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 10 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. Learn why we love the Mini MULE and how it compares to other brands in our review below.
Camelbak Mini MULE
RATING: Highly Recommended
BEST FOR: Kids of all ages, especially those who have a tendency to chew on bite valves
CAPACITY: 1.5 L
SIZE: Kid with torsos 12″ – 16″ long – can fit on shorter torsos if biking, but may be problematic when hiking
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
- Pack is a perfect size to hold a snack, extra tube, bike tool, and even a very light jacket
What You Should Know Before You Buy
- Child’s torso should be at least 12″ long to properly fit, which is typically around age 7 or 8, 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 Scout has a much higher storage capacity and may be better suited for long distance hikes, but is longer with a recommend 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 Review – Results of our Test Rides and Hikes
We have used three Mini MULE packs over the last 10 years and have loved them all. All three packs are still alive and well – we just kept buying more as they became the easiest for all of our kids to use. Over the last year, 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.
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 airflow (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?
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 the pack is in use. 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
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, allows 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 brands hydration packs.
The Camelbak switch is a large grey lever than 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.
As a result, we have found that Camelbak hydrations packs, including the Mini MULE, are pretty easy to use without the rubber mouthpiece. For those who have really aggressive “chewers”, this is a life-saver as you don’t have to keep purchasing replacement valves!
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.
If you don’t have a really aggressive biter and don’t need to worry about punctured bite valves, the 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
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. 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.
2-year-old with 8″ Torso
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 Charm, 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 a women’s pack, the Charm actually isn’t much longer than the Mini MULE, but the shoulder straps are a lot wider, making the pack much more comfortable to wear for older riders.
13-year-old with 17″ Torso wearing Camelbak Mini MULE and Camelbak Charm
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.
In the image below, the Camelbak’s chest strap 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
Another feature of hydration packs that is worth taking into account is the airflow and cooling options they provide. The Camelbak Mini MULE and the Osprey Moki both have mesh straps to help keep kids cool, but the Osprey goes one step further.
To prevent sweaty backs, the rear portion of the Osprey Moki is composed of a ventilated and corrugated foam backing beneath a layer of mesh. The corrugated foam allows for much more airflow, helping to prevent sweating.
The rear of the Mini MULE is composed of a soft and padded sturdy material that is also covered in mesh but does not have vents to allow for airflow. For those who live in a really hot climate, if your kids are not chewers, the Osprey Moki would be a better choice.
Osprey Moki vs. Camelbak Mini MULE
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!
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 works great and is easy to use.
If you are lucky enough to not have a non-chewer, the Camelbak is still a great pack, but if you live in a hotter climate, the Osprey Moki is likely a better choice.