Okay, I admit it, I'm a gear whore. I bought yet another bag. Damnit. All my friends and family will look at me like, "Really? Another? What's this one do?" while all my photography brethren will simply nod their heads in sad understanding and whisper, "We'll see you at the next Gear Whore Anonymous Meeting." Hello, my name is Mike and it has been exactly 2 months, 3 weeks, and 5 days since my last purchase over $100 (This has been screwed again as I just picked up a Canon 5D Mark III). It's not that I like filling my closet with tons of gear, I just know that each object is a tool with a specific purpose that uniquely fits my photographic needs. Or so I keep telling myself to justify the agony I keep putting on my bank account. And since I got this new bag, I might as well explain why I think it's so dandy, right? So here we go!
I've been in the market for a new bag that would be good for mild hiking trips while also being useful for urban exploration. See? Specific, broad spectrum needs. Currently, most camera bags are designed just for urban settings, or built to handle hiking, but lack the attributes that make dedicated hiking bags so good. I wanted a blend of both; a heavy duty bag that was built tough, had a strong frame, was lightweight, had a dedicated compartment for a water reservoir, had a padded waist belt, quick access to my camera gear, a pocket for an iPad, and room for some other small accessories. That’s not asking too much, right? The bag I ended up with was the radically colored F-Stop Kenti.
F-Stop has quickly made a name for itself as a premier company in the photographic community for providing serious hiking bags designed for photographers. The snowsport and wildlife photography groups are typically the company's main constituency. I already own a Tilopa BC, F-Stop's second largest bag, which I use when I have to carry a crap ton of gear, or participate in full-day to overnight hikes. It's super rugged and a fantastic piece of equipment. Having that experience, I decided to stay in the family and snag their smallest hiking bag, the Kenti.
The first thing you'll notice is the color. Yes, it really is that blue and it's awesome. It makes me feel like I’m carrying a Smurf. The second thing you'll notice is just how well this bag is constructed. The materials chosen are a super tough, water resistant nylon, with heavy duty YKK zippers. The fit and finish are outstanding. The stitching is excellent, and all the adjustment straps have extra coils to keep the excess length from dangling and getting caught up on stuff. The Kenti has a very slim profile. It’s a smallish bag, but carries a lot of gear.
The hip belt is nice and wide. The left side has MOLLE attachment points for various accessories, while the right side has a zippered pocket. This pocket is big enough for spare batteries, filters, or lens caps. What’s really nice is the help belt adjustment. You pull in, towards your belly-button to make the belt tighter. This is much more natural than other systems where you pull away from your stomach. The hip belt, shoulder straps, and back panel are made of an air-mesh neoprene that’s very comfortable. The back panel has a compartment for a hydration pack. It has a dedicated port for the hose to pass through, along with points along the right side shoulder strap to guide it along. The pack sits really well against the back without a hydration pack (more on this later). The included sternum strap is nothing special, it does what it’s supposed to do, but does include a whistle.
The back of the pack has two main compartments. One is a small pouch that can hold small accessories like a CF card wallet or spare battery.
The large panel on the back of the Kenti has a zipper that opens on 2 out of the 4 sides. It’s a relatively tight fit compartment. A leash is provided, along with a slim pocket dedicated for pens or a lens brush, and two other zippered pockets. Neither of the two zippered pockets are terribly large, but are spacious enough for batteries, cables, and card readers. There’s also a random pocket that’s an oversized pen sleeve. I have no idea what it’s for, kind of like the Appendix in the human body.
One of the more unique features of this bag is the roll-top enclosure - it works like a dry bag. This allows for various amounts of gear to be placed in the top of the pack, though I wouldn’t throw in that much stuff. There’s room for a decent sized novel, sunglasses case, light jacket, and probably more. There’s space along the back of this panel to slide in an iPad or similarly sized tablet/laptop.
