mindshift-gear-rotation-180-horizon

Regular readers of the site will be well aware of MindShift’s products by now, but if this is your first time here then let me fill you in quickly. MindShift Gear is the sister company to Think Tank Photo, one of the biggest and most popular camera bag manufacturers in the business. Think Tank are known for their urban carrying solutions, as well as their now ubiquitous roller bags which are the de-facto standard for many professionals. MindShift Gear is run by the same folks, but their solutions are purely tailored to the outdoor photography market. If you like landscape photography, wildlife photography and adventure, MindShift Gear has a bag designed for you.

The unique, patented Rotation 180 mechanism put their bags on the map by allowing access to camera equipment from a backpack, without the need to remove the pack from your back. Not only is this a fat way to get a camera out, but it also saves you from putting the bag down in dirty and wet locations. In the years following the release of the original Rotation 180 Professional, they’ve been busy filling out the R180 lineup with a variety of different sizes, and the 34L capacity R180 Horizon now slots in between the R180 Professional and the R180 Panorama.

As usual, I spent a couple of months with the pack in my possession, courtesy of MindShift, and in this review we’ll talk about the features of the pack, as well as comparing it to the other R180 packs in the lineup. Since I have used all the MindShift packs extensively, I’m uniquely positioned to comment on comparisons between the various sizes.

Rotation 180 Horizon Video Review

If you don’t fancy reading the written review, the video will run through a lot of the main points, and also demonstrate the Rotation 180 mechanism if you aren’t familiar with it.

R180 Horizon Features

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Front pocket is perfect for a rain jacket.

Since I’m already very familiar with the Rotation 180 system as a whole, for me, the biggest addition to the Horizon pack was the front pocket. In my Panorama review I lamented the lack of such a pocket which is always a place I like to store a jacket and rain pants for easy access, so I was very pleased to see it on the Horizon. Not only did they add a nice large pocket, but they also added some good daisy-chain nylon on the front for attaching other accessories as you see fit. I used a small carabiner to clip my InReach satellite communication and GPS device to this.

As is standard with all the Rotation 180 packs, they come with a tripod cup and strap system on the front of the bag that tucks away when not in use. I don’t like it when the tripod carrying system is something optional that you clip onto the bag because you inevitably forget to take it with you sometimes. Having it always on the bag, and tucked away neatly, is a great feature of this pack. If you don’t like using a tripod in the centre of the pack, you also have the option to mount is on one side of the pack, or even use MindShift’s innovative optional Tripod Suspension System that spreads the weight of the tripod evenly through the should straps of the pack. I’ve used this system on longer hikes with my largest tripod, and it works well, but I do think that’s it’s only necessary if you are carrying a REALLY big, beefy tripod, otherwise it’s not worth the complications of extra straps dangling around all over the place.

r180 horizon tripod carry

On one side of the bag there’s a hydration bladder pocket that will fit a 2-3L bladder depending on the shape from the brand you are using. I’ve noticed a trend recently for a lot of bladders to be shorter and wider. Tall, thin ones work best with this pack, and there’s a small loop to hang it on in the pocket.

The top half of the pack includes an elasticated mesh pocket.

The top half of the pack includes an elasticated mesh pocket.

If you want to carry additional camera gear in the top half of the bag then you can use the optional Panorama Insert. This neatly holds three lenses side-by-side, but the tapered shape makes it a bit awkward to use with a camera unless it’s a camera without a lens attached, which can then be inserted into one of the three slots. As the name suggests, it was originally designed for the Panorama pack so it leaves a lot of spare space around the edges when you use it in the Horizon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t order it expecting it to fit like a glove in the top half of the bag. It’s definitely free to float around a little bit.

 

The tapered shape was necessary to fit snugly in the Panorama pack, but it's awkward when trying to use it with a camera. I do wish there was a more cubic, slightly larger insert dedicated to the Horizon pack.

