I think the title basically tells you how I feel about this bag, but let me explain why. I’ve had my F-Stop Tilopa for over a year now and so far I’ve hiked 13,000 ft peaks with it loaded on my back, sprinted back down the mountain from lighting and hail storms, sprinted through the Denver airport, loaded up for a 2 week shoot, snowboarded with it, and it has even been to Greece since I bought it to photograph the refugees on the Isle of Lesbos for 2 weeks. So, I’ve gotten some use out of it and tested it a bit over that small amount of time. Even the friend I let borrow the bag and take to Greece came back saying it was the best thing he’d ever used. The difference is real people. But enough about all of that, WHY is it the best ever?
First, it’s built like a brick s***house. Most of the other bags I’ve had to carry camera gear in have been designed for camera gear first and for the elements and the hiker second. This bag doesn’t feel like your normal bag and none of the straps, zippers, or material scream cheap at all. They are built like a bag that you could take hiking into the Amazon with for a month and feel comfortable with what you have inside staying dry and protected. To me, it almost feels like more of an Osprey or Patagonia type build rather than the typical Lowepro or ThinkTank bag. The zippers are heavy duty and you’re definitely not worried about rain or weather getting into your gear as long as it’s sealed up, but the best part is that the bag is built separate from what you’re going to put your gear into.
My review here is more explicitly about the Tilopa bag and the Large and X-Large inserts that can go into it. I have both and they’re each awesome depending on what I’m going to bring along. As far as how the bag works, you have an insert that you can divide up and shape to how you want to carry the gear you’re going to take with you. You can get a number of different inserts of different shapes and sizes to fit your bag depending on if you want room for other gear that you might be taking on the trip with you. I typically find myself using the entirety of the bag for my gear, but that’s because I haven’t had the specific need (yet) to pack for a multi-day trip in the bag as well with other gear. What I have been able to pack though, is mind blowing. I have been able to pack my Mamiya body and back, an 80mm Schneider lens, Canon 5D MarkIII, 70-200mm f.28 IS lens, 24-70mm Mark II f/2.8 lens, 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, 50mm f/1.2 lens, battery chargers, a Profoto B1 w/ battery, Profoto Trigger, Cybersync Triggers, batteries, CF Card Case, and cleaning cloths/other miscellaneous stuff. That’s just in the insert! Outside of that I still have plenty of room for my journals, more lens cloths and odd cleaning equipment, my laptop, 2 G-Tech RAW drives, and a pack of gum :) Now, I’m not a small man by any standards so I’m not saying that all of that gear is easy to carry or necessarily easy on my back, but I can get it all in there and get it to the hotel or the tent or wherever in the field I need to get it to. I wouldn’t take all of that on a multi-day march or hiking trip, but for a quick jut out into the field for a shoot or to show up and essentially have an entire studio on your back is a great thing to be able to do out of just one bag. Not only that, but even with all of that equipment and weight, it’s still an incredibly comfortable bag. The straps are huge (so I say comfortable for me, if you’re a smaller person it may feel huge on you) and extremely well padded, and the back flap of the bag has great padding towards the lower back to help take some of the strain off of the shoulders and upper back and transfer it to your hips and center of gravity. I’m telling you, an F-Stop Tilopa bag is essential for the adventure or outdoor photographer, there is nothing else like it and we haven’t even gotten to the rest of the bag or the outside of it yet…
On top of all of awesomeness going on inside of the bag, you have the typical other pockets for odds and ends, a slot that easily fits a 13 or 15” Macbook pro (I use a 13” and it fits just fine with plenty of room to spare), and plenty of other spots large enough for extra drives, memory, journals, and anything else you might need to throw in there. The outside of the bag is designed much more like a Ski or Snowboard pack with space that are specifically designed to be able to carry your skis or board. I’ve use it for hiking with a board just one time, but I typically have tripods, light stands, and/or a quick-pole style light stand to shoot with. I’ve even found a way to use the snowboard straps to carry a Profoto Beauty Dish on my back and be able to still have my hands available to ride a bike, use poles, or climb up a sloped rock face. Yes, I look a little like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but who cares, I’ve got my camera gear with me and I’m not encumbered in a way that I’ve been with any and every other bag I’ve ever tried to use (and I have A LOT of bags!).
I can’t speak enough though about the durability of the bag. I’m sure you can find other bags that can hold just as much if not more stuff out there and they probably all have their own awesome features inside and out, but I’ve never seen or handled another backpack-style bag that I feel more comfortable to put my stuff in. I’ve tossed this thing in the snow, in the dirt, the mud, sand, and I’ve never worried about my gear. I have to wipe the bag down when I get home, but that’s the extent of the damage. As soon as I flip the opening in the back up, I know my gear is safe and I can access it without worrying about whatever my bag is laying in getting into my gear. That quick access flap is great, and when I’m done I can reach in and ensure all of my gear is safe by zipping up the inside flap as well and strapping all of my equipment down tight so when I’m having to sprint down the mountain to get out of the lighting storm blowing in, I’m not worried about which piece of equipment is going to be smashed when I get down. This thing gets a 10/10 for durability and protection.
So, I’ve gone over what I love about the bag and you can see all of the gear I can put into it, is there anything I would change? Not at this point. I do know that there have been a lot of recent complaints on the timelines of getting equipment ordered from F-Stop, but I personally didn’t experience any of it. I ordered my bag and had it within two weeks to take with me last year to Ouray for the Trail Runner Magazine shoot. But, I did want to be sure to make a quick comment about it on here in case any of you run into that issue when ordering your own. My advice? Be patient, it’s worth the wait! Now, go visit www.fstopgear.com and order yourself one of these beasts and the insert of your choice, you won’t regret it for a minute!!