No real shade to be found but the 2.5-liter liquid capacity keeps you cool.
Ease of Drinking
The CamelBak Crux hydration system clocked in as the fastest flowing during testing, so we were pleased to see that the Cloud Walker 18 comes equipped with it. This high flow rate gives all of CamelBak's hydration packs an outstanding score in this metric and the Cloud Walker is no exception. Like the Osprey Skarab 18, 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 the Gregory Nano 18 H2O. The drinking tube is 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 tube has shifted and kinked.
CamelBak's Crux valve with an on/off lever is always a favorite for a satisfying flow of water.
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, look no further than the CamelBak models. Or, of course, you can also substitute your favorite bladder into your ideal pack if you prefer to customize, although it will increase the total price.
Ease of Filling
Before heading out for your adventure, you need to fill your new hydration pack, or at partially. 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 which seems about right. Inside the lightly padded/insulated sleeve, you see the 2.5 Crux reservoir, and its shoehorn style handles securing the bladder through a heavy webbing loop. It's a simple system but seems to work well in keeping the bladder in place. To fill up, lift the wide-mouthed bladder out of the pack, holding the sturdy handle, and you can fill up out of the most shallow sink.
Filling up the Cloud Walker 18's hydration bladder. No quick connect on this one.
The Cloud Walker shares a similarity with most of the hydration bladder packs in our test lineup, having a standard drinking tube attachment rather than a convenient quick-release fitting. This is definitely a bit less convenient but not a major detractor.
The wide zip opening access the dedicated hydration sleeve.
While the leakproof wide mouth opening isn't as large as other models in our test, like the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, 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. Not a perfect score in this metric, but the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 fills up without a real issue.
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 which 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. Other top-tier packs in our lineup like the Osprey Syncro 12 and Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 provide far superior back ventilation on warm 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.
Hot weather sandstone scrambling with the Cloud Walker 18, which isn't our first choice for this kind of sweaty affair.
We should also mention there is no waist belt for support, so the pack tends to flop around during more active endeavors like mountain biking, scrambling, or jogging. We attempted a casual neighborhood mountain bike ride and quickly returned home to exchange the pack for the Osprey Skarab 18 which handles wheeled fun much better. 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 Osprey Skarab 18 and Gregory Nano 18, 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.
A large main compartment provides the majority of storage.
Despite its sizable volume than nearly all the other packs in this review, it didn'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 capacity tied for the greatest, 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 zipped 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 actual gear storage capacity is 15.5 liters when the pack's hydration reservoir is filled to capacity.
Testing the hike-ability of the Cloud Walker 18 on a desert hike.
Weight differences between pack models are generally not that substantial, and that difference is measured in ounces. With that being said, if you are the type of hiker who weighs everything and cuts the tags out of your ultralight clothing, the difference between the Cloud Walker 18 and the other two large capacity packs in our lineup, the Skarab 18 and the Nano 18, is only 1.5 ounces (27 vs. 25.5). We'll let you decide if that difference is important or not!
The Cloud Walker 18 weighs in.
For the most part, we don't mind trading few extra ounces for superior performance in more technical aspects of a pack. As an example, the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 weighs three more ounces than the Cloud Walker, but it's also more comfortable with better ventilation and a waist belt for distributing weight, plus it stores 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. All of the CamelBak packs in our test share the same bladder opening, like the CamelBak Classic and CamelBak M.U.L.E.. We found we could slide our entire hand into the pack, scrub, wipe, and dry it, but it was more awkward than reservoirs of packs like the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, Osprey Skarab 18, and Osprey Syncro 12.
Cleaning the Crux hydration reservoir.
The lack of a quick connect drinking tube 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.
This CamelBak model is a hike and travel-worthy hydration pack that can serve double duty as a standard daypack. The Cloud Walker is at home on easy to moderate trails, a little easy off-trail scrambling, traveling, to and from school or work, and around town.
With an $85 list price, the Cloud Walker 18 is a good value overall with an included Crux hydration system, but the Gregory Nano 18 H2O with its $70 list price won our Best Buy Award with better one-pack-for-everything function. The pack is also covered by the "Got Your Bak Lifetime Guarantee," increasing its value, and is available in three different colors as well.
A basic daypack with some extras like the Crux bladder and bite valve.
Although edged out by our Best Buy Award winner, the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 is a hydration pack with good features, lacking only the lighter weight and lighter price tag the Gregory Nano 18 H2O possesses. The pack is a good choice for less technical pursuits like basic trail hiking and urban use.