The Rotation180 Panorama pushed aside the Pro size pack, but was in turn replaced by the Horizon because this pack was of the right size to hold the camera/lens combos I often use stored ready for fast retrieval in that built-in rotating waist pack.
Then along came the FirstLight 20L, which I really liked, but it did not meet my needs for a pack I could use in the snow or in muddy conditions without laying the pack on the ground. So the Horizon stood its ground, even though I found it (and the Panorama) a bit on the heavy side.
More recently, MindShift Gear introduced the BackLight 26L, which lets you work out of the bag while still wearing it – hence a workaround when negotiating snowy or muddy terrain. But that pack wasn’t enough to push the Panorama and FirstLight out of contention. I still wanted a pack that would only carry a limited amount of gear while I was running around Chicago yet would also let me carry some extras - more than would fit in an outside pocket, as spacious as the one on the BackLight is.
Specifically, I often challenge myself to make the most of a one-camera-one-lens combo, which usually means my Nikon D610 with attached Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 primarily for landscapes and architecture, Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 for landscapes and street shooting, or Tamron 70-300mm for wildlife, or sometimes the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro for the obvious, but also for wildlife and scenic views with a different perspective.
Enter the UltraLight Dual 25L. Would I now being saying goodbye to my Horizon and FirstLight packs as well?
The UltraLight Dual is not MindShift Gear’s first dual-tier system, since technically the Rotation180 series would also fall into that category. Then again, the Dual is not your typical two-tier pack either.
Two-level packs traditionally have separate top and bottom compartments – the bottom compartment thoroughly padded to accommodate a variety of camera gear, including one camera with attached lens; the top compartment unpadded for personal items (lunch, books, jacket, etc.), as is true here. Often, and applicable in this pack, the partition separating the two sections opens to let you extend one compartment into the other, for whatever reason (converting the entire pack to a daypack, for example).
Traditional two-tier packs feature either a clamshell camera section (opens like a clamshell) or a camera section that opens from the front. I used to like either design until I realized that opening a clamshell can become rather inconvenient if it’s top-heavy. And when the camera section opens from the front, the view or access inside was often obstructed in some way. And both designs required you to put the pack down.
MindShift’s UltraLight Dual builds upon a combination of two concepts: the dual-tier combined with a side-access panel. The side-access panel means you don’t have to put the bag down to get at your camera. Instead you sling the bag off the left shoulder, lift the bottom up so the bag is level, and reach over with your right hand, unzip the panel, and grab the camera. And to make things even sweeter, that camera compartment is actually a removable bag that comes with its own shoulder strap. You can even loop a belt through the back so it doesn’t shift as you’re moving about. The internal bag has its own zippered lid as added security (I usually leave this zipped only partially for faster access to the camera, unless negotiating rough terrain). If you keep the removable bag inside the pack, which makes more sense to me, rather than toting it on your shoulder, make sure to keep the outer panel zipped.
How I Use the UltraLight Dual 25L
First, I begin with a lens attached to my D610. That really doesn’t leave room for an extra lens or flash, so I do the next best thing. The Nikon SB-700 came with a nice, semi-rigid, padded pouch, which I now use so I can store the flash in the upper compartment. When I get where I’m going, I can transfer the flash to a pocket in my photo vest.
Now, with regard to extra lenses. That’s where the MindShift Switch Case comes in handy. I added some extra padding on the bottom of the Switch Case. This also goes into the top compartment. I can transfer this pouch to the outside of the backpack when needed. And if I need more lenses, I’ll find a workaround. For now, this is fine. As I said, I don’t usually run around with a slew of lenses. If I’m traveling, then I’d likely use one of my other backpacks. Which pack? Depends on where I’m going (Think Tank's StreetWalker is often my go-to pack for travel). Then again, I may just decide to take this one. You have to remain flexible, and owning more than one photo backpack allows me to do just that.
Features (my comments in parentheses)
- Dedicated compartment for laptop, tablet or hydration reservoir. Fits 2.5L hydration or 15” laptop.
- Large capacity for personal gear: extra layers, a light jacket, food, etc. (ya gotta love this – don’t forget maps, guide books, instruction manuals for gear or functions you don’t use often).
