In the landscape photography world, two brands have shown themselves as being exceptional creators of camera backpacks: Mindshift and f-stop.
While I tend to hike with the Mindshift Backlight 26L for day hikes, 26 liters isn’t always enough for me in the backcountry. As a result, I decided to try out the f-stop Ajna.
Although it’s billed as a day hike bag, my hope was that the f-stop Ajna might be a bag I could use on overnight and/or multi-day trips as well.
Let’s see how it pans out.
Table of Contents
f-stop Ajna | Specs
- Build quality/durability
- Adjustable sternum strap and load lifter straps
- Hydration compatible
- Compression straps on back and side
- No reachable pockets when wearing the pack
- No pocket on hip belt
- Padding is a bit slim on the hip belt and shoulder straps
- Hydration sleeve is in same compartment as ICU
Before we get into the overall performance of the bag, let’s start off with the specs:
Exterior Dimensions: 12.99 x 23.5 x 10.51″ / 33 x 59.7 x 26.7 cm
Exterior Material: EVA, Foam, Nylon
Type of Closure: Zipper
Water Resistant Material: Yes
Maximum Volume: 10.57 gal / 40 L
Build & Appearance
This isn’t f-stop’s first rodeo and the Ajna is definitely built to withstand the rigors of outdoor use.
The fabric is a heavy 420D ripstop nylon that’s been treated with a TPU laminate. They say it’s so water-resistant that you don’t really need a rain cover for it unless you’re in a downpour.
It was raining many of the times I took it out and I did find that it beaded up admirably. Still, I live in a rainy enough climate that I prefer to have a rain cover over my gear.
The exterior zippers are all heavy-duty and water-sealed, and they function quite smoothly.
The pack has a rubberized bottom to keep it both waterproof and puncture-free. I’ve set it down in many a wet spot and haven’t had any bleed-through.
The interior zippers all work well and the pockets are both sturdy and flexible.
All in all, it’s a really well-built bag – something one would expect from a high-quality outdoor pack. I’ve had it in rain, mud, wet rocks, and underbrush and you could hardly tell once I’d cleaned it up a bit.
As far as appearances are concerned, one thing I really like about f-stop bags is that they have an outdoor “adventure” look to them. Being a backcountry kind of person, this really appeals to me.
I also appreciate that it comes in a color that doesn’t light up the trail so those behind me don’t have to be distracted by it.
The f-stop Ajna is a pretty straight-forward pack. There’s not a lot of surprises and most of the features are what one would expect.
On the front, there’s a set of straps with strong buckles for attaching a tripod or other outdoor gear.
There’s also a front pocket that runs the length of the bag. For longer trips I like to carry my toiletries there.
There’s also a top pocket that’s good for maps, snacks, and other smaller necessities.
The back of the pack has ribbing for air flow and a fair amount of padding. Camera access is on the back of the pack.
Both sides of the f-stop Ajna have straps for carrying tripods or other gear as well as side pockets.
The shoulder straps have two metal D-ring attachment points, which are good for clipping a GPS to. In addition, there are also ten Gatekeeper attachment points spaced around the exterior.
There are also a number of compression straps on the back and sides, as well as an adjustable sternum strap and load lifter straps.
Across the back, you can find two loops and adjustable keepers for trekking poles.
The hip belt has a set of MOLLE attachments. While the stitching is clearly high quality, I don’t find them particularly useful. I’d rather have a pocket here.
Also, the padding on all of the straps (hip belt included) is rather thin.
One of things I really love about this pack is that it’s hydration compatible. I’m one of those who really prefers to hike with a bladder rather than a water bottle – I tend not to drink much if I have to stop and fetch a bottle.
The Ajna comes with a nice way to route the tube on the right side, and even has a clip for it alongside the shoulder strap.
Unfortunately for me, you can’t route the tube through the left side which is what I need when I’m using my Capture Clip.
Speaking of the Peak Design Capture Clip, I find it essential in the backcountry when I need constant access to my camera.
Rear-access packs require that you either take them off or spin them around to get to your camera gear. That can be a pain when you’re shooting wildlife or just want to take a few quick shots.
One thing nice about the Ajna series in particular is that its dimensions fit perfectly as flight carry-on luggage. So if you’re a traveler, the Ajna will probably be a better choice for you than f-stop’s larger packs like the Tilopa or the Sukha.
The interior features of the f-stop Ajna are as expected.
Unlike the Mindshift Backlight 26L, the Ajna requires an additional purchase of an ICU – an internal camera unit.
The recommended ICUs for the Ajna are the Pro UCU (both large and small) and the Medium Slope ICU. Whichever ICU you choose fits in the bottom of the main compartment and is accessible from the back.
I’d recommended folding back the flap of ICU and tucking it in behind the unit so you only have to unzip one panel, not two.
Since I’m shooting with a Sony a7 III these days, I tend to use the small Pro ICU when I’m not shooting wildlife (i.e. when I don’t need my Sony FE 70-300mm telephoto zoom).
On the inside of the back panel flap there’s a small pocket at the top and some more MOLLE attachments in the middle.
You won’t be able to put too much in this pocket as it lies against your camera case, but things like card wallets or lens cloths work well here. If you use the Slope ICU, you might be able to put slightly larger items here.
I’m not at all sure why the MOLLE attachments were put here – it’s not like you can strap anything on here, as it would butt up against your ICU.
The main compartment of the Ajna also has a sleeve for your hydration bladder or a laptop.
As mentioned before, there’s a pocket on the top of the bag. It has a mesh pocket and a key chain clip, as well as additional space beyond that.
