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Real life review of the Cley Spy Mulepack

***Update 1/20/14***

I wrote to Cley Spy about my disappointing experience with their Mulepack. They wrote back to say that they were aware of a manufacture defect and had taken steps to recall any bags with the defect. They sent me a new Mulepack pretty soon after. I received the bag today, so haven't had the time to field test it. But looking at the construction there's a noticable difference. The stitching looks much better and I hope the quality holds out this time around. I'll still have to add the zipper and velcro to the inner pockets, but I'm looking forward to giving this bag another try. I'll add another update once I get a good feel for the bag.

*Initial review from 1/4/14*

Bottom line: great concept, poor execution

I was pretty excited about purchasing this tripod carrier/day bag combination. When I found out the Seattle Audubon store had them in stock I went and picked one up. I had a simple tripod backpack carrier already, but really wanted the ability to also carry my field guide, my digiscope attachment, some water, and a few snacks. The old tripod backpack could only comfortably carry a field guide at most. So the prospect of the Cley Spy Mulepack really got me excited. I bought it with the intention of taking it on my trip to Ecuador. The fact that the daybag was detachable would be a bonus. I took the Mulepack out for a few local test runs and was fairly satisfied with the results. The tripod carrier is well-padded and fits comfortably on my back. I could carry it 3 miles without any fatigue (perhaps longer, but I haven't hiked longer with it yet).

It was convenient having the daypack to carry a few items. I understand the design of having the bag fold open entirely so while it's on your scope so you can access all the pockets. I didn't like the fact that once the bag was zipped up all of the contents of these pockets would be dumped out because there wasn't anything to hold these pockets closed. I thought this was a major oversight or perhaps the company being cheap. To fix this problem, I stitched in a 9-inch zipper to the large pocket and velcro on the two mesh pockets to make these storage areas functional. Still customers shouldn't have to fix this obvious problem with an easy solution.

I added the zipper to the inner pocket and two tabs of velcro so items can be held in these areas without falling out when the bag is zipped up.

With my modified Mulepack it was time for it to face the true test - in Ecuador. It failed. Even before getting through Ecuadorian customs - the strap on the detachable daybag gave out. The stitching that held strap on was weak, and the small amount of strap used to hold onto the bag frayed and was insufficient. Working with the resources I had on hand, I used mole skin and a safety pin to hold the strap on. The other end of strap that was attached to the day bag was also failing so I had to use mole skin on that side as well. I wasn't carrying much weight in the bag nor was it overstuffed when the strap came off. I wasn't swinging the bag or unnecessarily rough with it. Poor construction and materials are the only explanation for its failing. Keeping in mind the bag was failing, I made an active effort to keep the day bag functional throughout the trip. I keep my contents light and even held up the daybag to alleviate some of the strain on the straps. Even then, the fabric around the zipper started to give way. With more mole skin and a prayer I hoped the bag would hold out at least until the end of the trip. The other thing that started to fall apart during the trip was the water bottle holder. Whenever the tripod head would be raised and then lowered, the pole would catch on the bottle holder fabric and rip out the stitching.

On my first trip with the Cley Spy Mulepack, the daybag fell apart. The strap end frayed and the clip came off. The fabric around the other strap also was failing. The fabric around the zipper started to give out. And the stitching on the bottle holder came out.

No wonder the Mulepack daypack failed - inferior fabric, thread and stitching barely held the daypack together. Thankfully the quality in the tripod pack is much better. The yellow line shows how long the stitches are in comparison. Shorter stitches are obviously stronger.

Close up on the frayed fabric around the strap of the daypack. Notice how the strap is only held on by its edge. No wonder the other strap frayed and fell off. Also notice how the zipper fabric is pulling and failing.

Raising and lowering the tripod head causes the pole to hit the water bottle holder and pull the stitching out. The mole skin and the safety pin were the only things that held the strap on and kept the daybag functioning through my trip.

A cheap zipper on the daypack; look at loose weave of the fabric. Notice how it is pulling way from the fabric on the bottom. In contrast, the zipper on the tripod bag was of much better quality (not pictured).

Overall, I gave it two stars - one because it's a great concept for something that I really desired. It also gets another star because the tripod holder is comfortable and well-made. It loses three stars though - one because the bag wasn't fully thought out (specifically, the upside down pockets dumping their contents and use of the tripod catching on the bottle holder). It loses another star because the bag was of poor quality (the thread was weak, the stitching poor, the short straps frayed, and the fabric on the zipper started to give out). It loses its final star to the fact this was manufactured in the UK (not China) where I'd hope the quality would match the price... A $100 item should not fail on its first test.

I'm hoping Cley Spy doesn't stop here with the Mulepack. They have a great idea that still needs a lot of work both with the quality and design of the daypack. If they use the same quality fabric, zippers, and stitching on the daypack as they did with the tripod pack, it would be a vast improvement.

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page updated: 1/20/14