Hands-on Review: Kashmir UL by f-stop

Home|Bags, f-stop, Gear, Photography, Reviews, Uncategorized|Hands-on Review: Kashmir UL by f-stop

When it comes to hauling camera gear on my back to photograph landscapes, as well as while traveling, my bag of choice will almost always come from f-stop. They have a collection of very well-made camera bags for photographers who hike and travel in mind. However the biggest problem I have found with almost any functional and utilitarian camera bag is that they are almost always designed without consideration for the female torso. (Read my post from last year about this topic to get a better idea of what I’m referring to.) The f-stop bags I have used do have some of those frustrations, mostly dealing with the way the bag fits (shoulders, chest, hips, etc.).

About six months ago, f-stop created a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new project they were working on: a camera bag designed specifically for women. I purchased a bag through this Kickstarter, and was also fortunate enough to receive a bag in time to bring along with me on a trip to Iceland and Norway in June of this year. I did a bit of hiking with the bag both in Europe and also back home in Portland, and wanted to share my thoughts on the design and fit for anyone considering purchasing the bag.

Before you jump into the “pros” and “cons” below, I want to give my overall impression of the bag: I love it. I think it is a very much-needed bag for this industry, and had zero trouble with it while on the road. Like anything, it’s not perfect and could use some minor improvements, but for the most part it is a HUGE step in the right direction. I also wanted to show how it differs from the Loka, which is a bag that I have been using for landscape and travel photography for several years. (Note: The bag I show in this review is the “classic” Loka; the one they currently have in their store is the “Loka UL“, a lighter version of the Loka bag.

The Pros

A BETTER FIT

First of all, this bag was designed specifically for women. I was a little skeptical about the bag before actually getting it in my hands, mostly because all of the photos and videos showing the bag showed very fit, slender photographers using it. I consider myself “curvy”, and was hopeful that the bag would be made for all sizes (not just the super-fit, slender body types). Overall I found this bag to be much more comfortable than its counterparts. The few things that were very noticeable, especially at first, were that the shoulder straps were placed better for my body, and the front chest-strap was long enough to clasp. To put it bluntly, for women with bigger boobs, the existing line of f-stop bags are just not long enough to clasp (however they do offer an extension for those bags for people who need a longer strap).

This is me wearing the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right). You can see that the chest trap is much higher on the Kashmir, and also has a lot more slack since it is not right over my boobs. On the right, the strap sits lower, and it gets even more uncomfortable and tight when I am wearing heavier coats and sweaters.

This is me wearing the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right). You can see that the chest trap is much higher on the Kashmir, and also has a lot more slack since it is not right over my boobs (and is WAY more comfortable because of it!). On the right, the strap sits lower, and it gets even more uncomfortable and tight when I am wearing heavier coats and sweaters.

NOT DUMBED-DOWN IN SIZE

One frustration I have with most “female” camera bags is that they are way too small to hold the amount of gear I use on any given trip. Just because I’m a woman does not mean that I use less (or different) gear than my male counterparts. While the Kashmir is a tad bit smaller, it is not significant or too small to be inconvenient, and I found that I was able to easily hold the same amount of camera gear and accessories than I do with my f-stop Loka bags.

I have no problem fitting a good amount of gear in the Kashmir UL.

I have no problem fitting a good amount of gear in the Kashmir UL. Gear shown here (counterclockwise): Canon 6D (with RRS L-bracket), Canon 1.4x, Canon 70-200 f/4L IS, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Canon 16-35 f/4L, MindShiftGear Filter Hive. I also have a small bag with batteries in top compartment, and a cable-release and lens cloth stuffed in there as well.

This is the bag with my tripod attached to the side: a Really Right Stuff (RRS) TVC-24 tripod, RRS BH-40 ball-head, and RRS leveling plate.

This is the Kashmir UL bag with my tripod attached to the side: a Really Right Stuff (RRS) TVC-24 tripod, RRS BH-40 ball-head, and RRS leveling plate.

A side-view of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

A side-view of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

A side-view of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

A side-view of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

A front-view (where the bag opens) of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

A front-view (where the bag opens) of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

CLASSIC F-STOP BUILD

For those of you familiar with the f-stop brand, you won’t see many differences here with this bag in terms of quality. If you’re not familiar with f-stop bags, then just know that this bag is rugged, built well, and comfortable. It’s easy to access my gear without removing the bag from my body, which is great when I am in a location that I don’t want the bag to touch the ground (in water, muddy grounds, or sand, for example).