The side pockets are expandable and large enough to carry my Sync Cell sleeping pad or a set of space blankets that I use for ground cloths/tarps or my tent footprint. You can also carry sizable water bottles in them if you’re not into hydration systems.
There’s also a “hidden” pocket at the bottom of the pack for keeping trash or your pack’s rain cover.
Because I shoot with a full frame mirrorless, I tend to run with a smaller camera kit. This makes both day hikes and extended backpacking much easier than when I went out with a DX Nikon DSLR.
Here’s what I carry in the f-stop Ajna when I’m hiking with the Small Pro ICU:
- Sony a7 III + Sony FE 16-35mm lens attached
- Sony FE 50mm
- Peak Design Capture Clip
- Peak Design Slide Strap
- Storm Jacket
- Polar Pro Variable 6-9 Stop ND
- B&W 10-Stop ND filter
- Polar Pro 72mm-77mm Step Up ring
- Viltrox Remote Shutter (not pictured here)
- Lens cloth and blower
While I often carry the Storm Jacket and even the bag’s rain cover in the ICU (since I switch bags fairly often), there’s no need to. In a pinch, I could reassemble the ICU to carry my Sony FE 70-300mm zoom as well.
If I need to bring more camera gear, though, I move up to the Medium Slope ICU. Here’s how the two compare in size:
Since I value having more camping gear space than not, the only time I’d use the Medium Slope is when traveling with the Ajna. That’s when I’d need my charging system, more than two batteries, etc.
Above the ICU is where all my clothing goes, as well as any lighter camping gear I might need (stove, titanium pot, etc.). The food I prefer to store in the front pocket, mostly because it seems too heavy to put on top of the ICU.
The side pockets are really quite impressive. When backpacking, I can fit all sorts of necessary gear here, including a sizable Sil tarp, a ground cloth, lines for the Sil tarp, and my sleeping pad.
As you can see below, my sleeping pad only takes up about half the side pocket.
The other side pocket I use for my tripod. I use the Zomei Z699C and it doesn’t fit well down the center. I also like having access to the center pocket when I put my pack down.
The pocket at the bottom of the Ajna is a nice touch – it’s excellent for stashing its rain cover.
One thing I don’t like about this pack capacity-wise is that if I’m doing a multi-day trip there’s no internal room for a sleeping bag. I have to strap that onto the outside with f-stop’s Gatekeeper straps or something similar. It can be done, of course, but it’s a bit cumbersome.
If I’m a total minimalist – especially with food – I can just get enough gear into or onto the f-stop Ajna to do a 2 or 3-day trip. Considering its compact size, that’s pretty good.
Ease of Use/Comfort
The f-stop Ajna was much more comfortable than I expected from the look of the straps, which are a bit thin on the padding. It’s not quite as comfortable as the Mindshift Backlight but it holds its own when fully loaded on an 8-mile hike.
As far as ease of use is concerned, some parts work and others could be better.
I really like that I can set the bag down just about anywhere and the exterior doesn’t allow water in or even mud to stain it.
I also really like that it’s hydration compatible.
That being said, the bladder sleeve is in the same compartment as the ICU and that’s a bit unnerving. I think most of us – at least most of us who use hydration systems – have had times when the bladder’s not quite all the way sealed and water leaks out.
Not really a situation you want close to your camera.
Also, the placement of the sleeve made it hard for my tube to reach (which is one reason why I didn’t have it set up on the strap the way it’s designed to be.)
That, and as mentioned before, I can’t run the tube on my left side so as not to conflict with the Capture Clip.
Of course, if I want to use both I can try to get used to having the camera on my left side, I just haven’t yet.
Another issue I have with the bag is that there aren’t any pockets that you can reach without taking the bag off. The side pockets are out of reach and there aren’t any pockets on the hip belt unless you buy a MOLLE accessory.
I’m also a little perplexed about carrying the tripod with one leg in the side pocket – it seems like it’s a great way to let rain in.
Otherwise, I really do like the bag’s design. It’s simple and straightforward and has room for everything you need for an extended day hike or a minimalist weekend trip.
Also, the pack’s not particularly heavy on its own.
Value for Money
At just under US$260 (without the ICU) the f-stop Ajna is really quite competitive price-wise. The build quality is especially good and you shouldn’t have to buy another pack any time soon.
It doesn’t hurt that it also comes with a limited 20-year warranty.
In comparison, the Mindshift Backlight 26L is roughly the same price but holds much less gear. (Of course, you don’t have to buy an ICU to use the Mindshift Backlight.)
f-stop Ajna Review | Conclusion
The f-stop Ajna is a workhorse of a hiking camera pack. It’s tough, efficient, and has enough carrying capacity for both camera gear and backcountry gear.
It’s not flashy nor does it have a lot of special features, but it gets the job done admirably. If you’re needing 40L of space, you probably won’t find a better pack.
If you need more space (i.e. you’re looking to do longer trips), it’s worth looking into the Tilopa (50L) or the Sukha (70 L) or you can combine an ICU with a backpack made specifically for backpacking.
I use the Osprey Ariel 65L with a camera insert for longer trips. Sometimes that’s the f-stop Small Pro ICU, sometimes the Tenba BYOB 10, depending on my needs.
If you’re wanting something smaller, the Mindshift Backlight 26L still rocks.
For the 40L Hiking Backpack category, however, the f-stop Ajna is where it’s at.
Teryani Riggs (they/them) is an adventure, who loves all things wild and free. Teryani can often be found in the midst of a social/eco-justice campaign, hiking through wild backcountry, or hitchhiking around the world listening to other people’s stories. While their focus has historically centered on landscape, travel, and wilderness photography, they’ve also been hired to shoot genres as varied as historical fiction reenactments in the studio to product and food photography.