Review: f-stop Loka UL – backpack for the active shooter

f-stop Loka UL on the Gryta mountain

It’s been about a month since I picked up an f-stop Loka UL backpack. This is a 37L, weather-resistant, backpack that only weighs 1.2 kg. For reasons of availability, and the obvious bargain of getting a barley used backpack for half the price, I picked it up second hand. I’m probably not the only one with a keen interest in camera bags of different kinds; for some strange reason, it’s difficult to find the perfect one and it’s certainly difficult to limit yourself to only one – especially if you enjoy different kinds of photography and need to bring with you some extra gear (lenses, filters, batteries, tripod etc…). I have the following specimens on my conscience:

  • Lowepro Toploader 65AW (sold)
  • Think Tank Retrospective 10 (sold)
  • Lowepro Versapack 200AW (sold)
  • ONA The Bowery
  • ONA The Brixton
  • f-stop Luka UL

In addition to these I have had (and have) numerous regular backpacks for hiking that I also place my camera gear into when the need arises.

f-stop Loka UL in the forrest
f-stop Loka UL in the forest

The two main reasons for getting the Loka UL are: Going on hikes and transportation. By the latter I mean having a safe place to store a good amount of gear when travelling to a new place, either by train, plane or automobile. After reading and watching all available reviews, I settled on the Loka UL due to its size, capabilities and looks (it never hurts when my wife approves the look of a new piece of gear).

What sets the f-stop camera bags apart is that instead of a fixed camera compartment, which is usually either too big or too small, they have a concept called Internal Camera Unit (ICU). The benefit of this approach is that you pick the ICU based on how much gear you need to carry – and you pick your backpack based on how much other stuff you want to bring, which usually depends on how long your planning to stay out (f-stop has backpacks from 25L to 80L). The drawback is that it adds additional cost.

Specification highlights
  • 37 Liters
  • 1.2 kg
  • $199 for the backpack + $65 for the Small Shallow ICU (2449NOK in Norway from fotobag.no)
  • Large main compartment
  • Small compartment in the lid
  • Internal room and outlet for a camelback or similar.
  • Two mesh side pockets

With its 37L, the Loka UL is primarily a backpack for day hikes. Depending on the size of your ICU you should be able to bring with you the food and extra clothing needed for a day in the mountain. And if you are not tenting, but hiking between cabins, it may even last you several days.

Being a Fuji-X shooter, I opted for the “Small Shallow ICU”. To my surprise, I was able to put the following kit into it:

  • Fuji X-T1 w/ XF55-200 3.5-4.8
  • Fuji X-Pro 1 w/XF35 1.4
  • XF14mm 2.8
  • XF23mm 1.4
  • XF56mm 1.2

Since this ICU is so small, I have 2/3 of the backpack available for other essentials. On one trip I brought extra clothing, sunblock, a small camping stove, gas, coffee pot, coffee, food, a rain coat, 2 liters of water, extra batteries, an Ipad Air and a Joby Gorillapod.

f-stop Loka UL ready for a day-hike.
f-stop Loka UL ready for a day-hike.
f-stop loka ul in use

So far I have used the Loka UL on two forest hikes, two mountain hikes, two city hikes and two bike rides. With its suspension system and sturdy hip-belt, it is comfortable to carry, even when walking uphill for an extended period of time. The bag can fit both the camera gear and whatever else I need for a day in the forest or on a mountain.

Helge and the Loka UL
The cheesy, but mandatory, “product in use”-picture

To allow for easy access to the camera gear, you open up the “back”-portion of the backpack. This doesn’t allow for quick retrival of gear, but I still find that I prefer this over other systems. If I’m in “photography-mode” I like to carry the camera around my shoulder or in my hand anyway. And when I put away the gear, I know that it’s safely tucked away and leaning against my back – which will make it impossible to steal unless someone grabs the entire pack.

The Luka UL is made of a sturdy, weather resistant material. I haven’t “rough-tested” it yet, but it seems solid. The first thing I did though, was to get a proper rain cover for it. f-stop sells their own, but since they can be a bit hard to get hold of, any cover for a 40L backpack will fit nicely (I got one from Bergans).

There aren’t many negative aspects to this backpack. So far I’ve found only two: It can be a bit difficult to properly adjust the shoulder straps, which has the effect that there is a slight drag to one side or the other. The other is that if I have a lot of heavy stuff on top of the ICU, and I remove a lens or camera, the ICU becomes a bit “squashed”. The latter can easily be remedied by putting something else in the empty hole, the former by a bit of practice.

Conclusion

I’m really happy with the Loka UL! It can hold all my gear, which is great for transportation, and it is very comfortable and “roomy” when out and about. For anyone looking for a lightweight and sturdy camera bag, this is great option.

It does come at a price, though, so part of the reason why I’m so thrilled is that I got it for nearly half retail. Would I have bought it at the full price? YES. For me, the removable ICU, the low weight, the design and the general sturdiness makes it worth it compared to competing alternatives.

 

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