I am going to start this post about the MindShift BackLight 18L Camera Pack with a little bit of a rant about camera packs in general. In 20 years of taking photos, I can tell you that I have yet to find the perfect pack for me. In fact, I have probably gone through more than a hundred back packs to date. Some of my packs have been abused to the point of complete failure. While others have never made the cut because of my shooting style. It is safe to say that I am not a photo backpack’s best friend.
I have tried just about every pack out there. I have even had packs custom made for me. There is one pack that still lingers in my head as the best pack I have ever owned. After more than a decade of trusty service this pack eventually fell ill to my torment too. I personally designed it for mountain bike photography. The only problem, I used it, and eventually the zippers and seams opened like a dam’s flood gates. The guy who made if for me is no longer in existence either. So now what?
Enter the MindShift BackLight 18L Camera Pack
When MindShift announced this small-by-comparison-to-today’s-manufacturers-size-standards backpack, I immediately drafted an email to get my hands on one. This camera pack is only 18L! Competitor, F-stop’s smallest camera pack is 25L. When most camera pack manufacturers shrink or create a smaller style backpack, they make some weird concoction that looks like it belongs in outer space, not on a photographer’s back. So when I saw that MindShift had basically taken their BackLight 25L and shrunken it, I was enthusiastic about the possibilities.
MindShift BackLight 18L Quality
The BackLight 18L is superbly constructed. Seams are tight. MindShift chose 420D velocity nylon and 420D high-density nylon for their build materials. That fabric is coated with a water-repellant so water beads off instead of being absorbed. This means it is less likely that you will need a pack cover, though a seam-sealed rain cover is also included. The MindShift Backlight 18L also features YKK’s highest quality, abrasion-resistant RC-Fuse zippers. If I am going to break anything, it will always be the zippers. Thank you MindShift.
The MindShift BackLight 18L is manufactured with integrated exterior padding. Your gear is well protected on all sides, but the pack has less padding bulk than we see from other manufacturers. Cough – LowePro. In addition, the pack is pretty light weight. Though it is not the lightest pack I have felt, the quality construction and thoughtfulness make up for any discrepancies.
Back-panel access is key.
In my opinion, the single most important feature in a camera pack for a photographer focused on the outdoors, is back-panel access. This allows you to access your gear without dropping your harness in the mud, snow, or wet grass of the early morning. If a photo backpack does not have this feature, I won’t even consider it at this point. This feature is standard issue on most of MindShift’s packs.
The harness is a bit old-school but still comfortable on 20 mile rides.
Strap Me in Coach
The MindShift BackLight 18L has a well-padded harness system. I will say that the construction of the harness feels a bit old-school. Harness systems on newer backpacking packs come with thinner foam that is more shock absorbent so that the shoulder and waist straps have less mass associated with them. The newer style straps you see on packs in other activity groups also breathe better than the straps and back pad found on the MindShift BackLight 18L. This is by no means a deal breaker though. The harness system is still comfortable and functional.
The adjustable chest strap slides on rails and is infinitely adjustable. This is something that you will find on newer packs for hiking, backpacking, and cycling.
The MindShift BackLight 18L also has plenty of compression straps to stabilize your camera load. It also includes an integrated tripod carrying system and additional nylon webbing in key locations like the waist belt should you need to attach a lens case to carry a lens you don’t always shoot with.
18L MindShift BackLight
I see these 80L packs from companies like F-stop and I wonder who actually owns that much gear and can actually carry that amount of weight for any distance. If I am riding a mountain bike to shoot photos I want to go as far, as light, and with as little effort as possible. The MindShift BackLight 18L is an absolutely perfect size for this scenario. I can fit my Leica SL body, 3 lenses from 16mm to 280mm, a host of filters, and everything that I may need for changing weather and a broken bike. The secondary storage pockets are perfect. MindShift thought of everything except …
The Missing Link
The hydration reservoir pocket! Yes, the MindShift BackLight 18L includes a laptop pocket. A pocket for an iPad. AND space for extra non-photo related equipment, but NO hydration reservoir pocket. They do have two exterior side pockets that will each fit a 32oz Nalgene bottle, but bottles are added weight. A hydration reservoir weighs almost nothing empty so you are just carrying the weight of the water.
I got around this by stuffing my hydration bladder into the iPad pocket, but if the bladder isn’t hanging in the sleeve as you drink from it, you will eventually compress it. This in turn folds the bladder on itself and cuts off the water supply. So I think MindShift needs to go back to the drawing board here. I am carrying less and less when I travel now and would rather see one sleeve for a laptop OR iPad and then a secondary pocket for a hydration reservoir with integration for hose and bladder support.
Who Is This For?
The MindShift BackLight 18L camera pack is for any photographer who wants to lessen their load. It is a compact camera backpack with a well thought out design, which in turn allows you to carry a lot of gear. This pack is slim, allowing you to use it during long hikes or like me when mountain biking far into the backcountry. I have taken this pack on 20 miles rides and never complained about the weight or how that weight effects my riding. Basically, it doesn’t. While I want hydration reservoir integration and maybe a bit more active styled harness system, I have spent all summer using this pack for outdoor adventure photography and still really, really like it.
Track standing master.
W/ the MindShift BackLight 18L on board.
MindShift BackLight 18L - Positives
Extremely well made
Thoughtful design for the gear photographers carry today
Fits a ton of stuff for its compact size
Comfortable on 20 mile mountain bike rides
Good price point for options and craftsmanship
Great color choices
It’s a mini version of their BackLight 26L and 36L with many of the same features
MindShift BackLight 18L - Negatives
No hydration reservoir compatibility
Old school harness system and back padding
Get you some of this.
MindShift BackLight 18L
Get your very own – BackLight. It is the best camera pack on the market for the its size.