When it comes to hauling camera gear on my back to photograph landscapes, as well as while traveling, my bag of choice will almost always come from f-stop. They have a collection of very well-made camera bags for photographers who hike and travel in mind. However, the biggest problem I have found with almost any functional and utilitarian camera bag is that they are almost always designed without consideration for the female torso. (Read my post from last year about this topic to get a better idea of what I’m referring to.) The f-stop bags I have used do have some of those frustrations, mostly dealing with the way the bag fits (shoulders, chest, hips, etc.).
About six months ago, f-stop created a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new project they were working on: a camera bag designed specifically for women. I purchased a bag through this Kickstarter and was also fortunate enough to receive a bag in time to bring along with me on a trip to Iceland and Norway in June of this year. I did a bit of hiking with the bag both in Europe and also back home in Portland and wanted to share my thoughts on the design and fit for anyone considering purchasing the bag.
Before you jump into the “pros” and “cons” below, I want to give my overall impression of the bag: I love it. I think it is a very much-needed bag for this industry, and had zero trouble with it while on the road. Like anything, it’s not perfect and could use some minor improvements, but for the most part, it is a HUGE step in the right direction. I also wanted to show how it differs from the Loka, which is a bag that I have been using for landscape and travel photography for several years. (Note: The bag I show in this review is the “classic” Loka; the one they currently have in their store is the “Loka UL“, a lighter version of the Loka bag.
A BETTER FIT
First of all, this bag was designed specifically for women. I was a little skeptical about the bag before actually getting it in my hands, mostly because all of the photos and videos showing the bag showed very fit, slender photographers using it. I consider myself “curvy”, and was hopeful that the bag would be made for all sizes (not just the super-fit, slender body types). Overall I found this bag to be much more comfortable than its counterparts. The few things that were very noticeable, especially at first, were that the shoulder straps were placed better for my body, and the front chest-strap was long enough to clasp. To put it bluntly, for women with bigger boobs, the existing line of f-stop bags is just not long enough to clasp (however they do offer an extension for those bags for people who need a longer strap).
This is me wearing the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right). You can see that the chest trap is much higher on the Kashmir, and also has a lot more slack since it is not right over my boobs (and is WAY more comfortable because of it!). On the right, the strap sits lower, and it gets even more uncomfortable and tight when I am wearing heavier coats and sweaters.
NOT DUMBED-DOWN IN SIZE
One frustration I have with most “female” camera bags is that they are way too small to hold the amount of gear I use on any given trip. Just because I’m a woman does not mean that I use less (or different) gear than my male counterparts. While the Kashmir is a tad bit smaller, it is not significant or too small to be inconvenient, and I found that I was able to easily hold the same amount of camera gear and accessories as I do with my f-stop Loka bags.
I have no problem fitting a good amount of gear in the Kashmir UL. Gear shown here (counterclockwise): Canon 6D (with RRS L-bracket), Canon 1.4x, Canon 70-200 f/4L IS, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Canon 16-35 f/4L, MindShiftGear Filter Hive. I also have a small bag with batteries in the top compartment, and a cable-release and lens cloth stuffed in there as well.
This is the Kashmir UL bag with my tripod attached to the side: a Really Right Stuff (RRS) TVC-24 tripod, RRS BH-40 ball-head, and RRS leveling plate.
A side-view of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).
A side-view of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).
A front-view (where the bag opens) of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).
CLASSIC F-STOP BUILD
For those of you familiar with the f-stop brand, you won’t see many differences here with this bag in terms of quality. If you’re not familiar with f-stop bags, then just know that this bag is rugged, built well, and comfortable. It’s easy to access my gear without removing the bag from my body, which is great when I am in a location that I don’t want the bag to touch the ground (in water, muddy grounds, or sand, for example).
Here I am getting some gear out of the Kashmir UL bag with it still around my waist. The opening for the back is on the portion that is flush to your back when wearing it, similar to all f-stop adventure bags so that the gear can be easily accessed while still wearing it (or even on the ground).
