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Thread: Mini Review of F-Stop Lotus

  1. #1
    Senior Member Frankly's Avatar
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    Mini Review of F-Stop Lotus

    F-Stop Gear has a good reputation for designing high quality camera backpacks but unfortunately had some difficulties with mismanagement and poor customer service. Some people waited over a year to get their orders. But lately they've made a marked improvement, with product in stock and prompt shipping times. Workmanship has always been first rate as reflected with their premium price point.

    The big selling point is that they are back panel opening packs, which means you set the pack down on the outside back and access your gear from the side that touches your back. This keeps the important things out of the muck and dirt so your gear and back stay cleaner.

    They are also infamous for their camera "inserts" which come in a variety of sizes, allowing you tailor the pack to suit your needs and change the balance of padded camera compartment versus general backpacking and hiking gear. In practice this works but when the inserts cost $100 on top of an all ready premium priced product there can be grumbling. In my case the Lotus is a 32L size, right about the average airline maximum legal carry on (domestic USA) and I use the Large insert 100% of the time. If I were a more serious hiker I might get a smaller insert to allow more room for overnight gear, clothing, water and food. But I'm using it mostly as "dumb" camera bag. The inserts themselves are good quality, low nap and Velcro, a bit thinner than a Lowe Pro or Tamrac ~ I think "just right".

    The pack without the insert would also do double duty as a good backpacking backpack. The harness system is excellent, with thin but wide straps and waist belt for load distribution. Lots of room for adjustment and thoughtful details, like a tiny whistle incorporated into the sternum strap and plenty of lashing points and way to carry sleeping pads, climbing gear, and tripods. The pack has the usual water bladder ports. Materials and zippers are more water resistant than most packs, so much so that they do not include a rainfly and I doubt you'd need one in most situations (it would have to be a real soaker). Snow should be no problem.

    My complaints are with the side and back pocket. First the back pocket is most of the rear panel but very thin, maybe it would allow an inch or so of thickness. If you folded your raincoat up carefully you might be able to put it inside. Otherwise it's sized for paperwork or perhaps a tablet. It seems like an afterthought and I would have preferred it had a stretch panel or pleat so it could actually hold something useful or that they left it off entirely to streamline and help waterproof the pack. Really they should have put a layer of weatherproof rubbery material on the back since that is where you are setting it down.

    The side pockets are very strange, they lay flat but have pleats with Velcro to keep them tucked flat. Vertical zippers run up the back. This arrangement could possibly work well with a medium tripod – stick one leg into the pocket and hold the rest with the top compression strap. But the pockets are too tight for the common liter-sized water bottles. Or bladders. You can just fit a pint of Poland Spring or perhaps a flask type bottle. And both sides are identical. Bizarre design decision... this is the one thing that Mindshift did right on their packs, you can chinch down a conventional pocket to hold a normal water bottle.

    (I really don't like commingling water bladders and bottles inside the pack with camera gear, call me paranoid. Still for my use - more as a camera bag than a overnight backpack - I can use some smaller bottles and get by fine. At Backcountry.com I saw some fancy flat bladder types that would probably work as well.)

    Skis, hiking poles, ice axes, pads and tripods should be no problem with this pack, lots of attachment options.

    The top pocket where the lid usually would be is well done, there are two pockets really along with some mesh dividers and a key fob thing. Good zippers and all is well except small items can migrate down into the deep recesses behind your camera insert if they are set in the compartment above the insert. They didn't figure this issue out and it seems unavoidable based on the design that uses different inserts. I simply put a large Ziploc bag in this compartment so my smaller items wouldn't be tempted to slid down into neverland.)

    Cosmetically it looks like a top quality backpack and blends in, doesn’t shout CAMERAS! It’s not cheesy or embarrassingly hipster looking. Older people can carry it without feeling like poseurs assaulting Everest.

    I have yet to experience this but it seems to me that you could be in a "[email protected]#$" situation with it unless you advocate for yourself, perhaps it presents a bit larger than it is based on the harness. Kind of borderline here.

