Mindshift Backlight 26L Camera Backpack Review

As I write this (October 2018), I’m sat on the interisland ferry between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. I’ve already been travelling for a few weeks and have another couple of weeks still to go. For equipment, I’m packing the Fuji X-T2 with 18-135 lens together with the Fuji 18-55, 10-24 and 50-200mm lenses. I have a set of 8 Kase Wolverine glass filters, Lee Seven 5 filters, 7 spare batteries, memory cards, and a tripod.

Why am I telling you about all this equipment? It’s because I want to talk about the forgotten accessory. No, I don’t mean something I forgot to bring. I’m talking about something that’s very important to the landscape photographer but which we largely ignore. And that’s our camera bag.

Part of the 20km trek I did using the Mindshift Backlight backpack

My Camera Backpack History

Over my past 18 years pursuing landscape photography I have acquired quite a few camera bags and backpacks. There is the Lowepro shoulder bags in eight different sizes. A couple of shoulder bags from manufacturers that don’t exist now. Two Lowepro Slingshots. A couple of Lowepro backpacks that you can’t buy now. And two Tamarac backpacks.  Unfortunately, most of these have felt like a compromise. I say this because each purchase always leaves me with a reason to buy another bag.

For a long time, I used a Lowepro Mini Trekker. The first one lasted 12 years before I consigned it to the bin but then next one was in tatters after only 18 months. I also found that the bag wasn’t quite large enough to carry all the equipment I need. It certainly wasn’t large enough to carry the additional outdoor gear/food I need if I head out onto the hills for the day. For a time, I paired this backpack with a small front pack but that was just uncomfortable and hot.

My Camera Backpack Needs

Now I’m on an extended trip I need to carry all my equipment in a single pack. I also need my camera bag to carry food, water and outdoor gear as I have some serious trekking planned. Following some serious investigation, I found a few camera bag manufacturers have finally woken up to the needs of the landscape photographer. They have started to produce packs that can carry camera equipment and other gear you might need out in the landscape.

The Mindshift Backlight Backpack

Having researched the market, I decided to invest in a Mindshift Backlight.

The Mindshift Backlight backpack for photography

The initial pack I purchased was the 36L version. Not because I wanted one this size but because I wasn’t paying enough attention and thought I had purchased the 26L. Fortunately, Wex was very good about this and exchanged the pack without question. Although I didn’t use the 36L pack I did look inside it and the storage is cavernous. You could easily fit two serious camera outfits in this pack as well as waterproofs, extra layers and food/water for the day. The only drawback is that it would be quite heavy.

After switching to the 26L I found I still had plenty of space for everything that I needed to carry (which is what I introduced this article with). Even then, I could pack in more lenses and accessories without much problem.

Mindshift Backlight Features

Here are a few of the points that I’ve noticed whilst using this pack:

  • The camera area is quite deep allowing you to carry shorter lenses standing on their end as well as larger bodies. I’ve tried the pack with my Nikon D800 which easily fits together with the lenses.
  • The pack dividers can be easily repositioned to fit your equipment. They are well-padded and quite stiff which strengthens the pack, giving it a quality feel.
  • The front pocket has an inside pouch for a 13” laptop and a separate pocket for a 10” tablet. There isn’t much padding in these pockets, so I have been carrying the MacBook inside a padded cover. It still fits but this takes up some of the space in the front pocket for outdoor gear. Despite this, I can still carry waterproofs, a spare fleece, and food for the day. This though is a day pack rather than something you would take for overnight camping.
  • There are two outer side pockets, one on either side. These are very deep and swallow a 1L water bottle or flask. You can even use them to carry a tripod rather than use the tripod mount on the back of the pack. This is how I have tended to use the pack with a tripod on one side and a 1L water bottle in the other.
  • There is a separate rain cover which folds into a small pack. You could carry this in the backpack, in one of your pockets or hang it to the outside of the pack from one of the loops. Fortunately, I haven’t yet needed to use this but I’m now heading to the mountains of the South Island and expect the weather to deteriorate.
  • The straps and belt are very sturdy and well padded. There is a lot of adjustment following the same design as a good walking backpack. Once it’s properly adjusted you can carry a lot of weight in relative comfort. I have used the pack fully loaded on several 10km – 15km forest treks and the quite demanding 20km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. In all cases, it was just as comfortable as my regular trekking backpacks.

Mindshift Accessories for the Backlight

As well as the Mindshift Backlight backpack, I purchased two accessories. The Mindshift Filter Hive and Mini Filter Hive to carry my filters. I purchased the Mindshift Mini Filter Hive, which holds four 100mm filters, first. This is well constructed and a great filter holder. I had intended to strap it to the side belt of the pack but when it arrived it didn’t have any way to attach it other than to hang it from a loop. That’s when I decided to purchase the larger Filter Hive.

The Mindshift Filter Hive allows me to carry a combination of circular filters and 100mm square filters. This also features a sturdy attachment for the side belt of the backpack. I have used it attached to the side of the backpack but found it to pull the belt more than I would like when fully loaded. It’s fine for shorter treks but not for something longer. A nice feature though is that the filter hive has a removable centre. This allows you to lift out your filters with their padded inserts and place this inside the backpack, which is what I tend to do.

Problems with the Mindshift Backlight

As much as I like the Mindshift Backlight backpack, it hasn’t been without its problems; well one problem actually. The zip on the camera compartment has been catching the inside seam and has caused the material to fray. Looking closely, it seems to be a combination of rough metal on the sturdy zip and the well-padded construction pressing the zip against the seam. I’ve already been in touch with Wex Photographic who will replace the pack.

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Overall, I would say that the Mindshift Backlight is by far the best camera backpack I have used. It meets my current needs as a landscape photographer very well. Every part of the pack and accessories feels well designed and of high-quality. The only real downside is that quality costs. This pack isn’t cheap in the UK although it may be more affordable in other countries. Finding a supplier for the pack may also be another challenge but if you are looking for a combination camera/outdoor backpack, the Mindshift Backlight is worth a look.

September 2019 Update

Wex Photographic did replace defective backpack on my return. Since then I’ve used the replacement pack for most of my Landscape Photography work. Often, I’ve had a couple of camera systems in the bag which is a reasonable weight. Many of these trips have also involved a fair amount of walking. The pack remains very comfortable even when carrying a lot of weight over uneven and rocky ground. The earlier problem with the fraying seam hasn’t reoccurred and I can see the lip inside the bag is much smaller than in the original bag. The bag is expensive and having used it in all conditions I would like a little more space for outdoor gear. Despite these niggles, the Mindshift Backlight is the best camera backpack I have used.

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