Next is the best feature about this pack - the side access panels. Each side of the Kenti has a hemispherical panel that opens via zippers. Both pockets have room to fit a pro sized DSLR with a 70-200 attached. The approximate dimensions of each side panel are: 12.25" Long X 4" Deep X 5.25" Wide. You can put in a body with an L-bracket but it’s a very tight fit and a pain in the butt to insert/remove. Both sides are lined with the traditional velcro friendly material found in most packs, and F-Stop supplies plenty of dividers that you can customize to your heart’s desire.
The power of these side panels is that they’re very quick and easy to access while the pack stays attached to your person. Simply undo the sternum strap, ditch the shoulder straps, and twist the bag around to the side you require. I love this capability because when you’re hiking, you don’t always want to put your bag down on the ground, and if you’re walking around town, sometimes you just don’t have that luxury either. Another nifty piece is that you can remove all of the internal structure to leave just the bag shell. I wouldn’t hesitate to do this as the bag is plenty tough and would serve well as purely a hiking bag.
I took the Kenti out on a hike the other weekend with the following gear:
7D with 70-200 f/2.8 IS USM II attached
EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM
Yongnuo YN-622C flash triggers
Fstoppers Flash Disc
2x 4AA battery caddies
iPad Air with charger plug, cable, and stylus
CF Card Wallet
Spare LP-E6 Battery
Maui Jim Sunglasses and Case
Platypus 1.8L Water Reservoir.
Everything about the Kenti is fantastic except the water reservoir holder. It’s located adjacent to where your back is on the pack. That would be fine except for one thing - you can’t carry a water reservoir of decent size without that compartment seriously deforming. The deformation can only go one direction, outwards, which means into your back. This wouldn’t be an issue if it didn’t force the pack to be placed lower on your back AKA the lumbar region of your spine. This location is not optimal for hiking and weight distribution. It makes the pack pretty uncomfortable for decently long walks, and you have to keep adjusting the pack as you drink water out of the reservoir. This is, well, stupid. Granted, I know I can put a smaller water reservoir into this pocket and have less deformation, but there’s still deformation, and if I want to do a long hike with this bag, I have to ration my water really well. It would have been a lot smarter for F-Stop to put the water reservoir pocket at the back of the pack, like with their other systems.
The pack was still pretty comfortable, even with this bulge, but it’s an absolute pleasure without one. You really don’t notice the weight of the bag when it’s properly seated against your back. I plan on doing some more trips with this pack in the near future, and will hopefully figure out a way to stay hydrated while maintaining comfort.
Another downside is the price of this bag. It runs around $250, which is pretty pricey for a pack this size. Given all it’s technical details, and the fact that it is considered a piece of photo gear, one can understand why it’s so expensive. (Not really, but it’s making me feel better about the purchase). All photo gear is expensive, and it would be too nice to think this pack would be an exception. Oh well.
I’ve really enjoyed this pack after using it the past few weeks. After a hike up Kennesaw Mountain and a couple of walks around Atlanta, I can highly recommend it. It’s truly fantastic. Very lightweight, super comfortable, well built, and incredibly useful. I do offer a warning though - with the dividers as is, this bag, seems small to the point of being limited. By that, I mean that you’re going to use this as a run and gun camera bag, or a light hiking bag and that’s it. The Kenti does exactly what it’s supposed to, without much leeway to be pushed outside of it’s design scope. If the Kenti is exactly what you’re looking for, then you’re going to love it. If you want to push the bag to do more than it might be capable of, as most photographers tend to do with their gear, you may be disappointed. This isn’t a fault of the bag, it’s just that people have wide ranges of expectation. Even though this bag is stupid light when empty, I can't find a single aspect that makes me think, "Hm, I may have to baby this. It looks a little fragile." I have full confidence that I can kick the crap out of this bag and it'll just keep on glowing that electric blue, happy as can be, and welcoming the next challenge. I’m looking forward to putting this pack through it’s paces, and putting off my next Gear Whore purchase!