Here I am getting some gear out of the Kashmir bag with it still around my waist. The opening for the back is on the portion that is flush to your back when wearing it, similar to all f-stop adventure bags, so that the gear can be easily accessed while still wearing it (or even on the ground). (Image © Brian Matiash — brianmatiash.com)

Here I am getting some gear out of the Kashmir UL bag with it still around my waist. The opening for the back is on the portion that is flush to your back when wearing it, similar to all f-stop adventure bags, so that the gear can be easily accessed while still wearing it (or even on the ground). (Image © Brian Matiash — brianmatiash.com)

The Cons

VERY FEW POCKETS

One of the things that took me off guard with this bag is its lack of interior pockets. This bag has one mesh “pouch” in the very top, but instead of being secured with a zipper it is closed shut with a tiny piece of velcro. This means that anything you put in there has the potential for falling out and getting lost, especially if you forget to zip it up. In the f-stop Loka bag, there are small pouches that snugly hold either memory cards or business cards (I used them for both). I definitely prefer the Loka’s pouch setup to the Kashmir’s.

The Kashmir (left) has a mesh top with one piece of velcro to close it, and the Loka (right) has small pockets to hold memory cards, business cards, etc.

The Kashmir UL (left) has a mesh top with one piece of velcro to close it, and the Loka (right) has small pockets to hold memory cards, business cards, etc.

Also missing from this bag is an interior pocket that has a zipper, where I would hold things like allen wrenches and other small tools (to tighten my RRS tripod gear in the field), a spare cable release, lens cloths/wipes, and (ahem) “feminine products” (where they are hidden and tucked away from sight). The lack of this pocket requires me to remember to put all of those items in another area, usually in a separate pouch that ends up floating around my bag. And, more importantly, the lack of that pocket means the potential for forgetting ALL of those essential little items when I travel or go shooting.

The Kashmir (left) has no pocket on the inside top flap of the bag, while the Loka (right) has a nice zippered pocket, good for holding things like lens wipes, cable releases, batteries, etc.

The Kashmir UL (left) has no pocket on the inside top flap of the bag, while the Loka (right) has a nice zippered pocket, good for holding things like lens wipes, cable releases, batteries, etc.

Another area where pockets are lacking is in the back of the zippered flap. On the Loka, this pocket might be considered unusable, as it is so flush with the bag that only very thin and flat items would fit. However, I would oftentimes find myself placing camera manuals, lens wipes, and other flat objects in this space.

The front flap of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

The front flap of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).

It’s worth mentioning that there is another pocket on the back of the bag, which I use for the bag’s rain cover and other “light” items (camera rain cover, etc.). it’s a vertical zipper, so I probably wouldn’t keep anything small and loose in it, or it might fall out the side (especially if I forget to close it!).

This is a top view of both bags (Kashmir on the left, Loka on the right). Each of them has a zippered pocket on the back of the bag. I use this pocket to hold rain covers and other small accessories (hats, gloves, etc.).

This is a top view of both bags (Kashmir UL on the left, Loka on the right). Each of them has a zippered pocket on the back of the bag. I use this pocket to hold rain covers and other small accessories (hats, gloves, etc.).

NO “KEY RING” HOOK IN THE TOP POUCH

Another thing I feel is missing from the bag is the key-ring hook that is at the top of the bag. I never use this for my keys, but rather will use it to attach my memory card holder to the bag. Having it connected means that I won’t forget it, and I won’t lose it. To compensate, I have been attaching my memory card holder to the zipper cord instead (not ideal, but better than nothing).

The lack of a key-ring on the Kashmir (left) means that I have to get creative. Here I have attached my memory card holder (which also has business cards in it) to the zipper of the bag. On the right, the Loka has a dedicated key-ring inside of the top pouch.

The lack of a key-ring on the Kashmir UL (left) means that I have to get creative. Here I have attached my memory card holder (which also has business cards in it) to the zipper of the bag. On the right, the Loka has a dedicated key-ring inside of the top pouch.

