F-Stop Gear recently introduced the Guru day pack. They sent me one to try out, and I’ve been using it regularly when I go on smaller photo expeditions. I still love my Loka for longer trips, but the Guru is a great bag for short trips and day hikes. (Now, before I get into this, I want to make it clear that F-Stop is one of our sponsors. They send us bags for testing, and we write up reviews like this. However, I made it clear to the guys at F-Stop that I won’t say I like something I don’t. If I like it, you’ll hear about it – if I don’t, you’ll know. So, here we go.)
The day this arrived, I packed it up, and took it with me to shoot my little brother’s wedding. The was plenty of room for my camera, two lenses, a couple of flash units -plus a jacket, a water bottle, and so on. But that’s not really what a bag like this is for. I need a bag that can handle the kind of abuse mine gets in the field – and still come away sturdy enough to do it again… and again… and again.
So – I took it for a test run. We headed out to beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park – to hike the trails, stop by a few of the park’s gorgeous waterfalls, and snap a few photos. I wanted to put it through the paces on a short hike. I needed to know if it was going to be able to make it on longer hikes in the future. Can I take this bag with me to Yellowstone in a couple of weeks? Will it be comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time, day after day? Will it be sturdy enough to handle the wear and tear I intend to throw at it? If not – it’s not good enough.
The verdict? It’s good enough. In fact, it’s better than good enough. It has good padding, a sturdy “skin”, lots of pockets, sturdy zippers, and it’s easy to customize for your gear. I can fit either a small or medium “internal camera unit” (ICU from F-Stop) in this sweet little package – and still have room for all kinds of other “stuff.” I’m using a medium ICU, and I have three lenses in there – a 10-22mm, a 180mm macro, and a 28-70mm – along with my Canon 7D body. The ICU also holds my GND and ND filters along with their holder, and my circular polarizer. There’s room up top for a light jacket, a lunch, a small first aid kit – all the little things that come along with me on a day hike. I can even fit my laptop in the unpadded interior pocket – though for a shorter hike, I’m more likely to bring along my smaller tablet. The pockets in the front store keys, wallet, phone, memory cards, batteries… granola bars… whatever.
One of the most important features is the hip belt. Most day packs sacrifice comfort, but if I’m carrying heavy gear – and I am – I don’t want aching shoulders at the end of the day. The hip belt on this is well padded, and fits comfortably around my waist. I tighten it so that most of the weight is carried on my hips, and my shoulders end up carrying very little. That means I can go three times as far without feeling the pain. Perfect. The only thing I don’t like about this hip belt is that in order to tighten it, I have to pull outward on the waist straps. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I always prefer a hip belt that lets me pull inward… like the Loka or the Tilopa packs. I can adjust the belt more efficiently that way, and when it’s full of heavy gear, that’s pretty important. It’s not a deal-killer… but it’s a feature I’d like to see on future versions of the Guru.
And then there’s the rear-access thing. I know – I’ve talked about this before. You guys are going to get sick of it… but the fact is, I love it. I never have to put my f-stop bags down. So if I’m standing in a swamp, or a pond, or in the mud – I don’t have to worry about where my bag is going to be. I just take it off my shoulders, spin it around, and open it up to get at my gear. The bag stays clean, and there’s no bending down to work with my gear in the mud at my feet. :) I do wish that the opening on this bag was just slightly larger. The opening is a bit smaller than the medium ICU, so it’s a small struggle to get lenses in and out of the corners.
I also find that it can be difficult to get my camera in and out of the Guru – not because the bag is too small, but because it compresses against my body when I open it. Of course, that’s going to happen with any bag that opens the way this one does, and it wouldn’t be a problem… except that the smaller opening means I have to put my camera body at the bottom of the bag, rather than the top. So the camera is against my waist, where the bag compresses the most. I have to wedge the camera in a little bit, rather than just placing it neatly the way I can in my Loka. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker for me. Just something you should be aware of. I’ll have to try a different configuration for my gear to see if that makes a difference.
And one more thing. I took my kids along on our hike in Cuyahoga Valley, and had the older ones try it out too. I get a lot of questions about which bags might be right for teenagers who have an interest in photography, and I wanted to see if this pack would work for them… even fully loaded with gear. My kids are skinny little things, but the Guru fit them nicely. It was heavy with all my gear in it, but the padded waist belt made it easy for them to carry. I might lighten it up a bit for them if they’ll be going to long distances, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s just right for a teenager. A small ICU will keep their camera gear safe, and there’s room on top for everything they’d want to bring along. More importantly, the bag will fit their smaller frame.
The only other thing that I don’t care for with this bag is it’s squarish shape – it doesn’t have the great, sleek curves the Loka and Tilopa have. On the other hand, sleek curves would take away from the size of the bag, and a few inches of space really does make a difference sometimes.
That’s it for now – but this bag is coming with me for our Yellowstone workshop next week. I’ll have more to say about it after that. If you own a Guru, I’d love to hear from you… and I’m sure others would value your input, too. Post a comment and tell us what you think! I’d be happy to answer your questions, too.