Review of the F Stop Loka Camera Backpack

ZerodogZerodog NikonowhorePosts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
edited June 7, 2011 in Accessories
Since I bought my first DSLR, I have been on a relentless quest for a backpack, or a way to carry a camera in a real backpack. What I have found is a huge assortment of basicly the same type of camera bag. The boxy, look at me, I am a photographer backpack. Come steal it NOW!! They do carry camera stuff very well and do have photography features. But would you take it on a dirtbike ride? Would you take it backcountry snowboarding? No way. They suck as a real backpack. All of them. By the time you get to one that has any kind of a load carrying waste belt you have a bag ready for mount Everest. But all you can take is your camera stuff............


So what I found after a lot of searching and trying things the first time around was the Dakine Mission Backpack. It had a unique feature, the removable ICU, "Internal Camera Unit". This is basiclly the camera bag part of any camera pack shoved in a cooler sporty pack. The Mission did not look like a camera bag, and it could carry my snowboard and it did have room for a few other items in the bag. But not much room and it didn't carry the board well at all. And for dirtbiking, I needed to use the ICU itself to carry tools and other gear. Because it took up the entire main compartment of the backpack. In the end this bag has served me well. The things I do not like about it are this: The waste belt doesn't really carry any load, ICU takes up almost all of the bag, Sucks at carrying the snowboard, very hard to carry my ski poles in this bag. Doesn't have a hydration sleeve for a bladder.

Back to the review.

After more searching, last winter I found an interesting small company called F-stop. Their stuff looked great but still seemed to not quite fit the bill for me. Especially for the price. This year the introduced a new bag, the Loka, and some new accessories. On top of all of this they started a program called friends with benefits. You basically pay in a little bit more than the price of a pack and get to test drive away on their stuff. Included in this are a few free shipments of goodies, a pack, an ICU of your choice, a few accessories and some cool F-stop shwag. You can also get loaner bags to try in the field and use like your own. Got a special trip this year? Get the loaner to carry your crap.


So I signed up and ordered a Loka and a Tilopa pack to have a look at. I also had them send a small and a large ICU. The medium is being updated so I am waiting on that one.
It all showed up in cool stuff sacks. Nice touch.
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First is the ICUs to me this is one of the cool features of Fstop bags and because you can get them in Small, Medium, Large, and XL. You can pack what you need for any situation.
Here is the small and large ICU
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FStop Large ICU compared to the Dakine ICU
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The Fstop is quite a bit deeper. This is good for me because I like to carry the camera grip up, so it is easy to grab.
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Inside they are about the same size.
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The Dakine loaded with a few items
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Fstop loaded up You can see how much deeper it is. I can carry the 17-55 standing up in this bag.
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Here is the small one. This is what I was looking for. This is kind of pushing it, but it is doable.
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More like it. 300s, 17-55 or 24-70 mounted with hood, fisheye, flash and other prime. Lots of crap in a small bag.
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Comments

  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 9, 2010
    Here is the bag itself. Nice heavy ripstop nylon, Rubberized bottom, compression straps, board carry straps, Nice!
    1039984837_BLrBk-M.jpg

    Top pocket


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    Inside of main compartment top entry Nice mesh pockets
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    Hip pocket. Perfect size for my S90
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    Inside of main compartment. You can see the hydration sleeve/ unpadded laptop sleeve. In the back.
    1039989022_XkE97-M.jpg

    Main compartment door has some nice pockets. But they are a little tight.
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    Large ICU installed
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    Nice padded back and hip belt.
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    Room in the top for layers or some food.
    1039990565_i25ws-M.jpg

    Side View. Compression straps, Side pouches, and Molle attachment points. Not sure what a Molle attachment would be good for? But I need to find out what straps onto them....
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    Here is an important feature for me. This front pocket appears to be perfectly sized for climbing skins. There is even a little drain hole in the bottom of this pocket. Keep this wet stuff away from the main compartments.
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    This is another really important thing for me. Ski poles. The Dakine Mission has no good way to carry poles. The Loka does easily on either side.
    1039993272_bKACE-M.jpg

    This is one of the best features of all of the F-Stop Packs. A lightweight aluminum frame. No more floppy sack type bag. This thing will carry a load.
    1039991808_6WFi5-M.jpg

    Here is where this gets good for me. This is the small ICU. Tons of room for other gear with this ICU. And less temptation to carry too much camera gear. The medium might be the perfect fit. I will have to wait and see.
    1039992165_cbfJH-M.jpg
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 9, 2010
    Here it is compared to the Dakine Mission. You can see it is a bit taller and a bit fatter. But still a pretty streamlined pack.

