As any photographer will tell you – the search for the right bag(s) to transport our precious gear is a marathon, not a sprint. Lots of times this marathon is littered with multiple bags serving multiple purposes all in the search of the *perfect* bag. (You should see my gear closet) Further complicating the process is everyone has different needs, requirements & non-negotiables, as well as differing body types, carrying preferences & style desires. Then there’s the issue that for a long time bags were made unisex, or for the predominately male photographer. These days there is a definite trend towards female photographers, however, my frustration with this has been there seems to be an underlying assumption that we women need or carry less gear. I realize I am smaller & not as strong as most men, however that doesn’t mean I don’t carry the same gear. Which, when you think about it, makes the bag even more important. Then add on top of that the fact shoots occur in different places, with different means of travel & different weather & you can easily see how this gets real complicated.
This might be why I am the current owner of *at least* 8 different camera bags in a variety of shapes, sizes & intended purposes. Despite this, my impending trip to Iceland (cue the squeals) illuminated a vacancy in my existing line up. I will be traveling by plane – therefore it needs to be carry-on size. I will be traveling on a budget airline with strict size/weight limits – therefore my go-to ThinkTank International V2 probably isn’t gonna cut it. Once in Iceland I will be primarily landscape photography which will require lots of hiking, trekking, outdoor walking – which officially takes my ThinkTank out because its a roller bag & I’m going to need a backpack. The weather in Iceland is nothing if not unpredictable so weather resistant is a must. Ideally this mystery bag would function as a small day pack as well – with space for an extra layer of clothing, snacks etc. However, this same bag should be as small & ‘compressable’ as possible to deal with those airline restrictions above. This took my LowePro Flipside 500 out – its bulky & exceeds the airline restrictions. Lastly, it must carry all the necessary gear – which took out my LowePro Flipside 400 – just wasn’t quite big enough. However, after much experience with LowePro I knew their Flipside series provided the security I was looking for. I simply love the fact that my gear is against my back & no one can access it when walking through busy airports or standing in crowds. So I went on the search for something new. I read hundreds of blogs, top 10 lists & different photographer’s recommendations. I even ordered a bag or two & sent them back. Then I stumbled across F-Stop Gear.
While F-Stop is no longer the only company offering their removable camera unit system – they were the first & they do it well. On top of that they also offer the rear-access panel feature that I love about the LowePro Flipside series. I compared several different bags & landed on their Ultralight series; the Guru, the Loka & the Kashmir. I went back & forth between the Guru & the Kashmir due to their similar sizes but ultimately decided on the Kashmir due to its female-specific build.
Image credit : F-Stop Gear Page
Being a backpacker I’ve experienced the difference a frame built specifically for a female can make.
Next I had to decide on an ICU. ICU stands for Internal Camera Units & this is where the real genius of these bags lies. The ICU’s take the typical camera bag – the removable, customizable, padded dividers & puts that into its own unit. They sell them in a range of sizes for varying gear needs. Those units are then put into the pack of your choice for whatever adventure or shoot you are planning. Pretty genius.
For me, because I’m a gear junkie & a worry wart – I almost always take more than I actually need. I got online with F-Stop’s customer service chat & listed the gear I planned to take & the rep suggested the Medium Shallow ICU. I had my doubts but I took his word for it.
So I ordered the Kashmir & the Medium Shallow ICU & waited. I’d read some mixed reviews about F-Stop & some of the business/backorder/supply issues they’ve experienced so I was a bit apprehensive, however, my service was perfect. Ordered & it was delivered 2 days later. Almost immediately I knew the ICU wouldn’t be quite big enough. In fact I went so far as to lay out my ‘gear’ in it at work (nerd alert) & knew I probably should have gone with the Large ICU.
Yes, those are paper cut-outs of my various lenses & bodies – I’m embracing the nerd.
However, the pack on the other hand, was fantastic & I was almost immediately in love. It straddles the line between pack & camera bag pretty perfectly in my opinion. That evening I loaded the medium ICU & confirmed what I’d already suspected – it just wasn’t quite large enough for what I want to take to Iceland. Here you can see a comparison of it next to my LowePro Flipside 500
Please excuse my office floor. Its an Iceland-packing disaster right now.
So I went back to F-Stop & ordered the Large Slope ICU. The Slope series is exactly what it sounds like. It accommodates gear of varying depths beautifully. Once I received it the real fun began. Each F-Stop ICU arrives in its own storage bag.
Next is a series of comparison photos – to see the difference between the Medium Shallow ICU & the Large Slope ICU.
And one to give you a sense of scale. That’s a Canon 5DmkIII body.
One of many well-designed aspects of these ICU’s is the removable padding in the top cover. Once removed it makes flipping the cover behind the ICU inside the pack easy peasy which makes quick access even easier.
Below is a photos of the pack with the medium ICU inserted. You can see there is still a good amount of space above the ICU. Additionally there was more wiggle room on the front of the pack. While I was happy with the front wiggle room, I wanted that additional row of space for camera gear.
I found that loading the Large Slope ICU into the Kashmir was easier from the top than from the rear access panel.
Additionally you can see the orange attachment points in the photo below – these are for securing the ICU though I found that with the Large Slope there wasn’t a huge need for that as the ICU stays snugly in place.
After the Large Slope ICU was securely inside the bag, I set out the gear I wanted to get in it. Excuse these photos – had to use m phone to show all the gear accurately.
For review’s sake the gear is as listed: (2) 5d mkiii bodies, 16-35 2.8, 50mm 1.2, 70-200 2.8, 100mm 2.8, ND Filter Rings & pouch, filter wrenches, LED solid state light, REI Duck’s Back (the Kashmir is weather resistant & if we were going anywhere but Iceland it would probably be fine, but I’m not taking any chances), Thinktank Pixel Pocket Rocket, LowePro Card Wallet, Cord Release, MeFoto Backpacker Air tripod & additional quick release plate.
The Kashmir, fully loaded from the front. As you can see its not filled to capacity – in fact there is nothing inside the front stash pocket.
Lastly – a photo of the pack, fully loaded, from the rear access panel.
After this photo was taken I also put two Canon battery chargers & 3 additional batteries in those little open spaces.
Fully loaded the pack feels good. It sits well on my hips & feels stable even at 21lbs. The ICU makes the bag stand up on its own with quite a bit of stability, which is a personal preference. I much prefer its looks over the LowePro & the fact that its considerably lower profile. It doesn’t scream camera gear. In fact if it screams anything its backpacker. So, is the Kashmir the perfect adventure meets photographer bag? Possibly. Stay tuned for my post-Iceland review which will cover my trip & how this bag performed throughout travel & extensive use.