- Removable camera compartment converts to a chest pack with the optional Tripod Suspension Kit (I prefer keeping this inside the pack, but don't forget that it can also be worn as a shoulder bag with the included shoulder strap).
- Integrated tripod/monopod mounting system on front (since this pack doesn’t open from the front, no fear of the pod getting in the way).
- Trap door platform allows you to use the entire bag for personal gear (in other words, you have two packs in one - daypack or photo backpack, although I'm keeping this as a photo backpack).
- Seam-sealed rain cover included (nice touch).
- High quality YKK RC Fuse zippers, 420D high-density nylon reinforced stress points for long lasting durability and strength (MindShift build quality is second to none and better than most).
- Highly breathable three-layer shoulder straps with daisy chain for additional gear (they’re comfy).
- Internal compression strap and drawstring collar maximize capacity and minimize bulk.
- Stretch side pocket (fits a standard-size water bottle).
- Internal zippered mesh pocket for small items.
- Zippered lid pocket and zippered waist belt pocket for quick access to small items (I would also have liked a pleated, outside front pocket).
- Accessory loop for mountain axe or hiking poles mounting.
- Lid closure doubles as a lash point for a large jacket or other bulky items (adds to capacity of pack).
- Ergonomic zipper pulls are easily gripped with gloves or chilled fingers.
- Adjustable dividers for different camera gear configurations (doesn’t apply to the way I carry my gear, since I just carry the camera with sizable lens attached – a configuration that completely fills this compartment; I can comfortably fit a Nikon D610 with attached Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 or Tamron 70-300mm).
- Adjustable sternum strap.
- Camera compartment lid tucks into side opening lid for quick access.
- Nylex LCD protector provides a place for your camera strap while covering your LCD (I even managed to squeeze a BlackRapid sling strap in here, with a hand strap attached to the camera as well; the camera's hot shoe may catch on this lid where it attaches to the bag, but you can simply nudge the obstruction out of the way).
- Compatible with the Filter Nest/Hive and Switch Case, Tripod Suspension Kit and Panorama/Horizon photo insert (snug fit with photo insert).
Gear Profile (as determined by MindShift Gear)
UltraLight Dual 25L:
Exterior: For superior water resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellant coating, plus the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. It also has high-quality YKK Fuse zippers, 100D nylon shadow rip-stop, 420D high-density nylon, 210D velocity nylon, 320G UltraStretch mesh, 350G airmesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Interior: 200D poly, velex, high-density closed-cell foam, belly-o mesh, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
PRODUCT DIMENSIONS, VOLUME & WEIGHT
UltraLight Dual 25L
Exterior Dimensions: 10.2” W x 19.5” H x 6.7” D (26 x 49.5 x 17 cm)
Camera Compartment: 9.1” W x 7.5” H x 5.1” D (23 cm x 19 cm x 13 cm)
Laptop/hydration compartment: 10.2” W x 15.7” H (26 x 40 cm)
Weight: 2.8 lbs. (1.3kg)
Volume: 25 Liters
Where can I get more info?
How much is it?
Direct: $169.99 l ($169.99 at B&H).
Who Should Use This?
Travel photographers who like to travel light, hikers, nature enthusiasts, street shooters.
Superbly designed, practical and lightweight, highly durable photo backpack.
You won’t pack the kitchen sink into this photo backpack, but, then again, it wasn’t meant for that. Photo gear mainly goes into the bottom section (which, on the two larger sizes, the 25L included, consists of a padded, removable shoulder bag), while personal items fit in the spacious top section. More than that, the pack offers quick side-panel access to photo gear, which for me is essentially a full-frame DSLR with attached f/2.8 zoom or longer lens (up to 70-300). There’s plenty of room in the top section for my flash in its padded case and a MindShift Switch Case with one or two extra lenses (or one lens plus one flash, if I want to condense things even further). Not surprisingly, MindShift’s UltraLight Dual 25L rides comfortably on my back. By the way, I chose the black (over the blue) version – the color scheme just seemed to have a classier feel to it.