Historically, I’ve picked my bags and backpacks with some rigor (really, that goes for most gear). I’ll even admit that there have been times I’ve turned to spreadsheets to compare gear.
There I said it… :)
As for bags – I’m pretty picky. Patagonia. The North Face. Mountainsmith. Timbuk2. Think Tank. Dana Design. MacPac (yes – my current long trail pack beckons from New Zealand. It’s a great pack). And now F-Stop.
And though there appear to be a lot of great photo packs out there – I had some specific criteria: slim design (overhead bin / carry-on friendly), could be considered for both trail and travel, and didn’t yell – “hey, look at me, I’m a camera bag.”
The reviews I found online were glowing for the F-stop Loka – but I wondered if it could really be that good?
So – it was with some nervousness that I ordered the pack and two ICU’s (Internal Camera Units) – the Small and Medium. And, the next day, I received a very polite call from F-Stop letting me know that the color I wanted (green) was out of stock and not expected for 3-4 months.
With a bit of reluctance, I got the black one (which, of course, holds gear just as well as the green one).
The strategy with purchasing both the Small and Medium ICU’s was that when used together – they equal a large ICU – and maximizes the amount of photo gear that can be carried in the pack – but if I’m carrying less photo gear on a day hike – I could use one or the other – and have plenty of room for a jacket and lunch.
When the pack first arrived – it was quickly apparent that this was a backpack. Maybe that sounds a bit funny – since it’s advertised as a backpack – but this isn’t simply a padded box with straps (which are great for some occasions) – this is a “real” backpack – ready for work. (Woohoo!)
The first trip for the backpack was to Uganda. I loaded it with cameras, lenses, batteries, chargers, filters, and a bunch of odds-n-ends. After it was loaded – it both carried well – and fit easily in those cavernous overhead bins often found on the 747 / A300 type airplanes.
As for protection? Well – I wasn’t keen on drop testing a fully loaded pack – but the padding seemed to be adequate – without being too much.
As for the zippers, straps, material, workmanship – all top notch.
The Cons? Honestly – there’s not many – and mostly they’re my own nitpicks.
First: The waist belt is great – when you’re sloshing down a trail. However – when trekking across an airport – I didn’t need it. One of two things would help keep it out of the way when traveling: (1) a small little pocket/sleeve to slide it behind or (2) simply make it removable.
And second: I’m not super fond of F-Stop’s naming scheme for their backpacks. Thankfully – it’s not plastered all over the pack.
Bottom line: Of course, no camera bag is going to be perfect – but I was pleasantly surprised with this F-stop bag. It’s a great pack. Highly recommended.