LIMITED ICU OPTIONS

In the bag description, it says that it supports “Shallow ICUs”, however I was able to squeeze a medium sloped ICU in the bag (with a little difficulty, but it worked). I also remove the padded portion of the ICU and fold the zippered flap back behind the bag, so that may have helped with the fit. Overall I prefer the sloped versions, and did not even have a shallow ICU to try with it. I may consider looking into getting a large shallow ICU to try out so that I can fit more gear and other bits as well. It would have been nice if they had added an extra inch or so in depth to allow the bag more flexibility with the ICU choices.

This is a side-by-side of the Kashmir (left) and Loka (right). They both have the medium sloped ICU in them, with different dividers in place.

This is a side-by-side of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right). They both have the medium sloped ICU in them, with different dividers in place.

The bag is designed for "shallow" ICUs, and so with a sloped ICU the bag has a slight bulge at the base. It is not noticeably uncomfortable to use it like this, although I may consider a large shallow ICU and see if that fits a little bit better.

The Kashmir UL is designed for “shallow” ICUs, and when the bag is fully packed with a sloped ICU the bag has a slight bulge at the base. It is not noticeably uncomfortable to use it like this, although I may consider a large shallow ICU and see if that fits a little bit better.

© Brian Matiash — brianmatiash.com

© Brian Matiash — brianmatiash.com

Overall I am very happy with this bag and will continue to use it in spite of its shortcomings. The fact that it fits well and is comfortable to wear is a bigger deal to me than a few missing pockets. It’s also refreshing to have a bag for women that is not a purse or a tiny, “fru fru” bag in a condescending “girl” color. The fact that we are women makes very little difference in the gear we use as a photographer, and the bags we use should reflect that as well. I’m hopeful that other bag companies see what f-stop has done and uses this as an example to be more cognizant that there are, in fact, serious female photographers in this industry who are in need of quality, well-fitting, functional gear.

By | 2016-12-18T17:00:47+00:00 August 11th, 2015|26 Comments

About the Author:

My name is Nicole and I'm a photographer, author, & educator living in Portland, Oregon, USA. When I'm not making photos I'm writing books and tutorials for my online store, Learn more about me and my story here.

26 Comments

  1. JulieE August 11, 2015 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much for this great review. I’ve been waiting to read some field reviews before spending this much on a bag. I appreciate your insights on fit because I definitely have a curvier torso. How did you find the waist straps? Supportive enough for the weight in the bag on a decent length hike?

    • Nicole S. Young August 12, 2015 at 9:48 am - Reply

      I find the waist straps to be quite comfortable. They fit well, and are supportive with all of my gear. I haven’t done an extensive hike with the bag yet, about 2 miles tops so far, but I don’t see it being a problem for a lengthy trek.

  2. Patricia Davidson August 11, 2015 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the great Review Nicole! I have wondered about this bag. I have had the worst luck with bags fitting my shooter torso. I returned a few in the past including the Loka UL. I’ve been happy with the Gura Gear UNITA which fits me perfectly. I might look into this one though.

  3. SarahM August 12, 2015 at 12:49 am - Reply

    Thanx for the review Nicole – I pre-ordered my Kashmir back in June and am desperately waiting for it to arrive! I too have a curvier figure so great to hear that you are pleased with the fit and chest strap placing. I was also interested to hear your views on the ICU compatibility – I too wanted to order a large shallow to maximise the amount of gear I can take (particularly for overseas trips), but f-stop don’t seem to stock that ICU anymore so I was going to go for the large slope (and medium shallow or slope too for day trips) when they come back in stock to order. Like JulieE above, I would be interested in your views on the waist strap – I am hoping this sits snug enough to take some of the weight to prevent the shoulders carrying it all. Thanks again for the review – I can’t wait for my Kashmir to arrive.

    • Nicole S. Young August 12, 2015 at 9:47 am - Reply

      Oh, bummer! I didn’t even notice that they no longer had that in their store. Yet another reason to wish that they had made the bag a little big deeper to accommodate the slopes. You can squeeze a slope ICU in there, but it’s a tight fit.

      Also, the waist strap is quite comfortable. f-stop does a really good job with their adventure bags; it’s a little smaller than the Loka (which is nice because it fits better that way) and it even has a tiny pocket on one side. I forgot to mention that in my article, but it’s really only big enough for a lens cloth :D

  4. Simon Pollock August 13, 2015 at 2:50 am - Reply

    Hi Nicole! Tiny point; That’s a MindShiftGear Filter Hive, while essentially made by the same crew, they’re two totally separate companies and have different product designers to a certain extent :)

    • Nicole S. Young August 13, 2015 at 9:05 am - Reply

      Hi Simon, yes, you’re right (in my brain everything is “ThinkTank” lol). :) Thanks, I updated the post.

