Camelbak Mini MULE – Kids Hydration Pack Review

From the littlest of hikers to the most adventurous of bike riders, the Camelbak Mini MULE is our go-to pick for kids hydration packs.  Having tested over a dozen different hydration packs for kids of various ages, the Mini MULE wins our praise for its reliable ease-of-use for all types of kids. 

This review is based on our experience with four different Mini MULEs we have owned over the last 12 years. All four packs are still alive and well – we just kept buying more as they became the easiest for all of our kids to use! Learn why we love the Mini MULE and how it compares to other brands in our review below.

young boy riding his orange bike with a blue camelbak mini mule hydration pack

Camelbak Mini MULE Overview

RATING: Exceptional

MSRP: $55

BEST FOR: Kids of all ages, especially those who have a tendency to chew on bite valves

SPECIFICATIONS

CAPACITY: 1.5 L
SIZE: Kid with torsos 12″ – 16″ long – can fit on shorter torsos if biking, but may be problematic when hiking
POCKETS2 zippered pockets
DIMENSIONS
14.2 x 7.5 x 5.9 in
BACK PANEL
Padded mesh

What We Love About the Camelbak Mini MULE

  • Camelbak’s easy-to-use on/off switch makes the Mini MULE usable with or WITHOUT a bite valve
  • Available in a wide variety of colors and designs
  • 2 zippered pouches to keep everything secure, and a stretchable outer pocket for a light jacket or teddy bear
  • Pack is a perfect size to hold a snack, extra tube, bike tool, and your outer layer when it gets hot
  • Safety whistle on the chest strap
  • The newest 2023 model has a firmer structural support of the pack body and shoulder straps

What You Should Know Before You Buy

  • Child’s torso should be at least 12″ long to properly fit, which is typically around age 6 or 7, but can be used earlier, especially for biking
  • Shorter kids can use the pack while biking without a problem, but may cause them issue while hiking as it hits their bottoms
  • The larger Camelbak Scout has a much higher storage capacity and may be better suited for long distance hikes, but is longer with a recommended 15″ torso
  • The Mini MULE is the same size as the Osprey Moki and slightly smaller than the Thule Uptake Youth
  • We have yet to find any budget “no-name” hydration pack that is as small as the Mini MULE

Camelbak Mini MULE Video Review

From hiking to biking, see the Camelbak Mini MULE in action as we break down the 5 things you need to know about the Mini MULE before you purchase including its size, storage capacity and why its bite valve design works great with young kids.

NOTE: This video shows the Camelbak Mini MULE model prior to summer of 2023, which is still quite similar to the current model.

Camelbak Mini MULE Review – Results of our Test Rides and Hikes

Over the last few years, we’ve been testing out hydration packs from various brands for our Best Kids Hydration Packs article, and while every brand certainly has its perks, the Camelbak Mini MULE is still our favorite for most kids. From its kid-friendly bite valve to its wide range of fit, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Mini MULE.

It’s All About the Bite Valve!

While there are many different features of hydration packs to consider, such as overall fit on the child and back ventilation (both covered below), after years of testing we’ve found these features play a very minor role if the bite valve doesn’t work. If a pack is always leaking or the child can’t get water out of the pack without any assistance, then what’s the point of buying a hydration pack?

boy biting the valve of the Camelbak Mini MULE kids hydration pack

The main problem with kids is that they often chew on the bite valve.  It is not uncommon for a kid to puncture their pack’s bite valve the first time they use it! It happens with kids of all ages, so in our experience, it’s always best to anticipate your child biting through the valve, rather than being surprised or angry when they do!

Once punctured, the bite valves can no longer hold suction and the valves will continually drip when in the “open” position.

Bite valves that have been chewed through can also become a choking hazard (we have never had a child choke or a close call, but better safe than sorry), so be sure to keep that in mind.  This is true with ALL bite valves, regardless of brand.

Broken Camelbak and Osprey Bite Valves

Side by side comparison of broken bite valves from Camelbak and Osprey hydration packs

So the real question isn’t which bite valve a child is less likely to puncture, but rather how functional the pack is without a bite valve or with a bite valve with a minor puncture.

After years of replacing broken bite valves and even dealing with new punctures while on a ride or hike, we realized the usability of these packs is NOT in the bite valve themselves, but rather the on/off switches on the valves.

On/off switches, which are found on almost all hydration packs, allow you to stop all water from entering the bite valve.  When switched to “off”, water will not drip out of the bite valve, even if the bite valve is punctured or removed.

Not all on/off switches, however, are created equal.  The switch on the Camelbak’s valve is SIGNIFICANTLY easier for kids to use than the switch on Osprey, Thule (which uses Osprey’s valve), and budget brand hydration packs.

The Camelbak switch is a large grey lever that easily folds forward to turn off and back to turn on.  The Osprey valve consists of a small plastic housing that surrounds the barrel of the bite valve.  To use the switch on the Osprey, you must twist the plastic housing to the right or left which requires fine motor skills that many young kids struggle with.

Side by side comparison of on and off functions for Camelbak Mini MULE and Osprey Moki bit valves on hydration packs.

As a result, we have found that Camelbak hydration packs, including the Mini MULE, are easier to use in general, but especially with a punctured rubber mouthpiece. The faster you can get that valve into the “off” position, the less likely you’re going to drip water all over yourself! 

The long plastic cylindrical tube of the Camelbak’s spout (without the bite valve attached) also makes it much easier to drink from compared to Osprey’s shorter spout. For those who have really aggressive “chewers”, this is a life-saver as you don’t have to keep purchasing replacement valves!

