I have touted the Mindshift Gear Backlight 36L as one of my favorite camera backpacks for hiking for quite a while now. Unfortunately, I fly a lot of budget airlines and it is simply too big to be used as a personal item, and I don’t like paying for a carry-on bag. With that in mind, I decided to give the Backlight 18L a try for all my budget airline trips.
My overall impression of the Mindshift Gear Backlight 18L is that it is a really comfortable bag made of high-quality materials. It is organized really conveniently and is easy to use. My one big complaint is that I like a bigger backpack, and feel like this bag could have expanded its usable size just a little bit.
The organization of the Mindshift Gear Backlight 18L was one of my favorite things about the backpack, although I wish a few of the really tight pockets had some extra give to fit more gear when needed. The bag opens from the back, giving you rear access to your camera gear, which I have really come to appreciate in a camera backpack. I like this because you can access your gear without actually removing the backpack. It is also really nice because you don’t have to lay the soft, padded part of the bag that goes against you body in the dirt when you are accessing your gear. I would much rather have the front of the bag in the dirt. Finally, the main compartment has a couple small pockets on the access flap. These pockets were super tight though so there wasn’t much hope of getting more than a few little things in them. I used them to hold extra memory cards, extra batteries and my lenspen.
Also on the access flap is an elastic cord. With my Backlight 36L, I had no idea what this weird dangly cord was for a long time. Finally, I looked into it and learned the loop is designed to go over your head so that when you are accessing your gear while wearing the bag, you can keep the compartment open without hands. While that is cool in theory and useful in situations where you are changing out a lens, I have found it a bit more annoying than useful. The cord often gets in the way of the zipper, and I usually have to tuck it into one of the interior pockets on the flap to keep it from annoying me. On my Backlight 36L, I eventually just removed the cord so I didn’t have to worry about it. That is nice that it is easily removed so you get your pick of whether you want it or not.
The camera compartment features the usual dividers you would expect. The actual dividers are stiff, but padded well to provide good protection. Importantly, the velcro on each divider is very strong so you don’t need to worry about it shifting on its own, although they are easy to move around and adjust, which is important to me when I travel. For the size of the bag, it can actually fit a decent amount of camera gear. You can easily get in 1-2 bodies, with battery grips, in addition to multiple professional lenses.
On the other side of the gear compartment is a laptop compartment that runs the full height of the bag. The compartment has a padded sleeve that will fit a 13-inch laptop and then a bigger open compartment for other gear. Unfortunately for me, I have a 15 inch laptop. I didn’t notice this limitation when I got the bag, but luckily, I could just barely fit my laptop in the compartment outside of the actual laptop sleeve. That meant there was no protection for computer, but that is not something I am usually worried about when I am travelling.
The very front of the bag has a nice pouch. This is probably the pocket I was in and out of the most. I used it to carry my Platypod (the best travel tripod there is), my computer mouse, headphones, charging cords and spare camera batteries.
Each side has nice big pouches in it. I like these pockets quite a bit. They are plenty big to fit a decent-sized water bottle or some extra clothes. I also like the loops and extra lash on the front that help you to attach extra gear. There is also a tripod attachment that pops out with straps on the top and bottom. This is probably my least favorite part of the backpack. The top straps are on the opposite side of the zipper, preventing you from unzipping the laptop compartment without undoing the tripod.
Finally, the very top part of the backpack has the world smallest pocket ever. You can just barely squeeze a phone charger and earbuds in it. This is another place where I feel like a little extra give could have made this pocket a little more useful.
I was really impressed with how comfortable this bag was, given its small size. I always feel like bigger bags are more comfortable because the have more padding and wider straps, but the Backlight 18L matched a lot of the padding and straps as the 36L.
The padding on the rear of the bag is quite thick and soft. When I stuffed the bag so the rear was bulging out, it wasn’t the most comfortable. As I wore it for a little while, however, the bag seemed to shift a little bit until it conformed to my body and was comfortable again.
The shoulder straps are one of the biggest players when it comes to comfort and I really liked the shoulder straps on the Backlight 18L. They are nicely padded and take advantage of a nice ergonomic curve in their design, which keeps them from getting into your arm pits where other bags can cause uncomfortable chafing.
The chest strap is easy to use and adjust and helps take the weight off your shoulders, which is really nice because I usually pack a lot of weight in this bag for a solo trip where I don’t take any other luggage. The waist strap is even nicer though. It was very comfortable without being too bulky, and it was super easy to quickly adjust so you could tighten and loosen the strap depending on your needs.
One nice thing from my experience with the bag is that I haven’t really had any significant sweating in the back like you would expect with a thickly padded bag. The way the pads are located and their good balance between comfort and bulk seem to help keep the heat from building up too much.
I feel like I don’t need to write much here. I have reviewed dozens of products from Mindshift Gear and Think Tank. Everything they make is top notch quality. My favorite part of every Mindshift bag is the zippers. They always work flawlessly, and are the the perfect balance between heavy-duty and unobtrusive. They also have great grips that make them easy to use.
The exterior fabric is great quality and feels very durable. The fabric itself has a durable water-repellant coating that helps make the bag water resistant. This is pretty common in most high-quality bags now, but it is such an essential feature that I appreciate. Additionally, the underside of the exterior fabric has a polyurethane coating. The technical jargon for the materials 420D velocity nylon, 420D high-density nylon, 320G UltraStretch mesh, 350G airmesh, nylon webbing and 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
The interior fabrics are 210D silver-toned nylon lining, hexa-mesh pockets, high-density closed-cell foam, PE board reinforcement and 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Overall, I really like the Mindshift Gear Backlight 18L. It is a great camera backpack for someone that wants a smaller bag for any reason. For me, it is perfect for use as a personal item on budget airlines. It is very comfortable, extremely durable and fits quite a bit for its size.