Last week we took a look at the newly released Guru 28 liter backpack.  This week I’m giving you guys a first in-depth look at the soon to be released F-Stop Satori EXP which is due to be on sale this coming July.  This pack sits at the opposite end of the Mountain Series to the Guru, with a Capacity of 62 liters and as the EXP designation implies this one will hold everything you need on your next expedition.  The pack might be larger than the Tilopa BC but by forgoing the waterproof TPU base seen on the Loka and Tilopa BC the shell is actually lighter.  If your main outdoor pursuit is skiing or snowboarding then the TPU base of the other two is a really great feature.  If on the other hand you spend your time hiking into the wilderness  to shoot landscapes and wildlife then the Satori is going to be more up your alley and provides a wealth of options for attaching additional gear and accessory bags.

The Satori EXP will be available directly from F-Stop as a shell only for $359 (in Grey Mist, Foliage Green or Black) or with various configurations of ICUs, prices of which will be detailed closer to it’s release.  If you are unfamiliar with the ICU system, all will be revealed below.  Essentially it allows you to decide the size of the padded camera compartment in the bag depending on how much camera gear you need and how much other gear.  One you have an ICU or two you can just purchase Shells on their own when you decide you need a different pack.  Perfect if you are a bagaholic photog!

For reference, other Mountain Series reviews

Guru – 28 liter all purpose mountain pack for small & medium ICU

Tilopa BC – 48 liter backcountry specific pack for small,medium & large ICU.

Loka– 37 liter all purpose mountain pack for small,medium & large ICU.

If you need to carry around some big glass in a comfortable manner then this is the pack for you.  Here I have the Canon 500mm f4 IS alongside the EXP for size comparison.

Optional rain cover can be stored in the secret pocket on the base of the pack.

The rain cover is an optional addition that a lot of  people might not need.  The material the pack is made out of is very water resistant anyway and will easily withstand prolonged periods of light rain and occasional heavy showers.  If you think the heavy showers might be prolonged then eventually you might find this handy though.

Shutter Muse Photography eBooks

Another optional addition is the waterproof bladder holder which attaches to the inside of the bag to keep potential water spills away from your camera gear.

The GateKeeper – Added Versatility

The GateKeeper straps are a new addition to the Mountain Series packs and allow you to customize your load even more than you could before.  The spring clips offer an extremely secure solution for a removable strap that at the same time can be easily removed and re-positioned to add more items to the exterior of the pack.  The Satori EXP comes with one pair of Gatekeepers and more can be purchased from F-Stop.  You can see in all my photos of the EXP I have fitted a second pair onto the top of the pack.  Further loops located around the pack allow you to put Gatekeepers on the bottom (see photo below) or add more straps to the side.  If you want to head on an overnight excursion carrying a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and small tent then these additional straps make it a breeze to carry more gear.

The top of the pack Gatekeepers have instantly found a permanent place on my pack.  Not only do they look badass but I’m forever adding and removing layers when I’m hiking so this is the perfect place to strap layers to for easy access.

Bottom mounted Gatekeeper strap and side pocket detailing.

The velcro closed pocket inside the lid pocket is ideal for storing spare camera batteries and is designed to hold pro sized batteries from Nikon and Canon.  The clip and second pocket is the perfect place to store your memory card holder.  The volume of this top lid pocket on the EXP is a bit larger than the equivalent pocket on the Tilopa BC.  I find it a good place to store your food for the day and there is easily enough room for sandwiches and a bunch of granola bars as well as some gloves and other things you might need easy access to.  The zippered pocket is a handy place for a knife.

Interior lid pocket.  I usually keep my polarizing filter and cable release in here.  It’s a good size for something like that which you don’t need quite so often.

This little pocket is where you stash your garbage so you don’t need to worry about it dirtying up your gear.  It reaches down beneath the bag and is plenty big enough for all your wrappings.

This shot shows the exit hole for the water bladded, which can be closed tight with velcro to prevent the elements from getting in.  It also gives you a view of the detailing around the zippers.  Seam sealed zippers on the lid pocket where moisture is likely to land, and main top zipper is covered by a flap all around the pack.

Secure your bladder hose to your shoulder strap.

Sternum strap + whistle.

Seam sealed zipper detailing.

Both sides of the hip belt feature a molle attachment point for additional F-Stop accessories or modular components from other popular brands such as Think Tank.  The EXP hip belts are the same as those found on the Tilopa BC.  Big and very well padded.

Back panel opening as with all Mountain Series products from F-Stop provides easy access to your camera gear.

The inside of the back panel is the same as the Tilopa BC.

Large ICU inside the EXP and still plenty of room for additional gear on top.  I haven’t done photos of the small and Medium ICUs in the pack this time as frankly the bag just looks cavernous with either of them it.  In the Tilopa review you can see them in it and the Satori offers a further 12 liters on top of that.

15″ Macbook Pro fits flush with a large ICU.  The EXP will also take a 17″ laptop so you can pack all you need for your next air travel trip.

