I have to shamelessly admit that I, as are many other photographers, am a camera bag junkie. Maybe the reason behind it is that I was never able to find the perfect fit for my needs. Granted, different situations or travel circumstances may require different type of bags. It’s not the same to go out for a walk in your neighborhood as it is to go on an overseas trip. As I mentioned in one of my prior posts, I am a big believer in going light. During the years I have purchased, used, tested, abused and torn apart all kinds of bags. But only up until now, as I believe I have found my perfect travel companion, the bag that will perfectly suit almost any kind of adventure: the Tilopa BC by F-Stop.
I have used F-Stop products before, specifically the Kenti Backpack, and their quality was excellent. As I was about to travel for three weeks in Southeast Asia, including heavy trekking portions in northern Vietnam, I needed something bigger than the Kenti, a bag capable of transporting my gear, including computer, chargers, and essential clothing for two to threee days at a time. I needed something versatile.
I went back to F-Stop because I was satisfied with my other bag. They have a different approach when it comes to building their products, which are rigorously tested by their team of pro photographers. It’s a concept that allows the company to permanently have field feedback straight from working hardcore users. One of the key elements for me is the flexibility available to build a system. The backpacks consist of two components: the backpack itself, and the Internal Camera Unit, called the ICU. In a nutshell, once you pick the backpack that suits you best, then you can configure the interior in several different ways depending on your needs. This is a big plus, as one bag can be used for different situations.
The Tilopa BC
I chose this bag because at 48 liters, it was big enough to carry all my gear and yet be very carry-on friendly. The dimensions are generous and can be configured in several ways. I have also picked up the Small Pro and Medium Slope ICU with the idea that if I needed a full bag of gear I could throw both in, and if I only needed a regular or small kit I could use just one of the ICUs.
The backpack is constructed with durable, water-resistant materials and features, double Ripstop Nylon with Polyurethane coating, YKK® heavy-gauge zippers, Duraflex® buckles, and Eva-padded shoulder straps and hip belts. There is also an internal aluminum frame support that helps to better distribute heavy loads.
Besides the internal ICU, there are several pockets and options to organize either accessories or essentials for a day out. The top lid features a separate pocket where you can store smart phones, extra batteries, headsets, travel documents, etc. There is also a mesh compartment in the interior side of the lid. A big front panel pocket can be used for extra layers or even a light jacket. The internal padded computer sleeve can fit a laptop up to 18”; there are also two smaller pockets (not padded) on the side that I’ve used to throw in hard drives.
If you carry a tripod, it can be mounted either on the front or the side of the bag using the multiple quick-release straps. These straps are very handy as the ones at the sides also allow for side compression, making it possible to adjust depth when the backpack is not full. Last, the pack also features the ability to attach multiple accessories as it is compatible with the MOLLE, an international standard used by other third-party add-ons companies and, of course, F-Stop itself. It also packs several bungee cords and two D-rings as additional mounting points for small accessories.
In Practical Use
I put the backpack through its paces during the three-week trip and it didn’t disappoint me. Despite being loaded, it was very easy to carry and the weight was well distributed. Over 10-mile treks in the mountains? No problem. Carry on in international or regional jets? Not a problem.
One of things that I particularly like about the bag is that the camera gear is accessed via the back panel, so the equipment is secure, but you can also access the main compartment via the top opening as well, making it very practical.
As I was taking my Fuji X kit, I outfitted the pack with just the Medium Slope ICU, and as you can see there was plenty of room left in the main compartment to carry other personal stuff. I put my cleaning stuff, extra caps, regular batteries and cables on the interior mesh pocket of the lid. My laptop (not shown here) and paper model releases were in the computer sleeve.
The gear goes into the ICU; depending on your liking, you can either carry the internal ICU with the lid closed or open. My choice was to have it closed as it felt more secure having an extra layer of protection. The zippers are easy to access anyway, and it takes no time to open it and close it once you are in the field.
The Medium Slope ICU is roomy and can fit my kit very well. I have two camera bodies, six lenses, a flash, wireless triggers, grids, batteries, SD cards and a GPS tracker.
This is a bag I’ll continue to use on my travels as it is versatile, can be configured in several ways, and it really looks great.
I have picked mine in Foliage Green, but you also have two more color options: Black and Malibu Blue. The price starts at $339 for the bag itself, a bit pricey, but when you consider the quality of the materials, construction, versatility, and the manufacturer’s 20-year warranty, the Tilopa BC becomes an excellent option for the hardcore photographer.