MindShift Backlight 26L Backpack Review

Introduction

  • MindShift Gear (founded by the creators of Think Tank Photo) makes a great line of backpacks that appear to work well for the hikes I like to do with my night photography.  I've always thought highly of their reputation for quality gear, so with one of their premier backpacks on-hand (the Backlight 26L), I was able to put it through its paces to see just how well it would do out in the field.
  • I'll be honest in saying that I did not buy this backpack.  I had the opportunity to review it for MindShift Gear and I was happy to do so.  That said, I'm including my honest opinions on it without restraint.  If there are areas where it did poorly, I won't be afraid to say so.
  • To test the backpack, I took it out three times all at night - snowshoeing twice up to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and one photo adventure without hiking under the Geminids Meteor Shower in the San Luis River Valley near Alamosa, Colorado.
  • In this review, you'll see a combination of images from my direct experience using the backpack and images from MindShift Gear's website.

Product Information

Getting Started

Mike tests the Backlight 26L on an evening hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

  • To be useful for my purposes, I expect a backpack to carry a pretty good amount of gear and do it comfortably.  Beyond that, I like a pack that's well designed for easy access to my gear - including both photo gear and items to stay warm. Finally, I like a pack that holds all my gear without being too big & bulky.
  • Mind Shift Gear makes this day pack (Backlight 26L) and it appears it could work well for night photography with a focus on carrying photography gear, sturdy construction, and a great design.
  • First Impressions
    • Built Tough
    • Holds A Lot Of Photo Gear
    • Easy To Get In/Out
  • Ratings & Scores
    •  1-10 with a 10 being excellent

Review

Photo Gear

  • Does It Hold & Protect Photo Gear? - Score: 9
    • The Backlight 26L holds a surprising amount of photo gear for a backpack that's just 26 liters.  From the pictures, I expected it would hold a camera body and several lenses (which it did with ease).  I was especially pleased to find that it also held my other items like first aid kit, accessories bag, filters, and headlamp - all in the same central compartment.  The pack's flexible panels works well for holding lenses and those odd shaped items with ease.  With room to spare, it held all of the gear I typically like to hike with.  :-)
    • With rigid panels and tough material, I got the feeling my gear was indeed well protected inside the bag.  The only exception I saw (and I'd expect this) was the tripod which hangs outside the bag and is therefore exposed to the elements.  The pack does come with a rain cover for the really wet adventures.
    • On one occasion where I used my Nikon D800 with Battery Grip and L Bracket, I wasn't sure the bag would hold it well.  Even with all the extra height, the fit was a bit more snug in closing but the pack did well here too.
    • One of the things I really like about the Backlight 26L is the flexibility in how to secure a tripod.  With a big pocket on each side, I used them to carry two tripods and that worked well.  I also liked how well carrying one single tripod on the back middle worked with the dedicated pocket and straps - although it somewhat blocks access to pockets for non-photography gear.  Another option for the tripod is MindShift Gear's tripod suspension kit which lets you carry the tripod separately and have easy access to it without taking off your pack.
  • Is it Easy To Get Photo Gear In & Out? - Score: 9
    • Zippers are all easy to open with the main zipper for the photography gear gliding especially smoothly - even in the coldest winter conditions.  With an easy tug on the zipper pulls, my gear is all at my reach.  I especially liked how nice my Nikon D800 slid right into its spot - even with the wireless remote receiver sticking out a little bit.
    • I think the idea of accessing my gear without putting the pack down is only useful if I use it together with the tripod suspension kit so I'd have access to a tripod as well.  I shoot pretty much all my images with a tripod.  While I haven't tested the tripod suspension kit (meant for carrying your tripod separately) yet, I view this accessory as the best, most accessible way to access your tripod without having to take off your pack.  For those who really like the ability to rotate the pack around to your front to access gear without having to put down your pack, this may be especially attractive.  Aside from that, the tripod suspension kit makes items in the backpack feel even easier to get to when they're not covered up by a tripod.  Here's more information on the tripod suspension kit: http://www.mindshiftgear.com/products/tripod-suspension-kit.
    • With the ability to rotate the pack around to my front, I found my gear that much easier to access.  I especially liked the neck-cord that holds the back panel out of the way.   This was a nice touch!  I will admit that in testing, I found the bulk of my bigger winter jackets made rotating the pack around to my front a bit more challenging.  This wasn't a big deal and I know it's a lot easier without all the extra layers.  The idea of rotating your pack around to the front is a very good approach to shooting in places where you don't want to put down your bag.  Whether I use that ability to rotate the pack around to the front a lot or just on rare occasions, the gear is still very easy to access and I like the design.  FYI: If you like this design, you might also consider MindShift Gear's rotation180° line of backpacks.

Non-Photography Items

Mike has a tripod hanging on the back middle of the Backlight 26L and snowshoes on the sides.

