In late 2012, a photo backpack from startup Mindshift Gear raised more than $130,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, far above its $30,000 goal.
It won crowd favor because of a design that addresses the needs of the traveling or hiking photographer with two distinct compartments — one with easy access to photo gear in a hideaway hip belt, and another for gear, clothing, hydration, or other travel essentials.
We tested it over the past month, including on two trips, a photo shoot at a race, and during a hard backcountry hike down a river in Vermont.
The heart of the pack (full name: Mindshift Rotation180° Photo Backpack) is a rotating hip-pack that is hidden but pivots out from the main pack body when needed for quick access to a camera and lenses. You do this without removing the main bag from your back.
At $389.99, the Mindshift is a big spend. But for a photographer in need of near-instant access to a camera while on the move the pack could prove invaluable.
I worked for years as a photojournalist. To me, the Mindshift hits the nail on the head — the design works really well, including an easy rotation move to scoot the hip pack out of the bottom of the pack and around front.
When not deployed, the hip compartment sits out of the way inside the main compartment, and the pack functions much the same as a model from a high-end outdoor brand.
The pivoting hip-belt pack is large enough to carry a single DSLR body with a large lens (or a regular lens attached and one or two extras). Add a small flash, pens, and a notebook in the small pockets and you have all the gear a photographer or photojournalist should need.
The hip-pack can be used in conjunction with the main pack or removed for a simple (if a bit bulky) hip-carry camera bag.
The entire package fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane. Coupled with a computer bag, I was able to avoid checking luggage while hauling camera gear for the long weekend on two recent trips.
During my trip to Vermont, I was able to carry enough camera gear for basic photojournalism work, including a Nikon body, a 24-70 2.8 lens, a 50mm 1.4 lens, and a flash.
To give the bag a real outdoors test, I carried it with all my gear for the weekend while on a timber-whacking hike along a Vermont stream in search of a waterfall. I carried the pack for several hours over slippery, moss-covered boulders, up steep hills, and through dense undergrowth.
The pack was comfortable for every step even loaded with about 30 pounds of clothing and camera gear.
Whenever I felt like snapping a photo, I just unhooked a quick-latch device, pivoted the hip-belt around so the camera pack faced forward, and pulled out my Nikon. The whole process took about 15 seconds without removing the pack from my back.
The pack is versatile. The belt pack holds a pro-size DSLR and two lenses, or a common 70-200mm f2.8 attached to a body. Additional photo equipment, such as a spare body, flash, and up to five lenses, can be stored in the upper compartment’s removable camera insert.
For minimalist excursions the padded insert can be removed and the pack can be filled with other outdoor gear.
It has about 2,300 cubic inches in total storage space. This equals a mid-size pack, and once loaded with all my camera gear there’s not a ton of space left over — enough room for food, water, and extra clothing on a day hike, but for an overnight trip with a shelter I’d be harder pressed.
But the Mindshift is made for hiking, not backpacking. It has a waterproof rain cover and large side pockets that hold up to a 3-quart hydration pack (or a pair of wet running shoes, as was my case in Vermont).
Overall, the pack is a great product for the serious photographer who travels regularly and wants the versatility of carrying either a heap of camera gear or camera gear and clothing in a single, carry-on size bag.
The innovative hip-belt design definitely seals the deal. Buy it here if you’re often on the move outside, a camera in your pack when it should instead be accessible and in your hand.
—Sean McCoy worked for 10 years at the Virgin Islands Daily News as a reporter, editor, and photojournalist. He’s now a contributing editor for GearJunkie.