Which camera bag is right for you?  Check out MindShift Gear

Choosing a camera bag has always been difficult.  And it gets harder every year with all the new companies and designs popping up!  I started with a line of LowePro bags.  Then the next shiny object became F-stop Gear circa 2010.  But once I switched over to mirrorless camera systems in 2015 the bags I had for my DSLRs were just too much.  They were great bags, but made for DSLRs.

I was already familiar with ThinkTank photo, using their Retrospective 20 for my “urban travel” bag, and their Hubba Hubba Hiney for my ultralight backpacking carrier.  I had heard about an offshoot of ThinkTank, MindShift Gear, made for and by outdoor conservation photographers.  I wanted to check them out to see if they had a backpack that could carry all of my Sony alpha mirrorless gear.

Why I chose the BackLight 26L as my primary pack

As always, this review is unsolicited, and I purchased this pack on my own

MindShift’s flagship pack is the rotation180, a 38L backpack with a unique feature – the camera compartment on the bottom of the pack slides out and rotates around to the front of your waist without the need to take the shoulder straps off.  Easy access to your gear while keeping it safe.

But the bag that caught my eye was the BackLight 26L.  Features that sold me on this pack:

  • Camera compartment accessible by rotating whole pack around waist
  • Access through back compartment keeps equipment secure, and you can set it on the ground without getting back wet & dirty
  • Plenty of storage in front compartments for personal gear, including both a full-size tablet and 15″ laptop – 9L total capacity
  • Perfect carry-on luggage size – keep all my camera gear with me while traveling plus personal gear
  • I can get off the plane and hop right on the trail without rearranging anything
  • Daisy chains, ice axe loops, compression straps, and webbing straps on waist belt for attaching other gear
  • Stretchy side pockets for water bottles, tripod, light stands
  • Hidden tripod mounting option on front of pack
  • It looks like an actual backpack
  • Rain cover included

The price is maybe a little on the high side at $249, but I already had experience with ThinkTank’s top-notch quality so I was definitely willing to spend a little more on a bag that’d last.

The 2.9lb BackLight 26L has room to carry just about all of my camera gear (including Mavic Pro drone).  Before going for a day hike I can just take out whatever I won’t be using to lighten the load.  This lets me use this one bag to keep all of my gear organized & together for storage too.

The obligatory “gear explosion” photo

You can’t talk about camera bags without this photo.  For a 26L bag the BackLight can carry an impressive amount of gear, all arranged in a Tetris-like fashion.

backlight

All items on the ground fit in the front pocket, side pockets, and on the waist belt webbing.

Sony a7ii w/ 24-70mm f/4 lens | Sony a6300 w/ 18-105mm f/4 lens | Sony 10-18mm f/4 lens | Sony 70-200 f/4 lens | GoPro Hero5 Black w/ spare battery, filters, mounts | Godox TT600s strobe & X1Ts remote trigger | coiled flash cable | DJI Mavic Pro w/ spare battery & filters | Gnarbox storage backup & editor | iPad Mini 2 | MacBook Air 13″ | Anker 20100mAh battery | Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom | Sirui T005KX Tripod | spare batteries for camera & flash | headlamp | strobe diffusers | 32″ reflector/diffuser | Peak Design camera rain shell, Med & Lg | MindShift’s Filter Nest Mini & filters | cleaning supplies

Hiking with MindShift Gear’s BackLight 26L

I’ve gone on a number of day-long hikes carrying all of my gear just to see how comfortable the bag is – over a hundred miles so far.  I even carried the gear I knew I wouldn’t use.  Will this backpack work for long days hiking over summits and walking through airports?

Generally the bag is comfortable with a heavy load.  The waistbelt has the right padding in the right spots to keep the load on your hips without giving you hot spots.  Adjusting the hip belt, shoulder straps, and sternum strap is easy.  The bag only comes in one size, so if you have an exceptionally small or large frame you may experience some difficulty getting the adjustments right for a comfortable carry.  But that’s the story with all camera backpacks.

The carrying capacity of the BackLight 26L is deceiving.  It doesn’t look or feel that large on your back, but the interior compartment can hold a lot of gear.  And securely, too.  The camera compartment is rigid and padded to keep everything safe.

backlight

The BackLight in another hiking configuration for me – no drone or 18-105mm lens, add GoPro Karma grip and Gnarbox.

Don’t let the small length & width fool you while maneuvering through tight spaces though; the pack is somewhat thick when loaded with personal gear.

The other thing I noticed about the BackLight 26L that I’ve noticed with most other camera packs is the lack of ventilation in the back.  There are a few air channels to keep some air moving through but my back does get sweaty when working hard.  This is just the nature of camera backpacks; you can’t really curve the frame in the back to keep it completely off of your back.  It is comfortably padded though.

Access to all the compartments is pretty easy.  You can take the shoulder straps off while keeping the waistbelt on and slide the pack around to your front to access the camera compartment.  A neck strap keeps the back flap open while you’re changing & cleaning lenses.  The zippers have large pull rings and this will make it easy in the winter when wearing bulky gloves.

You can minimize the need to rotate the pack around your waist by securing your camera to the shoulder strap with Peak Design’s Capture Clip.  I’ve also added ThinkTank’s Little Stuff It to the waistbelt, holding an extra battery and cleaning supplies.  I’ve also put ThinkTank’s Lens Changer 15 V2.0 on the other side of the waistbelt to easily swap between wide & standard zoom lenses.

With this setup just about everything I normally use is accessible without needing to stop and move the pack.

Flying with the BackLight 26L camera pack

I’ve flown over 22,000 miles with the BackLight 26L now, between Iceland, Costa Rica, Kauai, and mainland United States.  It’s certainly a great airporter as I thought it would be when I first bought it.  I keep my iPad and snacks in the front pocket and take them out when I get to my seat.  The bag fits just fine in the smaller overhead compartments like in the CRJ-200 aircraft.

Final thoughts on the BackLight 26L

Yep.  Finally found it.  A new bag for my smaller & lighter Sony alpha mirrorless kit to use for storage, airplane travel, and long day hikes.  That’s what I really wanted, a comfortable multi-use pack just like this.  I’ve been using ThinkTank’s gear for about five years and am familiar with their quality, and I can tell that this carried over to the MindShift line.

I was so impressed with the BackLight 26L that within a few days I purchased their smaller SidePath backpack for an even smaller daypack (review coming soon).

mindshift

For as much gear as this bag can carry, it sure has a nice low profile!

Where you can find the BackLight 26L – and the new 36L

You can purchase the BackLight 26L direct from MindShift for $249.99.  Shipping is free and everything I’ve ordered from MindShift was on my doorstep the next day!

If you prefer to shop at Amazon, you can find it here too for the same price and fulfilled by a different vendor.

Just as I was wrapping up this review MindShift announced a bigger version of the 26L, a BackLight in a slightly larger 36L capacity.  This may suit DSLR shooters better than the 26L that works great for mirrorless camera systems.  You may also purchase this bag from the above links.

The BackLight packs comes in both a charcoal and a “Greenfield” light green color.

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