MindShift Firstlight 40L Big Backpack Review

Introduction

  • MindShift Gear (founded by the creators of Think Tank Photo) makes a great line of backpacks that work well for the adventures I like to do with my night photography.  I've been reviewing their packs for a little while now and the latest model I chose was the Firstlight 40L.  I chose the big 40L model so it would hold all my gear including a bigger telephoto lens.  I had high expectations for the bag and I was able to quickly see if it was going to measure up.
  • 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'm not afraid to say so.
  • To test the backpack, I took it out numerous times - during in-field training sessions in Arches & Canyonlands National Parks and Monument Valley with Night Photography Workshop and shooting on my own in the Bisti Badlands.
  • In this review, you'll see images only from my direct experience using the backpack.

Product Information

Getting Started

  • To be useful for my purposes, I expect a backpack to carry a lot 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 feeling too big & bulky or like I have to squeeze items in to get them to fit.
  • I would normally have purchased the 30L but I wanted to be able to carry several lenses including a 70-300mm lens that I bought a little while ago and that's where the 40L would have the extra room I'd need to do that and more.  For most peoples' needs, I think the 30L would give them plenty of room and may well be the better choice.
  • First Impressions
    • Built Tough
    • Holds A Ton Of Photo Gear - 
      okay, maybe not a ton, but it's a lot
  • Ratings & Scores
    •  1-10 with a 10 being excellent

Review

Photo Gear

  • Does It Hold & Protect Photo Gear? - Score: 9
    • The Firstlight 40L handled every piece of gear I threw at it.  From my 6 lenses to the 2 light panels...  don't forget the filter kit and first aid kit.  And with most of the interior dedicated to photo gear, there's a place for everything.  Very well done!  :-)
    • The extra height of my Sony A7RII body with battery grip was easy to fit with the extra depth of the 40L.
    • With rigid panels and tough material, I got the feeling my gear was very well protected inside the bag.  The only exception I saw (and I expect this) was the tripod which hangs outside the bag and is therefore exposed to the elements.
  • Is it Easy To Get Photo Gear In & Out? - Score: 9
    • Zippers are all easy to open with the main zippers for the photography gear gliding especially smooth.  I especially liked how nice my Sony A7RII with Battery Grip slid right into its spot.
    • The only thing I can think of that might have made access to my photo gear easier would have been to allow access to the photo compartment through the flat back panel - like the MindShift Backlight backpack.  I'm not sure I would have preferred this alternative as it has both advantages and disadvantages.  Regardless, this 40L's design features a pack that opens through a zippered panel right behind the packs pockets - which I like.  So yes, I have to take off the pack each time I want to access my gear but I don't mind. 

Non-Photography Items

  • Does It Hold Non-Photography Items? - Score: 7
    • I would consider the Firstlight 40L a day pack - meaning it's good for going out for the day with your photo gear.  The lack of compression straps and room for extra supplies means it wouldn't be the best choice for overnights.  Instead, the pack is designed more for photo & processing gear than for non-photography items.  There is some room for a hat, light jacket (in the laptop sleeve), and gloves beyond your photo gear, but you'd be pretty well loaded up depending on the jacket.  If I were looking at an overnight or a multi-day adventure, I would likely lean toward a different pack with some overnight features.
    • The space in the outside pockets is a bit limited 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 either sacrifice one or more of the compartments inside meant for photo gear for clothes/supplies or look at different pack.  As a day pack however, the Firstlight 40L would do very well!
    • The Firstlight series of backpacks seems to work best with a bottle of water in one or both of the side pockets.  The 30L and 40L come with hydration pockets but I just tend to prefer the bottles. 
    • One area that did not go quite so well was in hanging the tripod on the back center of the backpack.  While this is convenient for the photo gear, it blocks access to and smushes anything you may have in the outside pockets.  If this is clothes, it just means you'll need to take the tripod off first to get to the clothes.  If it's food, you may have some smushed food.  On the serious side, this means the usefulness of the outside pockets is reduced when you hang a tripod on the back center of the backpack.
  • Is It Easy To Get Non-Photography Items In & Out? - Score: 6
    • Generally speaking, I'd say the Firstlight 40L does a pretty good job of giving me good access to my non-photography gear - when I don't hang a tripod on the back.  It has enough pockets and zippers to do the job - until I hang a tripod on the back.  Of course, the big side pockets work great and they aren't affected by a tripod on the back it sits right on top of the big horizontal and vertical zippered pockets so whatever you put in them will get smushed and blocked when you hang the tripod on the back.  And since this is my preferred approach to hanging a tripod, I just keep that in-mind.  Knowing this, I'm pretty careful about what I put in those pockets knowing I'm going to squash it with my tripod.  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.
    • I especially liked the big side pockets that work well for small tripods, water bottles, or anything else you can think of.

Build

  • Is It Built To Last? - Score: 10
    • All materials are tough and strong.  They don't appear cheap in any way.
    • 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 Firstlight 40L includes all the adjustable straps needed to make it easy to fit my body and evenly distribute the weight.  Beyond that, the pads had curves right where they're needed - making it easy to get weight on my hips instead of on my shoulders.  When I felt any strain, I usually found it was the result of my carrying a lot of weight!  Limiting the number of lenses and making sure to distribute the weight evenly are good strategies for staying comfortable on the longer hikes - regardless of the pack.
    • Panels and pads are nice and thick where they need to be (yet still soft to the touch) with the big back panel that feeling nice and flat against my back.

 

  • Does It Pack Small? - Score: 9
    • While I can't say that the 40L model is small, the 20L is a very solid choice for a daypack and it packs very small.
    • It's clear this pack (the 40L model) holds a lot of photo gear - with more gear weight than I'd ever want to hike with.  For me, this model isn't meant for a longer hike unless significant weight is removed.
    • Considering how tough this backpack is, it feels very lightweight.

 

Summary

Overall Score: 8.4

Comments

  • Whether you care about the ability to slide the pack around to the front to access your gear or not (which the Firstlight does not do), the Firstlight 40L 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 Firstlight 40L 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

  • As a day pack, I think the Firstlight 40L is a very good choice - especially with the 20L, 30L, and 40L options.  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.  It also works well as a trip pack where you take all the gear you think you'll need for a trip but pull out the big heavy lenses when you're hiking or know you won't need them.
  • 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.  This isn't a significant concern...  and with multiple options available for hanging a tripod, some might call it picky.  I'll say 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 with a small to mid-sized tripod.  The option I chose is to secure the tripod on the back and then I deal with the pocket access issues by putting just clothes in them.
  • When we're looking at the differences between MindShift Gear's backpack lines, I find the Firstlight and Backlight to be very similar.  One big difference I see is the "open through the back-panel" design of the Backlight that this Firstlight does not have.  Another key difference is the size choices on the Firstlight are nice at 20L, 30L, and 40L while the Backlight only comes in a 26L.  For my needs, I really like the Firstlight design and prefer it over the Backlight.
  • Two thumbs up for the Firstlight!  As a reminder, don't forget that I may have picked the 40L (and I like it) but I recommend a smaller version.  For most people, I think the 40L is bigger than most people need.