A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon


Adventure Travel

Apr 19, 2018

F-Stop Lotus Gear Review: One Bag to Rule Them All?

F-stop’s photo backpacks for adventurers have something of a legendary status amongst serious adventure photographers.


Apoorva Prasad

But they’ve also received some bad press for company troubles. We recently spent some time testing the mid-range F-Stop Lotus backpack, and found it to be one of the best, most versatile photographer’s backpacks ever invented.

I have a lot of bags, of nearly every color, size and brand. Nearly all of them have failed me in some situation or the other. One of the trickiest use cases for backpacks is a dedicated outdoors and travel photography backpack. Now here’s the situation: you need to be able to carry it on an airplane. You need to be able to safely carry your fancy camera gear and lenses, potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars, maybe even more.

You need to be able to travel, walk, trek, or possibly even climb or canoe with it. That means not just carrying your camera gear but also some clothing, water, food, additional gear, maybe even be able to clip skis or ice tools.

The Legend of F-Stop

For many years, F-Stop Gear, a small company, has acquired a nearly legendary status amongst adventure photographers for making some of the best adventure photo backpacks ever. However, they’re relatively expensive, and it’s always been pretty difficult to get your hands on the exact one you want because of long wait times.

Recently, a disastrous Kickstarter campaign also resulted in a lot of negative press for the company. Despite that, when F-stop reached out to us we were very excited to test out some of the their backpacks because of the reputation of the product (one of our team members already owned one and always raved about it).

Meet the Lotus

It is very, very well built, clearly designed by people who actually travel for a living.

The smallest pack in the Mountain series, the F-Stop Lotus is a 32L full-feature pack starting at $229, without the ICU and other accessories. I took it hiking in Germany, on my travels to Tahiti, and snowboarding in Austria, and at the end of it, I was convinced that that was probably the best travel / photo backpack I had ever used in my life. I wasn’t the only one – a famous photographer friend took one look at the bag and asked me if I could get him one as well.

Unpacking the Internal Camera Unit

First things first. This is an “ICU” (“Internal Camera Unit”) system backpack, which means that there are different units, or zippable, internal camera cases to choose from and use, depending on how much camera gear you plan to carry. This is a different system entirely from more traditional photo backpacks that average consumers are used to – and much, much better.

The padded photo-dedicated unit can be entirely zipped up and removed entirely from the backpack, leaving you with a fully usable hiking or travel backpack. It is very, very well built, clearly designed by people who actually travel for a living. Over my career as an adventure journalist I’ve received and/or used many dozens of packs, and it’s quite clear when something is truly well-made for a specific purpose by designers who know what they’re doing, with no useless features or gimmicky designs. That’s truly rare.

Deep Dive into the F-Stop Lotus

The bag arrived inside a protective sack!

The F-Stop Lotus is, thankfully, not a heavy backpack – one of the drawbacks of many competitors. Let’s start at the top, which zips open like the top of a can, instead of longitudinally like many zipped packs might. This lets you easily reveal your pack’s entire contents and grab what you need, without attempting to rip the damn thing like a clamshell and spill stuff out; or desperately digging through an annoying, draw-stringed opening (the two most common top-opening designs).

But wait, there’s more! The pack also zips open completely from the back when you want to access camera gear.

We’re not done yet – let me list out the features I found useful: There’s a large front pocket which I used to stuff a rain jacket; a hydration bag compartment, ice ax loops (haven’t used those yet, but I can imagine using them), ski-or-other-gear side compression loops (used ‘em for quickly clipping my fleece after overheating during the hike, but also for quickly packing away a tripod).

The very well designed shoulder harness is not some overly padded, heavy, open-cell foam, but very lightweight, S-shaped closed-cell foam. A full list of features can be found here.

For instance, I recently used another backpack from a well-known, larger brand for some travels, only to discover within two trips that poorly designed curves in zipped pockets are a terrible idea, because burly zips will either destroy the fabric, or just come off the rails (both have happened). F-Stop betrays none of these problems.

Don’t Forget the Essentials!

I can’t reiterate this enough, but this is really a pack built by someone who has actually hiked for miles carrying gear; or has spent some years in wilderness or outdoor areas. For some reason, photo-backpack manufacturers usually build crappy packs without realizing that people carrying serious gear will probably need to carry some clothes, water and other stuff if they’re lugging so much damn camera equipment anywhere; while the outdoors industry always spends too much time making microevolutionary changes (or new colors) instead of coming up with a really useful photo backpack or innovations for professionals.

We reviewed the Columbia Ex Mogul Titanium Jacket as well, which would be a nice pairing with the F-Stop Lotus.

First impressions: The F-Stop Lotus is very well built, high quality, well-packaged, and the bag even arrived inside a protective sack! It has good quality materials and build, at first glance. Very water resistant, YKK Zips.

Feature Image © Olga Kakhankina

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Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.


The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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