F-Stop Tilopa - Review
Quickly becoming the worlds most trusted outdoor/adventure/backcountry/travel camera bag company, F-Stop have just dropped a few more names into their mix of ‘Mountain Series’ camera backpacks. In order of size (smallest to largest), we now have the Ajna, Tilopa, Sukha and Shinn. The NEW Mountain Series now has an upgraded weather resistant fabric, huge pockets on either side and finally a newly updated harnessing system. Oh, and how could I forget, the addition of a brand new colour to the F-Stop range, Nasturtium… or orange. F-Stop were awesome enough to send me one of the brand new Tilopas, from the Mountain Series, to test out and review. Thank you F-Stop team!
The F-Stop Tilopa is no stranger to the original Mountain Series lineup since it’s initial release under the name of 'Tilopa BC' in 2010, but it’s recent upgrades will be warmly welcomed, I’m sure! F-Stop tout the Tilopa as the “marquee all-rounder and most rugged of the Mountain Series” and I’d have to say - I agree. Whether you’re a casual day hiker and photography enthusiast or a hardcore outdoorsman and professional photographer, you won’t be disappointed with this pack.
When I first bought my Loka over 12 months ago, I believe I paid $279 USD. The Tilopa, which is bigger and better, is now only $259 USD. I'm not sure how that works, but I'm certainly not complaining!
A few Important Specs
50 litre capacity
Weight: 1.9kgs or 4.1lbs
Dimensions: 59.7cm H x 35.6cm W x 30.5cm D
Available in black, orange, green and blue
Top of the line weather resistance
YKK water-resistant zippers to protect against moisture entering the bag
Fine-tune suspension system for best weight distribution and comfort
The entire Mountain Series has had a complete makeover, practically speaking. They still look as they always have, with the exception of a new colour; Nasturtium Orange, but they now have a few added/upgraded features.
The first, and probably most welcomed upgrade for myself, is the improved weather resistant material used on the pack itself. The old Mountain Series (my Loka included) was pretty well water resistant, but I always felt the need to throw the rain cover over the top during heavy rain, just to be safe. F-Stop have now introduced a new, highly weather resistant fabric which almost eliminates the need for additional waterproofing. However, when you're carrying upwards of $10,000 worth of gear on your back, you can never be too careful with protection.
Something I hadn't realised before I got my hands on the new Tilopa, was it's updated harnessing system. The sternum strap is now far more easily adjustable in terms of height (up and down). The old system was adjusted by standard plastic buckle slides (not sure of the real name), which can be a little fiddly at times, whereas now they are fixed to somewhat of a rail system and are super easy to adjust. See image below.
The back panel of the bag itself has also seen a slight upgrade/improvement in that it is now far more rigid. It has been reinforced with plastic, presumably to prevent the flap from becoming droopy over time (something I started to notice with my Loka). Also, it means an extra layer of separation between the outside of the bag and your gear inside the bag.
Lastly, in terms of major upgrades, there are now two humongous, full length pockets on each side of the bag. These pockets are big enough for a number of items, most importantly, my 2 x 1L water bottles. Coming from the old F-Stop Loka, I feel I will miss the ease of reaching behind to retrieve my bottles from the elasticated mesh pockets, but that's a very small price to pay for these massive fully enclosed pockets! Oh, and if you're more of a hydration bladder kinda guy/gal, F-Stop have got you covered there, too. The inner bladder sleeve can store up to a 3 litre bladder OR 2 x 2 litre bladders in the side pockets (as long as they are slimline bladders).
Design and Aesthetics
One of my favourite things about the Mountain Series range from F-Stop are just how rugged and outdoorsy they look. That might sound a little vain, but these packs certainly don't scream "camera bag," which is usually what you want when you're travelling. They look just like a hiking pack, and that's no coincidence! It also means that I'm far less hesitant to throw it on the ground and get it a little dirty.
As mentioned earlier, the bags are available in a variety of colours. The first, and my all time favourite, Malibu Blue, which can be seen throughout this post and in practically all of my Instagram selfies. Whilst they kept the name of the original 'Malibu Blue', the colour itself has actually changed a little, and has shifted slightly away from the greener shade of blue it once was. There is also Aloe (Drab Green), Nasturtium (Orange) which is their brand new colour and finally, Anthracite (Black) for a more low-key "don't look at me" vibe.
Whether this falls into the 'Design/Aesthetics' category or 'Functionality' is another story, but the fact that this bag is so big and fits all the gear you'd probably ever be taking overseas and STILL meets standard airline carry-on requirements is pretty damn cool. I do a decent amount of flying each year and have never been questioned about the Loka. Obviously, the Tilopa is a tad bit larger, but if you're ever questioned or feel you might be; the bag is compressible using either the bags compressions straps OR by removing items from the top pockets. And if they still question you, you can always remove the ICU (with all your expensive gear in it) and take that as carry-on whilst you check the bag itself.
One of the things I instantly fell in love with when I first got my F-Stop Loka, was just how comfortable the bag felt. The Tilopa however, brings that to a whole new level with well over twice the padding and "cushiness" on both the hip and shoulder straps. Once the bag is loaded and fitted to your body, it literally feels like you're carrying half the weight you actually are. And when you're carrying 15-20kg+ of gear/clothes/etc, it makes a tremendous difference.
The shoulder straps are able to be adjusted in both length (adjusting how high the bag sits) and also how snug the bag fits against your back. Personally, I recommend you make it as snug as possible to distribute the weight of the bag more evenly over your shoulders and upper back. The good thing is there is barely any weight ON your back and shoulders as almost all the weight of the pack sits comfortably on your hips when the hip strap is fastened.
