Mindshift Rotation 180 v2 Camera Backpack Review
The first Mindshift Rotation 180 was funded by Kickstarter and released in 2013. Seven years later, it’s time for a new and improved version: Introducing the Mindshift Rotation 180 v2.0.
For those who haven’t seen the Mindshift Rotation 180 before, it’s a series of hiking-style bags using a unique concept with a camera cube that rotates around your waist to make it accessible at the front.
This means you don’t have to take the bag off your back or un-loop one arm to access the camera compartment.
The idea of not having to take off your backpack to access your gear is highly appealing conceptually. The question is how some of these “good ideas” work in practice. I guess that’s why we’re here with this review!
There are three versions of camera backpack available for the Mindshift Rotation 180:
- Rotation 22L
- Rotation 34L
- Rotation Pro 50L+
Many users have hiking gear in mind when it comes to these styles of bags. That’s why we took a photo at a mountain – just so you can imagine yourself climbing to the top of a beautiful summit, pretending every muscle in your body didn’t hurt to get there.
In reality, the smaller versions like the 34L we’re reviewing today are a little more versatile. This aligns with Mindshift’s press release where they talk about a broad range of activities like adventure, hiking, travel, birders, light alpine mountaineering, downhill or cross-country skiing.
Given this is a pre-release review, I’ve tried to go into a bit of detail to help potential buyers. I’m also going to be covering two optional extras which were supplied by Mindshift: The Stashmaster top insert and the rain cover.
Table of Contents
Mindshift Rotation 180 V2 Specs (34l)
- Comfort and quality
- Innovative rotation concept works really well
- Removable camera bag adds to the versatility
- No pass-through luggage strap
- Carry-handle is a little lightweight
- Sternum straps not removable
- Immediate camera access: Stowed to shooting in 2.5 sec
- Front zippered pocket fits up to a 13” laptop (unpadded) or a 3L reservoir
- Jacket sized front stuff pocket
- Torso height adjustment fits a wide range of body sizes
- Tripod carries easily on the front and/or side panels
- 10-point adjustable harness to fine-tune how you carry your load
- Weather protection: DWR coated fabrics, zipper covers and belt pack elements barrier
- Perforated, angular foam back panel for increased airflow and quick-dry
- Top pocket for quick access to essential items
- Large side pocket fits most 1.5L water bottles
- Pack weight transfers to waist-belt and moves with your hips
- Internal load compression to keep your gear tight and close to your body
- Mountain axe/hiking pole loops
- Daisy chain attachment points to expand your load
- Tripod Suspension Kit compatible
- Dimension: 13.4” W x 22.8” H x 10.2” D (34 x 58 x 26 cm)
- Weight: 4.8 lbs (2.2 kg)
Mindshift Rotation 180: V1 vs V2
Mindshift have indicated that these are the improvements on the Mindshift Rotation 180 34L from the original version to the 2.0. If you’re a v1 owner, this might help you decide on whether the v2.0 is a worthy upgrade.
(Side note: I’ll try to address some of the improvements noted here at various points in the review, but I don’t have the v1 myself so I can’t do an exact side by side comparison.)
- Rotation180 technology refinement and upgrades
- Magnetic belt pack closure for all packs
- Belt pack size increased
- Added elements barrier
- Fidlock rip-cord added
- Increased length of waist-belt wings
- Laptop carry (34L + 50L)
- Torso height adjustment added
- Packs stand upright when placed on the ground
- Upgraded back-panel/harness
- Upgraded zipper quality to RC Fuse for all external zippers and weather-resistant zippers for the Pro
- Expanded organisation
- Front Stuff pocket (34L + 50L)
- Increased volume (pro only)
- Rain cover NOT Included on Pro (or any pack)
Build & Appearance
The previous series of Mindshift bags looked like hiking bags and the Mindshift Rotation 180 34L v2.0 follows the same aesthetics. Given the target market, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
For those using this as a travel bag, there will be inherent advantages as it’s not going to look like you’re carrying expensive camera gear. It’s a low risk.
No one wants to steal a bag full of dirty laundry from a backpacker, who may not have had access to a shower for seven days.
That said, this is a great looking hiking bag you can carry without drawing too much attention to yourself. The rotating waist bag is behind a flap, concealing it from prying eyes and ensuring it has clean lines.
Thinktank, and as a result, Mindshift, have a lot of experience making bags. I came in expecting the build quality of this v2.0 to be impeccable. I wasn’t disappointed.
The bag construction is what Mindshift call a “durable and weatherproof DWR coated high-tenacity triple ripstop material”. It also has a three-ply bonded thread and waterproof YKK zippers.
What that means is that this bag will be safe in some particularly unpleasant conditions. If you’re still worried about weatherproofing, Mindshift offers an optional rain cover I referenced earlier.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to rain covers: They include it, and everyone pays for it; they don’t include it and only those who need it pay for it. The bag is weather-resistant, so this will suit the more extreme users.
The previous versions of the rain cover retailed for about $20, so they aren’t very pricey to add in if you need one.
