Pack problems

I have learned that there’s only one thing which is more difficult than finding the best camera gear, and that’s finding backpack that carries the gear. Three years ago I was sure I found the king of all bags, the F-Stop Loka. It was all fine and well, until one day I bought the mirrorless Sony A7.

I preferred to use the A7 to the Canon 7DII and the A7 is about half the size of the big Canon. I lived in Föne at the time, where I would only do local walks (as opposed to hiking), so I only needed a bag which carries the small camera and nothing much else. I got the Lowepro Flipside Sport AW 10L for this purpose, it’s good for walks and short cycling trips but not for hiking in the mountains.

I managed with these two bags until I got the A6300 last spring and stopped carrying the Canon as a second camera. I found that the small Lowepro can actually hold both of my mirrorless cameras with lenses attached, the problem is that it doesn’t hold much else besides that. While the Loka was just simply too big, I mean I currently use it as my travel pack because I can fit all of my camera gear inside the bag and it works as carry-on when flying. But when I go hiking, I never have all my gear – sometimes I only have one camera, sometimes both, and no extra lenses. Plus food and extra clothes. Therefore, I needed pack which was in between the small Lowepro and the Loka.

I did a lot of reading and comparing last spring and ended up with the Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW, which turned out to be a bit of a wrong choice. That’s the problem with not being able to see the bag in real life before ordering… the bag was bigger than I thought it would be, although it is smaller than the Loka anyway. But unlike the Loka, there’s only one compartment where you can put any bulky items, and that’s the camera compartment. So when I need food and thermos or a camping stove, I actually have to store them together with the camera. Yikes! I haven’t had a problem with it after using it all summer, but you understand that it’s not an ideal solution. Besides, the bag is butt-ugly. Not that it matters out there, but it’s just not the kind of backpack that you’re looking forward to carrying.

Lowepro 10L, Lowepro 20L and F-Stop Loka
Lowepro 10L, Lowepro 20L and F-Stop Loka

But when it comes down to it, the biggest problem with both the Loka and the Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L is that they are just too deep for the mirrorless cameras. While the backpacks are so much better suited for outdoors activities now than they were five years ago, the market hasn’t quite adapted to the mirrorless systems yet. You just simply don’t need so much depth with mirrorless gear.

Sony A6300 with 16-70/4 in the Loka
Sony A6300 with 16-70/4 in the Loka. Plenty of space!

Especially now that I’ve started mountainbiking, I need a pack that holds the camera tight so it doesn’t move around when going over bumps and holes. I’ve often felt how the camera bounces against my back when using the old backpacks and it gets me a bit worried, even if there’s good padding around the camera.

So I started searching for a new backpack again. It has to hold some extra clothing and food, and either a thermos or stove. A pocket for a hydration system is a plus. I finally found two candidates, the Lowepro Photo Sport BP 200 AW II and the MindShift Gear rotation180° Trail, and ended up with the MindShift Gear pack, which I’ve now had a chance to try out.

Mindshift Gear rotation180 Trail
Mindshift Gear rotation180 Trail, except that the pack really is more black than grey. Picture is nicked from their website.

The rotation180° Trail has an innovative new system for getting the camera out for shooting. I can get the camera out of my smallest Lowepro without taking down the pack, but the Trail doesn’t even require un-buckling the sternum strap. Instead, you pull out the camera insert (what they call the Beltpack) and rotate it to the front to grab the camera. There’s a learning curve to this, but you get used to it surprisingly quickly – it really is an intuitive system and you don’t need a mirror to see what you’re doing, it just works even blindfolded. The Beltpack is a perfect fit for one camera with lens attached (although my biggest combo A7 & 24-240mm is a tight squeeze and the lens hood needs to be fitted backwards), so if I need a second camera or lens, I have to put it in the top compartment. However, one camera/lens is normally all I take with me when mountainbiking, as the whole idea is to be light and mobile!

Sony A6300 inside the Beltpack
Sony A6300 inside the Beltpack. Snug fit!

The top compartment is otherwise roomy enough to store all the stuff I need it to store. If needed, there’s a stretchy front pocket to carry e.g. a jacket. There is only one side pocket (because the other side is needed for rotating the Beltpack in and out), it can double as a tripod holder (for a small tripod). The hydration pocket is a bit on the small side, it’s supposed to hold a 2L bladder but I can’t see how, because even my 1.5L bladder doesn’t fit unless I fold it on top, which means that I can’t fill it up completely. It’s very fiddly to get the system in and out of the pocket and the hose ends up being too long because the system is so high up in the bag and it’s definitely not possible to fold the hose. The good news is that I only use the hydration system when hiking because I have a bottle holder on the bike, and in the winter the system doesn’t work anyway because the water will freeze in the hose. So overall, I’m not too bothered about the hydration pocket. Currently I use it to store the seat pad! To complete the storage details, there’s a mesh pocket inside the top compartment, and a small pocket on top for sunglasses or snacks, or my Spot.

The Mindshift pack is much more slim than the Lowepro 20L
The Mindshift pack is much more slim than the Lowepro 20L

The straps have excellent padding and the pack feels very comfortable, time will tell if it’s still comfortable after hours of hiking or biking. The overall feeling is that it’s a very sturdy pack (all the while being very light) and I like how the top compartment keeps its shape even when empty, unlike the Loka which looks like a deflated balloon when using a small ICU, because nothing is then holding up the top part.

I’m quite happy about this new backpack and I’m looking forward to taking it out for skiing and mountainbiking trips. Snow is being forecast but not enough for skiing as yet, and mountainbiking has to wait until spring, but let’s see if I can do one more hike – if for nothing else, then just to try the new pack for real!

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