Review – Mindshift Gear Firstlight 40L Camera bag

mindshift-bagAs a traveling wildlife photographer I am very often completely dependent on my carrying system (as it is fancily called) in the field. In layman’s terms it is also know as a camera bag :) A good bag is essential for me and many other wildlife- or other type of photographers. There are many types of camera bags but personally I use exclusively a backpack. My previous backpack gave up on me gradually by literally coming apart at the seems. Somewhat of a disaster if the contents of the bag slowly starts slipping out undetected on your way to a hide on the Finnish/Russian border for example…

For my recent trip to The Maasai Mara in Kenya I was in dire need of a new backpack. I did extensive research online about different backpacks. I looked at F-stop, Lowepro, Tamrac etc etc. I always found something I didn’t like whilst browsing around. My previous pack had an insert inside the actual bag. This meant that to open it I had to open 2 zippers every time. This became very annoying over time and I definitely didn’t want one of those again. I needed it to be on the larger side to fit a variety of lenses. Some of them on the larger side of the spectrum. On the other hand I don’t want a backpack which is too large due to airline regulations regarding hand luggage.

After some careful consideration I started looking into the Mindshift Gear packs and they seem to tick most of my boxes. The guys at Mindshift Gear were kind enough to supply me with one of the Firstlight 40L packs for my upcoming trip to Kenya. Now, anyone that has visited The Maasai Mara for a safari knows that you don’t do much gear-carrying since you are more or less constantly in your vehicle with your backpack next to you on the seat. So it is not really a proper test of the comfort of the backpack over a longer period of time. So, to get a more complete overview of the system I also used it extensively once back home.

Some basics:
Exterior Dimensions: 13.8” W x 21.7” H x 9” D (35 x 55 x 22.9 cm)
Interior Dimensions: 13.4” W x 20” H x 7.3” D (34 x 51 x 18.5 cm)
Front Pocket:  Weight: 6.0lb (2.7kg)
Volume: 40 Liters
Price: Around $330 or €295 (at the time of writing)

Size and Space
Firstly, I would like to say I easily packed all my necessary gear in the pack. 2 camera bodies, 300mm f2.8 with lens hood and camera body attached, 70-200mm f2.8, 2 teleconverters, 16-35mm f4, 105mm f2.8 macro, 15mm macro, Speedlight SB700, Macbook Pro 15″ plus a variety of smaller stuff such as extra batteries, memory card cases, filters, essential tools etc. The rather squarish design is really paying off. I don’t feel the gear is so crammed as it was in my previous backpack. Especially at the top of the pack where the more squarish design gives you that little bit of extra space. Overall it is definitely spacious enough. Worth to mention is that it also has a dedicated hydration pocket of 3 litres. The fact that I can keep my 300mm lens with lens hood and camera body attached is a great advantage for me since I can be ready to shoot in an instant. That the bag is so spacious obviously has the drawback being a larger bag overall. I must say although I could fit the bag in the overhead compartment on the plane it was a little bit tight. If you do a lot of air travel with your bag, I would consider the smaller 30L version  if you are not desperate for space.

Comfort
mindshift_firstlight_30l_shoulder_straps_harness_system_front_view-dsc_7819_large-221x300Although it looks somewhat bulky with its more square design it is remarkably comfortable even over longer periods of time. My bag, fully loaded, can easily weigh 15-17 kg when I am out and about so for me it is very important that the bag is steady, comfortable and with a good support system. The Firstlight is simply amazing in this regard. The shoulder straps are padded like there’s no tomorrow. Love that! The hip belt is also well padded and sizeable which is great. Too many backpacks has just a thin strap as a hip belt which isn’t very comfortable and doesn’t give much support at all. You can also adjust the straps in all kind of ways which gives you the opportunity to make it suit your individual body type. The adjustable torso-harness also gives a great way of customising the bag to your personal requirements. All this boils down to an extremely comfortable backpack even on those longer days with a fully loaded tool box.

Verdict
My conclusion after having used this bag both as a carrying system whilst working locally and more of a portable storage system in Kenya, is that it is extremely complete. Simple, solid and functional… Not too many fancy solutions that in my opinion often turns out to be a bags downfall anyway. So far, I have only 1 thing to say about this bag that might be improvable in my opinion. The laptop pocket. Although there is the space for a laptop, it is not padded at all. This is of course easily solved by placing your laptop in a padded laptop sleeve before putting it in the bag. But I think I would feel more comfortable with some kind of padding there. If you are happy with the sleeve-solution I must say it really is a great bag which I can honestly recommend to anyone.

Please read more about MindShift Gear and especially the Firstlight 40l here