  • Does It Hold Non-Photography Items? - Score: 9
    • I would consider the Backlight 26L a day pack - meaning it's good for going out for the day.  If you were looking at an overnight or a multi-day adventure, I would likely lean toward a bigger backpack.  With this in-mind, it does pretty well at holding some non-photography items like an extra layer, gloves, and a hat.  I found that I just slipped my extra layer in the area meant for a laptop and it seemed to fit well in there.
    • This area is a bit limited inside the pack though so it'll encourage you to pack smart and to use it for adventures meant for a few hours.  If you wanted any more than one layer, you'd be advised to look at bigger pack.  As a day pack however, the Backlight 26L would do very well!
    • It's nice to see the Backlight 26L also includes compression straps and loops that make carrying extra items like an ice axe, pad, or other items a breeze.  I attached snowshoes and carried them on the pack for some time with no problem.
    • When it comes to water, I like using either a bottle or bladder.  The bladders are nice from a convenience perspective but they freeze up on my winter hikes.  The bottles work better if I can put them inside the pack (like inside my extra layer) but there wasn't enough room for a liter bottle inside the Backlight 26L so the bottle went into one of the side pockets.  I didn't test with a bladder but it looks like it would work well in either a side pocket or the laptop sleeve inside.
  • Is It Easy To Get Non-Photography Items In & Out? - Score: 8
    • Generally speaking, I'd say the Backlight 26L does a pretty good job of giving me good access to my non-photography gear.  It has adequate pockets and zippers to do the job.  I especially liked the big side pockets that work well for either tripods or water bottles.
    • With the tripod hanging on the back however, I felt like my ease of access was significantly reduced.  I had to disconnect the top strap for the tripod every time I wanted to get into one of the compartments meant for non-photo gear.  I'll admit this was a minor inconvenience.  Fortunately, MindShift Gear provides two alternatives to hanging a tripod on the back middle and they're both good.  I really like the tripod suspension kit and just putting the tripod in one side pocket with a water bottle in the other.  My point here is that I would have preferred that hanging the tripod on the back didn't impede my access to non-photography gear if that were possible.  MindShift did well with the pocket for the legs and the straps for securing the tripod on the back middle so I hate being picky here, but the access issue makes that option a little less attractive.

 

Build

  • Is It Built To Last? - Score: 9
    • All materials are tough and strong.  They don't appear cheap in any way.
    • I found one tiny issue with the knot in one end of the neck-cord that came untied.  I just tied it back in a knot and I was good to go.  I consider this a minor exception to the excellent quality I saw everywhere else.  
    • I'm impressed with the quality and the workmanship.  I would expect this and other backpacks from MindShift Gear to last a lifetime!

 

  • Is It Comfortable? - Score: 9
    • The Backlight 26L includes all the adjustable straps needed to make it easy to fit my body and evenly distribute the weight.  Beyond that, the pads seemed to have curves right where they're needed - which made it easy to get weight on my hips instead of on my shoulders.  When I felt any strain, I found it was simply because I was carrying a lot of weight!  Limiting the number of lenses I bring, not carrying two tripods, and making sure to distribute the weight evenly are effective strategies in staying comfortable on the longer hikes - regardless of the pack I choose.
    • Panels and pads are nice and thick where they need to be (yet still soft to the touch) with the big zippered panel that accesses the photo gear feeling nice and flat against my back.

 

  • Does It Pack Small? - Score: 10
    • It's clear this pack holds a lot of photo gear - at least as much as I'd want to hike with.  It's also nice that it comes in a really small package that makes packing and traveling a lot easier.  Everywhere I tried to put it, it fit!
    • Considering how tough this backpack is, it feels very lightweight.

 

Summary

Mike sets up for a winter photograph with Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado while testing the MindShift Backlight 26L.

Overall Score: 9.0

Comments

  • Whether you're drawn to the ability to slide the pack around to the front to access your gear or not, the Backlight 26L is a very well-designed backpack for photographers.  It's ability to pack a lot of gear into a pack that travels so well says a lot about MindShift Gear's commitment to efficient backpack design.
  •  MindShift Gear and Think Tank Photo (a company started by the same founders) are known for having high quality products so it wasn't a surprise to see the Backlight 26L fit right in with that expectation.  Both materials used and workmanship were very high and the result is a great backpack I'd expect to last for a lifetime.

Recommendations

Backlight 26L With Tripod Suspension Kit

  • As a day pack, I think the Backlight 26L is a very good choice.  I was very pleased with how it met my needs.  It holds all of the gear I would want to hike with and then some and it's comfortable to wear.
  • My only concern (and this is not a significant one) was how easy it was to access my non-photography items when I strapped a tripod on the back of the pack.  It might be said that if that's the best gripe I could find, this should be taken as a sign that it's a really good backpack.  I like the balance of hanging the tripod on the back middle but I have some good alternatives to consider.  One very good option is to just have a tripod on one side and a water bottle on the other.  It may not look very balanced but from a weight perspective, it works well.  Finally, the tripod suspension kit provides a third good option for carrying a tripod.
  • Two thumbs up for the Backlight 26L!