Friday, March 2, 2018

Mindshift Gear Firstlight 40L Camera Backpack First Impressions

If you're like me, then you frequently find yourself in the position of travelling on foot and weighted down with an unreasonable amount of camera gear. Eventually you will find that your cameras and lenses and the rest no longer fit in one, or two, or maybe even three of the camera cases and backpacks that accumulate organically and which multiply exponential throughout the life of a photographer. At some point the only solution is a bigger bag, and it might be that the Firstlight 40L from Mindshift is the bigger bag you're looking for.

This isn't a full review of this pack - that's coming later. I just got my hands on the Firstlight 40L this a few days ago, and right now I just wanted to share my first impressions with you from my use of it so far.

Build quality:
It is immediately clear that this backpack is well constructed. The exterior is constructed of strong nylon materials coated with a water repellent coating. Zippers are robust and smooth operating. Though only time will tell, I am optimistic about that this pack will hold up for a long time to come, even with as hard as I can be on my gear! Part of my optimism comes from long used of Mindshift's Panorama 180 pack, which has withstood years of use remarkably well. If that pack is any indication of it's bigger brother's durability it is a good sign indeed.

When carrying as much gear as the 40L can hold, it had better distribute that weight well! Fortunately, it does an admirable job of making heavy loads manageable. I filled this thing up with heavy lenses and strapped my tripod to it, and it never seemed uncomfortably heavy. However, I'll have to take it on a few long hikes before I can make a real determination in this regard.
One thing that contributes to the comfort of this pack is adjustable back padding. I did not need to use this system myself as the pack fit my back right out of the box. On the exterior there are plenty of ways in which extra gear could be strapped on if you run out of room inside.The tripod holster's position on the back may not be ideal for everyone, but if not there, a tripod could be stowed on either side. Internally it is possible to change the layout in any way you need, and extra dividers are included. Also of note is a pouch for a water bladder and an included rain cover that is large enough to fit around a tripod or anything else you strap to the outside.

On the topic of customization, the Firstlight 40L is compatible with Mindshift's range of accessories including the Tripod Suspension Kit and  Lens Switch Case.

As noted, this is a big backpack, and there's plenty of room inside for as much as you'll likely ever need to bring. I was able to fit most of my lenses (including my large Sigma 150-600mm) with room left over for flashes, a small drone, and more. All but the largest telephoto lenses will fit with the camera attached. One of the few negatives I found with the 40L is that the laptop pocket isn't large enough for bulky devices, such as gaming laptops and older, chunkier devices such my aging 15 inch laptop. However, I think most modern laptops would probably fit. However, it is also important to note that this laptop pocket isn't padded, so it is recommended that you use a neoprene sleeve for extra protection.

Ease of access:
The 40L is perfectly adequate in this respect. It doesn't try anything fancy like the Panorama 180, but even though you have to take the pack off to access your gear, and there is no back access, I don't find it that much slower, and I think the pack is sturdier for its more traditional construction. The zippers pull smoothly, and so aren't a hassle as with some packs I've used.

The Mindshift Gear Firstlight 40L is an impressive pack with only a few minor downsides that are immediately apparent (namely the restrictive nature of the laptop pocket and its lack of padding). It is a black hole that will consume as much gear as you're likely to carry, and do so securely. Furthermore, that weight isn't likely to cause you too much pain due to the packs excellent weight distribution system and thickly padded straps. Overall, I am very pleased with the Firstlight 40L, and am very much looking forward to testing it further.

Future testing:
Over the next month the Firstlight 40L will be accompanying me on most of my adventures. There should be ample opportunity to test its water resistance, as March in Western Washington is a wild time to be outdoors! We'll see how it does on long hikes into the wilderness, and possibly how it holds up to use as an ultralight overnight pack - though that might have to wait till warmer, drier months. In addition to the full review, you can look forward to a camera bag comparison video where I will be comparing different types and sizes of camera bags; weighing their pros, cons, and specialties. 

Check pricing here:

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