MindShift Gear has just updated their popular ROTATION 180? series of adventure bags with the new 22L, 34L, and Pro 50L+ V2 editions, each completely redesigned with new features for active photographers who need to always be on the move.
I have used and reviewed just about every adventure photography backpack on the market at this point, and each has its own unique features and characteristics that try to set them apart from the competition. As I have said in all my bag reviews, I believe in the right tool for the right job. That means I don’t want one bag that gets by as a jack of all trades; I want a couple of bags that do exactly what they are designed for exceptionally well. MindShift Gear attempts to separate themselves out in the adventure bag market with their very unique quick access secondary rotational waist pack system.
Last year, I reviewed the previous smaller 22L ROTATION180? PANORAMA after spending a month with it out in the American Southwest desert. Although there were things I thought could be improved upon, the rotational system surprised me with just how functional and smooth it could be. So, when Think Tank reached out and asked if I would be interested in trying out their updated version, I was curious to check out one of the larger sizes to see if it could better meet my needs.
Full disclosure, Think Tank made available a pre-release demo model for my testing. However, this is not a sponsored article, and the opinions and following review are mine alone; Think Tank hasn’t had any influence or feedback on my review process or this article.
Just like the previous versions in the ROTATION 180?, these are bags designed for outdoor and adventure photographers, but more specifically, they are for highly active, always on the move photographers. While I’m sure any photographer could find these bags useful, they really benefit those who find themselves shooting a race, marathon, or other sporting events where they are moving from one location to another or nature and wildlife photographers that need to pull out a camera quickly while hiking because they stumble across wildlife unexpectedly. Any photographer that might need to carry additional equipment like climbing gear or camping gear and still want to easily shoot on the move would appreciate it.
The latter describes my needs perfectly. That is why I decided to take a look at the Pro 50L+ version. If you are a wildlife or bird photographer who carries a full-size tripod and large lens, this is the bag you’ll want to look at. I often need to carry larger lenses on assignment in remote locations. Sometimes, I’m carrying a full set of climbing gear, but mostly, I want to be able to disappear into the wild for a long weekend and not need to carry two packs.
Each bag has the same overall design and core features, with the largest bag being designed more like a traditional multi-day hiking pack and the smaller being more of a day hike bag both in features and amount of gear it can hold. I was only able to test the Pro 50L+ so my review will mostly cover this bag. It’s clear that MindShift Gear looked at what features were desired in a traditional hiking pack when redesigning the 50L and also pulled several features from their Backlight series of packs. There are two standout features when first looking at the bag that are improvements over the previous version. One is a large stash pocket along the length of the front, perfect for storing rain gear or warmer layers. Lots of bags come with some sort of pocket on the front, but this is in addition to a weather-sealed laptop pocket underneath. It doesn’t have a zipper and is cinched down with two buckles, making it very easy to reach back and stuff in or pull out those extra layers of clothes. The second is the floating top pocket. These are often found on large expedition-style backpacks and something I’m very excited to see on a camera pack. It’s just a small pocket that connects to the bag via four buckles in each corner to cover the main compartment opening. However because it can adjust and be cinched down at all four corners, it is perfect for carrying a climbing rope, small tent, or sleeping pad.
The harness has 10 points of adjustment with height adjustments, making it easier to get a better fit for a wide range of body types. The back panel is made with an interesting angular and perforated cut shape covered in mesh. I found the feel to be very firm and comfortable but wasn’t able to test it on a really warm day to see just how well it breathes and keeps your back cool. It is definitely a major improvement over the design of the previous bag; yet, in my experience, even the best-ventilated back panel is going to leave you sweaty in warm weather.
Once properly fit and adjusted, the weight distribution is pretty good. I could easily scramble up some rocky areas with the pack fully loaded without it feeling like it would sway side to side. When hiking, you typically want your heaviest gear towards the middle against your back and attached on the outside, with the medium weight at the top and lightest gear on the bottom. Like most camera-specific hiking bags, there really is no way to organize your gear this way and maintain the easy access. So, there is a trade-off for the rotational quick access. There are a lot of ways to attach and configure gear to the outside of the bag, which does help to move some of the heavier bits to better locations.