  5. lensaddiction August 18, 2015 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Hi Nicole – great review and the comparison pix were really helpful – I have some questions – I got the med ICU included with the Kickstarter deal and its zipped on 3 sides and hinged on the bottom – when you have the gear in the bag do you zip that shut for safety and security? It looks like its a bit of a PITA to UNZIP it to get access.

    If you dont I guess you must fold the lid of the ICU back under itself to fit? Can’t be good for the hinge or the zip bits long term I imagine but these appear to be the two choices.

    Great feedback on the lack of pockets etc – what brand is your card holder – it looks like a nifty addition I should lay my hands on :)

    Finally how high up at the back does it sit – I only got mine delivered to work today so havent taken it home and loaded it up yet but it sits VERY high at the back, if I tilt my head back it hits the top of the bag and thats SUPER ANNOYING for me – I am curious as to whether it sits noticeably lower with a weight in the bottom.

    It does seem overall to be a nicely designed bag and its REALLY light so I am hoping it all comes together and works out for me :) My old Tamrac Adv 7 really isnt cutting the mustard!

    • Nicole S. Young August 20, 2015 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      For the ICU, I pull out the padded insert and then just tuck the thin cover underneath/behind the bag. I don’t want to bother with double-unzipping my bag when I need got grab a different lens. :)

      For the card holder, that is a ThinkTank SD card holder (they make a few different types): http://www.thinktankphoto.com/products/sdpixelpocketrocket.aspx

      Also, the bottom of the bag sits at just about my tailbone. I don’t find it too high, although if I lean my head back it rests on the bag (but I never noticed it until you mentioned it). It’s not in the way or annoying at all for me.

  6. Nancy Phillips August 23, 2015 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Large Shallow I C U fits well, though you have to insert it through the pack lid . ICU lid is slightly larger than back plate opening, but as the ICU lid is flexible, it is easy to open it. At least one eBay dealer has remaindered large shallow ICUs and there are also likely to be used ones. The shallow ICUs do not accommodate Canon 1Ds or Nikon D#s or standard DSLRs with added battery packs, nor do they allow tele lenses to be stood on end.

    • Nicole S. Young August 23, 2015 at 8:09 am - Reply

      I was able to squeeze in a Large Sloped ICU for a trip this past week. It worked well! I haven’t used the pack with a shallow ICU yet, so I don’t know the difference in how it feels on the back.

  7. Nina Cleven September 1, 2015 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    From your experience, which ICU would you recommend from the ones you’ve tried and how much difference in capacity is there between them? Also, with a larger ICU is it still easy to access everything in it? Thanks.

    • Nicole S. Young September 3, 2015 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      I prefer using either a Medium or Large slope. They both fit in the Kashmir (it’s a tight squeeze but it works and it’s comfortable). In the Kashmir, with the Large slope, there’s not a lot of space at the top for “floating” things (like hat, gloves, etc.). But, I would rather fill my bag with camera gear, and don’t need more than a few cold-weather accessory items when I’m out shooting.

  8. Nina Cleven September 7, 2015 at 11:22 am - Reply

    Thanks for the reply, you’re review was really helpful. I will definitely keep their bag in mind when they get their ICU’s back in stock.

  9. Pam W October 29, 2015 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for the review! It was very helpful. I ordered my Kashmir today with the large slope ICU. I am interested to see how much room I will need with my kit.

  10. Jeff January 21, 2016 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    Hi, great review, especially with the copious photos showing how the bag works.

    It looks like you’ve got the hip belt far too high up on your waist for it to help carry any weight- the belt should be sitting on your illiac crest (the bones of the hip) rather than around your waist.

    • Nicole S. Young January 22, 2016 at 10:13 am - Reply

      Hi Jeff, thanks! And yes, that is how I wear the bag. It might be hard to tell from the photos, but it does sit right at the top of my hip-bone.

