Product Review: F-Stop Gear Lotus Backpack
Rather than run down the long list of the Lotus Backpack’s features, I’m going to point you to f-stop’s webpage which has far more complete specs. To sum up this pack; it is built for the serious outdoor photographer who wants an all-weather backpack for their camera. They don’t want to spend all weekend out in nature (f-stop has larger packs for that) and they will be carrying a camera, maybe two, a few lenses and a flash, plus food and clothes.
Let’s dive right into what works and what doesn’t with this backpack.
The Good – F-Stop Gear Lotus Backpack
Weather and sand protected
The Mountain Series from f-stop is all about getting into the elements and keeping your photography gear safe. The water resistant fabric sheds downpours but also helps to keep other elements off your gear. It’s not entirely waterproof as the back access panel is foam and nylon, so I wouldn’t use this pack as a primary on rafting trips. But for trekking the backcountry and scaling peaks, it is nice to not have to deal with a separate pack cover.
The thicker hide of this pack gives it some heft, but a lot of protection as well.
Easy, big zippers and it holds a medium sloped ICU
I have a couple of other f-stop packs and I can say without a doubt that the large zippers for the back access panel, and top access are an improvement. They work well with one hand, which is important while handling gear, and they round the corners with ease.
Behind one set of large zippers and the back panel is just enough room for the f-stop medium sized sloped ICU (Internal Camera Unit). F-stop uses interchangeable inserts to hold your camera gear, which I have found optimal for maximizing space inside the pack depending on how much gear I want to bring. Sometimes I travel light (camera and two lenses) and a small ICU works fine, leaving me more space inside the pack for food and hiking gear.
The sloped medium ICU will hold two DSLR bodies and two lenses, including lenses equivalent to a 70-200mm f/2.8 (pictured here is the Canon 28-300mm L lens, which is the same size as a Canon or Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8) and battery grips, laid on their side. This makes me quite happy.
Canon 7D Mark II w/28-300mm L and Canon 7D w/10-22mm, both with power grips. Plus rooms for filters and batteries.
Every pack manufacturer tries to make their bags comfortable; some resort to gimmicks and odd designs. I thought f-stop was doing this with their back support and its multiple channels leading away from the center. It turns out, that center channel is just deep enough to brace your spine and add support to the rest of your back. The hip belt, while not robust (a plus for travel and fitting in overhead bins) gets the job done with enough fabric to take 100% of the pack weight while remaining comfortable. When overstuffed, the hip belts can be lacking, but keep the load under 40lbs/18kg and you should be fine.
I’m one of those hikers who likes to keep nature clean and the bottom zippered area of the pack is perfect for garbage. It’s not easy to get into with the pack on and it could have other uses, but as it will constantly get crushed when the pack is set on the ground, I have chosen to take a clue from f-stop’s other packs and keep this area reserved for trash.
All the add-on space
F-stop makes sure you are not limited when their bags can’t contain all of your gear. The hipbelt has loops for an extra lens case or accessory pouch. On the back and sides are loops for f-stop’s Gate Keeper system. While company promo pictures show people strapping snowboards and skis in these location, they also work great for tripods, hiking poles and a wet raincoat.
The small tab is for f-stop’s Gate Keeper add on straps
Ice axe loops
After I note you probably won’t strap a snowboard to the back of this pack, I do have a soft spot for adventure backpack companies who include ice axe loops. Seemingly eons ago I climbed mountains and used those loops regularly. Were I to scale another mountain, I would greatly appreciate their inclusion on this pack. You can kind of use them for trekking poles or a monopod as well.
Just enough pockets, maybe one more though?
Inside and out, the Lotus has a fair number of pockets. I appreciate the divider in the top compartment and the pocket for either a tablet or a water bladder (complete with discrete opening in the top of the bag to route a drinking tube) on the inside of the pack. There is a small pocket on the inside of the main back panel that can hold just a filter or some cards. Under the top lid is another mesh pocket that holds a couple of filters at most.
