Gear review: F-Stop Tilopa - Pricey, but worth every penny
When photographer buys his basic gear (camera, lenses, filters, tripod...), he always founds himself in a loop of thinking of a kind of case or bag he needs to get to carry all his gear around. And soon, he finds out there is no perfect backpack or bag, which would fit all his requirements. But close to that, there are F-Stop backpacks.
My backpack needs changed through the time, and till recently, I liked to use Lowepro backpacks a lot. First, I had Lowepro's Fastpack, found it good for my limited camera gear, but the lack of the space in the non-camera part irritated me so much that I sold it. Than I went for an Outback camera bag. Useful thing, I still use it from time to time, but has limited space (camera body and two lenses), with attachment for the tripod outside, plus it is a bag, which means your shoulder suffers a lot after couple of hours of carrying. At the end I had the Vertex 200AW series. And this one was good. All my DSLR camera equipment was stored inside, it had good back and it was solid. I could even carry big Canon's 400mm lenses in it. Leni still uses the Lowepro Sport 200 AW, which is a nice backpack for one day hikes or trips with mirrorless camera equipment.
But my style of photography evolved as well as my photo needs, so I switched from the big heavy DSLRs to lighter Fujifilm mirrorless cameras and suddenly the Vertex was too big. Also, I started to do a lot of Outdoor photography, so the need of carrying some non-photography related things rised. And so, I started to look for a new backpack. I checked all sorts of backpacks, but I decided to invest once and for all and got myself a F-Stop Tilopa 50-liter backpack.
F-Stop has different backpacks for different needs. From the urban series to rugged mountain series as well as the bags and barrel cases for the lenses and tons of accessories. Also, they come in different sizes and colors. You can choose from the lightweight and small Guru and Kashmir series all the way up to Sukha (70L) and Shinn (80L) that will be good for multi-day staying in the wilderness.
Tilopa is a medium size backpack with the volume of 50 liters. F-Stop is claiming that this is their bestseller and I don't doubt about it as this is one of the best all-rounder backpacks out there. Best part of the F-stop camera backpacks are the internal camera units (ICU) that come in different sizes. I decided for the shallow medium, as with the mirrorless camera and lenses inside, I still have a lot of space for all the outdoor gear. The size is big enough that I can put inside things that I need for several days in the wilderness and it is still suitable to the most of the airplane companies as a hand luggage if not fully loaded.
The outside of the backpack is made from the rugged material, which is reliable and also a bit waterproof. There is no raincover included in the original backpack, which is a big minus, but you can order it from F-Stop or any other third party separately. The main difference and advantage in the F-stop camera bags system is that you reach your cameras through the back of the backpack, which means you put it on the ground with its front side, so you don't get dirty when you put your backpack on.
On the side, there are several straps, attachments and extra ski straps, where you can put tripod or all the backcountry gear you need. It also has the attachments on the bottom and top of the backpack, where you can put extra slings to hang your tent of sleeping bag. That makes it great for carrying climbing, caving, camping or winter hiking equipment. On the side, it has two pockets, which can be extended, and I find them good to carry the water bottles there.
On the front side there is a huge but flat pocket, where you can store your maps or tickets. I found this pocket problematic when raining, as it gets wet pretty quickly. It is also the pocket, which you put on the ground first. The back panel is soft and feels good on the back. The ventilation is good enough. The straps are soft and feel good on the shoulders.
Ski straps on the side can also be used for carrying the tripod or to attach some other outdoor equipment.
The front also includes couple of slings that are made especially for the ice climbing tools or hiking pools.
There is also a hole for hydration tube coming out from the inside. This one is well protected from the rain water.
Inside of the backpack in accessible through the the back panel or through the top which opens like a bag. It has rugged zippers that are working smoothly. The camera and lenses are accessible through the zipped back panel. I love to reach the camera through the back as you simply put your backpack on the ground, zip it and get your gear out. What I don't like is that the ICU is wider than the hole in the back panel, so the space to open the zippers of the ICU sometimes is very tight. It is also not very fast way to get your camera out of the backpack as you have to put it down from your shoulders to reach it. The back panel inside part has a zipped pocket, which I used for the batteries, but if you forget to zip it till the end, it can happen that when you will open it next time, the batteries will fall out and you can lose them. Happened to me. Twice. Now I store them in the top pockets or inside of the ICU. Inside has attachments for the ICU and a computer pocket, which suits up to 15'' size computers. It can also be used for the hydration bag. I miss some extra small pockets for the batteries and the memory cards that Lowepro backpacks have. The side of the backpack is reinforced with the metal frame, but personally, I got it out to get the backpack lighter. Tilopa itself is (because of the rugged material) quite a heavy backpack (1,5kg without frame -1.9kg with frame). Even without frame, the bottom is well designed and the backpack stands alone on the flat surface. The top of the inside is formed from two pockets. The inside one has zippers for some accessories, the outside is reachable separately and has two pockets (one with a zipper) and a ring for the keys. It is meant for the accessories, you need to have close to reach.
Overall, this is probably the best backpack I had so far. Even though the price is quite high (319$ on their official F-Stop website, not including the ICU), the camera backpack is close to perfect for the outdoor, landscape and travel photography and definitely worth the price if you use it regularly. And even on the long hikes or travels, you won't feel tired from carrying it all around.
F-Stop Tilopa 50L
What I like about it:
Removable ICU available in different sizes
Reaching the camera through the back panel
Soft and comfortable straps
Comfortable back panel
Lots of straps and attachments for extra gear
Suitable as a hand luggage on most of the airplanes
15' pocket for computer/hydration bag
Pocket ring for the keys
Space next to the ICU for food, extra gear...
Design, which stays tight on your back even when climbing...
What I miss:
Raincover should be included for that price
Sometimes, it is difficult to get the camera out fast
Some extra pockets for batteries and memory cards
Outside waterbottle mesh pocket