    1039992484_BZzYU-M.jpg

    Much longer torso on the Loka. Better for getting the weight on my hips.
    1039992996_LTvQM-M.jpg
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 9, 2010
    So what do I think? I think this is a great backpack in general, not just a great camera bag. It fits me really well too. The torso is long enough to get the weight on my hips with the hipbelt. This bag is not too big to take dirtbiking or mountain biking either. And for snow it is a great bag for almost anything. It is missing one key feature, that in my opinion would make it perfect. A dedicated external avalache tool pocket. This would make shovel access fast and easy. It also keeps the snow covered tools out of the main compartment. Maybe next year.....

    The Loka hands down beats the Mission in every way for load carrying, ruggedness, and looks. It is a more versitile mountian pack, instead of a cool school backpack.

    Compared to the F Stop Tilopa? It is smaller and sleeker looking. It also seems to fit me a bit better? Not sure until I do some more testing. But for dirtbiking and mountian biking the Loka is a much better pack.

    As far as the ICU's go? The small is great for my 300s. The D3s? Havn't quite figured that one out yet. That is why the medium could be a better fit for me. The larger body just fits in there sort of weird. This is not an issue with the Large ICU. Compared to the Dakine the F Stop ICU's have stiffer foam, more dividers and are deeper to allow you to carry bigger lenses upright and a body sideways to be able to grab it quick. The only imrovement to them would be that the fuzzy material be bonded to the outsides of the pack. The little bungie straps are a cool feature so you don't loose your little prime lenses in the snow somewhere.

    Your reviewer looking perplexed at the new possiblities.
    1039993529_qhVW4-M.jpg
  • ziggy53ziggy53 Still learnin'still lovin Posts: 18,653Super Moderators moderator
    edited October 9, 2010
    Congratulations on the packs. Thanks for the review and photos. thumb.gif
    ziggy53
    Moderator of the Cameras and Accessories forums
  • ian408ian408 More wag. Less Bark. Posts: 21,214Administrators moderator
    edited October 9, 2010
    That looks awesome thumb.gif

    F-Stop's web site
    Moderator Journeys/Sports/Big Picture :: Need some help with dgrin?
  • yendikenoyendikeno Major grins Posts: 214Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 10, 2010
    Nice review!
    Thanks for posting this. I'm in the market for a backpack, and your detailed review sure helps. thumb.gif
    Regards,
    AZFred
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 11, 2010
    yendikeno wrote: »
    Thanks for posting this. I'm in the market for a backpack, and your detailed review sure helps. thumb.gif

    If you are looking for something better than the usual Lowe-tama-tenbakata check em out. They are definatly not for everyone because of price and size. But if you are an action photographer, that is part of the action, these packs are possibly the best option at the moment.
  • QarikQarik Krazy Korean Posts: 4,938Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 11, 2010
    why do you have red nail polish on?
    D700, D600
    14-24 24-70 70-200mm (vr2)
    85 and 50 1.4
    45 PC and sb910 x2
    http://www.danielkimphotography.com
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 11, 2010
    Qarik wrote: »
    why do you have red nail polish on?

    Because it is cool as hell! Don't you paint your nails Qarik?

    Girlfriend was helping for a few of these.
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 23, 2010
    Update:


    Took it out last week for a ride on my trials motorcycle in southern UT on the famous 5 miles of hell trail. It was about 20miles of rough rough terrain. I carried my 300s with a 17-55 on it and an SB600 in the ICU. In the pack I had, 100oz osprey bladder, 2 liters of fuel, a tool pouch, first aid kit, a spot tracker, food, and a jacket. Had lots more room for more layers or other crap in the main compartment. I bet it was 15-20lbs. This is the first time I have taken the SLR out on this ride. Usually with my camelbak my back is screaming by the end with a lot less weight. With the Loka I had no issues at all with pain. It put the weight on my hips and that was it. It was low profile and didn't sway around or get in the way.

