Photo from F-stop incl. a big white lens… not like mine
I really like the concept of the F-Stop camera bags. Especially their way of letting you get at the equipment without having to put the back facing part of the backpack down onto the ground with the unpleasant possibility of having soil and mud transferred to your back. I therefore checked out the inserts - the so called ICUs (internal camera units) to see if I could fit my preferred travel photo kit; 2 "gripped" DSLRs, chargers, 200-400/4, 1.4 TC, 70-200/2.8, 50/1.4, 14-24/2.8, 105/2.8 macro, 10.5/2.8 (or 16/2.8) plus 1 flash with off-camera cable and a pair of 10*32 binoculars into the largest one available: the XL Pro ICU. Unfortunately it was not possible.
Seeing that the formerly available Monster ICU might re-appear at the norwegian store fotobag.no, I got my hopes up. It is a big hazzle ordering stuff from Norway to Denmark however so while being in the US, I contacted F-stop gear to ask if the monster was indeed re-appearing. At first I got the answer from the kind Steve Sweet that it was not to re-appear. This was a big disappointment. Also, he said that they believed the XL was a better fit for the Satori EXP backpack with which I intended to use it. When I said the XL was not large enough for me, and mentioned that I had seen one of the sponsored photographers showing a Monster off at F-stops own site… Steve kindly offered to sell me a Monster from a left over stock in St. Louis.
I took the chance and ordered one via a paypal transfer and in addition a Satori EXP and a pair of short and long gatekeeper straps from the webshop. After a few days, everything arrived to my temporary hideout in Texas and I was eager to test them. The Monster ICU completely fills the main compartment of the backpack but a 15" laptop can still be squeezed down into its sleeve. Now would all the gear fit into the Monster? I actually don't have all the mentioned gear with me on this trip as some of it has been shipped to Greenland for the summer. I think it will fit - but just - with a lot of packing effort.
Another important consideration in addition to capacity is how comfortable the bag is to carry. With a reduced load, I did some hours of hiking in varied terrain yesterday. I found the bag quite comfortable despite not having a proper waist belt - a compromise of having the opening facing the carrier's back. I guess the perfect bag does not exist! The Monster ICU is 1" deeper that the XL Pro ICU and this is actually 1" deeper than needed for the DSLRs and 200-400/4 and more suitable for a 600/4 or 400/2.8. I will likely use this added deepness to stack items. Spare batteries or chargers for instance can be stored under lenses.
One weird thing is that the dividers in the Monster are not as deep as the ICU it self. This can cause items to shift around inside a closed bag if the velcro provided elastic fasteners are not used. Something that will surely slow you down. Also, the zipper opening of the back is smaller than that of the Monster which is again smaller than the Monster itself. Again something that makes it slower to get at items stored at the top of the Monster. However, the top of the Monster itself can be zipped open to allow access into the ICU via the top opening of the backpack. I may be able to utilize this if carrying the ICU in a big hiking backpack. This way the 200/400/4 with attached DSLR can be swiftly "drawn" from the pack while still being carried very protected.
All in all, I have been quite pleased with the combination. I will do some rough field testing in May in Greenland, so stay tuned for further field notes.