F-Stop may not have had the best year when it comes to its public image, but I have to say that the gear they produce is absolutely fantastic. I received the F-Stop Tilopa and the Large Pro ICU as a gift from my now wife about a year ago (after waiting several weeks for it to actually ship; my wife was on the phone with them more than she would have liked) and since then I've taken it everywhere from the dense forests and goliath waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge that borders Washington and Oregon to the freshly formed lava fields on the Big Island of Hawai'i. To say that the bag has exceeded my expectations is an understatement.

The black rock that you see in the foreground is recently hardened lava comprised of silica glass and other types of rock. That rock tore up my ripstop North Face hiking pants and the heat from the lava flow actually melted the soles of my boots, but my F-Stop Tilopa bag surprisingly thrived out on the laval fields with really only minimal wear and tear considering the shooting conditions.

Photo by Chris Williams 

The biggest test that I've put the Tilopa through came while I was on my honeymoon with my wife this past August. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to shoot the G61 lava flow ocean entry point on the big island of Hawai'i thanks to Bruce and Tom from Extreme Exposures. The conditions were dangerous to say the least. The soles of my boots literally melted and my tripod got pretty beat up from the silica glass that was formed by the cooling lava. My F-stop bag on the other hand held up to the extreme conditions and sustained no lasting damage. I've owned several camera bags from a variety of companies over the years and I have to say that this is by far the most durable and comfortable camera backpack that I have ever owned.

Pictured here is the ICU that I currently use; this is the F-Stop Large Pro ICU. As you can see there's plenty of room for lenses and extra gear. I currently have one telephoto, one wide-angle, a prime and midrange zoom along with my camera body and accessories stowed away in this ICU with room to spare.

One thing that makes this bag so useful is the ability to customize how you want to store your gear. There are several ICUs (Internal Camera Units) that you can choose from including one specifically designed for telephoto lenses, one designed for cine lenses and a full range of 'Pro' ICUs that are fully customizable to fit wide-angle and telephoto lenses along with filters, camera bodies and any accessories that you might need along the way. They also offer Slope Style ICUs that allow for more room in the top of the pack, Shallow ICUs for those with smaller lenses or the Micro ICUs for those with smaller camera kits. 

One of the main selling points for me was durability and weather resistance. The bag is almost impenetrable to moisture and pretty much any other elements that mother nature decides to throw at you thanks to a combination of oxford-weave ripstop nylon and a proprietary thermoplastic polyurethane film that was developed by F-stop Gear. I've put the bag through the wringer in terms of terrible weather conditions; torrential rain, sleet, snow, intense tropical humidity and some pretty darn cold temperatures and I've never had a problem with any sort of moisture penetration.

This action shot of me wearing my Tilopa was taken by my good friend and fellow landscape photographer Max Foster. The spray was pretty intense at this waterfall, but my gear stayed dry.

Photo by Max Foster

The Tilopa also has a number of exterior straps that can come in handy for strapping a tent or a sleeping bag to the pack during multi-day backpacking trips. One of the biggest issues that I've had in the past with camera bags is that none of them really fit me well. I have extremely broad shoulders, so most bags just don't fit right and I end up using up almost all of the excess strapping material to make them work (and they're still pretty uncomfortable). The Tilopa's design makes it extremely versatile for all body types; I've never had a bag that fits as well as this one and it's super comfortable to wear for long periods of time to boot (even when it's completely filled to the brim with gear).

Another added bonus is that the bag will fit in nearly every airplane overhead compartment that you will encounter, even with the tripod attached (I just remove my tripod ball head and stow it in the bag). I've flown with a handful of airlines over the past year in the US and I've had no issues. The same can be said for most international carriers across the world, as the majority of the photographers that I've interacted with have had no problems stowing their bags in the overhead compartments on flights to Iceland, Patagonia, New Zealand and the like.

In my opinion the F-Stop line of camera bags, including the Tilopa series, are by far the best on the market. Although the customer service can be fairly bad and the wait times can be disappointing; the bag is worth the wait and the frustrations.