The good folks at F-Stop Camera Bags (http://fstopgear.com/) sent Guy and I a sampling of their bags to test and demo just before our Salton Sea workshop. We had them with us in Salton, but given the workshop was geared toward chasing the light and shooting, we never really had time to thoroughly trial and demo the bags at that time. After the workshop, Guy and I split up the set and being taller, I grabbed the biggest offering from F-Stop, the Satori. Guy will have a review of the Bard and Tilopa following up soon.
Anyway, over the past few weeks I have taken some time to get to know the Satori and find it a very innovative bag. In summary, the main points are:
1) Real mountaineering style pack suspension system, capable of carrying substantial weights in relative comfort;
2) Other typical mountaineering pack features are multiple external lashing points for items like extra pockets, tripod, ice-axe, ski poles, tents or sleeping bags and load compression/adjustment straps to stabilize irregular loads;
3) External hydration bladder pocket, external top access pocket, and external rear sleeve style pocket, side holster pockets, small belt pocket for GPS unit;
3) Special internal padded compartment to hold a large laptop;
4) Removable, padded, adjustable divider internal camera unit (ICU) gear module with zip security cover;
5) Pack features normal "top" loading access hatch as well as full back flap access.
The real innovation point for photographers is finally this back access hatch is on the padded backrest side of the pack instead of the rear of the pack. The obvious benefit is when you set your pack down in the wet, sandy, muck or dirt to access your camera gear, you no longer transfer that gook to your own back. Nor do you have to dig through a bunch of items to access something buried deep inside a top-loader pack. A very, very thoughtful and convenient touch.
The pack is large-ish, and by itself would probably serve as a 4-5 day excursion pack. With a large component of camera gear in the ICU, I could probably squeeze in two days worth of food, water, stove, water filter, jacket, tarp and lash the sleeping bag and pad on the outside. My small tent probably wouldn't make it however. The more likely scenarios for this pack with a lot of gear are probably either an extended day trek or cross-country ski photo excursion, or a cross continental travel adventure where you never know how long you may have to schlep your travel bag.
The suspension is top notch, and surprisingly adjustable. I am 6'-6" tall (about 198CM) and have a longer than normal torso, so getting an internal frame pack to fit me properly is difficult. The Satori does a commendable job here, even for me, but for technical or multi-day uses it is probably better suited to those under 6'-3". Even with that caveat, I can say the Satori is far more comfortable to carry on my back than any conventional "camera" backpack I have tried to date -- and I have tried most all of them.
Access being on the inside padded area of the pack is great for outdoor photographers for sure, but being on that side of the pack requires some strategic design choices and thus total access is slightly restricted compared to typical rear-access camera bags as a result. This is a very minor nit IMO ad the benefit far outweighs it, but I mention it so potential buyers aren't surprised by it.
Overall construction quality is first rate too, with no shortcuts taken. Seams and stitching are excellent throughout, with top quality zippers with easy-grab pull tabs for when wearing gloves, zippers have protective storm flaps as well. Finally, all harness adjustment straps and quick-release buckles are easy to operate with one hand, and the ends of the straps are double-folded and stitched to prevent them sliding all the way through the adjuster slides. Lots of nice little touches and very well built indeed! Finally, the pack is light for it's size --- just under 6 pounds with the insert(!) and around 4 pounds without insert.
One final nit, and all camera bag manufacturers should take hard note: Most camera gear is black. Finding black gear in a black bag in low light is a royal PITA for me. I much prefer light gray or even white for the inside of my camera bags. However, black and gray on the outside is perfect!
All in all this bag gets a solid "Two Thumbs Up" rating for photographers, and especially photographers that do more than casual hiking with their gear!