Gear Review: F-Stop Guru Camera Pack By Sean Bagshaw

For the past couple of months I have been putting my new F-Stop Gear camera pack, the Guru, to the test and I’d like to share what I think about it with Photo Cascadia readers. To fully disclose, as a member of Photo Cascadia I am part of F-Stop Gear’s team of photographers. They send me packs and I use them, make suggestions and give feedback. However, I am not paid to use their gear or to write positive reviews. I wouldn’t use their packs if I felt there were something else on the market that did the job better.

My assistant and digital video production student, Jared Hail, put together this short video.

F-Stop Guru from Jared Hail on Vimeo.

If interested, you can also read my previous review of the F-Stop Gear Tilopa pack and David Cobb’s initial review of the Satori pack.

The entire line of F-Stop’s packs have finally filled a void in camera bags that, as an active outdoor photographer, has always bugged the heck out of me. What I need from a camera pack isn’t much different than what I need from the backpacks I use when I’m hiking, backpacking, skiing and climbing. An active outdoor pack needs to be simple, functional and durable. It needs to have a well designed frame and suspension system that is adjustable and can effectively carry a load. The pockets, accessories, straps and attachment points need to be purposeful and designed for simple functionality. It is also essential that an active outdoor camera pack be able to carry more than just camera equipment. While other companies make great camera bags for street photography, studio work, photo journalism, air travel and carrying maximum equipment short distances, F-Stop Gear’s packs fill the gap for active outdoor photographers who venture away from the car.

The larger packs in the line, the Satori, Tilopa and Loka, excel at handling either a large camera kit with a small amount of other stuff, or a smaller camera kit with room for ample extra clothing, food and other outdoor essentials. With the introduction of the Guru, F-Stop Gear has taken all of the great features of the larger packs and distilled them down into a smaller package for light/fast travel and less extended excursions.

Still present in the Guru are all the features that make F-Stop Gear packs different from competitors. It features the same lightweight and durable materials and attention to design detail. The Guru also has the same inner frame and outer suspension system that make F-Stop packs carry like…well, packs, instead of suitcases with shoulder straps.

The large outer pocket has pouches and pockets for all your batteries, cable releases, flash cards and other peripherals. There is another smaller outer pocket as well. Well designed and moveable compression straps allow you to securely attach a tripod to the back of the pack or on either side. A large zippered opening gives access to the main pack compartment from the top making it easy to stuff in something as large as a down jacket.

Perhaps the best F-Stop feature is the combination of the back panel entry door and the interchangeable Internal Camera Units (ICUs). Changing out different size padded ICUs allows you to customize the pack for how much camera gear you want to carry. Accessing camera gear through the zippered back panel means that you can get to your gear without removing your tripod or rain cover and without setting the pack strap-side down in the mud. It also means that it would be very hard for a thief to get to your gear when the pack is on your back. Other nice features include an internal hydration bag compartment, a zippered nick-nack pocket on the hip belt and a zippered pocket on the underside for storing a rain fly.

I have actually found more use for the Guru than I thought I would. It’s small size makes it a joy to wear and it is perfect for cramped travel on planes, trains and buses. When I don’t need my entire camera kit I find that the small ICU fits a camera body and two lenses just fine and leaves plenty of room for a jacket, gloves, hat, water and lunch in the main compartment. Not lugging my full kit around with me turns out to be quite liberating. The pack rides as well as any of my small adventure packs so I have no problem using it with confidence when climbing, skiing or even mountain biking. In fact the suspension is so nice that I could see removing the ICU and using it as a day pack for a non-photography outing.

I gave the Guru to my 21 year old assistant to use for a few weeks. He had always used a single strap shoulder style bag previously and liked how comfortable it was. He also liked that from the outside it looks like any standard day pack instead of a camera pack. He felt he could wear it to class or around town without feeling conspicuous. That’s a great feature for the low profile world traveling photographer as well.

There really isn’t anything I don’t like about the Guru, however I can make a couple of minor suggestions. One would be to include an additional set of outer straps so that items can be secured to both sides of the pack simultaneously. Another would be to put a clear window on the pocket inside the camera compartment flap so you can see what’s inside it. Finally, in all of F-Stop’s bags I wonder about the wisdom of putting a hydration bag in the main compartment where the camera gear is. Perhaps making the pouch that holds the hydration bag out of water proof fabric and putting in some drain holes at the bottom would increase my comfort level.

All in all, F-Stop has done a great job of incorporating the quality, versatility and utility of their larger packs into the light and low profile Guru. Keeping the comfort and features and giving up some size and weight means that the Guru is now my go-to pack for lightweight day tripping, high angle adventure and low profile travel.

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~ by Sean Bagshaw on August 6, 2011.

3 Responses to “Gear Review: F-Stop Guru Camera Pack By Sean Bagshaw”

  1. Looks like a great bag. I love my Dakine Mission bag. Might not be quite as big, but it’s comfy, burly, very versatile, and a Northwest company.

    • I have heard from a few folks that Dakine is making some great active photographer packs as well. Thanks for sharing Gary.

  2. Update: Druid Orion, the head of F-Stop Gear sent responses to a couple of my critiques of the Guru. Here they are:

    “We actually make an optional seam sealed hydration sleeve to go around your water bladder, so you can use that to add extra protection. If we made that compartment separate and with drain ports then someone using it for a laptop instead of a water bladder would have issues.

    As for the gate keepers, you can buy as many of them as you like. They are very expensive to make because of the attachments, so we decided to keep the cost of the main pack down and let folks who want them buy extra ones.”

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