The challenge with pre-release bags is that you don’t have the benefit of information on how the bag works – and bags in 2021 are complex enough for that to be relevant.
The upside is that you come in without any potential bias. Conversely, if I missed anything, hopefully, you understand why.
The shoulder straps are very thick and wide, and adjustable. The velcro adjustment mechanism takes about 10 seconds for a significant adjustment.
It’s one of the better height adjustment mechanisms I’ve seen on a backpack. I give Mindshift a big thumbs up for this.
The waist straps are also on par with the best in class. They’re about 3 inches thick at the widest point. Given the weight on the waist pack and the potential to use this as a stand-alone unit, it makes sense.
Like the Retrospective Backpack 15 I reviewed previously, the sternum straps aren’t removable. From a personal perspective, I would prefer it if they were removable. It’s not a huge issue, but I think it’s something simple for Mindshift to rectify on the design.
The main feature of the Rotation 180 v2.0 is a rotating camera section called a belt pack. It’s a unique concept that works just as well in practice.
Mindshift have put a lot of effort into making the rotating belt pack work, and v2.0 has been about optimising it. It starts with the simple way of accessing the rotating waist bag with a magnetic clip to unlock the cover that keeps it away from prying eyes.
The magnetic system on the lock means you don’t need to turn around and look at the mechanism to fasten or unfasten the buckle. It takes three or four goes to get it right initially, but after that, it’s quick and easy.
To rotate the bag, pull on one of the finger loops placed conveniently where your right hand has released the locking mechanism. The waist bag slides around easily, even when heavily loaded.
There are two key access points to the main compartments of the Mindshift Rotation 180 v2.0: The rotating belt camera pack, and the top.
The design is such that the top is accessible by twisting the bag around your waist so you won’t need to put the bag down. I also think the bulk of accessibility will be from the belt pack, so it’s only for occasional use.
You also have two front pockets to choose from – one zipped and one which has no zip. Mindshift call the one without a zip a “front stuff pocket” assumingly with the idea that you can stuff clothing down it.
The Rotation 180 v2.0 has storage for a bottle on one side. You can go one step further and add a 3L hydration pack if that’s not enough.
You’ll also find plenty of loops for attachments all over the backpack including the shoulder straps, top of the bag and front of the pack. If you need to attach more than these loops allow, you probably also need a sherpa to help you carry it.
There are two methods of carrying a tripod with this bag. There’s the standard method for storing a folder tripod on the back or side with the included cables. Mindshift also offers an optional suspension kit which allows you to carry an extended tripod on a sling at your side.
It may seem like a minor thing, but having to pack up your tripod every time you move is frustrating and time-consuming. With the suspension kit, you fold in the legs but leave them suspended and hang it at your side.
If I was to nitpick, there are three things I would improve on with the Rotation 180 v2.0:
Despite what the purists will say about hiking and technology, I would have liked a mobile phone pouch on the front of the shoulder strap. Mindshift offer a phone pouch which I assume will attach to the front, but I think there should be something standard.
I also feel the top handle is a little lightweight. I’m guessing Mindshift have gone for something to keep the weight down. It doesn’t feel like it would break, but it won’t be comfortable for heavy loads.
Finally, I am always a big fan of airport luggage pass through loops on my bag, and this is missing from the Mindshift 180 34L. Yes, it’s a backpack, but I don’t want to be carrying it if I don’t have to, and without luggage loops, I have to.
This section almost needs to be split in two as there’s the waist pack, a top storage section, and an optional insert for the top compartment.
To make matters more confusing, the interior parts have exterior features which are technically interior and exterior features. Talk about first world problems for a reviewer.
Firstly, let’s start with the waist pack. The waist pack has an interior of 11” W x 7.7” H x 7.1” D (28 x 19.5 x 18 cm), so it’s not small by any standards. It’s about the size of a medium camera bag with the capacity to fit a full-frame body with a 14-24mm or 24-70mm lens. Or a full-frame camera with 2-3 smaller primes.
The lid on the waist pack incorporates a magnetic system that prevents it from accidentally opening if you haven’t zipped it closed. Congratulations, Mindshift, for being one of the first manufacturers to put magnets on a bag that are strong enough to serve the intended purpose.
The waist pack can be separated from the main bag and used as a stand-alone waist bag. Waist bags are a personal preference thing, but you don’t have to take it off if you don’t want to. Mindshift has a leash, so you don’t have to worry about it going missing.
Inside the waist bag on the Mindshift Rotation 180 34L v2.0, you’ll find a roof compartment suitable for the rain cover and other small items. The main compartment will house a camera and lenses while you also have a small front pocket on the interior suitable for filters or a book.
Given the potential as a travel bag, I think they missed the opportunity behind the padding for a small passport pocket that is accessible from the outside.
Open up the top compartment, and you have a large storage area. There’s a small mesh area for a 13″ laptop, but it’s available as a storage area for anything.
