F-stop Gear’s smallest backpack – the Guru Ultralight – holds a lot of camera equipment in a slimlined 25L package while still having plenty of room for your water bottle, rain jacket, and other accessories. With an internal suspension system, comfortable hip and shoulder straps, ripstop nylon shell, and base weight under 3 pounds, this backpack performs just as well for the active photographer biking or skiing down the mountain as it does for the casual shooter wanting to tote a camera and a few extra lenses around town.
1-2-3 (Bag + ICU + Accessories) System
It’s important to understand this system before deciding if the F-stop brand is right for you.
I purchased my first F-Stop Gear camera bag – the Tilopa BC – in 2010. In 8 years of occasionally trying 30+ other camera bags from different manufacturers since then, I’ve never been able to find a better solution than the F-Stop “1-2-3 System” where you pair the best (1) bag for your trip with (2) an appropriately sized ICU, or internal camera unit, for the camera gear you’re taking followed by any (3) pack-attached accessories.
Here’s my Medium Sloped ICU holding a Canon 5D Mark III with grip and Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens attached, a Canon 24-70L f/2.8 IS II lens on one side, and a Godox speedlite plus wireless controller on the other side. Wedged into the smaller storage component is several sensor/lens cleaning accessories and some spare memory cards. This ICU then slides into my F-stop bag and can either remain in there permanently or can be easily swapped out with other sized ICUs or even different configurations of ICUs, such as one for an action sports kit and another for portraiture. According to F-stop’s website, the Guru will fit this size and smaller ICU, including possibly stacking or hatchbacking two of the more petite ICUs.
After many years of carrying the larger Tilopa BC on my back for everything from multi-day backcountry landscape photography expeditions to an hour or two on the ski run or bike trail, I’ve recently switched to the smaller F-Stop Guru UL for most of my shorter and more nimble outings – namely for action sports. At about the size of a typical daypack, the Guru UL is not a burden to bring along while skiing, biking or snowboarding but can accommodate the gear I need for photographing those activities.
The larger bags like my Tilopa are really meant to carry more stuff inside. Most are deeper than the Medium Sloped ICU, which results in the camera gear flopping around a bit on bike rides or ski runs if there isn’t a jacket or something else tucked behind the ICU to take up that space, even when the bag is cinched down. This is an important consideration to take into account when comparing sizes of the different F-stop bags available and was the most pleasant surprise I had with the Guru UL.
Like all F-stop bags, the Guru UL doesn’t scream out “photo gear inside” like so many camera backpacks do – especially after I put black tape over the F-Stop logo.
Similarly, like all other F-stop backpacks, you access the gear from the front panel – that which rests on your back. This provides extra security when walking around in public compared to most camera backpacks which can be easily unzipped from the rear – either on accident with your expensive camera equipment falling out, or by a thief. This approach also keeps your clothes clean and dry by not getting the backpack straps and front panel muddy and/or wet when setting on the ground like most backpacks with a rear access design.
Here’s what the bag looks like on one of F-Stop’s male employees (taken from their Guru UL product listing page), including some torso measurements. I’m a bit taller at 6’2″ and the bag also fits me very well.
A camera backpack must do more than fit my body and camera equipment well. It needs to be adaptable. The Guru UL does a fine job at this too!
Despite being a smaller-sized pack, the Guru UL comes with wide and lightly padded straps for both your arms and hips to ensure a comfortable and tight fit. This is critically important while I’m skiing/biking/boarding down the mountain with extra weight on my back.
Two blue straps are located on each side of the bag for expanding when needed or cinching down when running light. These also serve as a great place to mount your tripod by simply passing two of the legs through the straps and then tightening while the third leg remains outside. A mesh pocket on each side can hold a water bottle, the legs of a small travel tripod, or anything else you want to store on the outside of the bag for easy access.
Small loops are located throughout the Guru UL. These are officially for attaching the F-stop Gatekeeper Straps as additional mounting points for tripods, skis, etc. But, I like to use them with caribiners to attach exterior accessories like sunscreen – something I don’t want leaking inside my camera bag.
On the outside rear of the bag is this zippered pocket for stashing a jacket or other accessories. Since the zipper opening is so wide, it’s very easy to get in and out of this storage compartment.
A second zipper reveals another storage compartment that is great for storing thinner items. It also includes a few pockets, including one with the secondary zipper, for organizing accessories.
The third zippered compartment allows easy insertion and removal of the ICU system while also providing a great place to store gear on top of the ICO.
Like most F-stop backpacks, there is a small sleeve area inside the pack for hanging a hydration bladder, if desired, with a velcroed opening for the tube exit.
While not exclusive to the F-stop Guru UL, I install a Peak Design Capture Camera Clip (V3) on all of my camera backpacks.
In combination with the complimentary plate mounted on your camera, this awesome accessory allows quick and easy external camera storage, right on your backpack strap, for those times when you aren’t yet ready to put the camera back inside your bag.