Not too long ago, I reviewed the Mindshift Gear Backlight 36L, which is my favorite hiking camera bag at the moment. I love the Backlight 36L because it is very functional without any big gimmicks, and is just always very reliable for me. However, it doesn't work for every situation. It is a fairly big bag, and I don't always want a big bag, and sometimes can't take it on a trip when I don't wan't to pay for a carry-on bag. With that in mind, I was searching for a smaller camera backpack I could use as a personal item for budget airlines. I tried a couple bags, but it just made sense to go with the Mindshift Gear Backlight 18L. It is basically the exact same bag as the 36L, but smaller.
After using the Mindshift Gear Backlight 18L for the past few months, I am pretty happy with it. It is a really comfortable and durable bag made of high-quality materials. Like the 36L, it is organized really conveniently and is easy to use. At least, as convenient as possible with a smaller bag.
Rear-Accessible Camera Compartment
Like most bags these days, the Backlight 18L opens from the rear (the part against your bag). This rear access allows you to get to your camera gear without actually removing the backpack. When you do put the backpack on the ground to get gear, you can lay the front part in the dirt rather than the soft part that goes against your body, another benefit. The actual organization of the main compartment is pretty standard and what you would expect from any camera bag. It has padded dividers that you can adjust however you want. I found it to work quite nicely. For how small the bag is, you could also fit quite a bit of camera gear in there.
Finally, there are a couple small pockets on the access flap. These pockets were pretty small and didn't have any give so they weren't useful for much beyond batteries, memory cards, and cleaning cloths.
On the front side of the backpack is a computer pocket that runs the full height of the bag. The pocket has a smaller padded sleeve inside that will fit a 13-inch laptop or tablet. The pocket then has a bigger open area in front of the sleeve. I was really worried about this because I have a 15 inch laptop that I travel with. Luckily, I could just fit my computer in the main part of the pocket and zip it up, leaving no protection for the computer if it were to get hit, but better than nothing. If you had a smaller computer, it would be great to have that extra space to utilize.
The very front of the backpack has a nice pocket. I used this pocket all the time for my computer mouse, cords, filters and stuff I wanted easy access to. This pocket is not much different than what you would expect from most any bag, but the big thing here was how easy it was to access it using the nicely-designed zippers
Each side of the backpack has nice big pouches. They are plenty big to fit a decent-sized water bottle or to attach your tripod. I think these side pockets are absolutely essential to a good backpack and I am always surprised when I come across a backpack that doesn't have them. Why would anyone not want pockets on the side to fit extra gear that is easy to get to.
There is also a dedicated tripod attachment that pops out with straps on the top and bottom. While I like having the option to attach the tripod in the center as well as the side of the backpack, the way this is set up is probably my least favorite part of the Backlight. The top straps are on the top of the backpack, above the zipper, preventing you from unzipping the laptop compartment without undoing the tripod each time.
Finally, the very top part of the backpack also has another very tight pocket. You can just barely squeeze a phone charger and earbuds in it. While it is great to have this pocket
I was pretty impressed with how comfortable this bag is. I always think bigger backpacks are more comfortable because they have more padding and wider straps, but the Backlight 18L packed a lot of the padding in the lumbar support and the straps are still wide like the 36L. As long as you don't stuff any weird-shaped objects in the back, you will be comfortable with this backpack.
The shoulder straps obviously have a big impact on the comfort of carrying a backpack. The Backlight 18L has great shoulder straps on the Backlight 18L. They are nicely padded and have a good ergonomic curve, which keeps them from getting into your arm pits and chafing you on a long hike.
The chest strap is nice as well. It is easy to use and adjust and helps take the weight off your shoulders. The waist strap is even more important. It is a really great waist strap for a smaller bag. It is very comfortable without being too bulky, and it was super easy to quickly adjust so you could tighten and loosen the strap at will.
One nice thing from my experience with the bag is that I haven't really had any significant sweating in the back like you would expect with a thickly padded bag. The way the pads are located and their good balance between comfort and bulk seem to help keep the heat from building up too much.
Materials and Build Quality
I have reviewed close to a dozen products from Mindshift Gear and Think Tank on Improve Photography. I guess I am a fanboy at this point, but everything they make is always excellent quality. The thing that first drew me to their bags was the zippers. They have great grips, are easy use and are smooth like butter!
Other than the zippers, the rest of the backpack also feels very high quality and, importantly, very durable. The exterior fabric itself has a durable water-repellant coating that helps make the bag water resistant. This is what you would expect from a higher-end backpack, but it is awesome to have so you aren't required to pull out the rain cover when there is just a light rain.
Overall, I really like the Mindshift Gear Backlight 18L. It is a great camera backpack for anyone that doesn't need a bigger bag for lots of gear.