MindShift Rotation180° Horizon 34L Photography Backpack Review
Finding the perfect backpack is a never-ending battle for me. I’ve bought so many backpacks trying to find something that works, and most often they end up for sale on Craigslist a few months later.
A nature photography backpack needs to do three things. First, it needs to carry your camera and accessories for a day in the field. Secord, it needs to have storage for extra clothes, food, and the other gear necessary to survive in the wild. Finally, it has to allow quick and easy access to the camera, ideally without taking the pack off or fiddling with too many zippers.
As a wildlife photographer, this third requirement is extremely important to me. My camera needs to be always ready for those fleeting moments when I cross paths with something like a Canada lynx (and, hopefully, one day a wolverine), and in this regard the MindShift Rotation packs are superior.
I picked up the Horizon 34L pack one year ago and have had a chance to spend some time with it. Prior to the Horizon, I typically used a LowePro PhotoSport 200 for fast and light hiking and various f-Stop packs for lugging around bigger kits with tripods and heavy lenses.
My current kit for hiking is the Nikon D850 paired with a Nikon 300 f4 PF. This combo will just barely fit into the waist pack of the Horizon in the vertical orientation, leaving room to carry up to two more lenses, which for me are typically the 24-70 2.8 (not the VR version) and a teleconverter. The 24-70 will also barely fit into the waist pack when mounted on the D850, although sometimes it is a little bit of a struggle to get the zipper to close. I suspect the newer and larger 24-70 VR would be worse, if it fit at all.
The Nikon D850 paired with a Nikon 300 f4 PF will just barely fit into the waist pack of the Horizon in the vertical orientation.
The Horizon waist pack has a mesh interior pocket under the lid for small accessories, and then a vertical sleeve intended for a field guide, map, or an iPad. The mesh pocket will hold my cable release, and an extra battery or memory card, but with the main compartment of the waist belt already bursting at the seams, this makes the situation worse, so I often avoid using it. The situation with the vertical sleeve is similar. I will sometimes carry a circular polarizing filter or a map, but even these items start to interfere with the ease of getting the camera into the main compartment and closing the zipper.
The Horizon can carry a tripod on the front of the pack, or by using the MindShift Tripod Suspension System. I’ll admit, I haven’t tried the suspension system, but I really can’t see myself ever using it. The straps on the front of the Horizon pack work okay to carry a small to medium sized tripod, but there is still a lot of flopping around due to the way that the straps are attached. At the very least, this is aggravating, but it is also potentially dangerous to have your load shifting and causing a loss of balance, so for longer hikes or more technical terrain it is good to have an extra length of webbing to cinch the tripod down with.
The Horizon has a nice size compartment for day hike essentials. It can comfortably fit a rain jacket, puffy, and fleece, with enough room left over for some food, water, and first aid/survival items. I’m not crazy about the zipper on the main compartment, and would perhaps rather have a drawstring closure. The lightweight zipper can be troublesome when the pack is very full and I anticipate this will be the first part of the pack to fail.
The lid has additional storage for things like sunglasses and a headlamp. I appreciate that they included a snap to keep your car keys from falling out on the talus. There is a front pocket that I use to carry my hat, gloves, and MicroSpikes, and a vertical zip side pocket that was designed with a hydration bladder in mind. After my camera and lenses, water is the heaviest thing in my pack, so when I carry a hydration bladder, I want the weight centered close to my body, not out to one side.
The pack does have the typical mesh interior sleeve for your hydration pouch, so you aren’t forced into using the side pocket. There is an opening for your hydration hose on the left side, so if that is that is the side you prefer to route your hose, you are in luck. Unfortunately, MindShift only provides one elastic loop about a third of the way down the shoulder strap to secure the drinking hose, so you’ll want to improvise something to keep the hose from flopping around.
I like that they have included a water bottle pocket, which I don’t use for water bottles, but rather to stash my trekking poles. I haven’t tried carrying this pack up a snow climb yet, but there is a single ice axe loop on the front and some webbing ladders to theoretically attach some crampons.
The waist pack has an attachment point on one side that I use for bear spray, an extra lens pouch, or binoculars. I really wish that MindShift had sewn a standardized PALS webbing ladder instead so that things wouldn’t slide around so much.
Overall, it is a functional backpack with one absolutely outstanding feature – the ability to get to your camera when you need it and get it the heck out of the way when you don’t. It’s the best of both worlds between a chestie and a back panel loading pack, and it is a breeze to switch between having the waist pack in the front position and stored out of the way in the back. I find that I take more pictures now along the trail, because getting the camera out and then putting it away again is so much easier. As a bonus, since the waist pack is detachable, you can leave the main pack behind for short hikes or urban exploration.
- The Rotation180° system works extremely well, and is a game changer!
- Will fit (barely) a Nikon D850 mounted on lenses up to a 300 f4 or 24-70.
- Enough capacity for clothing and essentials for 3 season day hiking.
- Doubles as a stand-alone fanny pack.
- The camera storage compartment is just a little bit too snug for a Nikon D850 with a 24-70 mounted. Since this is a common combination, it would be great if MindShift would expand the dimensions just a smidgen. There is a larger size available, but it is a much heavier pack and overkill for this size kit. The Horizon 34L really only needs about 1″ more material to make all the difference.
- The attachment point on the waist belt allows accessory pouches to slide around too much – I would much prefer a PALS webbing ladder.
- The tripod attachment points are too floppy.
- The hydration pocket on the side is superfluous, and the opening for the hose is not centered, so the hose can only be routed to the left shoulder strap. Furthermore, there are not enough loops on the shoulder strap to keep the hose from flopping around.
The Rotation180° waist pack system is outstanding and elevates this pack from middle-of-the-road status to complete game changer. I wish for a little more refinement other aspects of the pack, but perhaps these will be improved in future designs. In the meantime, the Horizon 34L is my top recommendation for the hiking nature photographer shooting lenses up to the 300 f4 PF. In my part of the world, there seems to be a considerable market for this type of pack, so I hope to see MindShift continue to thrive and innovate.