From the day it arrived, the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L has been one of my favorite and most-used camera backpacks. What do you get when you make the 26L smaller? You probably already figured that answer out from the review title but ... you get a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L and when the additional capacity of the 26L is not needed, the 18L is often the answer. Most often I have been using the 18L as my carry-on personal item (note that its dimensions are slightly big for this qualification) when flying with a larger pack and also sometimes when hiking about with a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system or small DSLR kit.
Let's take a tour of this photo backpack/daypack (much will be review of the 26L tour).
The color of this backpack is referred to as "Charcoal". Stylishly optional is the outdoor-appropriate color called "Greenfield" (the color of my 26L). Perhaps the next color that draws your eye is the green found on the very large, glove-ready zipper pulls that are attached to very substantial and easy-to-use zippers. The green pull tab is used to separate the hook-and-loop fastener holding the tripod attachment strap in its pocket. The 8" zipper above this pocket provides storage for relatively flat items up to 3.5" in depth (to 4" if flexible). Also included on the top of the case is a very strong, nicely/modestly padded handle.
Front and center on the back of the pack are the moderately padded, contoured shoulder straps. These straps are adjustable and the sternum strap is also adjustable, for both length and height. Strong attachment points are available on the shoulder straps as are two short elastic straps.
Better seen in the next image is that the back of the pack is significantly padded with provisions for airflow to prevent overheating.
The large double-pull zipper covering three sides of the back provides access to the camera gear section of the case. The padded waist belt with a wide web and modern buckle is the other obvious part of the back of the pack. Suffice to say that there is plenty of length adjustability in the belt. With a narrow waist, I'm often dealing with the extra strap, trying to keep it in the elastic keeper bands.
On the right side of this case is a large elastic pocket with an adjustable elastic strap at the top. It is ideal for a water bottle, granola bars, and many other items including the feet of a tripod. A pair of compression straps are provided to keep the overall backpack size minimized or to lash in a tripod, additional/replacement layers of clothing, and other gear.
The right side of the case mirrors the left side with the addition of a medium-large diameter elastic cord at the bottom, suitable for lashing a coat or similar object.
Thoroughly describing the bottom of the case creates a very brief discussion. Basically, there are a pair of small attachment loops on the back and a pair of large loops (ideal for hiking poles) on the front.
The front of the case includes a considerable number of attachment points in a variety of types including a pair of adjustable elastic loops near the top, ideal for holding hiking poles. Twin zipper pulls open up the front of the pack. This lid does not open completely and expanding sides of the pack prevent the contents from spilling out. Leave the top/side compression straps attached to access only the top of this section or release the straps to most-fully open the front section.
This section provides versatile storage for personal gear such as clothes and food, camera and lighting accessories, etc.
A padded storage pocket is provided for a laptop (my Dell XPS 13 fits) and a separate less-padded pocket holds a tablet, papers or anything similarly thin. Additional small pockets are provided to hold pens and business-sized cards.
Below the main zippers on the front of the case is another zippered pocket, measuring about 8.5" wide by 10" deep. Small and thin items fit best here.
MindShift Gear (Think Tank Photo) states that there is 5L of total storage space in these various front pockets. How that space is configured for use is up to you. For example, if you pack a laptop, a tablet, and something thick in the smaller front pocket, you will have less space for other items. Especially nice is that this case readily adapts to how you want to use it, including compressing down to just large enough to hold your primary camera gear (and compressing down under the personal item size limitation I was targeting).
Think Tank Photo/MindShift Gear designs only very high-grade backpacks and this is one is no different.
Here is MindShift Gear's description of this case's construction (backed by a strong warranty):
Exterior: For superior water resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellant coating, plus the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. It also has highest-quality abrasion-resistant YKK® RC-Fuse zippers, 420D velocity nylon, 420D high-density nylon, 320G UltraStretch mesh, 350G airmesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Interior: 210D silver-toned nylon lining, hexa-mesh pockets, high-density closed-cell foam, PE board reinforcement, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Despite the high quality materials being used, this backpack remains quite light.
As this backpack does not provide an externally-visible business card slot, I am using a Shacke Mini Luggage Tag on this and all of my cases.
Here are the dimensions for the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L (with the 26L dimensions included for comparison – metric measurements on the right):
|Exterior (WxHxD):||10.6" x 18.5" x 7.1"||11.4" x 20.3" x 7.9"||27 x 47 x 18 cm||29 x 51.5 x 20 cm|
|Interior (WxHxD):||9.4" x 16.7" x 5.5"||10.2" x 19.3" x 5.9"||24 x 42.5 x 14 cm||26 x 49 x 15 cm|
|Laptop (WxHxD):||8.9" x 13.8" x 0.8"D||10" x 15.3" x 1"||22.5 x 35 x 2.1 cm||25.5 x 38.8 x 2.5 cm|
|Tablet (WxHxD):||8.7" x 10.2" x 0.6"||9.3" x 10.2" x 0.6"||22 x 26 x 1.5 cm||23.5 x 26 x 1.5 cm|
|Weight:||3.5 lbs||3.9 lbs||1.6kg||1.8kg|
|Volume:||4.0 gal||5.7 gal||18L||26L|
I often suggest laying your gear you propose to carry in a pack out on a table to see if it will fit within the available size.
This backpack has a somewhat thin for its height profile that is good when maneuvering in tight places. The above dimensions keep the BackLight 18L easily within the current USA airline carryon baggage limitations. I have been carrying a MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L for my airline carry-on pack and using the Backlight 18L as my personal item. Before copying my approach, ensure that your 18L's packed size does not exceed the limits imposed by your airline. A stuffed-full case is less likely to comply.
