It’s not often that I put gear reviews on this blog – but from time to time I make an exception. This is one of those times.
Carrying camera gear into nature’s more wild expanses is always problematic. It’s heavy, it’s big and it needs to be carried with a certain amount of equipment needed for the trip itself – extra clothing, food, first aid kits, etc. The problems can often be mitigated to a large extent when working with assistants that can help share the load, but even this plan can fail since more assistants often means that there’s more opportunity to carry even more gear!
The ugly reality of the situation is that there are very few good carrying options on the market today. Lowepro have the biggest range of rucksacks but personally I’ve never found them to be comfortable with heavy loads – they’re camera bags first and back packs second. To make matters worse most of them don’t leave any room for non-camera related essentials.
It was therefore very intrigued when I came across a fairly new company called F-Stop Gear that makes a couple of camera back packs specifically designed for the outdoor photographer: the day-sized Tilopa and the expedition sized Satori.
Both packs are based on the same premise – they are extremely good back packs in their own right, and they are specifically designed to hold an “Internal Camera Unit” – or ICU – to carry the camera. F-Stop gear provides two ICUs – a large model and an extra large model. Both packs will hold either ICU, but obviously the extra large one leaves less space for other equipment. The Tilopa is supplied with the large ICU and the Saturi with the extra large.
I spent a long time trying to decide which of the two packs to buy, but in the end I went with the Tilopa. It’s big enough for a day’s commercial shoot on the hills, but not so big that I’d be tempted to overfill it and risk carrying a silly amount of weight.
My main concern was whether or not the large ICU would be big enough for a typical trip, however my fears were lain to rest this week when I packed the sack for it’s first call of duty. In the ICU I had:
- 1 Canon 5DMkII with battery grip
- 1 Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS L
- 1 Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L
- 1 Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L
- 1 Sigma 15mm fisheye
- Lens hoods for all the above
- A pocket wizard Flex transceiver/transmitter kit
- 1 Canon 430EX Mk II
- 1 Nextodi (to back up memory cards)
- 1 Manfrotto Mini tripod
Outside of the ICU I had room for:
- A Gortex jacket
- A fleece jacket
- Hat and gloves
- First aid kit
- Waterbottle (in side pocket)
Needless to say, there’s plenty of room in this sack! But space isn’t everything, and the Tilopa just kept on delivering the goodies. Here are the things that I just love about this pack:
- First and foremost the Tipola is a great back pack in it’s own right. There’s an internal metal structure to place most of the weight of the sack onto the hips, and the hip belt is adequately padded and very comfortable to wear. The above gear weighed 12kg (26lb) and I was fine carrying it.
- Most camera packs offer easy access to gear, but with the Tilopa (and Satori) access to the gear is from the back of the pack. This means that it’s the front of the sack that gets put onto the wet/muddy ground – the back stays clean. Access to the top is also designed around this concept.
- Opening the back access is easy thanks to a nice rounded zip that avoids sharp corners.
- The pack’s flat bottom means that is can be stood upright.
- The shoulder straps are perfectly shaped for maximum comfort.
- There are pockets galore.
- The 3 colours in the range are great choices. The black makes this pack a great choice as a camera back pack for street use. The red is ideal for the mountain where high visibility is important and the foliage green will appeal to wildlife photographers.
- The pocket on the hip belt fits an iPhone very nicely:)
All considered this is the best and most comfortable back pack that I’ve used. I was also pleased to discover that their customer service was both speedy and competent.
F-stop gear offers free worldwide delivery, however I wanted to avoid the complications of import duty to France so I bought the sack from their German distributor. My only complaint is that this was a fairly complex and frustrating event – they don’t even take credit cards! Still, once the transaction was made the bag was delivered promptly.