    A few shots from the trip:

    Me riding with the Loka.
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    A few shots from the ride.
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  • kurtwkurtw Major grins Posts: 100Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 24, 2010
    Nice review and great update! Loved the trials shots.

    I received my Loka last week and have taken it for a couple hikes. Very functional and very comfortable. It's the perfect size. With a large and a small ICU I can use it for just about any activity balancing whatever my needs are for camera vs other gear. The design and the quality are terrific.
  • ian408ian408 More wag. Less Bark. Posts: 21,214Administrators moderator
    edited October 24, 2010
    Hey thanks for the review. I loaded my Loka up and headed off to the Sierra. Not much hiking but I can see how this is gonna work thumb.gif

    BTW, Where's the seat on that bike lol3.gif J/K. Nice ride and thanks for some trials pix!
    Moderator Journeys/Sports/Big Picture :: Need some help with dgrin?
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 24, 2010
    Here is a shot of the Large ICU in the Loka with a D3s with 80-200 2.8 mounted with hood, D300s with a 17-55 2.8 hood flipped mounted, fisheye, sb900 flash, sb600 flash. It is tight, but it fits.
    1062318117_jyKG5-XL-1.jpg

    My improvised off camera flash setup with a Canon S90eek7.gif
    1062319026_Rbk67-L.jpg
  • ian408ian408 More wag. Less Bark. Posts: 21,214Administrators moderator
    edited October 24, 2010
    I noticed that with the large ICU, there's very little room for anything else. Which is generally OK if you're just out for the day and don't need too much extra stuff.
    Moderator Journeys/Sports/Big Picture :: Need some help with dgrin?
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited October 24, 2010
    I think the same thing. I really want to get a medium ICU when they are available. That might be the perfect size for more gear and more room in the pack. I think it would be 50:50 But if you need to haul lots of gear, you can cram it in with the Large.
  • ian408ian408 More wag. Less Bark. Posts: 21,214Administrators moderator
    edited October 24, 2010
    The large is probably the best choice 80% of the time. I'm anxious to see how big "medium" is.
    Moderator Journeys/Sports/Big Picture :: Need some help with dgrin?
  • kurtwkurtw Major grins Posts: 100Registered Users Major grins
    edited November 12, 2010
    I had the new Loka out for my first ski of the season yesterday. With the small ICU, body, two lenses, and my backcountry ski gear, it carried wonderfully. The small ICU is perfect with room to spare for this type of trip and the flexilbity that the ICU system in a really solid multi-use pack offers is awesome!
    clap.gif

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  • jimmyfortunejimmyfortune Beginner grinner Posts: 1Registered Users Beginner grinner
    edited December 20, 2010
    thanks for a great review man! a couple of questions:

    • i can see from your pictures that the ICU is accessed through the back of the backpack. how do you quickly get your camera out when you're hiking or snowboarding. i can imagine a situation in which i'm boarding in front of my mates and want stop before them and quickly take some shots as they are coming down. do you think it's possible with this type of bag?
    • i love to do long distance hikes. hikes from 5 days or more with 15 to 20 miles a day. on hikes on take my canon 7D with 24-105mm L lens and my canon 10-22mm wide angle. do you think the f-stop with the small ICU would do the job?
    • does it have a rain cover for bad weather?
    thanks dude! :)
  • ian408ian408 More wag. Less Bark. Posts: 21,214Administrators moderator
    edited December 20, 2010
    Jimmy, I'm not sure how quickly you'd be able to get the camera out as you'll have to stop and take the pack off to get at it. You could clip the camera (in something like a Lowe pouch) to a strap to make it more easy access. The rain cover is on the bottom of the pack.

