Finding the perfect backpack to store and carry one’s beloved camera equipment in is as unending as the pursuit to find the perfect sunset and the perfect predator kill. As I have returned to Blyde River Canyon and Bloubergstrand around 50 times in pursuit of that perfect light, I have also purchased, sold and even discarded countless backpacks in pursuit of the perfect one. I have tried small, large, cheap, expensive, black, blue, local and international… but nothing ever offered a satisfactory all-round solution.
As we South Africans are so used to being…I was in the dark about a young photo backpack manufacturer that had been making waves on other continents; f-stop gear. After finding out about this exciting new brand, I spent a few really late nights trawling over every single associated and independent blog article I could find and my research left me very excited. I couldn’t find a single article that mentioned more than one minor irritation or imperfection. To put things into perspective; most people can mention at least one fundamental flaw about their camera bag. Some can name a few such flaws and it’s always paired with countless smaller problems. Every piece of information I could find on Fstop bags was completely void of the usually endless complaints about camera backpacks. In my good fortune, the timelines coincided for my pursuit of the perfect backpack and my plans to launch an online store dedicated to the very best of photographic equipment
Many mails and discussions followed and in October 2014, a courier delivered two gigantic boxes; LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA’s first Fstopgear stock. I had a Magoebaskloof workshop coming up and I needed to pack the usual two bodies, four lenses, Lee Filter system, ton of accessories, snacks, water and a jacket. The natural choice was the Satori EXP with XL ICU, which is the largest option available in their product range.
Note – this article focuses on my first experiences with the f-stop system. For a good explanation on what makes the Fstop system fundamentally different from everything else on the market, visit this article.
Upon initially repacking everything from my old bag to the new one, there were a few things that struck me.
- The first was the volume of the bag, which was a good 25-35% less than the previous bag, despite carrying the same amount of equipment.
- A more compact design makes it feel a lot more balanced and stable than any other bag I’ve owned.
- The back and top access keeps things simpler and offers a large space for ‘other stuff’.
- The pack keeps its shape remarkably well even when heavily loaded. Most other bags sag, which ruins weight distribution, placing a lot of strain on a particular area of one’s back.
- The shoulder- and hip belts aren’t particularly wide or thick, but it is by FAR the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever shouldered.
- I can go on and on, but I think I make my point.
I was still hesitant about how much better these backpacks could be than the previous flagships from Tamrac, Lowepro and Clikelite I’ve owned, so I decided to put it to a serious test. I substituted my dedicated Deuter 65+10 Aircontact hiking backpack with the 62L Fstop Satori for a ten day hike in the Drakensberg. This is something that I would NEVER have considered with another backpack, but all the shining reviews combined with my own impressions instilled enough confidence to try it. I really couldn’t throw it in a deeper end for an initial test run. The small pro ICU was the perfect choice, as I needed far more ‘other stuff’ than camera gear. It (Small Pro ICU) is just large enough to accommodate what one wants on a hike; one body, 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, spare batteries, memory cards and a polariser.
Important note – I had a porter during the hike that carried my sleeping bag, mattress and pillow. The camera equipment I took along weighed about 10kg, I had slightly more than 1kg of food per day (another 10kg) and then all the other items shown in the first image above. Without the items that the porter took, my pack weighed 26kg, which is damn heavy. If I added the portered items, it would have been more than 30kg and with a full hydration bladder close to 35kg. It becomes a very heavy load to have on your back when covering 10km per day for 10 consecutive days at an average altitude of 3000masl.
The pack was certainly overloaded, but still very comfortable. I’m not going to delve into the details of the hike; I’ll rather just jump straight to the conclusion.
- I had substantially less back and shoulder pain than with the Deuter.
- Why the hell don’t hiking packs have back panel access? This made it so easy to remove something from any depth within the bag without having to unpack the whole damn thing. Getting camera gear out is as easy as taking the pack off, opening the rear panel and getting what I need. No muss, no fuss. Most hiking packs only have top access, so you have to unpack and repack everything above the item you need.
- It was easier to pack and unpack every day, it has better dedicated pouches than the Dueter, the hydration system works better, it has better attachment straps and points, more comfortable hip and shoulder belts and the list really goes on an on.
- Whenever we arrived at our camping spot for the night, it took me 2 minutes to remove anything not critical to the shoot from the backpack and I’d be ready to go scout for sunset. When I only had to walk a short distance I could simply take the ICU in one hand and tripod in the other.
- At a starting weight of almost 30kg with a full hydration bladder, it was definitely overloaded. The best part is that after ten days of being manhandled in the mud and rocks, it didn’t have a single loose thread or mark that I couldn’t wipe off with a wet cloth.
For a photographic backpack to totally outperform a dedicated hiking pack from one of the world’s top brands is nothing short of amazing. It testifies to all the praise for the brand and their dedication to produce the world’s best photo backpacks. It is now 6 months since that hike and my Satori has been to Iceland, Patagonia and Namibia and it still doesn’t have a loose thread or any mark I can’t simply wipe off. In 2013 I did Patagonia’s 4-hour Laguna Torre hike with a Tamrac Expedition Pro 7 and the back- and shoulder pain really spoiled the hike. I did it this year with the Satori and I barely knew I was carrying a heavy backpack.
Anyway, let me come to a close on the hiking, because very few photographers ever go on a multi-day hike. The fact that this backpack outperforms one of the best dedicated hiking products on the market carries a powerful message about how much it can do for any photographer. It makes packing easier, shooting easier and it especially makes travelling with your gear easier. Most of all, you’ll be content with the product you bought and you can shift your focus from shopping to shooting.
It will do what good photo gear is supposed to do; make you forget about all the hard work that goes into getting the shot and allow you the comfort and time to get the shot.
LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA is the leading retailer of Fstopgear products in South Africa. Click through to view the available products.
- 09 July 2015 – Fstopgear has done an exciting overhaul of their product line up, which holds the following in store.
- Satori, Loka and Guru retired. The Loka UL and Tilopa have only received minor updates.
- The new range, in order of size – Lotus, Ajna, Tilopa, Sukha, Shinn
- LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA will be receiving all models in 4 different colours – Aloe, Malibu Blue, Anthracite (black) and Nasturtium (orange).
- Ultra-Light models now include a new Guru UL and the female-dedicated Kashmir UL. LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA will be receiving stock of all.
- New stock will arrive in several shipments during July, August and September. Subscribe to the newsletter to stay up to date.