F-stop Satori EXP

 camera outdoor gear

This innovative load carrying system for outdoor photographers promises to make photo adventures far more pleasurable. Steve Watkins finds out if it really can make lugging gear around more fun

Outdoor photographers have always had to face an almost impossible compromise when heading out on big adventures: carry enough outdoor kit to survive, or take sufficient camera gear to ensure you get the shot. Camera bag manufacturers have successfully supplied solutions for the latter problem, and backpack manufacturers have used the latest ergonomic designs to cater for the former situation. But there has been a stark lack of companies bridging the divide and coming up with a camera and outdoor gear carrying system that brings the best of both worlds. Enter US-based camera bag manufacturer, F-stop.

All their products are designed with the adventure photographer in mind, and the Satori EXP is the big daddy of their Mountain series of bags. With a whopping 62 litres of interior space, this bag is spacious enough for some serious escapades, but the really clever bit about this pack is how F-stop allows you to customise it to the demands of each individual adventure you set out on. They produce a set of Internal Camera Units (ICUs) to fit inside the pack, which provide fully protected camera storage. The ICUs come in a range of sizes; so if you want to carry a little camera gear and a lot of outdoor kit, use one of the smaller ICUs. If you want to fill the Satori EXP with camera gear and forego carrying much outdoor kit then opt for one of the largest ICUs. The ICUs can be bought, with the pack, as packages with the price per unit dropping the more you buy (see box on opposite page), so it is very feasible to have an ICU for every type of photo adventure: one bag that will do just about everything, without compromise. Ahh, now isnthat a wonderful concept. So, how does this stack up in the field?

Features

There are a host of cool little features on the bag, without it ever becoming too fussy. There is an internal, padded laptop sleeve that will accommodate most 17-inch laptops or your tablet computer. A sealed route allows safe use on the move of a hydration pack, for keeping your thirst at bay, while the bungee cord attachment points on the rear of the pack can carry trekking poles or ice axes. There is also a neat little pocket at the bottom of the bag for stashing away empty wrappers or other rubbish that you need to pack out with you —very cool. If you get into trouble then the sternum strap has a little whistle built into the clip for alerting attention.

Build quality

Instantly noticeable about the Satori EXP is the outstanding build quality. With Lightweight Nylon 330 Double Rip-Stop shell fabric, heavy duty YKK zippers on the back, and waterproof YKK Aquaseal zippers on the top and front pockets, you can head out on the most extreme adventures full of confidence that your pack wonlet you down. The ICUs are top quality camera cases in their own right, with padded compartment dividers that can be adjusted to fit the shape of any camera equipment collection.

Packing your bag

The first thing to decide is which ICU to use (see box). Once you have chosen one, the ICU slides in very snugly to the main compartment or the pack, which stops the unit sliding around when it is loaded with heavy camera gear. Outside of the packmain compartment, there are several other pockets for carrying and keeping handy other essentials. The generous top pocket can fit snacks, maps, torches, etc., while the two pockets on the back of the pack are an ideal place for stowing a lightweight jacket, so that you can get to it quickly when you stop for a shot or the weather turns for the worse.

 camera outdoor gear

Load carrying

No matter whether the pack is full of outdoor kit or camera gear, it is likely to be quite heavy when fully loaded, and this is where the Satori EXP really comes into its own. The full-sized EVA padded hip belt and EVA padded shoulder straps work brilliantly. There are several fine adjustment straps on them, so you can really nuance the fit and feel to suit your own requirements. I had the extra large ICU inside and filled with Canon L series lenses and my IDs Mklll, plus spare batteries, cards, and some extra outdoor clothing. I also had my carbon fibre tripod strapped to the side of the pack (although there are removable GateKeeper straps on the back for attaching tripods, or even snowboards, too); so it was about as heavy as I would ever go out with, and the pack carried like a dream. You can, of course, make the weight disappear altogether, but over the course of a multi-hour hike I can honestly say that I have never felt as comfortable carrying my equipment. The pack remains stable on the back when the straps are cinched down, so it never felt like the weight in the pack was moving around, no matter how rough the terrain was that I was travelling over.

The extensive MOLLE attachment strap system on the side of the pack and on the side of the hipbelt offer almost limitless options for attaching other camera bag products, such as F-stopown Dakota Component System or third party accessories from companies such as Lowepro and Think Tank.

Ease of use

Carrying a load comfortably counts for nothing, though, if the pack proves too hard or too fiddly to use when it comes to the serious action of taking photos. Thankfully, F-stop has covered all the bases, pretty much. The pack can stand up on its own, which leaves both hands free when you are trying to access the pockets or attach things to the side. Another outstanding feature is that access to your camera gear is through the padded panel that rests against your back, not the top or the rear of the pack. This means that you lay the pack down on the waterproof fabric of the main compartment and donhave to worry about the back panel getting wet or dirty before you have to put it on again.

A chunky zipper gives access through the entire back panel of the pack, giving easy access to the ICU. It is a little fiddly with the larger ICUs to unzip the top panel to get into it, so I ended up just leaving this unzipped and just pushing it into place, which worked fine and didncompromise protection for the camera gear. After just a few uses, I was rapidly accessing the camera and lenses, and getting it all packed away again.

THE VERDICT

I can sum this pack up in three words:

I love it. The flexibility it offers for tailoring the load to each adventure is superb and will save you from having to buy three or four separate bags to do the same jobs. It is built like a tank, but not heavy, and manages to deal with the weight of a hefty camera system with aplomb. It might be a little pricier than other bags, but if you want the best solution for lugging lots of your camera and outdoor gear around then the Satori EXP is more than worth it.

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