The weight of this backpack, considering the size and capacity, is very low and that is always appreciated. When carrying two backpacks through airports and hotels, I reverse the 18L, carrying it as a front pack along with the 40L on my back for a well-balanced overall load.
While the dimensions are great for determining what fits in a case, seeing gear in the case is often helps us visualize the capacity capabilities. Here is one typical DSLR configuration I carried:
Shown in the above pack are two Canon EOS 5Ds R DSLRs, one with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens mounted and the other with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens mounted. In the remaining space are 10 filters that could be substituted for an additional lens, batteries, etc.
Note the reversed camera orientation that is highly efficient for carrying dual camera and lens setups. The padded dividers provided in the early 26L backpacks did not easily facilitate this orientation setup and I communicated this need Think Tank Photo. The Z-shaped divider included with the 18L is perfect and the reversed orientation works great.
Note that the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens can be swapped with the 100-400mm lens in the above configuration. Also note that the cameras shown are without battery grips – installed grips and pro bodies will not fit in the normal orientation.
In the loaded view below, the Backlight 18L is shown packed with mirrorless gear and ready to fly beside the MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L.
Note the Sony a7R IV (just) fitting in vertical orientation in the bottom-right of the 18L. Also note that there is a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens under the bottom-right-most gear in the larger pack. That is a lot of gear compactly fitting into two backpacks and more gear/clothing filled in the remaining open spaces. Once on location, I can use either or both backpacks for the day's needs.
The Backlight 18L's lid has a pair of large semi-transparent pockets ready to hold thin items such as filter wrenches, garbage bags, memory cards, microfiber cloths, and other similar items. A small neck strap designed to hold the lid open when the pack is being accessed while attached by the waist strap is provided inside the lid (I removed this strap). A laptop and other gear are in the 18L lid in the just-above examples.
Here is MindShift Gear's list of features for this case:
*Check with your airline for current carry-on requirements
Why did I want to include the Backlight 18L in my kit and write a review of it? Probably few would think that I didn't have enough camera cases (a bit of CCCHD) and the Backlight 26L was already optimal for many uses. Still, there are times when I don't need that much pack and those times are happening with increased frequency when using mirrorless gear. I loved the quality and features of the 26L and having the same in a smaller pack was ... perfect.
While not completely unique, a feature that I especially like about this pack is the rear access to the camera gear and I like this for a couple of reasons. First, the back of the backpack and the shoulder straps can stay clean when putting the backpack on the ground for camera gear access, which in turn keeps your clothes clean. Another benefit is that one's arms can be removed from the shoulder straps and the backpack can be rotated on the waist belt for fast gear access without fully removing the pack and without putting the pack on the potentially wet/muddy/unstable/etc. ground. This also aids in keeping your clothes and pack clean. When the primary backpack lid used to access the camera gear is also used for storing other items including lunch, jackets, a tripod, etc., opening that weighted/bulky lid can become awkward and can even cause the resting pack to become unstable if the terrain is not flat. In this case, the gear lid has no external pockets and opening it is unlikely to destabilize the pack.
The way the load is positioned in this case is another big advantage it has. This pack will allow you to take your laptop or tablet along, but with this design, there is little penalty (one thin padded divider) in terms of overall pack size to have this feature included if you don't take the device or if you take it out, such as upon reaching your destination. Often, a backpack's laptop storage section is against your back, causing the heavier weight of your cameras and lenses to shift rearward, away from your back, which is a disadvantage primarily when not carrying the device. Moving the weight balance of your pack rearward pulls back on your shoulders and pushes forward on your hips and this will become uncomfortable over time as you want the weight balanced as closely to your body as possible, ideally pressing straight down on the hip belt. You can't change the weight (without leaving something behind) but how the weight is aligned on your body can be changed. Cameras and lenses are generally the densest items you are carrying and having them close to your back is good for ergonomics.
With the (usually lighter) personal gear (or whatever you want to carry) being positioned behind the camera gear, the pack can expand or compress as needed at any time. Take all personal items out and the pack can be nicely compressed. With no compression strap crossing over the camera gear storage section's zippers, accessing the gear is faster and the BackLight 26L design allows for this.
Being able to get the 18L onto a plane as a personal item is another huge benefit this case has for me.
The Backlight 18L is an intermediate-priced backpack. While it is half as much as some larger, higher-end packs, it is more expensive than the economy-grade backpacks. For the high-grade construction and design, this pack is worth the price.
The MindShift Gear BackLight 18L photo backpack used for this review was provided by Think Tank Photo (MindShift Gear).
MindShift Gear has another great compact camera backpack, the Trailscape 18L. I've been using a TrailScape 18L for a long time and have come to really appreciate this compact model. The BackLight 18L has the same capacity and similar interior and exterior size, shape, and design. Why change?
The Backlight 18L's advantages include:
The Trailscape 18L's advantages include:
If the lighter weight is very important and you don't need the waist belt, the Trailscape 18L may be the better option. Otherwise, I'll take the Backlight.
As I said in the Backlight 26L review, camera cases are a big part of my life and good ones definitely make life better. When the thoughtfully designed, high quality BackLight 26L joined my kit, life definitely got better. With the already very good Trailscape 18L in my kit, I can't say that the Backlight 18L made life dramatically better, but it was a good step forward in this regard.
I've hiked many miles in the Rocky Mountains and in Acadia National Park with this pack on my back and have no regrets in the Backlight 18L choice. I love products like this — I can recommend them without any hesitation and know that a very high percentage of those following my advice will be happy with their choice for a win-win scenario.
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