Having owned countless camera bags over my short time as a photographer, I feel I can honestly say this bag is far more practical and convenient than any other camera bag I've used. The main reason for that is due to the ease of accessibility you have to all your camera gear. With the hip belt fastened, it's as simple as swinging the bag off your shoulders and around to the front of your body, essentially turning the bag into a waste mounted worktop, or "workstation mode" as the guys over at F-Stop call it. From here, you can simply unzip the back panel and you have access to all of your gear. And the best part? You haven't had to take your bag off your back and place it on the ground to access your gear. As a seascape photographer, I'm often berries deep in surging water and putting the bag on the ground is almost never an option!
If you do find yourself placing the bag on the ground, for access to the top or side pockets, the base of the bag is made from an extremely durable and waterproof material that is more than capable of taking a serious beating. As a bag that is aimed at landscape photographers, this really is essential!
When it comes to photography oriented backpacks, it won't even reach my list of considerations if there is nowhere to attach a tripod. Luckily, the Tilopa has at least three ways of attaching your tripod, and that's without the use of a Gatekeeper strap (I'll get to those later). When I'm carrying just one tripod, it will almost always be attached directly to the front of the bag. If however, I'm carrying both of my tripods, they will each be attached to either side of the bag using the bags compressions straps.* This just assures that the bag will be evenly weighted on both shoulders.
When carrying my tripod on the back, there is also a little zip pocket that can be used to store a leg or two to prevent the tripod slipping too low. Why does that matter? I'm glad you asked! I often find myself climbing down pretty steep walls of rock, sometimes having your tripod hanging too low causes you to fall forward when you're climbing down something and the tripod hits the surface below - which is never fun. This little zippered pocket can also be used to store a rain cover for additional protection from the elements.
*Compression straps are used to compress the profile (depth) of the bag when it's not full and/or some compartments are not in use. They are also, probably more commonly, used to attach items such as tripods, skis, tent poles etc.
ICU's (Internal Camera Unit)
One major factor that contributes to the F-Stop bag lineup basically being in a league of it's own, when it comes to camera backpacks, is the ICU (Internal Camera Unit). Without an ICU, F-Stop bags are nothing more than great hiking backpacks. It's the ICU that turns these bags into an outdoor photographers best friend.
Available in numerous sizes, the ICU is basically just an adjustable compartment with velcro padded dividers for easy storing and protection of your gear inside the bag itself. What makes them so great is their ability to easily be swapped out for other ICU's that may be smaller or larger depending on your needs for a specific photography assignment/trip. They are also incredibly easy to reconfigure when you inevitably upgrade your camera gear or buy that f/2.8 tele you've been lusting over for months.
I've been using the Large Pro ICU since I first received my Loka 12+ months ago. Along with the brand new Tilopa, F-Stop were also kind enough to send me two Small Shallow ICU's that I can now change out depending on my gear requirements.
Check out the rest of the ICU's here: F-Stop Gear - ICU.
Something I never really got into whilst using my Loka was the ability to use some of F-Stop's accessories to increase storage and practicality of the bag/system overall. This time around, I've decked out the bag with a few of F-Stop's more popular accessories which allows for more storage both externally and internally. I can't believe I've been missing out on this for so long!
You know when you're hiking up a mountain and you see something that might be worth photographing, but you're too in the "getting to the top" zone to be bothered taking your camera out? The Navin, pictured below, has completely destroyed that mindset for me. Now, I can have my main camera body + lens combo stored in the Navin, whilst the rest of my gear is comfortably and securely packed away on my back, allowing for extremely easy access of my camera. The Navin is secured via Gatekeeper straps* and multiple conveniently placed Gatekeeper loops (I counted 12).
*Gatekeeper straps allow for mounting of various items like tripods, sleeping bags, tents and of course, F-Stop accessories ie. the Navin.
The Digi Buddy
One other handy little accessory I've now been introduced to is the Digi Buddy. The Digi Buddy is a tiny pouch just big enough to store a compact camera, GoPro or a few of your favourite screw-in filters (probably not drop-in filters). It's able to be mounted to the hip straps using the angled MOLLE webbing and is perfectly oriented and positioned for easy access to whatever you choose to store inside. Personally, I have a spare battery (for whichever camera I'm shooting with), a GoPro, a spare SD card and a microfibre cloth. I find these items to be the most annoying/inconvenient items to retrieve from my bag mid shoot.
Things I love:
Comfort of the bag, even when loaded to full capacity.
Abundance of storage both large and small (all very practical).
The largest F-Stop bag that meets carry-on requirements for almost all airlines.
Customisability thanks to the huge range of both ICU's and other F-Stop, or third party, accessories.
Improved weather resistance of the bag, overall. I'm much more comfortable knowing my gear is safe in a heavy downpour.
Convenience of accessing your gear through the back panel of the bag. It's a simple as swinging the bag in front of you (with the hip straps fastened).
Things I don't love:
Lack of mesh pocket/s on the sides of the bag for easy access of water bottles.
It's not hard to see that I am quite smitten with the new F-Stop Tilopa and the entire Mountain Series, too, to be honest. Coming from the older Loka, to the brand new Tilopa was a decent step up, not only in capacity and overall size, but in comfort and functionality, too! Overall, this is a solid camera bag that is a joy to use and one I know I'll be using for years to come. If you're looking for an awesome camera bag, I can give you my word - you will not be disappointed with the Tilopa, or any of the F-Stop Mountain Series range.
As always, feel free to leave any questions you may have regarding the Tilopa and I will be more than happy to answer them for you! Or, if you already have an F-Stop bag, then tell me how much you love it!