CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 Review
Cons: No hip belt, more expensive than similar packs
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Ease of Drinking
The CamelBak Crux hydration is one of the fastest flowing hydration systems we've tested, so we were pleased to see that the Cloud Walker 18 comes equipped with it. The Crux system gives all of CamelBak's hydration packs an outstanding score in this metric and the Cloud Walker is no exception. The Cloud Walker includes a 2.5-liter (85 oz) reservoir, which is a capacity large enough for most daytime adventures but falls just short of the huge 3.0-liter capacity found on some other packs in our lineup. The drinking hose has a soft, pliable feel, and resists kinking. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to get a well-deserved drink while you're huffing and puffing up the trail, only to find that your drinking hose has shifted and kinked.
The fast-flowing Crux bite valve also includes a handy on/off lever that prevents accidentally draining your precious water. If ease of drinking is your most important feature in a hydration pack, the CamelBak Crux system does an admirable job.
Ease of Filling
To access the dedicated hydration sleeve in the Cloud Walker, there is a blue zipper pull (blue for water) located about halfway down the left side of the pack. The zipper opens up across the top of the pack, opening approximately ⅓ of the pack's diameter. Inside the lightly padded/insulated sleeve, you see the 2.5-liter Crux reservoir, and its shoehorn style handle securing the bladder through a heavy webbing loop. To fill up, lift the wide-mouthed bladder out of the pack by the sturdy handle, and you can fill up out of even the most shallow sink.
The Cloud Walker shares a similarity with most of the hydration packs in our test lineup, having a standard drinking hose attachment rather than a convenient quick-release fitting. This is definitely a bit less convenient but not a major detractor.
While the leakproof wide mouth opening isn't as large as other folding models in our test, it is plenty wide for filling and even loading up with ice cubes. After filling the reservoir, thanks to the wide opening hydration sleeve, it's easy to lower the full bladder back into the pack and the keeper loop.
At first glance, the Cloud Walker 18 looks cushy and supportive, and it is to a point. With a typical day hike load; rain shell, ⅔ full hydration bladder, some snacks, GPS, and a few other small items, the pack carries well. The pack has substantially padded shoulder straps that feel good initially, especially with a lighter load, but the support fades if the weight carried is more than 10 pounds. Depending on your needs, this may or may not be a big factor for you.
The Cloud Walker design features an air mesh back panel that provides decent cushioning but lacked ventilation on warmer days. Poor back ventilation is often a significant factor during outdoor activity for several months out of the year, and a large part of the reason the Cloud Walker didn't land at the top of the heap in this metric. A sweaty back isn't the most comfortable.
We should also mention there is no hip belt for support, so the pack tends to flop around during more active endeavors like mountain biking, scrambling, or jogging. For light and simple hiking or replacing a typical daypack, the Cloud Walker is up to the task. But if the weather is hot, your load is substantial, or intense activity ensues, you'll be better served with another model.
When compared to the other large capacity hiking hydration packs in our test, the differences in storage are pretty minor overall. The Cloud Walker has a dedicated hydration sleeve closest to the hiker's back, with a large single main compartment for primary storage.
Despite its sizable overall volume, it doesn't capture the top score in this metric. Why not higher a higher score with such a high volume? The answer lies in the organizational aspect of the pack. While boasting a large overall capacity, the organization is a bit more difficult with the large cavernous main pocket. Depending on your use, this may or may not matter. If you tend just to carry water, an extra layer, and maybe a few extras, no problem, this design works well. Alternatively, if you like to separate gear, especially smaller items, a pack with more organizational dividers may be the ticket. There aren't many individual pockets to keep your equipment and tools separate and easy to find and grab.
At the top of the pack is a smaller zippered pocket for items like glasses, personal electronics, snacks, etc. This pocket is sufficient in size but is not lined with scratch-resistant fabric, which we prefer for keeping screens and lenses safe. The outside of the pack also houses two stretchy mesh storage pockets for additional items like a wet rain shell or an extra water bottle. Also, keep in mind that the actual gear storage capacity is 15.5 liters when the pack's hydration reservoir is filled to capacity.
Weight differences between pack models are generally not that substantial, and that difference is measured in ounces. In this test, the Cloud Walker 18 lands near the middle of our lineup, with several competitors weighing in at just a few ounces more or less than this pack.
For the most part, we don't mind trading a few extra ounces for superior performance in more technical aspects of a pack. As an example, there are other models we tested that weigh mere ounces more than the Cloud Walker, but are also more comfortable with better ventilation and a hip belt for distributing weight, and that store gear in a more organized fashion. Low weight is great, but for the majority of outdoor adventurists, it shouldn't be the only consideration.
Ease of Cleaning
Compared to hydration packs of the past, cleaning the reservoir of the Cloud Walker 18 is so much easier. Accessing the hydration reservoir is easy, just slide the blue zipper open and slide the bladder out. Once you've done that, it gets a little more difficult. The opening of the Crux reservoir, compared to others, is noticeably smaller. We found we could slide our entire hand into the pack, scrub, wipe, and dry it, but it was more awkward than wide-mouth folding reservoirs in many other packs.
The lack of a quick-release drinking hose also makes cleaning a little more difficult, a feature shared with all but the highest-end packs in our lineup. Overall this may not be a major consideration for you, but it's worth mentioning.
With a price point near the middle of our lineup, the Cloud Walker 18 is a good value overall with the included Crux hydration system, but is outperformed by other models with similar and in some cases lower list prices. The pack is also covered by the "Got Your Bak Lifetime Guarantee," increasing its value, and is available in three different colors as well.
The CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 is a hydration pack with good features, lacking only the lighter weight and lighter price tag of some close competitors. With its larger storage volume and high-quality hydration system, this pack is a solid choice for less technical pursuits like basic trail hiking and urban use.
— Jason Cronk