The Shape Shifter backpack from Think Tank is the camera backpack I use most often when flying on airplanes. Its really unique design makes it perfect as a personal item or carry-on for the plane ride while keeping your camera gear protected and leaving lots of room for other belongings.
The Shape Shifter is designed to expand and contract depending how much space you need, and the pockets that hold your camera gear is completely different from anything I have used before.
When I first got the backpack, I didn’t understand why they would only have 4 places to store lenses/bodies when most camera backpacks have like 10 dividers. I have now been using the Shape Shifter for over a year and I have realized the design is actually pretty amazing for a lot of the photography trips I do.
The Shape Shifter Design
The Main Compartment
Since I touched on it above, I have to start with the really main pocket that holds your camera bodies and lenses or other large camera gear.
Pretty much every single camera backpack I have ever used has a very similar design, which is a main compartment full of padded dividers. The Shape Shifter stores your gear in a completely different manner. Inside the main compartment are 4 fairly large padded pockets. 3 of the pockets are standard pockets with drawstring tops perfect for lenses or flashes. The fourth pocket, which is designed for your camera body, isn’t so much of a pocked as it is a set of soft sides that velcro together so you can fit your camera in regardless of the set up.
This set up isn’t going to work very well if you carry a ton of different lenses, especially big ones; but, if you are like me and prefer to travel with just your 3-4 staple lenses, there should be plenty of room. The pockets are actually a bit large for my smaller mirrorless lenses, but they still stay very secure and I don’t worry about them at all.
The other thing about the design I have really come to appreciate is that I can easily reach in from the top of the bag and pull gear out with the bag in a standing position and without having to unzip the entire bag. As most readers probably are familiar with, most backpacks require you to lay them down and fully unzip the pocket to get to all the camera gear. With the Shape Shifter design, you can just unzip the top of the pocket, reach in, and pull out the lens or camera you want.
This compartment is also where the backpack gets its Shape Shifter name. Depending how much gear you have in this compartment, it can be compressed by using a separate zipper, which makes it a much flatter backpack. I find this is great for flying on those smaller airplanes where almost nothing fits under your seat or in the overhead bin.
The laptop compartment is the other large compartment on the Shape Shifter. The laptop pocket in this compartment easily fits my 15.6 inch laptop with plenty of room left over to pack in more stuff when I am travelling.
The front of the Shape Shifter backpack has four additional smaller pockets. The larger two pockets are very useful for fitting several smaller items. I always put gear in these pockets that I want quick access such as spare camera batteries, charging cords, headphones and even my set of filters, which I carry in the Filter Nest Mini. The smaller two pockets on the front of the backpack are useful for carrying smaller items, like a cell phone.
There is one more pocket. The final pocket is a water bottle holder on the side of the backpack. It is a fairly large pocket so you can fit a big water bottle or anything else you want. The pocket is a bit bulky to have on the side of your backpack, so it is nice that they made it detachable so you can take it off if you aren’t using it.
Pass Through for Roller Luggage
One other feature of the Shape Shifter that isn’t a pocket is the pass through for the handle of your rolling luggage. This is a really great feature because you don’t even notice it is there unless you want to use it, then it is incredibly convenient.
The Shape Shifter is a very comfortable backpack for what it is. It is not designed as a heavy-duty, long-distance hiking backpack. I wouldn’t want to use if for that, but I have found it more than comfotable for my normal uses for it such as small hikes, travel and day-to-day use. The padding and ergonomic straps are more than adequate to be comfortable carrying it in such instances.
The Shape Shifter also has a waist and sternum strap, which are essential for any backpack I use. With the Shape Shifter, I really like the style of the waist and sternum straps. The straps add a lot to the comfort of carrying the backpack and, very importantly, the straps are very easy to adjust. The Shape Shifter also has smartly-designed loop holders for the straps that don’t get in the way. These help so you don’t have long straps dangling down when you tighten the waist strap.
Finally, the tripod attachment works well too. I like having the tripod centered on the center of the bag so you don’t have a weird weight distribution.
Overall, I have been very pleased with my use of the Shape Shifter backpack. It has fulfilled a need I had in getting a backpack I like using that can be compact enough to carry on a plane as a personal item rather than an actual carry-on bag.
While I was skeptical of the design at first, I now really like it and it makes the backpack very convenient to use. The Shape Shifter is a perfect backpack for a hobbyist photographer that likes to travel. It is perfect for carrying a camera body and a few lenses, while having plenty of room for clothes, a computer and lots of other gear. I feel like this is about 75% of people that use a photography backpack, and it definitely includes me.