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Gear – MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L (full review)

MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L backpack — internal view

MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L backpack
— internal view

Reviewed by Mark and Leslie Degner

MindShift Gear recently released a new line of photo backpacks, the FirstLight series. There are three different sized models available: the FirstLight 20L ($229.99 US), FirstLight 30L ($279.99 US) and the FirstLight 40L ($329.99 US). We received the largest model, the FirstLight 40L, to try out and it’s the basis of this review. Other than their sizes there isn’t much difference between the three models and we will point out the couple differences that exist as we go through the review.


The FirstLight series of photo backpacks are what we refer to as “traditional” design in which there’s one main interior compartment with a series of movable dividers that’s accessible from the front side. The first thing that we noticed, and really liked, about the FirstLight 40L backpack was its clean lines and smooth exterior. The two grab handles, one on the top and the other on the side, are really handy for getting the pack in and out of your vehicle or overhead plane storage bins.

There are two large zippered exterior front pockets for carrying miscellaneous items, one of which can be used to hold a laptop or tablet (40L – up to a 17” laptop; 20L and 30L – a 15” laptop or 12” tablet). It should be noted that these front pockets are unpadded. On each side of the backpack is a large water bottle or accessory pocket with drain holes and cinch cords. There is also a dedicated hydration pocket on one side (40L and 30L models only) that holds a 3L water bladder (not included). On the top is a small zippered pocket for easy access to accessories or personal items.

A tripod or monopod can be carried either on the front or the side of the backpack using the included tripod mounting systems. All FirstLight models come with a removable seamless waterproof rain cover that protects the backpack from the elements and it can also be used as a ground cloth.

Another one of the features that we really liked about the FirstLight 40L is the depth of the interior compartment; it easily accommodates a pro-sized DSLR with both a battery grip and L-bracket attached and large telephoto lenses like a 500mm or 600mm f/4 lens. The overall size of the padded internal compartment and large number of various sized closed-cell foam dividers that are included allow for a considerable amount of customization of the internal compartment. There are also four zippered internal mesh pockets for storing a variety of accessories.

Since the FirstLight 40L has such a large capacity it can become very heavy when it’s full of camera gear, so in order for this backpack to function properly it must have a harness system that’s adjustable and rugged to fit comfortably, distribute the weight properly and handle the weight of the gear. The good news is the harness system on FirstLight backpacks delivers on all accounts. The harness system (shoulder straps, sternum strap and hip belt) has 11 adjustment points, including the ability to lengthen or shorten the torso length. In addition, there are padded back panels and a shaped aluminum torso stay for increased comfort and support. With the backpack fully loaded with as much gear as we could fit in it, we both were able to get it properly adjusted for a comfortable fit for hours of hiking and photography.

The MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L is really well constructed using high-quality materials and zippers and is built to stand up to rigorous professional outdoor use.  The robust, comfortable and adjustable harness system makes carrying your camera gear a lot easier. Although the 40L model may be too large for many photographers, and one of the other two smaller models might be more suitable, the FirstLight series of photo backpacks are definitely products that are worth checking out if you’re looking for a new camera backpack.


To read more great reviews from Mark and Leslie Degner please pick up the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of OPC. To never miss an issue please subscribe today!

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