Review! MindShift Gear BackLight 18L Photo Backpack

MindShift Backlight 18L Green

For a change, I will be talking about a camera bag, a camera backpack to be precise, and not a digital item! I was recently off on a two week vacation, where I was over on Vancouver Island and Saltspring Island, shooting with my Fujifilm mirrorless kit. A few months back, I bought a new camera backpack, a Mindshift Gear (by ThinkTank Photo) BackLight 18L in “Woodland Green” ($299). Since I had to cancel my late June camping trip to the Fraser Canyon due to the heat-wave and resulting raging forest and brush fires, my early August trip was really the first time I had an opportunity to properly work out of this new backpack.

The BackLight pack is also available in various larger sizes (26L, 36L and 45L), but I thought that for my compact mirrorless kit, the smallest 18L one would be most appropriate, and I am very happy with the choice. Since I am bored with basic black camera bags these days, I decided on the green one (but you can also buy it in “charcoal”), and the nice thing with the green is that it looks more like a climbing pack than a camera backpack, especially with its ice-axe loops! I have to say, it is one of the most thoughtfully designed camera backpacks I have ever used, but coming from ThinkTank Photo, that is no big surprise I suppose. They make good stuff! All the zippers, buckles, well padded straps, stash pockets and so on, exude quality design and manufacturing.

Access your gear from the back of the bag! (click images to open a larger version)

One key reason I went with the BackLight bag is the way you can access the contents without removing it from your back. You basically loosen the waist-belt slightly, shrug off the shoulder straps and rotate the bag around to your front. The waist-belt is extremely robust and easily handles the fully loaded bag when it is sticking out away from you, only supported by the waist-belt. The camera compartment is accessed from the panel that is normally up against your back (good for security as well), so you unzip the flap and fold it towards you; it even has an adjustable neck strap that will keep it open for you. Once you’ve accessed your camera or changed lenses, you zip it up the flap and rotate the pack around to your back again. I find it just a bit awkward to get the second shoulder strap back on since it always seems to want to twist, but I have gotten used to untwisting it once it’s back on my shoulder.

MindShift BackLight 18L LoadedMy Fujifilm gear in the BackLight 18L

The BackLight 18L looks very compact in person but swallows a lot of gear. I can basically fit my entire Fujifilm kit: X-Pro2 body, IR-converted X-E2 body, Laowa 9mm f/2.8, Fujinon 14mm f/2.8, 18mm f/1.4, 23mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/2, 90mm f/2 lenses and with a slight bit of reorganizing, even my 55-200mm zoom lens would fit too. I can stash my main X-Pro2 body and keep even my largest lens attached as well. I can also fit multiple filters, stepping rings, spare batteries, memory cards, my extension tube set, a remote release, a headlamp and numerous additional accessories into the outer pockets.

Yes, it (snuggly) fits a 13″ MacBook Air, plus a 10″ tablet!

It also fits my MacBook Air (which I normally don’t carry while shooting), my iPad Air 2, and it still has room for a small folded windbreaker in the outer pouch and some snacks. The BackLight 18L looked so compact when I first saw it, that I sincerely doubted it would fit my laptop, but it fits perfectly!

A small tripod or a large water bottle can be carried on either side…

Outside, it easily carries a compact travel tripod (or water bottle) on one side, and another water bottle on the other. A bigger tripod can be carried on the back with a dedicated tripod attachment too. It comes with a rain cover, as well as multiple additional attachment points for extra pouches and such, compression straps, as well as the aforementioned ice-axe loops! One nice feature too is that fully loaded, it still stands up on the ground, having a fairly flat bottom. This is great when you are tucking the bag under a restaurant table for example. I really hate backpacks that won’t stand up and just topple over when placed on the ground!

One thing I do wish is that the bag would come with dividers to allow for three rows of lenses and not just two. That would make it friendlier for someone using a mirrorless system with smaller lenses. What I did, is put some of the dividers on a diagonal, allowing one to fit two lenses offset slightly side by side, to allow for more efficient packing of small lenses. However that is really my only minor complaint. Apart from MindShift’s own Rotation 180 bags, this is the easiest camera backpack I’ve used for gear access without having to place it on the ground first. The main issue with the Rotation backpacks, one of which I also own, is that they’re kind of a pain to work out of when you are not wearing them. In addition, the rotation bags also don’t stand up on their own and do topple, at least on the older Rotation 180 Horizon that I own, as well as my previous Rotation 180 Panorama. I am not sure of the latest models have solved that problem? If I were going on an extended hike with my camera gear though, especially if I wanted the convenience of a hydration bladder, I would likely use my Rotation 180 bag, but for shorter jaunts where I actually want easy access to more of my gear, for traveling with all my gear plus a laptop on a plane, or for working out of my car on a road trip, this new BackLight 18L bag seems just about perfect!

You can also get it in stealthy Charcoal, if the green is not to your liking…

For now, the BackLight bags are special order items for us, so contact either me (Mike) or Meghan if you would like us to bring one in for you. If you want to see it in person before ordering, just give me a day of warning and I can bring mine to work for you to check out…

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Beau Photo Supplies Inc.
Beau Photo Supplies Inc.