Camera bags, much like cameras, are something that people tend to take very personally. Everyone has a different color and brand preference. What sets F-Stop bags apart is the fact that they are designed by real life, working professional photographers. They have a dedicated pro team that field tests every bag and new feature before putting it out to the public. They also give the design team new ideas to move forward with. This shows in the quality of their bags from the moment you open the box.
Initially I wasn't sure how well this bag would hold up, maybe the blue just makes it look less tough. Having worked at Mountain Equipment Coop I am used to bags like Arcteryx, Black Diamond and of course MEC. Let me be clear here, I am very hard on my gear. I go through a lot of equipment, whether it's climbing gear or camera gear so having something of quality that lasts is a really big deal to me. After a few days of event shooting, ice climbing, rock climbing and hiking I began to change my mind on it. Every piece of material is so solid and well stitched that I can completely understand how they have a 20 year warranty on it.
Thick padded straps and ample buckles make for easy fine tuning. It was a bit strange for me to see that there was a frame inside the bag. I wasn't quite sure how this would affect how the bag feels on my back. On average my bag weighs about 11.5 KG (or 25 pounds), with the bag weighing in at a fairly hefty 1.79 KG (3.9 pounds). If anything the frame helps distribute the weight better, making this an ideal bag for long hikes with lots of gear. If you're like me and you bring everything you own, everywhere, you will hopefully appreciate how well it carries large loads. At 48 liters there is also lots of extra room for other gear and food, provided that you use one of the smaller ICU's. More on the ICU's next.
Ice climbing near Waterton with the Tilopa
This bag, along with all other F-Stop bags, are without a doubt the most versatile bags out there. They use an ICU or Internal Camera Unit, to keep your gear safe. The ICU's are well padded and have internal dividers that can be arranged to suit your gear best. I chose to get my bag with an XL and a Medium Slope in order to best accommodate the various activities and different shoots I do. The XL works perfectly for events and inner city shoots when I need to bring lots of gear and don't have an assistant to help me. The Medium Slope ICU gives me more room for extra gear like warm layers, food and water while still enabling me to comfortably and safely bring one camera, two lenses and a flash. My one complaint about the ICU’s is that they use Velcro. Some people hate it, some love it. I sit somewhere in the middle on this one. It’s great because it is more affordable than some alternatives, but it can be a bit frustrating to get it setup just right. It sticks to almost everything! One crucial piece for me was the extra attachment points. Being able to attach ice tools, a tripod and a pair of skis at the same time is really amazing from a backpack. Not that you would ever want to walk very far with all that gear on your back. All of the attachment points are strong and secure, with excellent quality buckles holding it all together. F-Stop also offers additional “Gatekeeper” straps that are designed to be added to the bag on the go, if you need to carry a tent, air mattress or something else that doesn’t fit on the backpack with the provided attachments.
There is no way to hide it; you’re in for a bit of sticker shock when you look at the pricing. Be prepared to shell out upwards of $400 for one ICU, and over $500 for two ICU’s. No doubt about it this could be the most expensive backpack you ever buy, it will be for me. Keep in mind that these bags are versatile and quick to adapt to whatever situation you need, and will last you for many years. If you’re Canadian I would recommend having it shipped to a hotel or shipping facilitator in the U.S. and taking a weekend off to go pick it up. The shipping is reasonable but UPS and Customs could make it unfeasible if you’re on a tighter budget.
I am not sponsored by F-Stop and they did not pay me to write this review. However if someone knows how to get me on their team please let me know! To check out more of their gear click here.