F-Stop Loka - Review

I’ve been using the F-Stop Loka for well over 6 months now and feel I can thoroughly and honestly give my thoughts on this bag. It’s been by my side, or should I say “on my back”, hiking in Tasmania through various rainforests and mountain ranges, just about the entire coastline of NSW and it also came along for the ride on my South Australia and Victoria road trip. Not to mention, I use it as an everyday camera bag, though it’s probably not aimed at that market. This bag is also just small enough to fit in overhead carry-on compartments, making it perfect for the travelling/adventure photographer! Younger brother to the Tilopa, the F-Stop Loka packs just as much punch, if that’s what you choose to carry, but in a smaller and slightly lighter form factor. With a 37 litre storage capacity, there’s room for all your camera gear and a little extra for a full days hike.

Price

Loka - $279 USD w/ Large Pro ICU - $384 USD (second largest ICU available)

For my Australian readers that do not wish to purchase directly from fstopgear.com, these bags are also available at frontier.com.au.

A few Important Specs

  • 37 litre capacity

  • Dimensions: 55.9cm H x 31.8cm W x 27.9cm D

  • Load balancing waist and sternum straps provide maximum load control and comfort

  • Compatible with various hydration systems

  • DWR-treated, 330D Double Ripstop Nylon with 1500mm Polyurethane coating

  • YKK zippers for extra water and weather resistance

Aesthetics

Let me first start by saying that this isn’t your average everyday camera bag. It’s a hiking backpack first, with the added ability to carry camera gear, and carry it well at that! Something I think many photographers will appreciate is the fact that it doesn’t look like a camera bag, let’s be honest, they’re generally pretty dorky lookin’. If you’re into hiking and outdoor photography, then chances are this style of backpack is something you’re familiar with.

The bag itself is available in three different colours: Malibu Blue, Foliage Green and Black. I chose Malibu Blue purely because for as long as I can remember, this shade of blue has been my signature colour. Plus, if I ever get lost in the wilderness, I’m easily spotted!

Build Quality

I’ve been using the Loka pretty solidly for the past 6 months or so, and it has shown no signs of age or weakening. It’s been drenched by waves and heavy rain, covered in snow, mud and sand and dragged across various rocky substrates. Yet it is still as strong as the day I bought it.

The pack is not fully waterproofed (rain cover sold separately), but the waves it has been hit by have not introduced any signs of moisture to the bag's innards. This is not only due to the YKK zippers on all of the main compartments, but also to the water repellant, polyurethane coated nylon on the exterior of the bag.

ICU (Internal Camera Unit)

On it’s own, the Loka is nothing more than an awesome hiking backpack - it’s the ICU that makes it an awesome camera bag. Some might question the lack of built-in camera storage, but I think this actually makes it more configurable to your needs. Depending on your camera gear to hiking gear ratio, a smaller or larger ICU may be more beneficial.

No matter what you plan to carry on your various trips or hikes, the F-Stop team have all options covered. The ICU’s come in many shapes and sizes, making it super easy to customise per individual. Keep in mind, the larger the ICU you choose, the less space you have available for other hiking/backpacking needs. And not to mention, if you have the available space for camera gear, you’re probably going to over-pack, thus weighing down your bag more than necessary.

I chose the Large Pro ICU, which leaves me with just enough room for snacks and maybe a jacket. I can comfortably fit 2 camera bodies, 3 or 4 lenses and some other smaller accessories. This ICU is big enough for any of the 70-200mm’s and even Canon’s 100-400mm. Pictured to the right is an idea of what can be stored in the Large Pro ICU. Keep in mind, the camera I used to capture this image is usually in the pack instead of the speedlite.

Functionality

This bag has just about every kind of clip, strap, buckle, cord or loop under the sun, making it super easy to add either F-Stop or third party accessories. F-Stop also sell an accessory called the “Gatekeeper”. Cool name, huh? The Gatekeeper makes it possible to attach items that may be essential to your hikes, treks or whatever it is you do, for example; tripods, sleeping bags, snowboards, skateboards etc. These straps can be mounted to any of the 10 Gatekeeper mounting loops found all over the bag.

One of my favourite features/aspects of this bag is the fact that I can access my camera gear without taking the bag off my shoulders and putting it on the ground. If you have the waist/hip strap fastened (and not the sternum strap), then you can swing the pack around so that it's in front of you and access all your gear from the back opening. This makes it super easy to change lenses and access other equipment from inside the bag. I find this particularly handy as a lot of the places I shoot are generally far too wet to put the bag, face down, on the ground.

Something I feel should be noted about this bag, is the fact that whatever is stored in the ICU can only really be accessed by the rear/back panel. It’s technically possible to access the ICU from the top compartment, but you would have to completely remove the ICU from the bag. This is actually a feature I love, it suits my style of shooting perfectly, but it's worth noting as I’m sure there are people out there who would prefer to access their gear from the top.

The Loka also has the ability to hold various hydration systems which can be inserted into an internal sleeve, which also acts as a 13” laptop sleeve. The hose from the hydration pack can be fed through the hydration specific hole which is located over your right shoulder.

One cool little feature, that goes fairly unnoticed (probably due to lack of documentation, at least that I could find), is that the sternum strap doubles as an emergency whistle. Another little feature that makes this the perfect bag for serious outdoor/landscape photographers.

Comfort

I’m pretty confident in saying that this IS the most comfortable camera bag on the market, I mean, how could there possibly be a more comfortable pack? With padded shoulder, back and waist support there is certainly no problem wearing this bag, fully loaded, for a day long hike or maybe more.

The added waist and sternum support was something that all my previous bags had missing. I can’t explain how much difference these extra support straps play in balancing out the load of the entire pack over your whole upper body instead of just your shoulders. There is also quite a lot of padding on the shoulder straps, waist straps and back plate; adding even more comfort.

F-Stop have since released a new version of the Loka called the Loka UL, which is basically a lighter version of this bag.

Summary

Things I love:

  • The colour (I had to say it).

  • Most comfortable camera bag I’ve used/owned.

  • Highly configurable/customisable to specific needs.

  • Build quality is second to none.

  • Countless combinations of ICU configurations.

  • Easy access to camera gear.

  • Carries a tripod, natively, in a multitude of ways.

  • Perfectly fits in carry-on luggage compartments.

Things I don’t love:

  • The thin handle strap, it’s a little uncomfortable. A rubberised grip might improve this.

  • The ICU’s are a little fiddly to fix into the bag. But once it's in place, it's nice and snug!

Conclusion

I’ve been shooting landscapes now for well over a year and I’ve already been through 4 various camera bags. I can honestly say that this is definitely the bag for me. If you don’t carry a lot of gear for long periods of time, then this bag might not be for you - check out the full F-Stop range here. F-Stop Gear stock many other alternatives, both larger and smaller and with all the ICU’s available for the various bags available you’d be hard done by not to find the right combination.

Ok, so it’s not the cheapest bag available, but it’s absolutely worth that price. If you’re in the market for a new bag, please do yourself a favour and at least try the Loka. I did and I’ve never looked back... pack.

PS. I'd love to hear from you guys in the comments below about what camera bags you use and love, maybe this one is on your list?

I just want to state that this is not a sponsored review, I honestly just love this bag!