This review details my reaction to using the F-Stop Gear Satori EXP 62 litre backpack as a travel photography bag. I will explain my choice behind purchasing this backpack, and how I configure the medium ICU for my purposes. Then I will go into the other items I carry in the bag on long trips and how they fit into the bag itself.
For an amazing in depth look at the bag, I recommend you visit Dan Carr’s blog for his full review and detailed look inside the bag. He has done a great breakdown of everything this bag is capable of, and is extremely technical about its specifications.
When I first started planning my South East Asian odyssey last year, I looked high and low at all the big manufacturers’ websites, and came up with the same conclusion at all of them – there was always one shortcoming. Whether it be a lack of configuration options, weight, no laptop pouch, or a lack of attachments on the outside of the bag, there was always something missing. It was then that I cam across a company in Saint Louis called F-Stop Gear. To cut a long story short – I was sold the moment I looked at their bags.
Why the F-Stop Satori EXP?
The Satoria EXP bag, as with all their bags, has been designed for extreme adventure photography and thus is ruggedly built and has all of the features you would expect – MOLLE attachments, a water bladder storage, aluminium frame and generous pockets spread all over the bag. I knew I wouldn’t need half of this bag’s capabilities, but its construction (ripstop nylon, aluminium frame), weight (1.85kg!) and durability (industrial cross-stitching, YKK zippers) were its main selling points.
The single best design feature, and final selling point for me was the ICU system. Simply put, it is a small bag for your camera equipment that straps inside the large backpack. These come in four different sizes which mean you can balance you camera equipment with the other contents of your bag depending on the kind of trip you are using the bag for. These ICUs are also compatible with many other F-Stop bags, which means you can take your gear out of one bag and put it in another with ease.
I chose to use a medium pro ICU as I would be taking quite a bit of gear on this trip. It was going to be a reasonably long trip, so I would also need space for clothing and other travel necessities. The medium ICU takes up just about half of the main pocket of the Satori EXP bag, so I would have plenty of room for my other equipment and clothing.
What goes in the ICU?
The ICU is just like a little camera bag, and thus all of the dividers are configurable as they would be in any other bag. I did a few test trips and hikes before going on my long trip, and narrowed down how I would carry the gear. Here is that configuration. As you can see, a lot of gear fits in this little package.
1. Nikon SB800 in case. Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G on top – velcro strap to hold in place.
2. Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D with hood.
3. Nikon F80 with 50mm f/1.4G mounted. Nikon Series-E 100mm lens under camera grip.
4. Pelican 0915 SD card case, Yongnuo N-918 GPS and cheap remote for D800.
5. Nikon D800 with Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G mounted.
6. Spare batteries for D800 and F80.
Inserted into the bag, it looks like this. This is no product shot, so please forgive the slouching bag!
What else goes in the bag?
On top of the ICU in the main pouch, I store other photographic equipment like my Matin filter pouch (screw in filters), my Lowepro Filter Pouch 100 (square filters), my SMDV Diffuser 50, and when I am moving from place to place my clothing, hard drives and film sit here as well. My Samsung Series 5 12” Ultrabook slots down into the laptop sleeve behind the ICU.
In the various pockets at the top of the bag, I store my LED torch, mobile printer, lens cleaning kit, chargers, USB cables, notebooks, and daily supplies. The front pocket usually houses a towel and anything I purchase during the day.
The two net pockets on the sides alternated side-to-side between carrying my small Manfrotto tripod and a two-litre bottle of water.
After the trip
So, after 72 days of carrying the backpack in South East Asia’s heat for 10-20 kilometre walks every day, how did the bag hold up?
Apart from being pretty dusty, the bag itself has had no failings. The straps all held up well, as you would expect, and the zippers still move with ease.
I had a couple of smaller airlines (mostly those flying small ATR-72s)ask me to check the bag in, but after showing them that it was full of computers and cameras, they had no problems storing it with cabin crew baggage on on an empty seat in the plane.
Would I recommend it as a travel photography bag?
Absolutely. If you are looking for a do it all bag with loads of storage that will last – this is your bag. If you want something a little smaller, F-Stop make several others in the Mountain series that have all the same features in a smaller package. Just remember, these guys are not mass producers – it may take you some time to get one of their more popular bags.