I'll admit that I am a bit of a Think Tank fan boy as the Streetwalker Hard Drive is my favorite all-around camera backpack. Because of this, it was natural to look at Think Tank's sister company, Mindshift Gear, when I was looking for a larger hiking backpack. After looking through all the various options offered by Mindshift Gear, I opted for the Backlight 36L because it looked like it made the best use of its size. I have been using the backpack as my every-day bag for about three months as of writing this article.
The Backlight 36L is a no-frills backpack. There is not a rotating bag inside like with the Rotation 180. It is just a big, beefy bag with lots of room to store all your gear. You access all the gear through the back panel, which opens with a nice, smooth and large zipper. The zipper is definitely high quality, but I felt like it was not quite as smooth around the corners as I am used to with Think Tank bags. I think part of that may be the stiffness of the bag with the thickness of the zipper, but it was not a big deal. I would gladly take that exchange over dealing with a cheaper zipper.
The Main Compartment
I like the access through the back panel on this bag due to the nice, thick waist strap. With the waist strap, it is easy to swing around to access the gear without removing the bag from your waist. There is a strange elastic cord on the inside of the back panel that was pretty annoying to me at first. I almost removed it, but then I decided to do some research and figure out what it was for. It is actually a pretty ingenious little cord as it is designed to fit around your neck to hold the back panel open for longer periods of time if you are doing something like changing out a lens and you cannot put the backpack down because you are hiking in a river or something like that. I still find it a little annoying when unzipping the bag and wish there was a less intrusive way to incorporate the cord, but it will be nice to have when it is really needed.
There is a really cool feature in the main compartment that I need to take more advantage of. It is called the cord attic. At the top of the compartment is a little pull down divider that is perfect for storing all your cords, chargers or other odd-shaped smaller pieces of equipment that you don't want to pack into normal camera dividers.
The bag has a separate zippered pocket that easily fits a fifteen inch laptop. I love this because I find it tough to squeeze my computer into tight pockets on a lot of smaller bags, but there is no issue at all with the Backlight 36L. There is also a separate pocket for a tablet and plenty of extra room for other items. I love having open space in the pockets to store non-camera gear like extra clothes, food and other items. This pocket is great for hiking, but with the laptop and tablet pockets, I feel like it is a little more tailored to travel. For me, that is great because I travel more than I do big hiking trips and it is nice to have a bag that is good for both purposes. If you only want a bag for hiking and are never going to be carrying a laptop, this may be a little wasted space for you. The Lowepro Whistler didn't have a good laptop pocket, but it may fit your needs better if you never carry a laptop.
The bag also has another smaller front zippered pocket that is great for smaller items you might want easier access to like gloves, keys, maps and so forth. There is also a top pocket where you can fit a small item like your phone. I use it often for extra batteries and my remote cable.
The side pouches are also very nice. They are on both sides of the bag, which I really like because then you can put your tripod on either side and you still have another pouch for a water bottle. And, you don't have to squeeze some little bottle in either. These pouches are plenty big to carry a big water bottle that will actually keep you hydrated on a long hike in the desert heat.
The interior pockets in the main compartment are nice zippered pockets perfect for protection and still easy access for things like extra memory cards and batteries.
For an outdoor bag, I really like the fabric on this backpack. The exterior fabric has a water-repellent coating. Although, I haven't tested it in much rain (thank you Vegas), I would be confident taking it out in wet conditions for a decent period of time without the rain cover. It does come with a nice rain cover though if you are really stuck. I would guess it compares to the water protection on the Streetwalker bag, which I used in a huge rainstorm in Costa Rica. The bag performed flawlessly in a huge downpour that left me sopping wet, but my gear was bone dry.
This is a Big Bag!
As this is a big bag, it is not going to fit under an airplane seat so you cannot use it as a personal item, but it is carry-on compliant so you should not have to worry about that. Although, you will want to be careful how much you attach to the outside of the bag if you want it to fit easily in an overhead compartment. The outside of the bag has lots of straps to allow you to attach all kinds of additional gear. It also has dedicated tripod straps on the front and sides of the bag, which is a feature I really like as they both have advantages. This bag can carry a large tripod too. In fact, my Oben travel tripod was almost too small for the separation between the straps!
With how big this bag is, it is no surprise that it can fit a lot of big gear. So if you are working with a large body with an extra battery grip and big glass, this will work really well for you. It can fit two gripped bodies with 4-6 extra lenses. It is a bit of overkill for my mirrorless system, but it is nice to fit my cameras in sideways with the grip side out for easier access. It also opens up a lot more of the main compartment for non-camera items, which I love when traveling.
The comfort of the Mindshift Gear Backlight 36L is a real advantage of the bag. It is great for even long hikes and heavy use as there is a ton of padding everywhere you will want it. The waist strap is really nice and comfortable. It tightens and loosens super easily, which is key for a good heavy backpack as you want to be able to cinch it real tight to take the weight off your shoulders. It also has a nice chest or sternum strap that is adjustable. That is another feature I really love as you can get that strap wherever you want for the most comfort just by sliding it up and down.
The Mindshift Gear Backlight 36L is a really solid bag. As I said before, there is nothing that blew me away with this bag. There is not some special thing that makes this the perfect bag, but it is a great bag that does everything it is supposed to. It is comfortable, great for traveling and hiking, and can fit an enormous amount of gear. The quality of the bag is outstanding. I feel comfortable recommending this bag to any photographer that has large gear, likes to carry a lap top and does a decent amount of both hiking and travel. I am confident in saying the investment will be well worth it for if you fit this bag as it will last you many many years and provide a great bag during that time.