  11. totezitrone February 3, 2016 at 5:04 am - Reply

    Hey Nicole,
    thank you for your helpful insights to this rucksack. I am a Hobbyfotoist and don’t go trekking often, so I don’t have a special camera bag (I simply stuff my normal camera shoulder case in my usual backpack to transport it :D) but now I’m going to travel to Morocco and wnat to take (tourist) photos there. Ofcourse I don’t want to miss my DSLR but I also don’t want to run around with this thing hangig around my neck, attraction attention from everyone, neither being forced to take a 10 Minute rbeak just to pull out nad store back my cam. So I’m looking for a travel backpack with an easy/fast acces to the camera when needed. Would you recommend the kashmir for this or do you know better options? I’ve got a 60D with a 15-50 2.8 that should fit in, if there is an Option for sotring a 70-200mm aswell that would be great but is not necessary. (: I also think about Lowepro Photo Hatchback or Pacsafe one. perhaps you have experience with some of these too?

    Many regards
    Romina

    PS a really really well designed blog. (:

    • Nicole S. Young February 3, 2016 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      I think that the Kashmir would work well for what you want. You can get an ICU just big enough to fit your gear, and then have some room at the top for extra stuff (coat, snacks, etc.). I’m unfamiliar with the other two bags you mentioned, so I don’t know how they compare. If you have a camera store that carries the bags, it might be worth looking at them in-person (although I’m not sure if fstop bags are sold in stores). Also, take a look at video reviews on YouTube for the bags you are interested in to see what they can carry.

      And thanks! I’m glad you like my blog’s design. I do my best to keep it up-to-date as much as possible.

  12. Avestra February 14, 2016 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Your review said nothing about torso lengths. Can Loka be worn by a short person? Or is only Cashmir comfortable for shorter people? Normally hiking backpacks come in various torso lengths (this is not the case for F-Stop packs), and I have heard that F-Stop backpacks are intended for taller people.

    I couldn’t care less about chest strap placement, and larger sized Loka seems like a better option for my needs in comparison to Cashmir. However I am short, so I’m wondering about the torso length.

    • Nicole S. Young February 14, 2016 at 10:45 am - Reply

      I consider myself short, but not extremely short. I am 5’6″, normal torso for that height, and in my opinion it fits better for my height than the Loka bags. However it’s tough to say which one would work better or fit for a short person; everyone’s comfort levels and expectations are different.

  13. Theresa Rasmussen April 18, 2016 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Hi Nicole – Great review. Looking at this bag myself. What would you think about longer treks (8-10 miles). Would the medium sloped end up being annoying, with that bulge?
    Also, I do want to be able to carry a few “extras” – fleece, rain jacket, etc. (and snacks) :) Is there room for those items?

  14. Kathy Graff August 7, 2016 at 5:56 am - Reply

    Hi, Nicole. Just read your review since I’m thinking of purchasing an F-Stop Guru UL bag. Your review was very good–it addressed many of the questions I had about the UL series. I do realize you reviewed the Kashmir and I’m thinking of the Guru but an important question that I had was whether to purchase the sloped ICU or the shallow one and now I have my answer. It was the only thing stopping me from purchasing the bag. I intend to use it for short hikes (not more than 2 hrs.) with Olympus micro 4/3rds equipment or an un-gripped Canon EOS body with just a few lenses. After seeing your bag with the sloped ICU I think I’ll go with the medium shallow ICU.

  15. Matt September 12, 2016 at 10:45 am - Reply

    Hi Nicole. I’m looking at one of these bags as I’m a shorter guy and unfortunately F-Stop thinks we’re all the same size! If I may ask a favour and have you measure the torso lengths of both the Loku and Kashmir as they indicate the latter is slightly shorter.

    Moreover, F-Stop indicates on their website that a pro large ICU will fit but after seeing your pictures I’m not entirely convinced that is indeed possible, given that a shallow is leaving a pretty large bulge!

    Cheers,
    Matt

  16. jonathan murphy May 2, 2017 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Hey there! Thanks for the extremely helpful review!! I have the loka currently and love it but am looking at this bag to use as my personal item in tandem with a normal roller carry on bag. Do you think this is small enough to act as a personal item on a plane? I have an osprey bag that seems to be the same size maybe as this that I have always used as a personal but wanted to check with you. Again thank you!

    • Nicole S. Young May 3, 2017 at 9:45 am - Reply

      I’ve never tried to put it under the seat in front of me, but I think it might fit okay (with a normal foot area, might be a tight fit for the ones with the equipment boxes). You might be able to check the bag dimensions against TSA requirements as well (if they have them for the under-seat area). :)

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