Recently, to save space, I went through an exercise to rationalise all the rucksacks and backpacks I own. I did have a few. There was an 80-litre expedition pack by Aiguille Alpine, two climbing sacks from Deuter, a Lowepro PhotoSport camera backpack, a Lowepro Vertex AW300, a lightweight OMM adventure racing pack and a tiny Camelbak for day trips. Amongst a few others.
Despite having so many packs, I'd never quite felt comfortable with the options I'd purchased for carrying the bulk of my camera gear when I'm out on a photo shoot, away on a few days trip or planning an expedition.
Aside from the obvious choice of Lowepro, there were a few dedicated camera backpack companies I was aware of, from reviews on the internet and from word of mouth. One of them was the US company F-Stop (www.fstopgear.com). What put me off F-Stop initially was their cost - they're not cheap - and their well-documented 2015/16 supply chain issues (I've never seen so many negative comments about a company that's still in business). What intrigued me though was all the positive comments from existing customers, even some who had been waiting for their purchase for a while (an indication perhaps as to how much value can be placed on the power of a good brand).
In June 2016, I took the plunge and ordered an F-Stop pack from their website. To my surprise - given some people's feedback of lengthy delays - it arrived within 7 days. The speed of my delivery was perhaps due to the fact that the product I'd ordered was an F-Stop Satori, which was a previous model F-Stop were selling at a discount on their web store. (At 62 litres, the Satori was the largest backpack F-Stop offered until they introduced their Sukha (70 litre) and Shinn (80 litre) models as part of their 2015 Mountain Range series).
The F-Stop Satori 62 litre backpack appears to have been a classic of F-Stop's previous range (along with the 37 litre Loka), before they overhauled their range in 2015 and brought out their replacements. What has remained unique about F-Stop's proposition (until I believe LowePro came out with a similar solution) is the application of their Internal Camera Units (ICUs). These ICUs are a system of storage cases that fit inside all F-Stop backpacks, leaving space for your spare clothing and equipment. The packs have a really friendly user interface because the shell of an F-Stop pack opens from the back as well as the top which makes accessing your camera equipment very easy.
The ICUs I use are;
- X-Large - This takes nearly everything I would use on a mobile shoot (2 Nikon camera bodies, 3 lenses, 3 speedlights, Pocketwizard transceivers, etc.). It's only really suitable when not much clothing is needed, e.g. if I'm shooting from or close to a vehicle. I can, however, still easily fit a warm jacket, hat and gloves, plus waterproofs inside the pack.
- Medium Slope - For overnight trips where I want to carry sleeping equipment along with my camera gear, F-Stop's Medium Slope ICU is ideal. In the space around the ICU, I can fit all my bivvy gear (a synthetic -7 degrees C sleeping bag, a bivvy bag and a sleeping mat) plus a dry bag with hat, gloves, light fleece and a duvet jacket, as well waterproofs in the outside pockets. This is on top of the ICU holding one large camera body, two large lenses plus my remote camera triggers and other bits and pieces. When I'm not on the hill, the ICU easily converts to neatly store all my Speedlights and lighting gear.
What I like about the F-Stop Satori backpack
- Laptop sleeve - I didn't like this initially as it's too big for my 13 inch Macbook Pro (it's sized for a 15 inch laptop), but when I use a Medium Slope ICU it's an perfect size to fit a folded up Thermarest NeoAir winter sleeping mat and a bivvy bag.
- Big zips - The pack is built to last and there's nothing in the quality of construction that makes me want to baby it.
- Wand pockets - These are not all mesh. A small thing perhaps but it means they're less easy to damage when you carry heavy equipment in them, e.g. a tripod.
- Comfort - I find the pack super comfy to carry (I'm 6'2" tall). It's stable enough that when I've filled the pack with bivvy gear and a Medium Slope ICU I can actually jog down hills with it.
I could go on. I really like this pack. No-one paid me to say this and I'm super fussy.
What I'd change
Really, very little. If I had to be picky, it would be that, out the box, unlike F-Stop's similar model, the Tilopa, the only way to attach a tripod to the Satori pack is on the side and not the front. Carrying a 2kg tripod in one of the side pockets makes the pack very unbalanced (I could purchase a carbon-fibre tripod to save weight but I like the one I have). There are straps you can buy for the Satori, which should, I think, enable you to mirror the Tilopa way of carrying a tripod on the front but they are very expensive - 30 euros including postage in 2016 for just two straps. (I don't mind paying premium prices for good gear but I draw the line at paying 30 Euros for two nylon straps). I've resorted instead to carrying my tripod using a strap over my neck and shoulder and resting it on my belly (risking, unfortunately, that I look like I am pretending to hold a machine gun).
Other very slight niggles are I've not yet found a way to attach a 56cm Lastolite EzyBox Softbox to the outside of the pack (but neither have I on any of my other packs) and if the pack was slightly bigger - probably like the Sukha - I could carry a stove and a warmer duvet jacket inside for open bivvies in the Winter (I use a Mountain Equipment Citadel jacket). Finally, and although it doesn't take long to take the pack off and get your camera out, nothing I have beats a Lowepro Toploader AW75 camera holster for ease of use when you're shooting documentary-style and you need to capture action as it happens (e.g. when you need to move with athletes whilst on a trekking or mountain bike expedition).