Review of the MindShift BackLight 26L Backpack

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PWC-Mindshift-Backlight-26-5844It sounded like another gimmick but I’ll give you the short of it: The MindShift Gear BackLight 26L works as a backpack that can rotate around your body, and give access to all your gear without getting muddy on the trail.

Mindshift has tried the rotating thing before (see my previous review of the Rotation 180 here on DPS) and this time they are trying to make the entire pack come all the way around your body for easy access. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Let me show you how it works, and some aspects that need attention.

An overview

The pack looks normal enough; side compression straps, just enough padding on the hip belt, zippers here and there, and good back support.

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It has loops on the back for securing ice axes, trekking poles, and other miscellaneous whatnot. Inside the main compartment on the back is space for a laptop, a tablet, and even a book. Just not a thick book. There is an organizer for pens, cards, and the top section has a small pocket with a hook for car keys. Kind of the normal items we expect from a photography backpack.

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But there is one key difference in the shoulder straps. They are attached, and cut in such a way, to enable full removal with the hip belt still attached. The pack is then rotated around so you can access all your goodies inside the camera compartment. You can see how it works in the sequence of photos below.

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Inside you can store a fully gripped DSLR and big old 70-200mm lens. You will need to modify the highly customizable storage space, but as you can see, not only will the camera and lens fit, but there is room for a second body, secondary lens, all kinds of filters, batteries, flash, cards and even a hat.

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My personal configuration above is meant for a DSLR with a grip. The standard images below from Mindshift are without a grip on the camera. You can technically fit the gripped camera upright, bit it will poke into your back a little.

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The main flap has a loop on it, that I think is a little goofy, but I see why they added it. It is meant to go around your neck to hold the flap up and out of the way, as seen here.

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Great in concept, but I found it annoying in practice.

What About the Other Features?

Some features I like on the pack:

  • Just the right amount of space for two DSLR bodies and my gear (as seen in the photos above).
  • Organizer inside has room for what I need: iPad, pens, business cards, note pad, dental floss.
  • Comes with a rain cover.
  • Ample attachment points.
  • Hipbelt is easy to adjust.
  • Deep water bottle holders.
  • Seven months of constant use shows little wear and tear. Zippers are great.
  • Fits under a typical airplane seat. Great for taking aerial shots on commercial flights.
  • The sternum strap goes low enough! This is a big one for me. It’s been a bane of most bags that for a taller torso, the sternum strap rides too high, sometimes at my neck. This strap goes extra low, or as I like to call it, just right.
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Then there are some things I can see that need improving:

  • Just not enough space for a sandwich. Makes a day hike harder, as bananas and other squishables don’t work as well.
  • To get into the main back compartment fully, the compression straps need to be removed. Minor annoyance.
  • That neck loop thing used when opening the pack? It often sticks out and gets in the way of the zipper.
  • My wife doesn’t like the color, but I do (it also comes in charcoal, which hides even more dirt and use).
  • There is a mount for a tripod, but it hangs below the bottom of the pack. So it works (and is great how it hides away on the top and bottom of the pack) but it means you can’t easily set your pack down.

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Testing it in real life

This has been my travel, and around town pack for the last seven months. This is why the pack you see in the photos here looks a little worked in. I’m trying to give more of my review items a solid, semi-lengthy test. How better to tell how a pack rides on your back than to wear it 50+ times?

One of my gripes with the pack is the overall amount of usable space inside. When I place my iPad in the sleeve, I can’t imagine fitting an actual laptop behind it. Even sliding in a legal pad of paper takes some pushing. I think it’s built for one or the other. A thin laptop could work, I suppose.

The same goes for fitting in a couple smaller books. Fitting one book in the very back pocket works just fine, but when I try to place a second book inside, I have to wiggle it in. This isn’t the end of the world, by any means, and it does keep the unit nice and compact for fitting under a plane seat. It’s something to be aware of if you normally carry lots of planners, books, and bulkier items.

Now then, about that spinning around thing this pack is built for.

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I know, it looks goofy that way, but once you get accustomed to NOT taking off the hip belt to get to your stuff, the system works quite well. NOTE: If the pack is filled with lots of heavy glass, as in the stock photos above, it will tip far forward and feel odd in the wrong places for some of us.

I’ve mentioned in other reviews that I often travel with my family, and they are prone to leaving me behind when I stop to take a photo. This pack has seen me be left in the dust far less. Its ease of swinging around and getting into the pack, has me taking more shots than I would with a pack that I have to fully remove for my camera.

When swinging the pack to return to my back, I find my shirt tends to bunch up, but that’s a minor thing. On the dusty and wet hikes I have been on, I have greatly appreciated this pack’s ability to stay off the elements and keep my gear clean. It comes with a rain cover that does not need to be removed to get to your camera. Bonus!

I like the way the pack rides for my height (6’1″ or 1.8m). I also appreciate the dual water bottle holders of ample size, so an extra large bottle does not tip out easily.

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Conclusion

I wouldn’t have kept testing the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L backpack for months on end if I didn’t like it. It’s a great size for two cameras and the essentials, while allowing me to carry the basics of my mobile office.

It’s not perfect for a day hike, in my opinion, because there isn’t enough space in the back to pack things like apples, bananas, or sandwiches, without them getting a little scrunched. If I don’t fill the main camera area with gear, I can fit food in there. So it can get the job done if you have space. There is space on the top for keys, headphones, and charging cables, which makes them easy to get to on a plane when the bag is under a seat.

The bag retails for $249.99 in the US and can be found on Amazon.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Mindshift Backlight 26L
Author Rating
4

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Panama, Alaska, Seattle and Los Angeles. He is also the creator of 31 Days to Better Photography & 31 Days of Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

  • gtvone

    Thanks, Peter. 🙂

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  • minimad

    I have an F-Stop pack (Guru) which is about the same size and i can do the same thing here to rotate the pack on the hip belt – i’m not sure i understand what mindshift have done specially to the straps to make it work ‘better’. My F-Stop also allows you to choose different sized inserts to balance your gear/personal items ratio.

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    Try one and see 🙂

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