As you can see there is a lot of space in there!!  Much larger pocket that that of the Tilopa BC

Whilst not specifically designed for it like the Tilopa BC, the EXP makes a fine backcountry ski pack as well.  The front pockets are larger than those found on the Tilopa and can hold some brands of shovel and probes.  Other sizes can be stored in the laptop pocket.  As in the Tilopa there are two large pockets on the front, one accessed from each side.

Tripod Attachment

The large mesh pockets on the side of the pack support the tripod feet of even the bigger tripods and the two permanent side straps keep things locked down.

If you prefer to mount it on the front that you can use the Gatekeepers to do so.

The buckle on the Gatekeeper is not in the middle which means you can close the legs of the tripod fully and still have it dead center without the buckle getting squashed between the legs.  This shot also shows you the fixed, elasticated cinch straps on the front of the pack.  Just as on the Tilopa BC and Loka these are deigned for walking poles, ski poles, monopod or pretty much anything else long and skinny.  You can also see the seam sealed zippers on both front pockets and the cover that ingeniously covers the end of the zipper to prevent even a drop of water from entering .

Load it up!

3 Season sleeping bag on the bottom

Sleeping bag on top , 2 man 3 season tent on the bottom.

For some size reference, you could actually put this 3 season 2 man tent inside the bag if you wanted.

In this setup I put a small ICU inside the bag with the sleeping bag on the bottom and tent on the side.  This still leaves the top set of gatekeepers free to put any additional layers you want to change regularly.  With a small ICU inside the bag it leaves a considerable amount of room inside for other things.  You could easily fit a spare set of clothes and enough food for a couple of days.  See images further down for photo gear you can get in the small ICU.  Essentially the EXP is plenty big enough for a weekend photographic camping trip.  In all reality you probably wouldn’t even have a tent this big.  Or at least if you did then your buddy could carry the necessary food for your weekend.  A very workable trekking/shooting solution but I would recommend getting a second set of gatekeepers from F-Stop.

Compared to…

There’s now quite a choice to be made.  A few things to consider though, if you need a padded place for a laptop then you need either the Satori or the Tilopa.  If you want to stick to the letter of the law when it comes to international carry-on size then the Tilopa is right there at the maximum of what most airlines will allow.  If anything it’s 1 inch too tall but that can be solved by removing the frame.  For international travel with the Satori you might do well to adopt the same tactic.  It looks like a big bag and big bags draw a lot of attention from the check in and boarding gate staff who then like to weigh your bag…… we all know that’s never a good thing 🙂  But as I said, the back frame is removable and weighs just a few grams so you could take it out and throw it in your suitcase allowing you to strap down the top of the bag a little more and squeeze it into one of those “Does your bag fit in here” cages of woe.

(L to R) Satori EXP, Tilopa BC, Loka, Guru

Satori EXP Vs. Guru

Satori, Tilopa, Loka

Side profile of the Satori and Tilopa BC

Which ICU?

The Satori EXP will work with any of F-Stops existing ICUs, small , medium or large.  F-Stop also has several other ICUs in development at the time of writing.  An XL ICU capable of holding a 600mm lens or a 500mm with camera still attached will be available in July and several smaller shallower versions of the existing S,M and L ICUs will also become available in July.  Further down the line there will also be a Monster ICU which is currently in testing (6.5″ Deep  11.25″ Wide and 22″ tall).  The Monster will fill the entirety of a Tilopa BC and also feature an opening on the top for lifting long glass vertically out of the top opening of the pack instead of the back panel.  The new shallow ICUs are designed for those not using taller Pro bodies like the Nikond D3x or Canon 1-Series.  If you Shoot with a 5dMKII or D700 the shallow ICUs will leave you even more room in your pack for other necessities of the trail.

All F-Stop bags and ICUs now come in a protective sack. If you have multiple ICUs of different sizes these are great to store them away and keep them clean and dust free.

Left to right. Large, medium, small ICU

The medium ICU in the center has a tapered shape. One end is tall enough for small DSLR bodies and the other end is tall enough for pro sized DSLRs. This allows a little more room in the bag to pack extra gear like clothing.

Medium ICU detail. All ICUs now ship with velcro attached elastic straps for securing lens and bodies during adventurous activities and travel.

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The body retention strap is reinforced in the middle to protect the strap and the inside of the bag from the metal edged hot-shoe on top of your camera.

All ICUs have a convenient carrying handle, D-rings for attaching a shoulder strap and loops to retain the ICU inside the backpack

3 lenses and a pro sized body in the Small ICU

Pro body with 70-200 attached and extra lens in Small ICU

Pro body and 6 lens (with room to spare) in the Medium ICU

300mm f2.8, pro body and 3 more lenses in the Large ICU

300mm f2.8, pro body with 70-200 attached and 2 extra lenses in Large ICU

300mm f2.8 in Small ICU. Perfect for storage and travel.

The XL ICU (photo courtesy of F-Stop)

XL ICU again.  Photo courtesy of F-Stop

 

Other Mountain Series Reviews – Do your homework!!

Guru – 28 liter all purpose mountain pack for small & medium ICU

Tilopa BC – 48 liter backcountry specific pack for small,medium & large ICU.

Loka 37 liter all purpose mountain pack for small,medium & large ICU.

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