The top storage capacity changes substantially when you add the Stashmaster. The Stashmaster opens the door to bigger lenses like the 70-200 f/2.8 or 100-400 f/4.5-5.6. I could easily fit a Sony a7R III with grip and Sony 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 – however, to make practical use of the side lens areas for larger lenses you would have to forego one of them.
I did notice that when I loaded in a camera body and lens on the top – mainly if it was a large zoom – it would impact the claim that “packs stand upright when placed on the ground”.
Is it wrong? Yes and no. The moment you load heavy gear at the top, any bag is going to be top-heavy – so my guess is this statement is more specific to loading camera gear in the waist pack and other stuff in the top. I don’t know if it would be possible to make a bag impervious to this.
The top pack is multi-purpose and adding a strap will allow you to use it as a shoulder bag. Unfortunately, Mindshift didn’t include the straps.
While I don’t mind the rain cover as an optional extra, I think it would have been nice if they included a lightweight shoulder strap.
With the 34L edition of the Mindshift Rotation 180 v2.0, the storage is substantial. What you can store depends largely on whether you take the optional Stashmaster pack.
In standard form, the waist pack will fit a gripped full-frame camera with a 24-70mm f/2.8 attached, depending on the model of camera, along with one small prime.
It won’t fit a 105mm f/1.4, 135mm f/1.8 or a zoom like the 70-200 f/2.8 unless you put it on camera and lose all the other storage capacity of the compartment (i.e. you won’t have room for any spare lenses).
The top section is sizable. You could fit two six-packs, loaded one on top of the other, as a reference to storage capacity rather my rather timid drinking ability.
That translates to a lot of general storage for jackets or anything else you want to take. This is where Mindshift gives you the flexibility as you can also leverage this for additional camera storage with an optional camera cube.
The optional cube adds a substantial amount of storage to the 34L v2.0. It’s deep, so the advantage for shooters is that it allows you to carry larger lenses like the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and a second body.
You now can extend from a full-frame with 24-70mm to a 70-200mm along with some other longer lenses.
Having split storage does have negatives though, so it’s not all roses. With the storage split between two units, you lose the ability to store larger items. If you were planning to use this for a 400mm f/2.8, think again.
The zipped front pocket would fit larger laptops, although I’m not sure if they would have the same level of protection offered by the central interior pocket (which will house a 13″ Macbook Pro).
The front stuff pocket is great. It allows you to stuff jackets down without having to unzip the entire bag and the strap expansion means you could put a lot inside it.
It’s also handy if you have something wet which you can put there without compromising the interior of the bag.
Ease of Use/Comfort
I wasn’t quite sure if the rotating waist pack would end up being a gimmick, but having used it for a month, I think it’s outstanding as far as the implementation of concepts go. It’s extremely convenient.
The rotating mechanism works exceptionally well and small elements like the magnetic latch and magnetic lid show the level of effort Mindshift put into usability.
Other elements on the bag like the “stuff pocket” exist across the entire bag in various forms and are cues to this focus. This shows that it’s not good enough to just keep adding features, it’s important how you add them.
From a comfort perspective, the Mindshift Rotation 34L is impressive. The combination of comfortable straps and back padding along with a supportive waist belt ensures that heavy weight won’t be a problem.
In conjunction with this, the ease of adjustability on the bag means it’s easy to find the right adjustment to suit your needs.
I spent 6 hours at a sports event with two bodies and lots of heavy pro glass and I never really felt the weight. Sometimes you can feel those events the next day, or next couple of days, but not with this bag.
Value for Money
The Mindshift Rotation 180 34L v2.0 retails for just under $300, which is what I’d expect when you consider both the quality and size of the bag. It’s a premium bag and oozes premium bag quality.
By comparison, the Shimoda 30L is priced at $270 but doesn’t include the core units so pricing is close although the Shimoda would probably end up $20 or $30 more. The Fstop Lotus (32L) is about $40 more with the core unit included and the lightweight Loka is $315.
The Mindshift might be priced in the same range at first glance, but neither of these options offers the rotating waist pack, which would add considerable cost to the manufacturing process.
It really comes down to the choice of style rather than quality, as both are what I consider best in class for the price range.
The pricing wasn’t available on the rain cover but based on previous models, the rain cover will add about $20 to the pricing.
Mindshift Rotation 180 v2.0 Review | Conclusion
It’s times like this when I realise how fortunate I am to be able to try gear like this all the time. It can be an eye-opener and expose you to some great innovation.
A bag like the Mindshift Rotation 180 34L v2.0 doesn’t follow conventional approaches. On any given day, a lot of people would overlook it in favour of something they were comfortable with.
It’s understandable because people don’t like change, but that would be their own loss. The Rotation 180 v2.0 is amazing both conceptually and in how Mindshift has executed the design.
Like every bag out there, it’s not perfect. The perfect bag doesn’t exist because everyone’s requirements are different – so a bag can only ever be perfect for you. The key is recognising whether the points for improvement I’ve raised here are important to you.
I think Mindshift have done an incredible job with this bag and they’ve kept the price point in reach of most buyers – which, given the quality and level of innovation, is impressive.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.