Is This Unique, Light Bag Adventure Ready? F-Stop AJNA 37L Review

Aluminum frame backpacks tend to make me regret my life choices as soon as I put them on. Often, the added structure isn’t worth the added weight. That’s not the case with the F-Stop AJNA, an adventure and travel backpack that has an aluminum frame so light I didn’t even notice it at first. Combined with a waist belt, the backpack helps distribute weight on the hips instead of the back and shoulders.

The F-Stop AJNA fit almost perfectly, had plenty of pockets, and even has an unexpected built-in whistle. It’s big enough for two camera bodies — including a built-in grip like on the Canon EOS R3 — and a handful of lenses. Then, there are the seemingly endless pockets for accessories and personal items. But, there are a few details that won’t take to adventure quite as well.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The F-Stop AJNA is a well-organized and comfortable camera backpack made for adventure and travel. I love the pockets, organization, and smart features like a whistle and removable side straps. But, I’m not completely in love with the new material or the thinner straps.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Full-gear access from the back
  • Lightweight
  • Magnetic closure memory card pockets
  • Aluminum frame and waist belt distribute weight well
  • Built-in whistle, hydro pack pocket, ice axe sleeves, and other hiking features
  • Lots of space
  • Well-organized, with lots of pockets

Cons

  • Light fraying questions the long term durability
  • The fabric is noisy
  • The side pockets are too short
  • The most important zippers aren’t weather-sealed, and the fabric isn’t 100 percent waterproof
  • It’s pricey

Gear Used

I used the F-Stop AJNA 37L with the Slope Medium camera bag insert. I packed the bag with the Canon EOS R3, the Canon EOS R6, the RF 70-200mm f4, the RF 85mm f2 Macro, the 14-35mm f4 L, and the 16mm f2.8. I also tried the Vanguard Veo 264CB Carbon Tripod in the side pocket.

Innovations

The AJNA is one of three new bags for F-Stop. It uses a new material called DuraDiamond that the company says is stronger and lightweight. The bag also has a few small touches that I haven’t seen on a lot of other bags, including magnetic closure memory card slots.

Tech Specs

F-Stop lists the following features for the AJNA 37L camera backpack:

  • 37 liter capacity
  • Ideal for travel (carry-on compatible) and short adventures
  • DuraDiamond™ material is proprietary to f-stop and is stronger, lighter weight, and more weather resistant
  • Combination T6 aluminum and plastic hardware adds strength to critical carry and suspension components
  • Upgraded weather resistant zippers including woven-in zippers for significantly improved strength than standard coil zippers
  • Improved organization and storage features added to pockets, lid, and back panel
  • Mesh side pockets carries a 32oz/1 liter Nalgene bottle
  • For comfortable carry, we recommend you do not exceed a load of gear exceeding 12 kgs/27 lbs.
  • Aluminum frame shifts pack’s weight to hips for all day carry comfort
  • Pairs best with the Slope – Medium or Pro – Large Camera Insert

Ergonomics

The F-Stop AJNA 37L uses one of my personal favorite designs for backpacks, similar to the one on my go-to backpack. The gear access is in the back, but there’s also a waist belt. You can remove the shoulder straps, swing the bag around the front, unzip it, and grab gear without taking the bag off. This isn’t as fast as using a messenger bag, but it’s more comfortable. Unlike a quick access door, you can see and grab all your gear, not just whatever is tucked into one spot.

The main compartment is an empty slate ready for a camera insert. You can access it from the large back zipper, which opens fully and stays open. Or, there is a second zipper to the main compartment at the top. This zipper has easy access to the extra room at the top of the bag when paired with the smaller Slope insert. There’s yet another pocket here too, mesh with a zipper closure.

The camera insert (even the Slope medium option) has a lot of room. I fit two bodies and five medium to small lenses and still had extra space. The bag is also deep. I fit the R3 in flat, no problem. Smaller bodies like the R6 can be turned vertically with the grip up to fit in the deep space without extra wiggle room. Some lenses could similarly sit vertically to take up less space.

On the inside of the back flap are three rows of pockets. The first is designed for memory cards and is roomy enough for SDs or XQDs. These pockets have a magnetic closure, which I really like. Underneath that is a mesh zippered pocket. The final pocket on the bottom has a magnetic flap closure and would be a good spot for a filter or charger.

Along with the main access back compartment (which requires a camera insert) the bag has a top compartment for stashing personal items. This spot also has a key leash and two smaller, zippered pockets.

The side of the bag has two long, zippered pockets on each side, with one side’s pocket having another pocket inside that. Pouches on both sides hold water bottles, tripods, or ski poles, with a latch strap located higher up on the bag. This latch strap can also be removed if you don’t want to use it. I like being able to carry both a tripod and a water bottle. I do wish the mesh side pockets were a little deeper to better hold tall water bottles. But, they are wide and roomy enough for wide bottles and larger tripods.

The front has a roomy pocket that covers most of the front of the bag. There are even loops and a protective sleeve for carrying ice axes, a feature for true adventurers. The bottom of the bag hides another zippered pocket. But, the bag doesn’t have a laptop sleeve.

Most aluminum frame backpacks are heavy and stiff, but I actually didn’t notice the aluminum frame on the F-Stop AJNA 37L at first. Thin aluminum rods along the back edges help give the bag shape, structure, and support. But, the frame isn’t overly heavy and doesn’t rest directly against the back. That, combined with the waist strap, does a good job of evenly distributing the weight.