Osprey Moki and Camelbak Mini Mule hydration pack bite valves without the rubber ends

If you don’t have a really aggressive biter and don’t need to worry about punctured bite valves, the easy-to-use on/off valve on the Camelbak still comes in handy as it is always a good idea to lock the valves when the pack is not in use.  If the valves are not locked, water can leak out of the valves if only a little bit of pressure is applied to them.

Size and Fit

According to Camelbak, the Mini MULE is designed to fit kids with torsos 12″ to 16″, but we have successfully used them for kids with torsos as short as 8″.  Recommended torso lengths are provided to prevent the pack from being too long on the child.

A pack that is too long will hang down over the child’s bum, causing the pack to bounce around when walking or hiking.  As a result, with kids it’s important to purchase a child-size pack, such as the mini MULE, in order to prevent the pack from being too long and hanging down too far below their waist.

6-year-old Tester with a 10.5″ Torso

Rear shot of boy wearing Camelbak Mini MULE and a budget hydration pack. The Mini MULE sits much higher on his torso.

When biking, however, a pack hanging down past their bum isn’t as problematic as the pack won’t bounce up and down like when walking. As shown below, even our littlest 2-year-old tester with an 8″ torso had no problems with the pack when riding.

2-year-old with 8″ Torso

Rear view of toddler standing and riding with Camelbak Mini MULE kids hydration pack

When the bladder and the pack are fully loaded, however, the pack does slightly bounce around when walking. The bouncing isn’t enough to bother kids during shorter walks or hikes but is likely to become bothersome on longer outings.

As an FYI, the Osprey Moki (the only other child hydration pack this size) is the same length as the Mini MULE and sits at a similar position on the child.

When does a child outgrow the Camelbak Mini MULE?

We’ve had testers as old as 11-years-old use the Mini MULE, but we generally recommend purchasing a larger pack for kids about 9 or 10 years and up.  Per Camelbak’s recommendations, the Mini MULE maxes out with kids with torsos longer than 16″.

Camelbak’s smallest women’s pack, the Hydrobak Light, is recommended for torso lengths ranging from 15″ to 21″, and is a great solution for tweens who are too big for the Mini MULE, but aren’t quite ready for a full-size adult pack.

As an adult pack, the Hydrobak actually isn’t much longer than the Mini MULE, but the shoulder straps and upper portion of the pack are a lot wider. This makes the pack more comfortable to wear for older riders, and also provides lots of room for growth.

12-year-old with 16″ Torso wearing Camelbak Mini MULE and Camelbak Hydrobak

Side by side comparison of 12 year old wearing the Camelbak Mini MULE and Camelbak Hydrobak Light. Shown from rear.

Chest Strap

The length and adjustability of the chest strap on kids’ youth packs is also worth noting. The chest strap on the Camelbak Mini MULE is longer (so it doesn’t cinch up as tight) and also doesn’t slide up as high as the chest strap on the similarly sized Osprey Moki.

The newest 2023 version of the Mini MULE is able to cinch tighter and slide up higher than previous versions, but still not as much as the Osprey.

In the image below, the Camelbak’s chest strap (previous model that is a little larger) is cinched up as tight as it can go and it is still too loose for our 6-year-old tester.  The Moki on the right has a shorter chest strap which allows the shoulder straps to be pulled inward and into a more comfortable position.

Camelbak Mini MULE versus Osprey Moki

Front view of 7 year old wearing Camelback and Osprey kids hydration packs. The Osprey's chest strap can be set higher and pulled tighter.

Shoulder Straps

The shoulder straps of the 2023 model of the Mini MULE are sturdier, have more structural support, and are better contoured for a child’s body shape than the previous model.

2023 Shoulder Strap vs. Older Model

Side by side comparison of old vs new shoulder strap of the mini MULE

Ventilation – Better for 2023

Another important feature of hydration packs is the airflow and cooling options they provide.  The Mini Mule’s double-layered, stretchy mesh shoulder straps combine with a layer of mesh along the back of the pack to help prevent sweaty backs.

Here you can see how the rear panel of the Mini MULE was improved for 2023 compared to the previous model which had a thicker and less-airy fabric.

2023 Mini MULE vs. Older Model

Old and new Camelbak Mini MULE laying side by side, showing rear fabric ventilation

NOTE: The pre-2023 model of the Osprey Moki had a different ventilation system that provided better airflow than the older Mini MULE. However, the Moki has also been recently updated and doesn’t appear to be as well ventilated as the past.

We previously recommended the Osprey Moki over the Mini MULE for kids in hotter climates. Based on the updated models from both brands available in summer 2023, we now believe their ventilation benefits to be about equal.

Pre-2023 Osprey Moki vs. Camelbak Mini MULE

Back of Osprey Moki and Camelbak Mini MULE kids hydration packs. The Osprey has better ventilation

Camelbak Kids Water Bottles

If your child will be coming along for the ride in a trailer, or you just don’t think they’re ready for their own pack, a water bottle is a great alternative. We love the Camelbak Eddy Kids bottle in the standard plastic insulated version as well as the insulated stainless steel version. They’re both adorable, durable, and easy for little ones to use – it might just come down to which cute design your toddler prefers!

Both of these Eddy bottles made our list of Best Kids Water Bottles.

Toddler sitting in Thule Chariot Cross and drinking water from Camelbak Kids water bottle

Camelbak Mini MULE Hydration Pack Bottom Line

The Camelbak Mini MULE is our favorite hydration pack for kids, especially for those who are likely to chew on the bite valve.  Whether you use the Mini MULE with or without a bite valve, the pack is easy to use and high-quality to last through years of abuse.

FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this review.  No monetary compensation was provided for this review, however, the reviewed product was supplied by the manufacturer or distributor to help facilitate this review. All opinions and images are that of Two Wheeling Tots LLC.  All content and images are copyrighted and should not be used or replicated in any way. View our Terms of Use.

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