Review: F-Stop Loka Camera Bag

18Dec11

The average camera bag is built like a sack of spuds and weighs about as much. This is not your average camera bag.

The F-Stop Loka is a 37 litre daypack designed for outdoor photographers who need to carry other items, such as extra layers and some food, along with their camera gear when they head out on the hills for a day’s photography.

Most normal camera bags are pretty poor for this kind of usage. They hold a lot of gear, but they have no room for other essentials like a fleece, waterproofs and lunch. They tend to just be boxes with straps and not very good straps either. They are mighty uncomfortable to carry for any distance and their lack of space for other gear encourages you to either take risks, or not go very far.

The F-Stop Loka is different. Sitting somewhere in the middle of the F-Stop Mountain Series range, this is a proper rucksack with suspension straps and an internal frame. It’s also incredibly light, much lighter than an ordinary padded camera bag. There’s also room for a water bladder and quick access to camera gear is provided through the rear panel. Straps on the outside are provided for attaching accessories, a tripod, walking poles, etc.

The camera gear is stored in a removable insert called an ICU (Internal Camera Unit). ICUs are available in multiple sizes and can be swapped in and out depending on how much gear you want to take for a particular trip. The ICU is padded and has the usual configurable dividers you’d expect from a normal camera bag. I opted for the Medium Pro ICU for a good balance between camera and other gear.

In it I’ve got a Canon 5D MkII, 35mm f2, 85mm f1.8, 17-40mm f4 L, 24-105 f4 L and 70-200mm f4 L IS, as well as some accessories. The two primes could easily be swapped for an extender and another big lens, such as a macro. I’ve arranged everything such that I can put the camera in the ICU with any of the lenses attached. If I was prepared to store the camera with no lens attached I could fit even more in, as this trades a little bit of space for convenience.

I’m also thinking about getting a small ICU for when I need more space for other items. Storing the lenses not attached to the camera would allow me to fit the camera plus the three L zooms into a small ICU. That’s all I tend to take when I’m landscaping, but it’s good to have the flexibility. I also find the lens spaces in camera bags are the perfect size for storing little oranges for snacking on ;)

I do intend to use the bag for walking the city too, which is why I got the medium. In that environment the ability to quickly access and stow away whatever I have on the camera is more important. But on a proper walk or landscape trip, it’s not such a big deal. In fact, it might even be a good thing. Slowing down and taking the time to understand and feel a location before even getting the camera out of your bag is a very good thing.

As well as the camera gear above, I’ve also filled it with some of the other things I might bring on a day trip. In the front pocket I’ve got my waterproof trousers, while in the main compartment there’s a gilet, a fleece and a large jacket. There’s still room for lunch and some gloves.

If I was to swap the jacket for a Paclite or similar shell, I’d be able to put in a water bladder or fill half the top of the bag with something else. I’ve also got the option to move to a small ICU or strap my jacket to the outside if I need even more space. I’ve also strapped a tripod, a walking pole (I only have one, there’s room for at least three more) and a water bottle to the outside.

That’s quite a lot of gear and it’s all in something that’ll fit in the overhead bins of a regional jet, another important consideration for me as I fly home quite a bit and this can sometimes be on a small plane such as a Dash 8 or ERJ145. When I’m flying I’ll use the top section to hold all the things you need when flying, like a laptop, a book, some headphones and a coat.

It’s clear this bag is in a totally different league to something like a Lowepro. Carrying a Lowepro (it’s been a Flipside 400 AW recently) I’m too tempted to make compromises in the other gear I carry, as there’s not really any storage for other items. Not so with the Loka. This means I’m much more prepared for a day on the hill, much safer and able to stay out for longer. The harness system is also much better than a normal camera bag. The suspension straps and internal frame, combined with it being a lighter bag to start with, means carrying it is considerably more comfortable.

The F-Stop Loka is a fantastic camera bag. It feels good to use, it’s high quality and it holds everything I need to carry for a safe, comfortable day on the hills for landscape photography.

If you’re a outdoor photographer, action or landscape, you should seriously consider an F-Stop bag. I’ve spent a long, long time looking for something like this and there really is nothing else available that’s comparable. Yes it’s expensive, but the increased safety and convenience from being better prepared means it’s worth it. That plus the better harness, which may save signifiant discomfort and cost due to back pain in the long run, mean for me it’s a no-brainer.

There is one problem though. Constant shock shortages due to a small company unable to keep up with ever-increasing demand mean that these bags are quite hard to get hold of. Up until recently the only option was to order direct from F-Stop, however they are now sold in the UK by the outdoor clothing manufacturer Paramo. So if you’re in London, you can pop into their Covent Garden store to take a look. That’s where I bought mine. That’s also where I bought my boots. They are by far the best fitting boots I’ve ever owned.

I think it’s obvious that I’m very happy with what’s an excellent and incredibly well made bag. I can’t wait to start using it over Christmas, but I’m really looking forward to taking it to Glencoe for a week at the end of January :)



6 Responses to “Review: F-Stop Loka Camera Bag”

  1. In your write-up above, you mention traveling with a laptop. How big is that laptop? Will a 15″ MacBook Pro fit? Thanks.

    • Hi, a 15″ MacBook Pro will fit, but only just and it does mean you can’t put anything else behind the ICU. It also unbalances the bag a bit, making it not carry so well. If I was always carrying the laptop, I’d probably go for the Tilopa as it has a dedicated sleeve. It is bigger though.

  2. Hi Jonathan,
    Many thank’s for the great review was just about to order the Loka from fStop then read your article contacted the store in Covent Garden and ordered it there, even bought the boots !! So many thank’s, regards Kevin

    • Hi Kevin – that’s fantastic that the review was useful. Hope the bag (and the boots!) are good. I think I’m going to buy another pair of those boots in case they stop selling them!

  3. 5 John

    Hi Jonathan,
    Have you ever had to check the Loka on any of the regional Jets? I am thinking about this exact setup but am concerned as we fly only regional jets like the ERJ145 out our home airport.

    • Hi John. Not yet on a ERJ145, but at the start of June I did find myself on a Fokker 50 in Iceland. The bag did fit (just) in one of the overheads, but I had to use an empty one near the middle rather than the one above my seat near the front. There’s no way the Tilopa would have fitted in there, the Loka was certainly a tight enough squeeze. I’d say it would be fine as long as you’re careful not to overpack it depth wise, i.e. don’t fill both the front pocket and the space behind a sloped ICU.


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