Reviewing the Loka UL Adventure Backpack from F-Stop Gear

Reviewing the Loka UL Adventure Backpack from F-Stop Gear

The new Loka UL backpack from F-Stop Gear combines rugged protection for your camera gear with the space you need for other outdoor essentials.

The new Loka UL backpack from F-Stop Gear combines lightweight rugged protection for your camera gear with the space you need for other outdoor essentials.

Among the many life lessons learned from my father was the one about always making sure you have the right tool for the job. I think we all do our best to apply this wisdom to the gear we pack inside our camera bags, but I’ve always felt that it’s just as important to apply it to the bags themselves. For starters, the bag that gets you to the gig isn’t always the best bag for getting you through the gig. I have a lot of bags. A lot. Until recently, though, I never had a bag that adequately combined protective storage for the gear with room for other essentials like a jacket, food, or other hiking gear for when an assignment– or life– takes me off the beaten path. The just-released Loka UL (Ultra Light) from F-Stop Gear not only combines those elements for me, but does so in one of the more innovative ways I’ve seen in a while.

First Impressions

Fresh out of the box, I was impressed with the high-quality construction and attention to detail. Modeled after F-Stop’s original Mountain Series Loka pack, the Loka UL has been stripped down to the essentials.  More than a full 1/3 lighter than the original, this newer version has been simplified in the interests of weight reduction and better freedom of movement. Those goals have been achieved without any compromise whatsoever in the build quality. A ripstop nylon water-repellent shell, internal aluminum frame, and a new ergonomic harness provide the lighter weight, as well as a more even distribution of the load.

Specs and Features

  • Height:  22 inches (55.9 cm)
  • Width:  12.5″ (31.8 cm)
  • Depth: 11″ (27.9 cm)
  • Volume: 37 liters
  • Weight empty:  2.25 lbs. (1.02 kg)
  • Price: $249.00 (USD)
  • DWR (durable water repellant) treated, 210D Ripstop Nylon with PU2 (Urethane moisture curing) coating
  • EVA (Ethylene vinyl acetate) padded hip belt, EVA-padded shoulder straps, and internal aluminum frame for easier handling of heavy loads
  • Jersey laminate EVA-padded back panel for ventilation and comfort control
  • YKK brand reversed zippers for extra weather protection
  • ITW brand buckles
  • Easy-to-reach side mesh pocket with ripstop nylon base and elastic cuff for water bottles
  • Drainage weep holes on sides and front pockets
  • Rain cover pocket in base of pack
  • Organizer pockets in top lid for batteries, memory cards, smart phones, etc.
  • Front panel pocket ideal for jackets, extra layers, ground tarp, etc.
  • Internal nylon sleeve fits up to a 13″ laptop, or doubles as a hydration bladder pocket
  • Quick-release side compression straps can secure tripods, ski poles, skis, etc.
  • Sternum strap includes integrated whistle for emergencies
  • Belt and shoulder suspension straps help adjust load for optimum weight distribution
  • Several exterior D-rings and attachment points for accessories
An integrated hydration system (bladder not included) will be a plus for outdoor photographers.

An integrated hydration system (bladder not included) will be a plus for outdoor photographers.

Internal Camera Unit (ICU)

The heart and soul of the F-Stop Mountain Series is the Internal Camera Unit (ICU). Available in ten different sizes, the ICU lets you select the ideal-sized padded insert for your camera gear, while balancing available space between camera gear and other essentials like clothes, food, camping equipment, etc. Like other bags in the Mountain series, the Loka UL can accommodate one or more ICUs, depending on the size selected. Pictured here is the Shallow Medium ICU— one of the three recommended ICU sizes for this bag. Six of the 10 available ICUs will fit the Loka UL, but the other larger ones would seriously cut down on space available for non-camera essentials, defeating the entire purpose of the bag. The ICU rests securely in the bottom of the Loka UL and is kept in place with four Velcro tabs around the internal aluminum frame. Camera gear is accessed through the back panel of the pack.

Gear stored in the ICU is accessed through the back of the pack.

Gear stored in the ICU is accessed through the back of the pack.

