Don’t you love when a company makes a product that truly solves a problem in your life instead of just making a shiny new thing? Carrying a camera while doing active pursuits like biking, hiking, and skiing usually involves some trade-off between comfort, protection, and accessibility and MindShift Gear sought out to address this with their rotation180° series of backpacks. By creating a system that lets you store your camera in a padded case that swings around to the front when you need it without taking the pack off, they managed to more or less solve all of the common challenges in one fell swoop. The company has a range of different-sized bags that use this system and this is our MindShift Gear rotation180° Trail 16L review.
rotation180° Trail 16L Review: award-winning belt pack rotation technology
The success of this type of bag hinges on how well the camera carrying system works and fortunately the rotation180 is a truly innovative and thoughtful design. Every camera backpack I’ve used has required either removing the bag entirely or swinging it to the front to access its contents. While some bags do a decent job giving you access through a side panel when swung in front, this requires unclipping the sternum strap and hip belt and also resettling the shoulder straps when you’re done. MindShift Gear, made by the same great people behind Think Tank Photo, had the brilliant idea to connect a camera bag to the hipbelt and create a compartment for it to live in when not in use.
It’s easiest to just look at the pictures to understand how this works. Basically, the hipbelt can be rotated to the front while keeping it attached to your body by staying clipped as it spins. When spun to the front, you have on body access to the beltpack’s contents without ever moving the shoulder straps. The beltpack’s “garage” is rigid so that it can easily slide back in when the pull loop is grabbed from the left side. A flap with a really cool magnetic lock covers the pack for added protection and keeps it stored.
Simply put, the rotation180° system is genius! There is an expression that goes “the best camera is the one that’s with you” and this system makes it a lot more pleasant to carry a nice camera when out on the trail. I quickly became proficient at reaching to my right, unlatching the flap and pulling the beltpack to the front and I was even able to do this while riding my bike one handed on an easy section of trail. I wouldn’t recommend that, but it demonstrates the ease of use. Once the pack is in front, grab your camera, take the shot, put it back, and rotate back into storage and you’re on your way. My unscientific testing shows that this takes about 1/3 the time compared to a bag where you’d stop, take off the bag, put it on the ground, open it up, find your camera, and do all that in reverse. For me, that’s often the difference between taking a photo and saying “it’s not worth the hassle”.
rotation180° Trail 16L Review: what can you carry?
The MindShift Gear Trail 16L is the smallest bag in the series and was designed to be comfortable for mountain biking or skiing when photography is not the primary goal. Because of this, you are limited in the size of camera it will fit. MindShift Gear makes no false promises and advertises that it is designed for compact DSLR or mirrorless camera systems. Here are some of the combos tested to fit properly:
- Sony a7 with 28–70mm kit lens attached + 55mm f/1.8 + 8″ tablet
- Nikon D5300 with 18–55mm kit lens attached + 75–300mm + 8″ tablet
- Canon Rebel t5i with 18–55mm kit lens attached + 75–300mm + 8″ tablet
- 1-3 GoPro cameras, LCD back, remote, batteries, SD cards, various mounts and adapters
I’ve switched to Fuji’s excellent mirrorless camera system in the form of the Fuji X-T2 so this was my primary testing setup. As you can see in the photos, I had no problem fitting the camera with a rather large wide-angle zoom lens attached in the beltpack. There are two dividers that you can adjust to accommodate your needs and I rearranged them to fit a Nikon D810 with a 35mm lens attached. The X-T2 camera performs best with an optional vertical booster grip attached and I tested this out since I would like to have that power available when photographing action on the trail. Unfortunately, the grip added just enough height that I wasn’t able to fully close the zipper when it was in there. That said, I was perfectly okay with partially zipping it and using it anyways because the camera is fairly protected when in the backpack’s compartment. Making the beltpack larger would make the entire bag larger and would compromise the comfort that I talk about in the next section. As long as you are more focused on a compact bag than a big camera, the rotation180° Trail 16L is perfect. If your carrying needs are greater, check out the larger bags in the line.
The rest of the bag’s load carrying is pretty straightforward with a large zippered top compartment, a small glasses or small items pocket, a stretch panel on the front and a water bottle pocket on the side. The small items pocket is a great place for a small thing of sunblock, your sunglasses when not in use, and some money. You could also use it for your phone, although I preferred to put my phone in the rotating beltpack for easier access.
