Best Pack EVER!
28 May 2013
Like most photographers I know, I am obsessed with finding the PERFECT carrying bag for all of my equipment. I have half a dozen camera bags hanging out it in my closet, each one slighter larger and more complicated than the last. I had thought I had found the perfect bag a couple of years ago, but when I upgraded my equipment and added a much longer lens to my collection, the bag no longer seemed adequate. I also discovered it wasn't the greatest hiking pack.
Last year I decided I was going to embark on a crazy photographic adventure to several different islands, and I would need a travel/adventure/hiking pack that I could carry not only all of my equipment in, but also the general hiking melange needed for a multiple day excursion. One of my friends from college told me about a company that makes hiking packs exclusively for photographers. I was intrigued, and immediately went to the website. F Stop Gear specializes in camera bags for all types of photographers. They have an entire pack line designed for outdoor/adventure photographers, all ranging in sizes from the very large, to the bare minimum. The insides are almost completely customizable. Instead of a traditional padded system, F Stop Gear sells Internal Camera Units (ICUs), which you can purchase in four different series styles. This allows you complete flexibility with the insides of your pack. The ICU's are very well designed and padded, and they slip in and attach into your pack. So you can have several different ICU's for any different occasion. I don't always need to carry my longest lens with me, so I have an ICU large enough for my equipment plus that lens, and I have a smaller ICU for when I just want to carry one or two lenses, or a lens and a flash. Or, a lens and another camera body. The pack I purchased from them, the Satori EXP, is currently their largest in the Mountain Series. The pack itself is a little over four pounds with an internal aluminum frame. It is ten inches deep, twelve inches wide, and twenty six inches tall. With my medium sized ICU, I can fit four days worth of clothing, food, an emergency blanket, and the basic camera stuff I need. It also has a waterproof pouch for a hydration system, and a tiny zipped pouch at the very bottom of the pack for a rain fly. But, my absolute favorite thing about this pack is that it is impossible for anyone to get to your gear while you are wearing it. The padded part of the bag that is right against your back is the opening. You unzip, and all of your gear is right there, ready for you to grab. Some might think this is a hassle, but personally, it was one of the first features that sold me on this pack. No matter what, NO ONE can get to my gear while the pack is on my back. It also boasts two zippered compartments at the top of the bag, and two extra pockets on the outside, both with waterproofed zippers. The inside has several different pockets for batteries, memory cards, etc. The memory card pouches make me happy because they are the perfect size for a Compact Flash card. The pack itself has a padded hip belt and a sternum strap (that has a whistle in the buckle!) for maximum stabilization. The shoulder straps are very nicely padded, and on my pack, which has seen some miles, still feel almost brand new. There are two D rings on the shoulder straps, and meshing. F Stop Gear sells a holster you can attach to the straps to carry your camera in while hiking, but I attached a pair of Think Strap V2.0 pack straps instead, because I'm not a fan of holsters. The outside of the pack also has a place for an avalanche shovel, ski/snowboard strap hookups, and mesh pockets with compression straps for water bottles, tripods, and anything else you would like to carry there. The Satori also boasts a Molle attachment system. One of the pouches is designed to carry a laptop, but I have yet to use it for that purpose.
I mentioned I bought this pack for an island hopping adventure. Well, it worked phenomenally for that. I was able to use it as a carry on, and only had problems with it once (with a budget airline whose carry on limitations were beyond ridiculous). In a normal flight situation, this pack would fit in the overhead bin without an issue. My Satori has lived through 25,000 miles of air travel, an unknown number of rain storms, several hundred miles on my back in the great outdoors, below zero temps on up to over a hundred degree temps, and some pretty rough handling, and through it all, my camera equipment was never disturbed and after a run through of the washing machine, my pack looks brand new. I feel that I have achieved the near impossible: I have found the perfect camera carrying system for me. You can find these packs on Fstopgear.com.