You can break the bag down into three main sections: the ROTATION 180? 10L waist pack, the main 40L compartment, and the external pockets and attachment points. As the largest of the three bags, you really have a lot of room and ways to maximize your gear needs.
The large 40L main compartment is just that, a large empty space. At 40L, though, that is more than enough room to pack for a long weekend camping trip or plenty of climbing gear. If more photography gear storage is what you need, there is an optional padded insert called the Stash Master Pro that fits perfectly into the main compartment, vastly increasing the gear you can pack. It fits two gripped bodies and 4-8 lenses. It can fit a 150-600mm lens or a 70-200mm attached to a body vertically. It is fully padded with dividers and is also accessible from the back panel via a heavy-duty zipper. So, you can lay your pack on the front so as not to get the back dirty and still access the insert. At the top of the main compartment, there is a small strap and buckle for holding the insert from falling out or anything else you might have in there. The top section opens with a much better-designed drawstring closure rather than the zipper on the previous version. This allows for an extendable 6L section when needed. I very much prefer extendable top systems, as I find when on long trips, as you use consumables, it’s easier to pack the bag down smaller and keep everything from moving around.
The outside of the bag has a total of five external pockets, two of which have taped zippers for weather-sealing. In addition to the large stash pocket previously mentioned on the front, below that is a full-length weather-sealed compartment that fits a 16″ laptop. Realistically, you could probably fit two 16″ laptops in the pocket. There is also room to fit a 3 L water bladder with a hidden cutout for routing the hose. On the left side, there is another stash pocket with a drawstring closure that can be used to attach a tripod or hold additional water bottles or various other items. Above that pocket is another weather-sealed full-length pocket designed to hold a 3 L water bladder with a routing cutout as well. The last pocket is located on the top floating cover, which also has two little pockets on the bottom inside.
There is a hidden tripod attachment system located on the front panel that tucks away when not in use. It is smaller and less bulky than the one on the previous version. I prefer to use the side attachment system, so having it small and easily hidden is a nice feature. There are two attachment points for hiking poles, climbing axes, or even a monopod. Daisy chain loops cover the entire bag along with the front panel, top cover, and shoulder straps. Although a small feature, they really make a difference if you plan on taking longer trips. I would have liked to see some sort of pocket on the shoulder straps, but since Think Tank makes a lot of accessories that can be attached, it makes sense as a way for the consumer to customize to their needs. Of course, it is one more thing to buy.
The ROTATION 180? waist pack and system has been upgraded as well. The exterior of the waist pack is cleaner, with fewer places to possibly catch when rotating. It seems slightly firmer and more rigid. The door flap seems lighter, with a more mesh-like material, making it very easy to open and close. The magnetic locking clip is still there and still surprises me just how well it works. It always seems to find its way closed. The best new feature on the whole bag, in my opinion, is the new magnetic lid on the waist pack. The entire lid has hidden magnets that securely snap into place to keep the lid closed. It is strong enough that the first time, I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t open. On the inside, there is a small mesh pocket on the lid as well as a tablet compartment along the back. At 10 L of space, you can easily fit two DSLRs with lenses attached plus two small lenses, or a gripped body with lens attached plus 2-3 lenses, or a single body and 3-5 lenses. You can also fit a 70-200mm or 100-400mm lens attached to a body the long way. So, there are a lot of options depending on your needs.
Think Tank has been making bags for a long time; if nothing else, you know the bag is going to be made from good material and will hold up to a lot of abuse. After that, it comes down to whether or not a bag is going to meet your specific needs, because we all like and need different things. If you can’t see yourself taking advantage of the ROTATION 180? system, then you would probably be better served with a different adventure backpack. If you are the type of photographer that finds yourself regretting you didn’t have your camera out while hiking, stops constantly along the trail to capture that perfect light, or needs more room to carry all the extras, this might be a perfect fit for you. My only real complaint with the rotation system as a whole is when you have the pack on the ground, it’s a pain to get into the waist pack. It can be annoying, but nothing is perfect. I’d also like to see more high-end hiking backpacks like this come with a travel duffle bag. These bags are meant for traveling, and that is something you see with a lot of nice hiking packs. It just makes carrying through an airport or checking the bag easier.
I only have hands-on experience with the Pro 50L+, but if you have any questions about the smaller two bags, I’m happy to try to answer them in the comments.