The rotation180° Trail 16L’s top compartment had plenty of room for my biking or trail essentials for a good length ride or a day hike. I liked how the zippers go down pretty far so that you can open the pack wide to get at everything. This is good because there isn’t much organization in the compartment. There is enough space for food, a light jacket, extra layer, hat and gloves as long as you aren’t a heavy packer. You can see what I put in it for a mountain bike ride in the picture below. There was plenty of extra room available.
Inside the top compartment sits a zippered mesh pocket for storing all the smaller items you’d take on the trail like CO2 cartridges, tire irons, and patch kits. There is also a tether for your keys. I would have liked two mesh pockets but I’m of the hyper-organized type when it comes to bags. This should be plenty for most people in a bag this size.
For added carrying ability, the rotation180° Trail 16L has a stretch panel pocket on the front of the pack for stuffing an additional layer or other stuffable items. Unfortunately, this is one of the few quibbles I have with the bag. For some reason, the fabric is very tight and has very little expansion available and this made stuffing my rain jacket into it more of a hassle than I’d like. It’s doable and keeps the item secure but I would have liked more space there. Finally, a water bottle pocket is included and you will want to take advantage of this given the size of the hydration reservoir. A Nalgene is a bit of a tight fit but that’s ok because you don’t want your bottle flying out while you ride.
Finally, MindShift Gear gave the Trail 16L a dedicated zippered hydration reservoir compartment with a hose pass-through. Because the reservoir has to stop at the camera compartment in the lower part of the bag, the space available is less than you’d find in most backpacks. This limits you to a 2 liter Camelback or a 1.5 liter reservoir from another company. I only had my 3 liter Platypus reservoir available to test with the bag so I had to fill it about half way and roll down the top to fit it into the compartment. I drink a lot of water so I was happy that I could use the side bottle pouch to supplement the reservoir’s limited space.
rotation180° Trail 16L Review: On the trail
The rotation180° element of the Trail 16L would be a wasted success if the backpack wasn’t comfortable to wear and thankfully, MindShift Gear did a great job here. The shoulder straps, back-panel, and hipbelt all have just the right amount of padding for something of this size and is comfortable without being bulky. They did their homework with the shape and fit of the straps and it had a very similar feel to any of my other good mountain biking packs. Given the uniqueness of the beltpack system, this is a big accomplishment!
My first test was to take the pack out to enjoy the Indian summer we are having in the mountains and going for a nice 1.5 hour mountain bike ride. Right of the bat, I loved that I wasn’t noticing anything about the bag and that is a great thing. It just stayed securely on my back as I climbed and descended moderately technical trails. To see how the rotation180° system worked in real life situation, I pedaled ahead of my friends to get a photograph of them and I was able to quickly have the beltpack already in front of me before I even got off the bike. As I hurried to find a good angle, I opened the compartment and pulled the camera out and got into position. After snapping the shots, I returned the camera to the case and whipped it back into its home and I was back on the trail in no time. This was such a stark contrast to what I normally do and I absolutely loved the experience. Trust me, this is a way better system of camera carrying where fast access is at all important to you. Chest pack systems are the only thing faster but require having a pack on your chest, as the name obviously implies, and there is nothing comfortable about that.
As part of my rotation180° Trail 16L review, I also wore the backpack on a little hike near Beaver Creek and found it to be excellent in this situation as well. While I generally have more time while hiking, the benefits of not having to remove my backpack to get my camera are just as welcome. Again, it just comes down to the fact that you are more likely to take photographs if your camera is easier to get to. Since I tested the rotation180° Trail 16L in the Fall, I didn’t get a chance to use it skiing but I can already say that it is a great option for skiers for all the same reasons it’s great for bikers. I look forward to taking it as a daypack for resort skiing where I like to have space for a layer, some water, and a camera.
rotation180° Trail 16L Review: Conclusion
The MindShift Gear rotation180° Trail 16L is the best backpack I’ve ever used for holding a camera during physical activities where comfort and fast access is paramount. It simply eliminates the compromises that usually exist on camera backpacks through innovative design and attention to detail. Everything is very well built with quality, lightweight materials and carries the same lifetime warranty that Think Tank Photo offers for their other products. The Trail 16L is comfortable to wear, provides a good load capacity for the size, and gives you extremely convenient access to your camera without interrupting too much. I highly recommend this backpack to anyone wishing to take a camera on their daily adventures. Amazingly, given its included camera carrying system, at $179 the rotation180° Trail 16L is fairly in line with other high-end day pack prices and is a solid value in my opinion. The Trail 16L is available in Tahoe Blue or a more plain Charcoal color. Find out more at: http://www.mindshiftgear.com/