VERY FEW POCKETS
One of the things that took me off guard with this bag is its lack of interior pockets. This bag has one mesh “pouch” in the very top, but instead of being secured with a zipper it is closed shut with a tiny piece of velcro. This means that anything you put in there has the potential for falling out and getting lost, especially if you forget to zip it up. In the f-stop Loka bag, there are small pouches that snugly hold either memory cards or business cards (I used them for both). I definitely prefer the Loka’s pouch setup to the Kashmir’s.
The Kashmir UL (left) has a mesh top with one piece of velcro to close it, and the Loka (right) has small pockets to hold memory cards, business cards, etc.
Also missing from this bag is an interior pocket that has a zipper, where I would hold things like Allen wrenches and other small tools (to tighten my RRS tripod gear in the field), a spare cable release, lens cloths/wipes, and (ahem) “feminine products” (where they are hidden and tucked away from sight). The lack of this pocket requires me to remember to put all of those items in another area, usually in a separate pouch that ends up floating around my bag. And, more importantly, the lack of that pocket means the potential for forgetting ALL of those essential little items when I travel or go shooting.
The Kashmir UL (left) has no pocket on the inside top flap of the bag, while the Loka (right) has a nice zippered pocket, good for holding things like lens wipes, cable releases, batteries, etc.
Another area where pockets are lacking is in the back of the zippered flap. On the Loka, this pocket might be considered unusable, as it is so flush with the bag that only very thin and flat items would fit. However, I would oftentimes find myself placing camera manuals, lens wipes, and other flat objects in this space.
The front flap of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right).
It’s worth mentioning that there is another pocket on the back of the bag, which I use for the bag’s rain cover and other “light” items (camera rain cover, etc.). it’s a vertical zipper, so I probably wouldn’t keep anything small and loose in it, or it might fall out the side (especially if I forget to close it!).
This is a top view of both bags (Kashmir UL on the left, Loka on the right). Each of them has a zippered pocket on the back of the bag. I use this pocket to hold rain covers and other small accessories (hats, gloves, etc.).
NO “KEY RING” HOOK IN THE TOP POUCH
Another thing I feel is missing from the bag is the key-ring hook that is at the top of the bag. I never use this for my keys, but rather will use it to attach my memory cardholder to the bag. Having it connected means that I won’t forget it, and I won’t lose it. To compensate, I have been attaching my memory cardholder to the zipper cord instead (not ideal, but better than nothing).
The lack of a key-ring on the Kashmir UL (left) means that I have to get creative. Here I have attached my memory card holder (which also has business cards in it) to the zipper of the bag. On the right, the Loka has a dedicated key-ring inside of the top pouch.
LIMITED ICU OPTIONS
In the bag description, it says that it supports “Shallow ICUs”, however, I was able to squeeze a medium-sloped ICU in the bag (with a little difficulty, but it worked). I also remove the padded portion of the ICU and fold the zippered flap back behind the bag, so that may have helped with the fit. Overall I prefer the sloped versions and did not even have a shallow ICU to try with it. I may consider looking into getting a large shallow ICU to try out so that I can fit more gear and other bits as well. It would have been nice if they had added an extra inch or so in-depth to allow the bag more flexibility with the ICU choices.
This is a side-by-side of the Kashmir UL (left) and Loka (right). They both have the medium sloped ICU in them, with different dividers in place.
The Kashmir UL is designed for “shallow” ICUs, and when the bag is fully packed with a sloped ICU the bag has a slight bulge at the base. It is not noticeably uncomfortable to use it like this, although I may consider a large shallow ICU and see if that fits a little bit better.
Overall I am very happy with this bag and will continue to use it in spite of its shortcomings. The fact that it fits well and is comfortable to wear is a bigger deal to me than a few missing pockets. It’s also refreshing to have a bag for women that is not a purse or a tiny, “fru fru” bag in a condescending “girl” color. The fact that we are women makes very little difference in the gear we use as a photographer, and the bags we use should reflect that as well. I’m hopeful that other bag companies see what f-stop has done and uses this as an example to be more cognizant that there are, in fact, serious female photographers in this industry who are in need of quality, well-fitting, functional gear.