about are a completely unnecessary design feature. According to CameBak’s website, the magnet on the drinking tube is supposed to connect with another magnet on the top chest strap connector to keep the drinking tube secure. However, despite the scary warning about the M.U.L.E. Pro 14’s “strong magnets,” they constantly disconnected with just a brush of the arm, causing the tube to annoyingly flop around on my runs and hikes no matter how I adjusted. Pro tip: I definitely recommend bringing back the old, lo-fi drinking tube clips for future versions of the M.U.L.E.
Call me cheap, but I hate the idea of paying $150 for a hydration system regardless of how often I might use it, especially when it isn’t sized to fit me properly. However, I also recognize that CamelBak makes less pricey personal hydration systems that are specifically designed for running, and the very bells and whistles that make it a solid choice for mountain biking are also what contributes to the M.U.L.E. Pro14’s hefty price tag.
If you need a personal hydration system for running, the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 is probably overkill for you, and there are plenty of great options out there that are specifically designed for women that will run you far less than the M.U.L.E’s $150 price tag. But if you like hiking or mountain biking, the large water reservoir and all of the system’s pockets for storage are pretty handy and make it a fairly solid option for those activities.
According to a report by the Outdoor Industry Association, in 2019, “46.2 percent of outdoor participants were female versus 53.8 percent male, the smallest gender gap on record.” After spending 20 years in the Marines and consistently grappling with tactical gear designed by and made for men, it always irks me when I can’t find commercial outdoor equipment specifically designed for women and/or smaller body frames. It’s definitely time for outdoor recreation equipment companies to pay more attention to the design and production of equipment specifically made for women, and CamelBak could lead the charge by increasing their production of the women’s M.U.L.E. Pro 14.
FAQs about the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system cost?
A. The CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system MSRPs for around $150 on Amazon.
Q. Is the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system BPA-free?
A. Yes. According to the manufacturer, “All of our bottles and reservoirs are 100% free of BPA, BPS and BPF. Our products go through rigorous third-party testing to ensure that no harmful chemicals will leach into food or beverages. Independent researchers have also performed extraction tests to make sure our bottles meet the stringent food safety standards set by the FDA, the European Community, the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare, and California Prop 65. BPA, BPs, and BPF are not used in raw materials or manufacturing processes for making our reservoirs or bottles.”
Q. Does CamelBak sell a version of the M.U.L.E. Pro 14 hydration system designed specifically for women?
A. Yes. CamelBak sells a women’s M.U.L.E. Pro 14 100 oz hydration system. According to CamelBak, “Tailored to fit female frames, the s-curved shoulder harness is specifically contoured to fit a woman’s body for added comfort and stability.” It also retails at $150 and is currently sold out on the company’s website.
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Kate Germano served in the Marine Corps from 1996 to 2016. She’s a closet gear freak who enjoys schlepping packs with her better half on long Appalachian Trail section hikes. She’s also into true crime, Qwirkle tournaments, and animals, but definitely not Dungeons and Dragons.