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Review: F-Stop Gear Loka Adventure Camera Pack

Camera backpacks come in many flavors for many purposes, pretty much every manufacturer has some sort of backpack as it is a popular choice for many photographers. I’ve often steered away from most as they have lacked in three specific areas for me: comfort, storage and durability. F-Stop Gear has their Mountain Series of camera backpacks, and I’ve spent the last year and a half with one. Have my needs finally been met?

Brand Introduction

F-Stop Gear creates three separate lines of camera bags (Mountain, Black Box & Millar), the Loka falls into the Mountain Series. Here’s how F-Stop describes the bag:

The Loka is the ultimate camera bag for the hard-working day shooter. Compatible with all ICUs up to a Large Pro Series, its 37-liter capacity handles a pro-level kit with room for food, water, and other daily essentials. It also meets international carry-on standards, making it the go-to bag for many traveling pros.

I specifically became interested in F-Stop while searching for a backpack that I could take with me on my outdoor excursions, as the bags I have previously owned have all been either; uncomfortable on my back & shoulders, or not able to carry the gear I want / need to bring with me. I initially began looking at the Tilopa BC, but I quickly realized that the Loka was more than sufficient for my needs. That being said, if you are into serious backpacking or mountaineering, the Satori EXP or Tilopa BC would be excellent bags to look at.

*Image courtesy of F-Stop Gear’s website

The other big feature of F-Stop’s bags is their ICU (Internal Camera Unit) system. You have several choices depending entirely upon how much equipment you need to carry. The great thing about this is that you can simply pull the ICU out of the bag and store your gear safe and sound when you don’t need to use the bag. Initially I chose the Large Pro-Series ICU, but in the last few months I have moved down to the Medium Pro-Series, the reason for this is that I’ve been trying to downsize how much gear I carry on these treks, and balance the additional space with other supplies needed.

Features

Construction:

  • Jersey laminate EVA-padded back panel with raised padding for ventilation and comfort control
  • Reinforced webbing grab / carry handle
  • Extra-tough Hypalon reinforcement in key areas

Zippers & Fly:

  • YKK® Aquaguard® zippers for extra water and weather resistance
  • Hypalon® zipper garages help prevent water penetration
  • YKK® glove-friendly zipper pulls
  • YKK® heavy gauge zippers

  

Pocket Configuration:

  • Easy-to-reach durable side mesh pockets with ripstop Nylon base and elastic cuff for water bottles and hydration supplies
  • Drainage weep holes on side and front pockets
  • Rain Cover pocket in base of the pack
  • Organizer pockets in top lid for batteries and smart phones
  • Front panel pocket is ideal for jackets, extra layers and ski skins
  • Clear urethane coated mesh accessory pocket with anti-scratch zipper garage located on inside back panel
  • Two Compact Flash Card pockets with sealed closure on inside back panel
  • Multifunctional internal nylon sleeve fits up to a 13” laptop; also doubles as hydration bladder pocket

Pack Hydration:

  • Compatible with various hydration systems
  • Multi-purpose sleeve fits hydration reservoir
  • Hydration slot allows hydration hose to slide through with ease
  • Stretch mesh sleeve keeps hydration hose in place
  • Velcro® loop holds hydration valve in place for easy access

Suspension & Compression:

  • Quick-release side compression straps allow depth adjustment for airline carry-on travel and also function to secure tripods, ski-poles, skis, or any other items with similar shape
  • Sternum strap with integrated whistle for emergencies
  • Fine-tune suspension shoulder straps provide superior performance
  • Ergonomically-friendly stabilizer straps with dual hip belt pulls provide maximum load control and comfort

Loading & Closure:

  • Camera gear is accessed via back panel and YKK® heavy gauge zipper
  • Top opening with protective zipper flap for main internal compartment uses YKK® heavy gauge zippers

Pack Attachments:

  • The MOLLE attachment system is the international standard for military, police, and fire departments; these straps allow the attachment of f-stop accessories and other third party add-ons
  • Ten (10) f-stop GateKeeper mounting points for easy attachment of tripods, snowboards, and similar equipment; GateKeepers sold separately
  • Accepts chest mounting for Navin camera case via GateKeeper system
  • Nylon loops and bungee cords for attachment of accessories, ideal for ice axes and trekking poles
  • Quick-release front compression straps are Hypalon® reinforced and ideal for carrying equipment such as snowboards or tripods
  • Two (2) D-Ring attachment points for additional accessories
  • Connection loop for attachment of Rain Cover

Integrated Features:

  • Four internal ICU mounting points
  • Multi-purpose sleeve fits up to 13” laptop

Additional:

  • Compatible with all f-stop ICUs up to Large Pro Series
  • Compatible with optional f-stop seam-taped Rain Cover
  • Volume: 37-liter / 2257 Cubic Inches
  • Weight: 1.56 kgs – 3.45lbs (No ICU)
  • Dimensions (cm): 21.6 depth x 30.5 width x 55.9 height
  • Dimensions (in): 8.5 depth x 12 width x 22 height

In Use

When I first received the bag last year (after being on a wait-list for a couple months), I couldn’t help but immediately appreciate the quality of the bag. Everything was extremely well constructed, leaving little doubt that this would be a durable bag. The layout of the ICU took a couple tries to get everything to fit properly, but that was only because I get rather picky with how my dividers are setup for space-efficiency. The first time I put the bag on my back I was impressed with how comfortable it was, even fully loaded. This bag is clearly designed to support heavy loads as well as keep it all safe in an exceptionally durable shell. Now, that being said, it is in fact possible to make this bag TOO heavy (if you are like me, and seem to be incapable of leaving things at home). This is precisely why I have chosen to downsize to the Medium ICU.

The beauty of these bags is the swappable insert system, almost any insert will fit in any one of their bags (any exceptions are noted on their website (http://www.fstopgear.com). With the medium sized insert I can still carry my Full-Frame DSLR  with 3-4 prime lenses (I no longer use zooms personally). Other accessories like cables, batteries, memory cards etc. etc. can easily fit into the other pockets. There is also an internal pouch for carrying a hydration pouch (that I have yet to use admittedly) but it could also easily carry something like an iPad or a small notebook computer if you’re so inclined. Given the very clear intentions of this bag, it admittedly is probably not something you’d use for trekking around a city, but don’t let my opinion stop you if you want to!

In the year and a half that I have owned the Loka, I have dragged it through miserably hot deserts, cold, wet mountains and most everything in between. It’s been rained on, covered in dirt and sand, and even set on fire (actually no, that’s not true). Basically my point is, this bag has easily lasted through everything I’ve thrown at it without so much as a scuff or a tear and I am positive it will last me several more years.

Purchasing

Now, when it comes to ordering from F-Stop, they do occasionally have supply shortages as they are a small company. When I originally ordered my bag it took a couple months to actually receive it. As far as I understand, their supply has improved considerably so it should not be too much of an issue to order one today. They do have an excellent customer support system and they fully stand by their products as well. The Loka costs $279 on its own without an ICU (if you happen to already have one from another F-Stop bag) or $339 with 1 ICU. You can order as many ICUs as you want, though I recommend you decide first how much gear you really want to carry and go with that size. The price is clearly not inexpensive for a camera bag, but I can attest to the quality they put into  them.

 Conclusion

In the end, I have found a backpack that absolutely meets my needs, one that is comfortable to wear, easy to load & unload with my chosen equipment, and one that will withstand rigorous use. The F-Stop Gear Loka is a truly excellent travel and adventure backpack, and one that I whole-heartedly recommend if you happen to need something of this caliber. Check out   http://www.fstopgear.com for any more information you require about their products or to purchase directly from them.

 

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