A pack for the wandering photographer
Ever since I started hauling around a DSLR with more than one lens attachment, I had a strong desire to find a sturdy backpack that was suitable for travel/hiking as well as carrying large amounts of equipment. The combination of these two features can be difficult to find especially when you also want the bag to be comfortable to carry. It’s tricky and some backpack designers get the equipment part right, but not the comfort — or vice versa. I found a great companion backpack in the Streetwalker Pro v2.0 by Think Tank Photo. The pack is a bit compact but wears well and fit most of the gear I have. That said, I decided it would be great to have something a bit larger to house all my gear in especially for longer day trips or vacations. When looking into the options that are out there I decided to check out the FirstLight camera backpack from MindShift Gear (a Think Tank Company).
The FirstLight backpack is designed for traveling outdoor photographers. This series of bags come in varying sizes — 20L, 30L, and 40L. I have the 30L version. The pack is carry-on compatible should you need it for air travel and it’s considered ‘high capacity’ to be able to hold all your equipment. The backpack is contoured and has an 11-point adjustable torso harness that is designed to fit most men and women.
The backpack is made out of premium materials. It’s designed to withstand a trek The exterior of the bag is made with a durable water-repellant coating while the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. The backpack is also made with the highest quality abrasion-resistant YKK RC-Fuse zippers, 420D velocity nylon, 420D high-density nylon, 1680D ballistic nylon, 210D nylon, 320G DuraStretch mesh, nylon webbing, 350G air mesh, nylon webbing, and 3-ply bonded nylon thread. The materials used to make up the interior include 210D silver-toned nylon lining, belly-o mesh pockets, high-density closed-cell foam, PE board reinforcement, and 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
The 30L version of the FirstLight pack will house a 15” laptop within its front pocket and empty, the bag weighs 5.4 pounds. In addition to the remarkable materials used to make this bag, the FirstLight backpack also accommodates a hydration reservoir and has long lens capacity. The maximum lens size that can fit inside the camera compartment is the 500mm f/4 lens detached or the 400 f/2.8.
My first impressions of this backpack were positive. I love the look of it and love that it has specialized compartments for everything. I enjoy keeping my belongings compartmentalized and organized so seeing all the pockets right off the bat was a treat to me. I’m a huge fan of the zippered closures. They are very easy to operate — even one-handed. One of the first things I did when I got the FirstLight was to load up my photography gear. The bag comes with a cardboard insert that shows one possibility of how camera gear can fit inside the adjustable sections in the main storage compartment. The diagram features a Canon 1DX with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached. Now, I personally don’t have that extended lens, but my partner, Nick does, and along with his Canon 5D Mark IV, I attempted the same set-up for the main camera placement. It did work as shown in the diagram.
The provided image also shows four additional lenses, a filter kit, a Speedlight, and a flash. You can really fit a lot into the FirstLight 30L backpack. Since I mentioned what I don’t have in my kit above, let me outline what I do have.
- Canon 70D with the EF-S 55-250mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM attached
- EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II
- EF-S 10-18mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
- EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
- EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM
- SpiderPro Hand Strap
- Altura Photo LCD Hood Sun Shield
- Meike MK-70D BG-E14 Vertical Battery Grip Holder
- Battery charger
- Various accessories in the mesh pockets
Even though I placed everything in a good spot, I think I’ve changed the layout of the bag three times since the initial installation. The velcro sections are easy to pull out and replace as needed. It has ample room for the list of items I mentioned and more. I felt like all the pieces of my kit were well protected and when I needed to readjust, it was no problem.
The bag travels extremely well. We took a family vacation to Florida (about a 900-mile drive) and it tucked away nicely in the bed of our truck with the rest of the luggage. All the camera gear was safe and sound when it arrived. Not long after that trip, we took a trip to our local zoo. We spent several hours roaming around visiting animals and taking pictures. I wore the MindShift bag the entire time. I had about 10-15 pounds of gear on my back, but thanks to the soft, padded straps and extra supportive waist harness, my weak back didn’t really notice. It’s the first time I’ve worn a backpack this large for that long and have it not cause more problems than it solves.
I have used some bags out there that have an easy access pocket when you sling the backpack to one side. This one does not. In order to get the camera or any of its accessories out, you will need to remove the bag and unzip the main compartment. Considering this backpack is designed for the outdoor photographer/adventurer, I don’t think this is really a ‘con’ per se, but it’s something I wanted to note. The side pocket is somewhat dual purpose. While it is designed to hold a hydration bladder, I found that because of its size it’s also great for smaller personal items like a wallet or even a mobile phone. There is a small pocket on top of the pack that is meant for personal papers and could be used for a mobile phone, but I’ve found the side pocket a bit more convenient.
The only real issue I had with this backpack is the sleeve for the laptop. It’s the front pocket and there is no padding on the outside of it. Therefore it’s dangerous to keep an unguarded laptop in that pocket. With the outer side of the pocket being just the lining material, I would recommend placing your laptop into an additional sleeve if you choose to store your computer there.
As a camera backpack for adventurers, I give this an A+. If you are looking for something a little more ‘all-purpose’ the MindShift FirstLight 30L may not be the right direction to go. I love how well this backpack carries weight but wish there was more protection for a laptop or tablet. It’s a tough bag though and will be a great option for someone who just wants to carry their camera gear safely and securely. I believe this bag will last a long time and continue to wear well into the future.