Every ICU is made with double ripstop nylon and a polyurethane coating.  High-density cross link foam dividers and side walls keep gear secure and protected. The ICU also works well as a modular storage system for your gear. The foam lid protects your precious cargo when used for storage or transport, and can be folded back and out of the way for easier access to gear when it’s in the pack. The dimensions of the ICU shown here are:

  • External:  5″ (L) x 11.5″ (W) x 11″ (H) (12.7 cm x 29.2 cm x 27.9 cm)
  • Internal: 4.5″ x 10.5″ x 10″  (11.4 cm x 26.7 cm x 25.4 cm)
  • Weight Empty: 0.95 lbs (0.43 kg)
ICUs also work well as modular storage systems when the bag's not in use.

ICUs also work well as modular storage systems when the bag’s not in use.

It’s worth pointing out that the Loka UL makes for a great all-around backpack with the ICU completely removed, for those unheard of situations (GASP!) when you might actually leave the photo gear at home. Note: If this happens to you, seek help immediately.

Hitting the Trails

Stabilizing straps on the shoulders and at the waist help maintain a comfortable, even distribution of weight.

Stabilizing straps on the shoulders and at the waist help maintain a comfortable, even distribution of weight.

Summer has already hit here in Georgia (USA) with all the grace of a runaway freight train, so I’ll have to get back to you on how the Loka UL performs in cold, snowy conditions. But I can say that it did great in the heat, humidity and rain while hiking through paths, hills and riverbeds. Obviously, comfort is the #2 priority when choosing a camera backpack. I say #2 because let’s face it– protecting the gear is #1. But comfort is key and the Loka not only met my expectations, but vastly exceeded them. By biggest complaints in the past about camera backpacks has been the comfort issue. I’ve never doubted their ability to protect the gear. Sometimes, though, it’s their unfailing gear protection that makes them too heavy or unwieldy for actual hiking or camping. The fact that the Loka has been designed specifically for hiking, camping, skiing and other outdoor activities helps ensure that it strikes a great balance of form and function.

I was very impressed with the wide variety of pockets on this bag. Someone was obviously paying attention to the real-life needs and concerns of outdoor photographers. Features such as a pocket perfectly sized for a protein bar on the harness straps, as well as drainage “weep holes” at the bottom of some exterior pockets all add up to maintaining what you need and discarding what you don’t. There’s an old saying when it comes to hiking– “Take only pictures and leave only footprints.” This bag even has multiple pockets available for responsibly taking your trash with you.

With stabilizing straps at both shoulders and each side of the hip belt, adjusting and readjusting distribution of the load was extremely easy. Obviously, the bag alternates between getting lighter and heavier over the course of the day. The camera goes in and out of the bag. You stop to eat. Put on or take off a jacket. Being able to make those adjustments quickly and easily takes one more item off the list of things you need to worry about. The stabilizers and harness straps work well together to keep any potential back strain to a minimum.

We did encounter some light to moderate rain while testing the Loka. I opted to skip the rain cover, and was pleased to see that the water-repellent fabrics did exactly what they were supposed to do.

What I Packed in Mine

The image below breaks down the camera gear I packed in the ICU. Other items packed in the remaining areas of the bag included: Jacket, hat, towel, dry shirt, bug spray, two water bottles, lunch, and a few snacks.

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Wrap-up and Recommendations

Variety is the spice of life and that same philosophy can (and should) apply to camera bags. I have bags that I only use for storage. I have one that’s been configured for nothing but lighting equipment. I have “everything but the kitchen sink” bags for commercial shoots, and small shoulder bags that won’t hold much more than a camera and two lenses. They all serve their specific purpose and the Loka UL is no different. It’s the first bag I’ve had that can carry not only the right amount of gear, but the other essentials needed for a day on the trails. Outdoor photography is both a challenge and an adventure. The Loka UL from F-Stop Gear helps you meet those challenges head-on and I highly recommend it for whenever adventure comes knocking on your door.

fstop-loka-review-dps-005

I try to steer you guys towards Amazon as much as I can, but the Loka UL backpack is currently available exclusively through F-Stop gear. That’s actually a good thing, insofar as configuring your bag and ICU combination is a lot easier when you have every possible combination in one place. Prices for the bag and ICU as shown in this review: Loka UL Backpack ($249.00 USD), Medium Shallow ICU ($79.00 USD). Click here for more information. As always, feel free to post any questions you have in the comments.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Loka UL Adventure Backpack
Author Rating
5

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Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class called: Digital Photo Challenges.