The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir


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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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.



Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma


“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”


For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

Subscribe here: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/in/subscribe/

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