Before I write another sentence I am stating for the record that I do not own shares in MindShift (wish I did), did not receive any compensation from them (wish I did), and do not have any tit-for-tat relationship with them in any way, shape or form (wish I did!). I paid full retail for my pack.
I say that because their Rotation 180 backpack is without a doubt the best photo backpack I have ever owned, and I have owned a bunch of them over the decades. I’ve had it for a couple of months now, but waited until I had enough field experience with it to write an accurate review that reflects the real-world experience of serious photographers. On my most recent photo shoot in the Canadian Rockies I wore the pack for 12 days, up to 10 hours a day in weather that included high mid-day heat, morning and evening cold, as well as light rain. Here I am photographing at iconic Peyto Lake, wearing the Rotation 180.
As you go through this review, I urge you to consult their website for information, photographs and videos that will explain some of the features I have noted here.
What I Carry
You might well wonder if the pack is so comfortable because I just carry a point-and-shoot and some snacks. Here is the gear that I carried every day of the trip:
Hasselblad H4D-50*, Hasselblad HCD-28mm lens, Hasselblad 50-110mm lens, Hasselblad HTS Tilt-Shift attachment, 4-6 Singh-Ray and Lee filters in pouches, Hoodman Loupe, Bear spray, Really Right Stuff Pano gear, Gitzo 3541 tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-55 tripod head, 12 storage cards in folder, lens wipes, Lenspen, protein bars, etc., storage case for filter rings, Ground Cloth (made as an accessory for the Rotation 180), Rain cover (provided with the Rotation 180), DeLorme Inreach GPS system, Rain jacket, Extra batteries
*I sometimes substituted a Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm lens, Nikkor 70-200mm lens, Nikkor 1.4 tele-extender and assorted 35mm accessories for the Nikon gear.
The pack, fully loaded, weighs between 25 and 35 pounds.
How I Carry My Equipment
I carried the H4D-50 with a lens mounted in the swing out carrier (more on the convenience of this later). The second lens I stored in the backpack portion, along with the other gear mentioned above. The tripod I carried attached to an accessory tripod carrier that I recommend anyone with a full-scale tripod purchase from MindShift.
When I carried my Nikon D800, I had lots of extra room for at least 2-3 additional lenses.
Why I Love The Rotation 180
First, and most importantly, the Rotation fits me like a glove. I am 5'10" and by using the various adjustment straps that are thoughtfully positioned, I was able to get a tight fit to my back and hips that made it feel like the pack was part of my body. Seriously.
The rotation feature itself is a Godsend. If I needed to get a quick shot, and if the lens I needed was already mounted on the camera, all I had to do was release the clip, rotate the pack and voila! I was ready to shoot. When I was done, I rotated the pack back into the framework and I was off. No messing around with undoing the entire pack, unzipping, and fishing out the camera.
Unlike the Rotation 360 pack that MindShift’s sister company, Think Tank, produced, this one has a locking mechanism on it so that the pack will not rotate on its own or fall out when the front buckle is unlatched. I once incurred a $400 repair to a 12-24 Nikkor lens in Costa Rica when my Rotation 360 fell off my belt and crashed to the floor. Unfortunately, despite my owning well over a thousand dollars of Think Tank cases at the time, the owners did not assume any responsibility for that mishap, claiming I was the only one that had happened to (there were witnesses to the mishap). I find it more than interesting that the new Rotation includes a safety latch. Still, I do love and use my other Think Tank gear, which is ridiculously well made and functional.
One tip not mentioned in the MindShift website is the fact that I found it helpful to rotate the pack to the front and hike that way for a while. It balanced my load and helped ease back fatigue. I would not recommend doing that on uphills, as the smaller pack will get in the way of your steps.
These designers have thought of everything in constructing the Rotation. Take the well-padded shoulder straps, for example. Not only are they adjustable up and down, but they have expandable pockets to house items like a GPS system or cell phone. But here is what separates the wheat from the chaff. The straps are hinged in such a way, so that when you lay the pack down to open the main storage compartment, the straps fall to the side. This allows you open and unfettered access to the full zipper area. No more getting tangled up in the shoulder straps when removing gear!
The Rotation also comes with a side pocket storage area for a Camelback water system. While a filled water bladder adds weight to the pack, I like the fact that you can adjust how much you want to bring with you.
The pack stands on its own base when you take it off, a nice thing to have when you place it down in tricky locations.
And pockets! This thing has more pockets than Imelda Marcus had shoes! Storage everywhere for cleaning stuff, snacks, glasses, whatever.
What I’d Like to See Improved
Obviously, I love this bag. I think the only thing I’d like to see them improve is to develop a motorized unit that carries itself about 1/2 step behind me. Oh, and have it carry a bottle of beer, too. Hear that guys?