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F Stop Tilopa BC Full Review

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F Stop Bags is a company made by adventure and action photographers, for adventure and action photographers.  Pretty safe to say that their stuff is made for people like you and me!

There are a lot of bad backpacks out there for photographers.  Designs that are not well thought-out and lack features.  Packs that hurt backs… Packs that look like photography bags (most photo bags), not a good thing…  And then there are a few really good bags that stand out.  And after trying several bags that I thought were great, I think I’ve found a bag that is a dream come true.  But only time will tell…

I’ve shot with several bags over the years and here are my thoughts on each one before we dive into my first thoughts on the Tilopa BC.

-Tamrac Expedition 7:  Heavy clunky backpack.  Looks like a photo bag and is more likely to be stolen because of this.  Straps for tripods and other gear easily broke with a little use.  Carries a good amount of photo gear, but because of the design, nothing else..

-Tamrac Aero 70:  Great pack for travel, straps could be designed better and rides a little too stiff on the back.  Definitely not good for much other than travel and easy to get to location shoots.  Carries other gear and laptop which makes it perfect for travel.

-Dakine Sequence:  Awesome backpack for shooting skiing and biking and wearing when active.  Comfy panels, but does not offer lifter straps or hip stabilizer straps for comfort on back.  Carries an OK amount of gear but not much else.  Great mounts for avalanche shovel and pocket for skiing skins.  Overall happy with performance but not very customizable and cannot carry very much.  Does not look like a photo bag and opens from back panel, perfect!  No laptop pocket for travel…  Internal Camera Bag is removable so I find myself using this pack the most when I’m not shooting.  No internal frame for stability and comfort.

-Burton F:Stop:  Great pack overall, comfy panels and straps but load straps broke within a few weeks of purchase.  Carries a great amount of gear and looks awesome.  Opens from front panel which makes it less safe in crowded areas, and less easy to use in snow, dirt, and mud.  No laptop pocket for travel…  Well padded main pocket that holds a ton of gear.  Fairly comfortable but seems to be tough on the back.  Internal frame helps with stability and comfort.

 

INTRO AND FEATURES

After looking through pack after pack that left me dissappointed, I’ve finally found something that works incredibly well and has every possible feature I could ever want in a pack.  I’ve had some back issues over the years that I believe are mostly caused by lugging extremely heavy camera gear all over the place.  So I really wanted something with load lifter straps and hip stabilizers.  But since most packs aren’t designed for what I use them for, it’s been tough to find one that really works.

Backpack accesses from back for quicker access and safer gear in crowds.

I’ve looked at F Stop Bags for about a half a year now and have been really interested, the only problem for me was that the prices seemed a bit high.  After having my back go out from two days of carrying gear in the Burton bag, I decided it was time to make the leap.  I ordered the F Stop Tilopa BC after communicating with F Stop Bags awesome customer service.  After explaining my back situation, and needs that I have for the pack, they confirmed that the Tilopa BC was the perfect solution.  And so far, I think they were right!

The pack is built around the ICU (Internal Camera Unit) system.  Don’t let the name scare you, the bag is not going to put you in the ICU….   This is similar to the system that my Dakine Sequence has and is basically a customizable padded camera block, that fit’s into the back compartment of the pack.  This is great because they have 4 different sized units that all easily fit in the bag!  Depending on what you are shooting, you can bring a different unit and have more space for other gear (i.e. extra clothes, bike parts, skins, overnight gear, goggles, etc…)  Here’s a picture that shows the medium and large blocks that I ordered.

 

Medium ICU next to Large ICU.

With the medium ICU there’s enough space to pack a full overnight setup, although it’s a bit tight so I’ll probably order a small ICU for that situation to have a bit more space.  There is no shortage of pockets and useful compartments on this pack so I’m able to carry all the gear I could need for most outdoor adventures.

The pack honestly is one of the best looking packs I’ve seen.  It looks nothing like a camera bag and opens from the back panel, making it a safer choice for wearing in crowded areas.  The back panel also makes it a million times easier to open quickly on location, just twist the pack around you and set it on the ground for access.

Water Bladder Access Port (Seals with velcro when not in use!)

It has a padded pocket for a laptop, is extremely water resistant, and is rigged to enable camelbak usage.  Beefy straps make me believe that this pack will hold up to my daily abuse, unlike most of my others….  It even has a whistle built in to the chest strap for emergency situations, you can thank our friend Bret Edge for this addition, and read his review here.

COMFORT (UPDATED)

After about 10 shoots I can honestly say that this is the comfiest pack that I’ve ever worn.  It fits snugly to my back, doesn’t bounce and hit me in the back of the head when I ski over rough terrain, and hasn’t caused my back to hurt at all!  The shoulder straps are super padded and with load lifter, hip stabilizer straps, and a strong frame (like backpacking packs have), really keeps the weight off my back to help me avoid further back issues.  The first time I put it on with gear, it felt so light I almost thought I forgot to add the gear.  I’m pretty sure it’s about as comfortable of a pack as is possible to make.  Even with 45 lbs. of weight in it and carrying it around all day, it feels lighter and is less annoying than any other pack I’ve used with a lower weight load.

Hip Belt Stabilizer straps will help with weight distrubution!

Load Lifter Straps

CONCLUSION

This IS the best backpack possible for what I shoot.  It’s large enough to carry extra gear, has all kinds of compartments for accessories, and an internal frame for better back support.  The ICU system makes it workable for any situation, whether shooting landscapes in the backcountry, mountain biking with multiple flashes, or shooting skateboarding in the city.  It seems very well fitted and comfortable from the start, but again, time will tell.  It’s all the rage in the action/adventure photography communities right now, and after just a few days with it, I can already tell why.  Plus F Stop has a 45 day satisfaction guarantee with a full refund if you are unhappy with the pack.  Add to that a solid warranty for any issues and you’ve got the complete package!  You can check out their complete lineup, and e-mail them any questions, here.

If you have any questions for me about the pack or my pack experiences, please let me know in the comments below.  Now it’s off to my next adventures, with a happy comfortable back!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Are this the PRO ICUs? Which is high enough to put in a pro Body or a body whith battery grip?
    Could you show how much gear fits into the medium vs. large ICU?

    Nice Review btw

    • Hi Axel,

      These are the PRO sized ICU’s, and I really like the extra space since I can fit more lenses in upright. I’ll have pictures up with gear in the bags as soon as I make the full review. You can check out the gear on the FStoppers site in the bags, they show all kinds of different gear setups.

  2. Thanks for the great review. I'd love to see a video of you adjusting the bag componenets to get a good fit (hip belt, load lifters, etc).

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