Over the last few years I have had the luck to visit dozens of different photographic locations that had in common the fact that my photographic equipment had to be able to be transported in comfort and safety in not particularly favorable environmental conditions. Moreover, with the fact that it is possible to reach many of these locations thanks to low cost flights, it has always been important to find a backpack that can pass the boarding controls without any problem.
So I had the opportunity to experiment with various photographic backpacks of different photographic brands, and then settle for about six years to this part on f-stop Gear products.
First Guru, then Ajna and finally Loka UL became my fellow adventurers, and in this review I want to talk about the latest addition to my family: the Loka UL backpack.
As you may know, I recently became an Ambassador for f-stop Gear, which is an incredible honor for me. This should not be a secret, and if you know me you know perfectly that here below you will find only the result of my own experience without any external influence. So, let’s get started!
The f-stop Gear Loka UL backpack
The Loka UL backpack is part of the Ultra Light family (that’s where UL comes from) which indicates that special series of f-stop Gear backpacks made with particular attention to ensure that the weight is minimized. In fact, it weighs only 1.2 kg. F-stop Gear declares that it is designed to maximize comfort…will that be true? We’ll see.
But what are the main characteristics and dimensions of this backpack? Let’s see them summarized here:
- Height: 55,88 cm
- Width: 31,75 cm
- Depth: 27,94 cm
- Volume: 37 liters
As you can see, the useful volume is slightly less than the 40 liters offered by the Ajna that is my primary backpack for my photographic trips.
The size is basically within the cabin baggage limits of EasyJet, Ryanair and many other companies, and this is an indispensable condition for me. (to be honest, the height exceeds 0.88 cm but being a backpack and not a hard suitcase there are no problems of any kind).
The Loka UL is made of weather resistant material with Hypalon bottom. In practice, the support is made of material very resistant to abrasion and even in bad weather you should not have any problems of any kind. In any case f-stop Gear recommends the purchase of the rain cover: we’ll see later if really necessary or not.
The exterior of the backpack is simple and elegant: currently it is only available in black with blue finishes.
There are two main pockets: one on the top and one on the back. Unlike the Ajna there are no side pockets but there are two nets for objects as in the Guru. Honestly this is the configuration I prefer because in the side nets I can insert an umbrella and a water bottle for example. (There is also a predisposition for internal bag-bottle, but for hygienic reasons honestly I never loved it).
The tripod can be positioned either laterally through the combined use of a net and the included strap (a solution that I do not like because it generally unbalances the load on the back), or in the back using the GateKeeper straps (sold separately) as I normally do.
By opening the upper zip you can access the internal compartment from above. Unfortunately there is not as on the f-stop Gear Ajna the internal net to carry additional accessories. It’s a pity because an additional compartment never spoils, especially when it is internal and well protected from potentially bad weather.
The zip on the back allows us to finally access the main internal area where we will accommodate the ICU with our equipment.
What is the ICU? One of the reasons I think f-stop Gear is one step ahead of everybody else.
Let’s see it together.
The f-stop Gear Internal Camera Unit (ICU)
Basically, every f-stop Gear backpack is an empty shell. In fact, there is no any default structure to carry your camera equipment inside. Great deal, you’ll say. Actually, yes, because f-stop allows you to choose the structure you want according to your needs!
This structure is called ICU, an acronym for Internal Camera Unit. f-stop Gear allows you to choose bewteen 9 ICUs divided into three sizes (small, medium and large) and combinable with each other (you can insert more than one ICU in the same backpack at the same time).
Not all ICUs are compatible with all backpacks, so fstop has created a table that tells you which ICUs are recommended for a specific backpack. For the Loka UL, f-stop Gear recommends to choose between 5 ICUs. Here the choice is really personal and according to your needs.
My needs were:
- To carry one camera body, two lenses and accessories
- Having room for my filters bag
- Have more space for some clothing and snacks
In short, I need a configuration that allows me to be in the field from before sunrise to after sunset. That’s why I chose the ICU Shallow Medium. As you can see from the picture below the solution chosen is absolutely adequate for what I normally need.
Let’s go now to see how the backpack behaves in the field.
The Loka UL in the field
Since I received this backpack several months have passed and so I can say that I have tested it in different weather situations and in different typology of trips.
Honestly, the biggest surprise is the comfort while carrying it on my back: it’s simply fantastic. Compared to the Ajna that I remind you to be more spacious by only 3 liters (or 3 jars of Nutella if you like!) the feeling is more comfortable. Even after walking for a few hours I feel no pain or fatigue.
Under the storm it behaved wonderfully: during one of my last workshops in Portugal we were “surprised” by a water bomb at sunset (in quotes because it was so beautiful that when we saw it approaching we decided to stay to photograph it!) … yes, one of those torrential rains that if you breathe you drink rain for instance. To give you an idea of the intensity, I assumed that all the equipment was irreparably compromised. Instead, surprisingly, despite not using the rain cover (which of course I had forgotten in the hotel), the external material of the backpack has excellently protected the interior. Wonderful, and I challenge any other photographic backpack to resist such an experience.
At a wider spectrum, the resistance of the materials used is really remarkable. Despite the mistreatment during transport and use in the field, no stitching has given way. Surprising is the resistance to abrasion, especially of the bottom, which allows me to position it and “drag” it if necessary on rocks without fear.
As a practical feature, no surprises: the pockets and the internal ICU allow me to have all the equipment in the right place when I need it.
Despite the many similarities with the f-stop Anja, the Loka UL is a completely different backpack.
The ultralight structure is felt with every step and its design is definitely the optimization that comes from many years of experience.
I don’t think it’s a backpack for more than a day out in the field, but if you’re looking for something that goes unnoticed at airport security and at the same time allows you to comfortably carry everything you need for a long day in the field, I think it’s a backpack to consider.
The incredible weather resistance makes it really suitable for any scenario.
In short, it will be difficult for me not to use it during my next scheduled trips!