£120 is quite a lot of money for a smallish rucksack. However, given that it's likely to give many years' service allied to its practical features, this makes it a good proposition if you like to travel light and smart. There is a lot to like about the CamelBak MULE 22 backpack and it has become my go to rucksack for a variety of tasks; from work, to travel, with errands in between.
For me it's the Goldilocks of sizes, just right.
Comfortable to wear laden and unladen
Good stability when cycling
Great selection of pockets
Handy strap tidy-aways
Helmet carry was fiddly and didn't suit my helmet strap system
CamelBak has been in the business of making cycling backpacks for over 30 years now. I'm taking a look at one of its latest products, the MULE Commute 22 aimed, as you'd guess, at the commuter market, with a capacity of 22 litres.
How do the range of details, such as a weatherproof laptop sleeve, side drinks pockets, helmet loops, 360-degree reflective panels work in the real world? I found out by using the bag in a variety of situations over a couple of months.
The pack has a capacity of 22 litres and weighs 730g (719g on my scales) and will fit a torso length range of 43-53cm. It certainly fits both me at 5ft 11in and my wife at 5ft 6in comfortably. It will also accommodate waist sizes from 26-46in with the adjustable waistband.
It is made from a coated Cordura N330D material and appears to be very strongly constructed and I would expect years of service from this bag. The fabric is pretty weather resistant and it is really tough too. I had a courier bag made in a similar material and it lasted years with hard use.
CamelBak MULE Commute 22 in use
The CamelBak MULE Commute 22's main compartment is accessed via a fairly small semi-circular lid using a twin zip system. Inside the lid is a really useful mesh pocket, again with a zip, which also has a key loop.
Once inside the main compartment there is a weatherproof roll-top sleeve for a laptop or an A4 sized notebook. It took my 14in screen Chromebook (335x225mm) with ease, but check before buying if you want to go much bigger than that.
There is also a zipped pocket lower down that can take a paperback book (for size comparison). Finally there is a loop to hook a CamelBak bladder onto, and there is a tube hole for the hose to exit via. However I'm not sure that you'll need that ability when you have two large side pockets that can swallow a one-litre bottle easily. But you do have the choice. The side pockets can take a D-lock, says CamelBak; but as I had a Kryptonite Evolution chain lock to hand I used that and it fitted in easily.
Just below the lid pocket is a small fabric-lined pocket, again closed with a zip. Beneath that is another sleeve pocket that can hold an A4 notebook/magazine/newspaper. At a push a small waterproof or down jacket can be stuffed in it too.
Finally to complete the plethora of pockets there are two more, one on each arm harness strap. The left side one will fit a phone whilst the other side can take keys (with another key loop) or train tickets. The phone pocket works really well as it allows a phone to be inserted and removed easily without removing the pack. It helps a 145x70mm phone without problem.
The arm straps follow an 'S' shape and are really comfortable. They also fit really securely and the use of the chest strap is not always necessary. However if you like to sling a pack on and just use one arm you may not find it as comfortable. For me using both straps worked the best. Talking of stability the waist strap is easily removable and I found that I didn't need it either when walking or cycling so balanced are the arm straps, this was even with quite some weight in the pack. I did use the chest strap more which can be raised or lowered depending on ones preference.
Each strap has its own tidy-away so once the harness has been adjusted the loose ends can be tucked away inside an elasticated loop. Very neat.
The back panel dubbed 'Air Support' has 3 zones that rest on the back but then also an air channel to allow air movement and lessen the chances of a sweaty back. It was really comfortable until you over stuff the bag at which point it becomes a bit of a football. Most bags will do that however...
Returning to the main compartment, its shape is like a rectangular box, opening at one end. Some thought is needed with regard to packing as its not that easy to rummage to the bottom to get things out. That said if you're organised and make use of the other areas of the bag to house the things that you need on the go it really isn't a problem.
TriFix helmet strap
Big heavy lock fits in side pocket easily
The less successful feature of the CamelBak MULE Commute 22 for me was the helmet carry loops. It took me a while to figure out where they were (doh!) and then I found them a bit small and fiddly to pass the helmet chin clip through.
More than that though was, with my Specialized Echelon helmet, the TriFix (under ear strap thing) didn't allow the helmet to be clipped on both sides. Really frustrating. It's not the fault of either product, just an incompatibility issue.
Competitor Osprey's 'Lid Lock' system is much more successful unless you have a zero vent helmet... Anyway, that's my only gripe with an otherwise fantastic bag.
But surely this is a black bag... Well, there are six areas of reflective material giving 360 degrees of visibility for the commuter. The mid rear section also doubles up as a light loop. There are two larger areas low down to the sides and rear, two stripes across the arm straps and finally the logo on the rear is also reflective. The centre rear reflective part also double up as a light loop to allow you to clip on a compatible rear light. Cateye, for example, often has a belt loop as an option with its lights.
Value and conclusion
At £120 (RRP at the time of writing) this is quite a lot of money for a smallish rucksack, however given that it's likely to give many years service allied to its practical features, this makes it a good proposition if you like to travel light and smart.
However, we have one problem with this bag. A big problem... My wife has been borrowing it for her commute to London and absolutely loves it too. So we either have to get another one or spin a coin to decide who's turn it is to use it! A nice problem to have though.
There is a lot to like about the CamelBak MULE Commute 22 backpack and it has become my/our go to rucksack for a variety of tasks; from work, to travel, with errands in between. Highly recommended.
- Weight: 730g (719g author's measurement)
- Capacity: 22 litres
- Fitting: Torso range 43-53cm (17-21")
- Waist fit range 66-116cm (26-46")
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