MindShift Gear FirstLight 30L Hands-On Review

MindShift FirstLight backpacks

MindShift Gear is a division of camera bag manufacturer Think Tank Photo that’s aimed at creating packs and gear with the outdoor enthusiast in mind. While most camera bags are intended for a working pro who’s transporting gear from location to location, the MindShift line is designed instead for the photographer engaging in activities and braving the elements.

The MindShift FirstLight 30L, part of the FirstLight series, which includes 20L, 30L and 40L capacity bags, has quickly become one of my favorite all-around camera bags, thanks to its comfort, clever features and durable construction.

The FirstLight 30L is, according to the company, “for extended days of travel…[and] comfortable enough for a long day on the trail.” I’ve recently been taking the FirstLight with me on photographic assignments that involve airline travel—especially a segment with a puddlejumper, and some active shooting component.

MindShift Gear FirstLight backpacks

For example, on a recent Sony media event in Santa Barbara, I knew I would have to transport my camera gear, plus the gear I would get when I arrived, and keep my valuable glass and bodies safe, even with a flight on a small Embraer jet. While the 30L was big enough to hold several mirrorless bodies and lenses, a laptop, all of my audio recording gear, as well as a tripod strapped to the side, it was still compact enough to fit in the tiny overhead compartment.

The interior of the FirstLight 30L has the same padded Velcro® dividers found on most bags, with ample padding to prevent damage to equipment. The ballistic nylon bottom prevented the bag from getting scratched, even when I dragged it to me across rocky terrain.

The laptop/tablet pouches are on the front flap of the FirstLight, which lacks the padding of the interior of the bag, so it’s a good idea to be careful when unzipping and lowering the front flap when loaded with computer gear. If I were planning to take a MacBook Pro into the field, I’d opt for a bag with better computer compartment padding, but my laptop and tablet usually stay in my hotel room when I’m on an outdoor shoot.

MindShift Gear FirstLight backpacks

A tripod can be carried on the sides or the front of the bag. Carrying a tripod on the sides will block either the side handle (on one side) or the dedicated 3L hydration pack sleeve, but I don’t like to put a tripod on the front of a backpack, as it blocks access to the gear and makes the bag tough to stow under an airline seat. Instead of a hydration bladder I put a water bottle on one side and a tripod on the other side and, again, it still fit under the seat in front of me or in the overhead on all of my flights.

The straps on the bag are incredibly comfortable, with generous waist straps, comfortable chest straps and (a nice touch) a height-adjustable strap system that makes the bag adjustable to users of different heights. At 5.42 pounds unloaded, the bag isn’t superlight but not heavy, either, and is durable enough to protect expensive gear.

MindShift Gear FirstLight backpacks

Zipper pulls on the bag are beefy and easy to grab, even with gloves, and a bevy of zippered areas allowed me to store keys and other travel items.

I wore the pack for several days, schlepping it across a few mountains and onto buses and planes with no back soreness and no problems with the construction or use. Aside from the unpadded computer section (something cured for smaller laptops by using a sleeve) and the floppiness of that weighted front flap, this is a perfect all-day bag.

The MindShift FirstLight 30L is available for $279, and more information is available on their website.

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