[Review] CamelBak Hydration System

One of our readers recently sent me a question asking about how we like our CamelBak backpacks, whether we’d take different models or use some other way of keeping hydrated. Kay and I have had a ton of conversations about CamelBaks and it never occurred to me I hadn’t shared our thoughts here! In short, we feel that CamelBaks are absolutely essential pieces of gear for any motorcycle trip. Here’s what I said to our reader about our respective CamelBak backpacks, and what we’d change today:

Regarding CamelBaks: we both absolutely love them and think they’re an ESSENTIAL piece of kit for any motorcycle travel, be it riding across town or riding across the country. You never know when you’re going to get stuck in traffic and that water is the only thing keeping you hydrated and helping to keep your core body temperature down. It was a lifesaver for me in Mexico City, Costa Rica and parts of South America. We prefer the CamelBak to things like bottles in panniers because you can drink from them inside your full face helmet, while riding. No need to stop and take things off to drink (which would make one inclined to drink less often than one should) and the CamelBak being a worn item means it takes up less space than things like bottles in panniers, etc.

We’ve both agreed on various occasions that we feel “naked” when we’re riding without CamelBaks. Wearing them on the bikes almost feels like wearing a seatbelt in a car. It’s a totally psychological thing, but we both feel more protected with them on. We’ve never once minded wearing them on the bikes, but they can get a bit hot if you’re walking around in full gear in warm temps and they’re cutting off airflow to your back.

Kay had a CamelBak M.U.L.E. (an older version of the updated model) and wasn’t happy with it. With the water bladder full, the interior storage pocket is pretty much only good for flat stuff, or you have to work really hard to get bigger objects in there. If you do have anything in there it makes it more difficult to re-insert the bladder after filling. The extra pockets also encourage you to carry unnecessary weight on your back, and Kay doesn’t believe that the extra bulk of the M.U.L.E is worth it for the minimal amount of usable storage space. He’s currently been experimenting with our CamelBak Un-Bottle as a minimalist option, which is just a bladder (without any straps; he’s been experimenting with various strap options). His preference would be for a three liter version of mine, which doesn’t seem to exist. But I think that’s a personal option – you might decide you love the storage in a M.U.L.E.

Camelbak M.U.L.E.

My CamelBak is a discontinued winter sport model; it’s 2L and has a small outside pocket and “media pouch” for storage. I find I can put a point-and-click camera, bottle of Advil, earplugs, Moleskine, pens, granola bar and a few other small things in the pouch, which is just about perfect in my opinion. It’s similar to the CamelBak Scorpion. (In fact, looking at it I think it was a specially branded Scorpion that was discontinued.) I think it’s got the perfect amount of storage space – it doesn’t tempt me to put too much/too heavy stuff in there, and the storage is on the outside of the pack so it isn’t impacted by how full/empty the bladder is. Kay often looked at it and envied it along the way. Plus it’s easier to fill up because the flap over the opening just unzips and lifts up, whereas you have to take the bladder completely out of the M.U.L.E. or risk getting the contents of the pack wet.

Dachary's Camelbak

Kay feels that three liters is just about perfect amount of water as it was usually slightly more than was required. He liked knowing there was a little extra just in case. I didn’t like the weight of the extra liter and found that two liters was almost the perfect amount for me. Keep in mind that we always drank plenty of additional fluids at meals and it wasn’t uncommon for us to have to refill the bladders on particularly hot days.

Anyway – we love our CamelBaks and could ramble on at great length on this topic. But I highly, highly recommend for any and all motorcycle trips. Most of the other travelers we met along the way also used them, or similar variants, but a few didn’t because they “didn’t want to wear a backpack.” (We think they’re crazy and don’t understand how they can go without them.)

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