    All things considered, and after trying many similar sized packs, this is the one I'm keeping. If they eliminated the camera insert system and simply sewed the padded camera insert into the pack I think it'd be better - lighter, tighter, less expensive... but they committed to this design direction. Frankly I think if Mindshift simplified their over-featured packs then they could have something competitive and maybe better.

    I'm still keeping my Think Tank Airport Essentials for less gear and in urban settings, it's easier for carry-on, especially on puddle jumpers. I love that pack but think they blew it with the ancillary laptop/tablet pockets... should have left things simpler.

    But pack designers seem to love adding "features" even on supposed minimalistic packs ;-\ There is still plenty of room in the marketplace to do a better pack IMHO.

    (Gear = 2 Nikon D810s; 300/4pf; 105/1.4e; 20/1.8g; Zeiss 35/1.4 Milvus; flash, filters, remote, 6 batteries and charger in large insert. Top pocket: RRS mini tripod, headlamp, snacks, cleaning and repair, paperwork, room for a coat and/or DJI Mavic Pro drone. I mostly use hiking poles and/or a RRS 24L tripod on the side and pack a couple pints of water in the dorky side pockets. Loaded weight is 22lbs/10.5kg comfortable to carry but still a bit awkward on an airplane (still smaller than many people's carry on!)) (~ 30 lbs w tripod and water for a longer hike.)
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    Last edited by Frankly; 4th June 2018 at 04:15.
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  2. #2
    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: Mini Review of F-Stop Lotus

    Hmm, probably overdue for me to review my Satori and Ajna packs. What I like about those packs is the more robust straps vs the Lotus (yours) and Tilopa UL that I had before.

    What i really like about F-Stop bags is that so long as you don’t stuff the outside pockets or pack too large a laptop inside (Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16in with power adapter etc) they pretty much fit even in commuter jet overheads and international. The only issue I ever had was with IcelandAir coming home one time and the gate agent was visibly disappointed that the bag fitted in the template just fine but thankfully she didn’t try lifting it
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Frankly's Avatar
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    Re: Mini Review of F-Stop Lotus

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    Hmm, probably overdue for me to review my Satori and Ajna packs. What I like about those packs is the more robust straps vs the Lotus (yours) and Tilopa UL that I had before.

    What i really like about F-Stop bags is that so long as you don’t stuff the outside pockets or pack too large a laptop inside (Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16in with power adapter etc) they pretty much fit even in commuter jet overheads and international. The only issue I ever had was with IcelandAir coming home one time and the gate agent was visibly disappointed that the bag fitted in the template just fine but thankfully she didn’t try lifting it
    Ah you're in better shape than me, I can't imagine enjoying myself with anything larger or heavier, to me this is a beast! But yes the straps and waist belt are thin on this one compared but the width distributes the weight well up until a point.

    I also have a Patagonia Craigsmith 32L climbing pack that could be nearly ideal but for an inch that needs to be squished out of the large F-Stop camera insert. Otherwise it ticks all my boxes for a near ideal design – no senseless ancillary pockets, good water bottle pockets, lightweight but comfortable harness and most of all, back panel opening. I currently use it for shooting and it arguably carries a more awkward load - heavy ammo along with Kestrel, rangefinder, spotting scope, etc. If I were more ambitious I'd explore more third party camera inserts. It would be perfect for my old view camera adventures when I would mostly wrap larger individual pieces with padded Velcro wraps and sub-cases. But the gunpowder residue would probably flag the TSA sensors forever and delay my security checks, you really have to segregate that lest they find an empty casing and lock you away for years.

    I'm one of those people who travels without a laptop or tablet and tries to do everything from a phone (even e-books) so I'm in the minority, no need for electronics space. Of course if I ever did a traditional commercial gig I'd have to scramble to assemble a laptop for tethering and review, another roadblock to commerce ;-p

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