HERE IS A TALE OF 2 BACKPACKS…ONE THAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME,
AND ONE THAT ENDED UP BEING PERFECT!
F-Stop Tilopa BC
I noticed a lot of nature photographers are using F-Stop backpacks so I decided I’d like to try one out to possibly replace my ThinkTANK Airport Accelerator backpack. I don’t really have a problem with that pack, I just thought I might like a change and also see what everybody liked about the F-Stop stuff. The ThinkTANK was the backpack I’ve used the longest, and like all ThinkTANK products, it is extremely well made and well-designed.
I spoke with a few of the F-Stop users to try and gauge what model might be best for me as I was looking at the “Loka”, the “Tilopa” and the “Satori” models. I ended up going with the Tilopa in Foliage Green. It can accommodate the XL Internal Camera Unit and I was pretty sure I wanted the XL. The Loka which was my first choice only goes up to a Large. After receiving my Tilopa, I could tell straight away that the bag was REALLY well made using premium parts…and it’s probably the coolest looking photography backpack around for what that’s worth.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good ceased – at least for me. I’m only 6’1″ tall, but I am a bigger guy. Robust maybe? You know…I’m a solid “power forward” on my hockey team (that’s what they call us big dudes that are hard to move from in front of the net!) Now I know other users who are taller than I am, 6’3″, 6’4″, etc. and they told me that the Tilopa fits them fine, but I must be longer in the torso perhaps because I couldn’t get the pack adjusted to sit correctly on my hips (which is crucial to good backpack fit). The space between the shoulder straps was also a bit too narrow for a good fit on me as well. I have no doubt that a slender person my height could probably get this pack to fit like a glove, but it definitely didn’t work too well for me! Strange how you only see skinny guys in the pictures on ALL the backpack manufacturer’s websites! If you are a bigger guy like me, I would strongly suggest you really check the dimensions of the packs before you buy. I did, and really had reservations about the fit, but was told by a lot of others including the extremely nice staff at F-Stop that the pack is really adjustable and I shouldn’t have any problems. With only about half the gear that I would normally put in the pack, I could tell within 10-15 minutes that it wasn’t going to be the right pack for my body type. This is really no fault of F-Stop – their website has lots of size measurements and pictures – I was just hoping against better judgement that I’d be happy with the Tilopa.
The internal camera unit (or ICU as F-STop calls them) was also not great to work with. Even though I bought the “Pro” sized XL ICU, my Nikon D4 with Kirk Enterprises L-Bracket was not a good fit. I really had to push and cram it into the ICU with a Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 lens attached, the girth of the lens was too much to fit comfortably in the area where it should fit easily. There’s no way to put a wide angle zoom into the ICU like I normally do in other packs with the hood attached. Also, the F-Stop website makes it look like you’ll have a few inches above the XL Pro ICU when you open the main top compartment to maybe stick a hat and gloves in or maybe a bottle of water, but in reality there isn’t really any room left there when the XL is in place. When installed in the Tilopa, the top 3-4 inches or so of the XL ICU isn’t even accessible through the zippered back panel OR the top of the bag so you can’t really put anything in that area that you would need unless you want to slide the ICU in and out of the pack every time, so I would basically say the Large would be the biggest ICU you can effectively use in the Tilopa.
I have my ThinkTANK pack set up basically in a 2-sided arrangement in the upper portion of the bag so I can put the D4 with either the 24-70 f/2.8 or 16-35 f/4 attached on one side and the 70-200 f/2.8 with 2x converter on the other side. If I have the 70-200 attached to the body, it’ll still fit on one of the sides and the other lenses still have a place to go. This way, I can throw the camera right into the pack no matter what lens is attached to it – quick and easy. I don’t have to take a lens off in order to get the camera into the pack. Quite frankly, the D4 with the 70-200 attached wouldn’t go into F-Stop pack easily at all. This is reason enough for me to just return the Tilopa and continue using my ThinkTANK pack, but add in the fact that it’s just not a good fit for me personally and there’s no other decision to make except use F-Stop’s nice 45-day return policy and get a refund.
I must mention that the people I spoke with at F-Stop were super friendly and helpful and that up to this point I believe F-Stop is a good company to deal with…we’ll see how the return goes but I don’t have any reason to doubt it’ll go smoothly.
UPDATE: I called F-Stop to return the Tilopa and once again talked to an extremely nice and helpful employee – he arranged an email to be sent to me that included all the return information and an RMA number. Big props to F-Stop’s customer service. I will more than likely revisit F-Stop in the future – hopefully they’ll have a pack that will fit me better in the future. I think this would be a fantastic pack for a big mirrorless kit with a bunch of lenses (smaller bodies, smaller lenses), but by the time I was really building my mirrorless kit, I already had the Gura Gear Uinta pack.
You can see in this pic how I have my ThinkTANK Airport Accelerator set up so I can fit the D4 in on either side with any lens I use on it – the 70-200’s hood comes off, but all the other lenses can go in with hoods attached.
For reference, you can see pretty easily in this pic that the XL Pro ICU in the F-Stop pack makes for a tight fit for the pro-sized Nikon D4 and the 24-70 (attached) and the 70-200 on the left. You can also see how the upper most compartments in the ICU aren’t really accessible at the top of the opening.
Gura Gear Uinta Backpack
It appears that the Uinta backpack is no longer available from Gura Gear which is a shame. Seems that now their Kiboko is the only backpack in their line, though it is available in 3 versions. It’s not the same type of pack as the Uinta though.
A few years back, I tested out a Gura Gear Battaflae 26L backpack and at the time I didn’t find it any better than the ThinkTANK backpack I was using at the time so I returned it.
