Continuing my life long search for the perfect camera bag resulted in a great Christmas present this year. My ‘go-to’ bag for the last five years or so has been a Vanguard Arlen 59 (also reviewed on PhotoArk) backpack that has served me well but has a couple of niggles that, whilst not insurmountable, led me to search for something new. The Arlen is a beautifully made pack and has many years of service left in it, but I needed to address the following points;
- Weight; the Arlen is a heavy pack even when empty. When loaded with gear (not just photo stuff) it gets uncomfortable on longer treks.
- Map pocket; the Arlen’s outer pocket is designed to take a map. However the designers did not allow for the storage of a waterproof OS map which is a centimetre or so larger, resulting in not being able to zip the pocket up.
- Ability to store a large flask; the top section of the Arlen is designed to take equipment such as additional clothing, food, flask etc. I have found that a 1 litre flask is a real struggle fit once I have added hat, gloves, sit mat etc. and often have to leave the top section unzipped.
A couple of extra centimetres added to the dimensions would have easily addressed the last two issues, but aggravated the first due to the heavy duty materials used in the bags manufacture.
In the past I tended to favour earth colours for coats, fleeces camera bags etc. but my taste has changed recently to blues so I was pleased to see that the Cloudscape is predominantly blue with a couple of white and grey panels, along with a small amount of red trim. I understand the pack is also available in black.
New rucksacks tend to look a bit sorry for themselves, a bit like a deflated balloon. They are devoid of form and shape until packed with stuff and ready to go, and the Cloudscape is no exception. It has a 20 litre capacity so is perfectly sized for a day out in the hills. The primary material is lightweight, tough rip-stop nylon offering good protection against the elements. Should weather conditions take a turn for the worse a rain cover is provided that is easily slipped over the whole thing. Shoulder and waist straps are well padded and fully adjustable.
The main compartment is full depth, allowing me to store my beloved 1 litre flask with no problems at all. I can also put hat, gloves, food and other items in with no problem (possibly even a light coat). The ingenious part is where the camera is stored; Marketed as a ‘Marsupial Pouch’, Clik Elite have created something I have been searching for for a long time. Suspended from the top of the interior is a well-padded pocket constructed from a soft felt-like material that secures by means of two velcro straps.
Two movable internal dividers inside the pouch allow a DSLR with two lenses to be stowed out of harm’s way. Users of large DSLR’s may not find it big enough so I recommend taking a look before purchasing. As an indicator though, a Pentax K-5 with 16-50 zoom lens attached along with 15 and 100mm primes fit with no problem. Similarly, an Olympus E-1 with 11-22 and 50mm lenses leave a little spare space. My first trip out with the pack saw me just taking my compact Leica X1 and binoculars which fit in the pouch with ease.
I love the pouch idea as I have always had concerns about storing my expensive gear in an area at the bottom of the pack with fluids stored above. Over the years I have had a couple of calamities when a flask stopper is not tightened properly and the contents have leaked out. Fortunately the internal divider has soaked up the moisture but I could imagine it seeping through causing untold damage. Why other manufacturers have not hit onto a similar idea of storing camera gear in the top compartment leaves me scratching my head a bit.
A large vertical zippered external pocket runs almost the full height of the pack and is plenty large enough to store personal effects in. Two smaller mesh pockets are tucked away in here that can be used for filters, memory cards and batteries. A neat touch is a small keyring style hook to which I have attached a swiss army knife. I store all of the above in the external pocket, along with waterproof map, beanbag, wallet, small first aid kit, camera cleaning kit and even a Velbon Ultra Maxi Mini tripod. Two adjustable straps to allow the securing of a larger tripod are also located in the pocket.
Externally, further pockets located on either side of the pack allow items such as bottles to be carried. One also forms the base for an alternative place from which to secure a larger tripod, above which is an adjustable strap to secure the tripod head. Underneath, two compression straps offer an ideal solution for carrying a coat, bedroll or similar.
Most Clik Elite packs allow for a bladder to be fitted by means of a hydration compartment that runs almost the full length of the pack. In the case of the Cloudscape a 3 litre bladder can be used but note that this is a 3rd part product and not included with the pack.
My first time out with my new Cloudscape was a Boxing Day walk around Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. Filled with left over Christmas Fayre, camera, binoculars and most of the peripherals described above I found the pack to be very comfortable and at the end of the day my shoulders and back lacked the aches that some previous packs inflicted on me. Overall I am very pleased with its ability to swallow up so much stuff while offering ease of access and good protection to my photo kit.
The Cloudscape is a backpack that is designed with the active photographer in mind, and not a camera bag designed as a backpack. I think this is one of the reasons that it is so comfortable to wear for hours on end. The Marsupial Pouch is an ingenious solution that gives very easy access to a small camera system – nice one Clik Elite!