While the frame does a good job of distributing the weight of the gear, I wish the straps would have a bit more padding. The straps are just okay; I’ve used worse, but I’ve used better too. They are thin, which contributes to the lighter feel of the bag, but that also means less padding. That said, I found the AJNA more comfortable than I expected when I first pulled it out of the box. The frame and the waist belt do a good job of redirecting the weight to your hips instead of the shoulders. The height of the straps can be adjusted at the top and bottom.

The waist strap is similarly thin, but it uses a metal clasp (one side pulls through the other). This feels secure and more durable than a plastic clip. The chest clip is adjustable, but I needed one more slot to get it to sit in a comfortable position. The chest clip is plastic, but it actually has a built-in whistle. It looks like a regular clip with a little bump on it. Blow on the bump, and you have your whistle. It’s a clever way of hiding some emergency gear. 

Build Quality

When I first pulled this backpack out of the box, I thought the new DuraDiamond material felt pretty sturdy for how thin it is. But, two weeks later, the diamond pattern that’s woven in is fraying in two very small spots. Where the diamond stitching meets, I can see threads if I run my finger across the small discolored spot. It’s hardly noticeable now, and there is another layer of interior fabric underneath. But, it has me questioning the durability of an expensive bag that should last several years. Will those small, frayed spots become larger after a year of use? Is just the diamond pattern affected, or will it eventually affect the integrity of the fabric? Will water seep in more in those areas? We’re currently testing another bag made from the same material and haven’t yet had durability issues but are not finished testing. F-Stop does have a 20-year warranty on this bag. It covers “defects in material” but not “the natural breakdown of materials that occurs after extended use.” 

The new DuraDiamond repels water for the most part. But, when water sits in one spot for a few minutes, the material darkens and the other side does feel a little damp. If rain or snow sits at the top of the bag, it would slowly leak in.

The light colored spots have light fraying in the diamond weave pattern.

Most of the zippers have rubber seals, which is great. But, both zippers to the main gear compartment do not have this seal on them. The top zipper has a flap of that DuraDiamond over the zipper instead, which would need to be checked and pulled firmly into place before wearing in the rain. The main back opening relies on the fact that it’s sitting against your back for weather sealing. This does help the main compartment zippers to unzip a little smoother and faster than the rubber-sealed zippers at the front and sides of the bags.

I tossed this bag in the shower and the weather-sealed zippers held up (just make 100 percent sure that the zipper is fully closed). The non-weather-sealed zipper, of course, got some moisture inside. This will be sitting against your back. But, there is the possibility of rain running off your rain jacket and into the main gear compartment where all the camera gear sits. I really wish F-Stop had just gone ahead and weather-sealed those main compartment zippers. All this is just a long way of saying I would wear this bag in light rain, but I wouldn’t trust it in heavy rain.

I really wanted to love the new material, since it is so lightweight. But, I’m disappointed in the fraying, however tiny, and the two unsealed zippers. The fabric is also crinkly — it sounds like a tarp if you wiggle the material.

Ease of Use

The design of the F-Stop AJNA makes gear quick and simple to access. The back panel opens fully and it will stay open too. You can use the waist belt to hold the weight of the bag, swing it around, and dig out your gear without putting the bag down. If you want to take it off, the durable material will be just fine in the dirt.

Because the bag uses a removable insert, you can also easily use it as a regular hiking backpack. The insert has its own cover and zipper, so you don’t have to find a different spot for gear when you pull it out of the pack.

Adjusting the height of the chest strap was a little annoying. You have to take it off, then move it up to a different slot. It’s not as convenient as designs that just slide up. But, this is a change you probably won’t be making often, so it’s not a big deal.

The zippers and buckles are all easy to use as well. The non-sealed zippers on the main compartment pull a little easier than the weather-sealed ones, but neither are terrible to use.

Conclusions

It’s bird-approved!

Likes

  • Back-access bags with a waist belt are my favorite backpack styles for full access and convenience.
  • This bag is super lightweight, even with an aluminum frame.
  • The frame and waist belt do a good job of distributing the pack’s weight.
  • There’s a built-in whistle, hydro pack pouch, and other cool hiking features.
  • It’s a roomy bag, with lots of different ways to organize a lot of gear.
  • There are a ton of pockets on this thing. I keep finding more interior pockets, like they’re growing overnight.

Dislikes

  • The diamond pattern stitching in the material is already fraying in two spots after two weeks of use.
  • The fabric sounds like a tarp.
  • The chest clip needs to adjust a little higher to be more comfortable.
  • I wish the side water bottle and tripod pockets were deeper.
  • Only some of the zippers are weather-sealed, and the fabric isn’t 100 percent waterproof.
  • It’s expensive.

The F-Stop AJNA 37L is expertly organized. The pockets and features are well-thought-out and it has more pockets than I have photo accessories. It’s a roomy bag, but a very lightweight aluminum frame and a waist belt helps distribute the weight of the pack well. Despite how large it is, it fit my petite frame well. Made for adventurers, it also has some great features for hiking, like a built-in whistle and a spot for a hydro pack.

But, for a $439 backpack ($349 if you don’t need a camera insert), I was disappointed by a few things. Initially, I thought the material would hold up well and repel water. But, the stitched-on pattern is fraying in two spots already and water that sits on the material for too long will seep through. Only some of the zippers are weather-sealed. I also wish the side pockets were a bit deeper and the straps a bit more padded.

There’s a lot to like about the AJNA and I certainly didn’t hate this bag. But, thinner straps and questionable durability would prevent me personally from spending this much. I’m giving the F-Stop three out of five stars.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.