Recently, Gura Gear released a new pack called the Uinta that was a departure from their normal designs. Honestly, it was a lot like the F- Stop packs with interchangeable gear modules you can insert inside.
Now with my recent test of the F-Stop Tilopa BC, you might think I’d be nuts to try out a similar pack in my quest for the best backpack for my gear…and I kind of felt nuts when I called Gura Gear! Something in my head kept telling me the Uinta just might work though, so I gave it a shot. I was thinking that if I could set it up the way I was thinking in my head, it might be perfect for my annual landscape photography trips to the Smokies and Cuyahoga Valley.
I’m glad I did.
The Uinta, (while appearing smaller and sleeker than the F-Stop pack that gave me such a hard time fitting gear into), just seemed to swallow up all my gear.
The cool design of the lower section opening to the small module and the upper section opening to the medium module worked out great.
I was able to put my Fuji X-T1 and Fuji 14mm, 18-55mm, 60mm Macro, and 55-200mm lenses into the small module. In the medium module I got the Nikon D4 and Nikon 16-35mm and 24-70mm lenses, Tamron 90mm Macro lens, and the Fuji’s Rokinon 8mm Fisheye lens. I didn’t need to get the Nikon 70-200mm lens in because I’m not planning on taking that lens for the main use for this pack – landscape photography. With some adjustment, I can get it in there though if I decide later on down the road to carry that lens.
Well, so far so good. After putting in batteries, filters, diffuser, cable releases, Leatherman tool, headlamp, Giottos rocket blower, etc. I then had to see how the pack fit me…something the F-Stop Tilopa simply didn’t do…something the MindShift Rotation 180 kind of did, though not super comfortably…and something the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 and Flipside Sports did really well.
I’m very pleased to report that the Uinta fit and seems as comfortable as a pack with that much gear can be! The ergonomic design of the shoulder straps is the best I’ve ever seen on a camera backpack. They are really light weight, but really strong and also are probably the most “breathable” straps I’ve ever seen on a backpack – as is the back panel of the pack. The waist belt is great as well – plenty of room for adjustment, and has great attachment “strips” on both sides…you can attach an item like a Molle attachment point, or in a way that allows you to slide it back and forth the whole length of the strip – a really nice touch. I got the THS attachment with the pack, but unless I decide to put a water bladder in it, I probably won’t use it because I normally don’t like to carry my tripod that way – I use a pretty big FLM carbon fiber tripod and it’s easier to just carry it than have it attached to a pack.
Since adding a second Fuji X-T1 body, I have been transitioning to using the Fuji X kit for just about all my shooting with the exception of wildlife photography or anything I would feel the speed and superior autofocus of the Nikon kit would work better for, so I’ve started using the Uinta to carry my complete Fuji X kit.
The small module on the bottom carries an X-T1 with a lens (usually either the 18-55 or 10-24) and holds all the batteries and a small tool kit. The medium module in the top holds the second X-T1, usually with the 55-200 lens attached though every now and then it will have the 60 Macro on. All the other X-system lenses are in this module as well, with a rocket blower and filters. The outside pockets hold various items like a BlackRapid Metro strap, water bottle, etc. The Uinta might be looked at as overkill for a kit the size of the Fuji kit, but it is very comfortable for that use, and nothing needs to be “crammed in”.
The Uinta pack has replaced the Pro Trekker 400 as my main pack…as much as I like the Pro Trekker, the fact that the Pro Trekker opens on the front rather than the back makes it less than ideal for me. I like the packs that open on the back – it’s safer and keeps you cleaner since the side you place on the ground doesn’t go back against your body when you put the pack back on! Plus, the Uinta is much lighter in weight than the PT 400 – empty it weighs about the same as the Uinta does with the Fuji kit in the small module!
All in all, I am really happy with the Uinta…now if only Gura Gear made it available in other colors besides black like their other packs. I’d love to see a dark red version eventually as well!
Me scrambling up some rocks looking for a shooting angle wearing the Uinta.
I just returned from a 7-day trip through the Great Smoky Mountains where I used the Uinta pack exclusively to haul around my X-system and couldn’t have been happier with it. It was very comfortable, held everything I needed, and was great to work out of. I carried the following gear:
– two Fuji X-T1 bodies with L-Brackets,
– Fuji 10-24mm lens,
– Fuji 18-55mm lens,
– Fuji 55-200mm lens,
– Fuji 60mm Macro lens,
– Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens,
– seven spare batteries,
– remote control,
– BlackRapid Metro strap,
– B+W polarizing filters for all three Fuji zooms,
– 72mm Vari-ND filter and step rings for the 18-55 & 55-200 lenses,
– small pouch with tripod wrenches,
– 2 water bottles (in side mesh pockets),
– 10 extra SD cards in a ThinkTANK SD Pocket Rocket,
– several microfiber cloths,
– FLM Carbon Fiber Tripod with ballhead,
– a 20″ round diffuser (the kind you twist in a figure-8 to fold up).
The Uinta took a beating – I was constantly putting it on and taking it off, laying it on the ground or on rocks I was climbing on. The materials it is made of are great for field use – the pack looks as good now as it did when I got it. The shoulder straps and waist straps are super comfortable. The zippers opened and closed easily everytime. Though I didn’t use the THS attachment to carry my tripod, I did leave it attached to the pack because it’s tough, strong material is nice when laying the pack down on the ground or rocks when putting gear in and out. You can also slip a jacket in between the THS and the pack and cinch it down to carry it. I even ran into Tony Sweet while I was out shooting one day & he was carrying his Uinta too – I made sure to thank him for bringing the pack to my attention.