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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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).
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.
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.