    I can't answer the 5 day question.
    Moderator Journeys/Sports/Big Picture :: Need some help with dgrin?
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited December 21, 2010
    thanks for a great review man! a couple of questions:

    • i can see from your pictures that the ICU is accessed through the back of the backpack. how do you quickly get your camera out when you're hiking or snowboarding. i can imagine a situation in which i'm boarding in front of my mates and want stop before them and quickly take some shots as they are coming down. do you think it's possible with this type of bag?
    • i love to do long distance hikes. hikes from 5 days or more with 15 to 20 miles a day. on hikes on take my canon 7D with 24-105mm L lens and my canon 10-22mm wide angle. do you think the f-stop with the small ICU would do the job?
    • does it have a rain cover for bad weather?
    thanks dude! :)

    Yes it is back access only. You get pretty good at whipping it out. But this is not a quick draw system like a sling bag. But those won't carry squat for gear.

    Generally to get a good shot, you need to set it up. Pick your spot, tell your buddies were to go and set up your camera. For just messing around whip out your point and shoot.

    5days with a Loka? Not a chance. The Tilopa, still no way in hell. But if you do have a large internal frame pack, the small ICU would be a great choice to carry your setup. I will try mine in my Osprey this summer.
  • 500goals500goals Beginner grinner Posts: 1Registered Users Beginner grinner
    edited May 21, 2011
    I just received my F-Stop pack I bought the Guru. I wanted an everyday pack that was small enough to snowboard and mountain bike with. It seemed like a better choice than the Loka. The pack is snug with medium ICU. Actually the ICU opening is larger than the pack opening which taking the camera in and out a bit of struggle. Aopther challenge seems to be that you can't zip the ICU closed very easily as the zipper is obscured by the pack. Wondering if the Loka might be a better choice or is it to big for my needs. Any help would be great. Thanks Raifie
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited May 22, 2011
    I haven't taken the loka out mtbing yet but it is my go to pack for snowboarding and have ridden lots of trials and dirtbiked with it too. The guru is for sure smaller. I tried it with the small ICU. The opening seems most suited to that one. The medium will fill it beyond the back flap. But for a long lens like a 70-200 you can lay it in there vertically and snake it through the opening. I take the foam out of the ICU flap and fold the flap under the bottom of the ICU. Makes for quicker access. The pack back pads the camera. For special needs I can throw the foam back in. But otherwise I could almost cut the flap off.
  • ZerodogZerodog Nikonowhore Posts: 1,480Registered Users Major grins
    edited May 22, 2011
    500goals wrote: »
    I just received my F-Stop pack I bought the Guru. I wanted an everyday pack that was small enough to snowboard and mountain bike with. It seemed like a better choice than the Loka. The pack is snug with medium ICU. Actually the ICU opening is larger than the pack opening which taking the camera in and out a bit of struggle. Aopther challenge seems to be that you can't zip the ICU closed very easily as the zipper is obscured by the pack. Wondering if the Loka might be a better choice or is it to big for my needs. Any help would be great. Thanks Raifie

    Here is my size comparison if it helps. The cool part is if you do not like your Guru, send it back and trade if for the Loka. F-stop has a great return policy. http://www.dgrin.com/showthread.php?t=197139
  • ian408ian408 More wag. Less Bark. Posts: 21,214Administrators moderator
    edited May 22, 2011
    I've been very happy with my Loka. I'd have to say it's one of the better packs I've owned.
    Moderator Journeys/Sports/Big Picture :: Need some help with dgrin?
  • newbnewb Snap Happy Posts: 186Registered Users Major grins
    edited May 22, 2011
    Nice! Thanks for the review. I got a Lowepro ProRunner a while back, and it holds everything just fine. But, theres no way to pack extra gear or food for me. Ill be considering one of these bad boys very seriously now.
    D7000/D5000 | Nikkor Glass | SB600's | RF602's | CS5/LR3
  • peoorvendalpeoorvendal Big grins Posts: 45Registered Users Big grins
    edited June 7, 2011
    Thanks for the review. It's a shame that their "Friends with benefits" don't accept new friends at this point... :-( That sounded like a really nice deal otherwise.
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