On the front of the bag is an ample, lengthy, zippered pocket great for maps or tablets or other long, thin items. It can hold a lightweight jacket as well. The sides have these odd little pockets. I see what I think they were trying to do here (economize space and streamline the sides so they don’t stick out) but it makes the pockets, well, odd. I can shove in a water bottle if the pack is not filled to capacity on the inside, so they work in that regard.
Not easy access, but it works.
For my liking I’d like to see at least one more pocket for items larger than a filter. I’m not sure where it would go, but I have grown accustom to enough pockets on my Mindshift Gear Rotation180 Pro and my f-stop Satori EXP that this pack certainly feels like a downsize in terms of pockets. Given the real estate and target market, that is understandable though.
Good range on the sternum strap
I love the sternum strap on this pack. I’m weird that way, but I also have a long torso and most packs have a sternum strap that ranges from choking me to just about choking me. The Lotus understands a longer torso and the sternum straps extend down further than most packs. As is often the case, the clip for the strap contains a whistle for signaling in the backcountry.
Fits under an airplane seat
Lastly, this pack fits under the seat of most average planes! Here it is pictured under a seat in a 737-800. Not much room for your feet (I could fit one foot on one side) but the nice part is being able to get to cameras, or other items, easily while flying. Even when fully packed it also fits comfortably in overhead bins.
Loops, clips and sneaky pockets
The metal attachment loops on the shoulder straps are easy for clipping spare gear to, and there is a clip on the right shoulder strap to help with routing a hydration tube. There are also two mini-pockets on the hip belt for small items, like a pocket knife, spare memory card or chapstick.
What about the bad?
Side zippers get covered by compression straps
Those side pockets with the funky velcro gussets? The zippers for those pocket start at the top of the pack and are usually covered by the side compression straps. It’s a little annoyance but sometimes requires using both hands to get to a water bottle, or other items stored within.
A little loud (crinkly)
I kept trying to place the sound of this pack. It makes a crinkle noise, as the material for the pack is stiffer for waterproofness. I finally figured out the sound is the same as that for a SCUBA BCD, the jacket you see divers wearing that helps keep them neutrally buoyant. If you plan to use this pack for silent ninja work, you might want to think again.
No water bottle, quick pockets
Getting a water bottle in and out of this pack is not a quick affair (see above). I enjoy the side mesh pocket of other packs for this purpose, and the Lotus is missing them. Again, this is probably to keep the bag streamlined. I might get a pouch to keep a bottle up front on the hip belt as an alternative.
Small zippers are a little stiff, certainly need two hands
While the big zippers on the back panel are heaven, the smaller pocket zippers are tough, at least when the bag is new (ask me again in a year for an update). This is just the nature of the beast when wanting a zipper to keep out the elements, I suppose. I have to use two hands when opening the top most compartment, or jerk the zipper around multiple times. Same goes for the side zippers.
Top pocket a little shallow
I don’t like the top pocket because of its shallowness, and tendency to allow items to spill out. There is a velcro patch and a net inside this pocket which does help keep valuables in place (sized perfectly for a Moleskine notebook or a passport) and there is a detachable clip for keys. But overall, I worry about things easily falling out of this pocket each time I open it.
F-stop knows what they are doing, and this bag fills the need for a smaller day pack that is protected against the elements. Some things aren’t as convenient as on other packs of this size (water bottle access, small zippers are stiff) but when compared to employing a pack cover and the trouble that brings, it is a fair tradeoff. I’m 6’1″ and I loved how well the bag is sized for my torso; how well it stuck with me as I climbed over rocks or dashed through the airport.
If you want a day pack where you don’t have to worry about the weather ahead, and you desire hours of comfort while traversing mountain ridges, the f-stop Lotus is worth a look. With its interchangeable, padded camera carriers and room for the 10 essentials, this bag ensures you and your gear will get out there to get the shot in comfort and style.
Disclaimer: f-stop furnished me with a test model for this review which I was allowed to keep. The opinions above are entirely my own and they know I will call them out if their gear stinks. I don’t want any of our readers to pick a bad camera bag.