The tapered shape was necessary to fit snugly in the Panorama pack, but it’s awkward when trying to use it with a camera. I do wish there was a more cubic, slightly larger insert dedicated to the Horizon pack.

 

With the Panorama insert included in the pack, there's room around the edges of it, and also room on top to stack clothing.

With the Panorama insert included in the pack, there’s room around the edges of it, and also room on top to stack clothing.

 

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The belt pack has an internal pocket that fits a tablet, and there's also a small mesh pocket that's suitable for batteries or a memory card holder.

The belt pack has an internal pocket that fits a tablet, and there’s also a small mesh pocket that’s suitable for batteries or a memory card holder.

 

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Which Rotation 180 Pack Is Right for You?

On the left is the FirstLight 30L and 40L, then the R180 Horizon, followed by the R180 Professional on the right. Notice the lesser volume Horizon is actually slightly taller than the R180 Professional.

On the left is the FirstLight 30L and 40L, then the R180 Horizon, followed by the R180 Professional on the right. Notice the lesser volume Horizon is actually slightly taller than the R180 Professional.

If we just stick with the photography packs (they also make a travel bag and a fly fishing bag), there are a total of four Rotation 180 packs, all of which have been covered in depth on this site before. The Rotation 180 Trail pack has been featured as the best photo backpack for mountain biking, largely because of its smaller 16L size. Given how much smaller it is than the Horizon, I think I’m going to make a fair assumption when I say that it’s probably not an option for you if you’re looking at the 34L R180 Horizon. If you’re sold on the idea of the Rotation 180 system, that leaves you with the choice between the Professional (38L), the Panorama (22L), and this 34L Horizon.

The Panorama’s belt pack section can be a bit of a tight squeeze with larger DSLRs, especially if you have an L-Bracket on the camera. If the lack of the front pocket on the Panorama doesn’t bother you, and you shoot with a mirrorless system, the Panorama might be the way to go. For regular size DSLR users, I’d recommend the Horizon. If you shoot with a pro-sized DSLR like a Nikon D5 or Canon 1D X Mark II, you have a few things to consider. The R180 Professional is the only one of the packs to be designed with sizing for a pro body in the belt pack. To fit a pro body in the belt pack of the Panorama or the Horizon, you have to take the lens off, which kind of negates one of the main reasons for using a bag with that system: Speed. This will probably make the difference for most people, and whilst the Professional is quite a bit more expensive, it’s less likely to be an issue for people who are using $5000+ cameras. Certainly when I use a pro-size body, I grab my R180 Professional from the closet.

In terms of useable volume in these bags, the Professional and the Horizon are pretty close, and much of the 4L volume difference comes from the larger belt pack on the Professional. Whilst they might not be identical in size, the practical difference between the size of the bag’s top half in the Pro and Horizon is non-existent. If you plan on using the top half of the bag for “other stuff”, there’s little difference between the two. One big difference is the fact that the Professional has back-panel access, and a much larger optional camera insert for its top section. If your plan is to really put a lot of camera gear in the top half of the bag, I’d sway more towards using the Pro over the Horizon. The Horizon uses the same insert as the much smaller Panorama, so it doesn’t maximize the volume of the top section so much as the dedicated Pro’s insert does. Frankly, 30L+ of camera gear is also going to be very heavy, so if you plan on stuffing it with lenses then you’ll also find the softer memory foam straps on the Professional will make your day more comfortable. The Horizon isn’t an uncomfortable pack by any means, but there’s a huge weight difference between filling the bag with lenses, and filling the top half with some clothing and your lunch for the day.

A simplified version of this section would say something like this:

These are just my general recommendations, definitely not set in stone. There could very well be a reason to use the huge Pro with a mirrorless system, for example.

Compared To Other MindShift Packs

The range of outdoor photography packs from MindShift has really filled out in the last couple of years and there’s now several other lines of packs to consider. The previously reviewed FirstLight series is primarily aimed at super telephoto lens users, but the FirstLight 30L is an all around great pack even if you’re not out looking for wildlife. If you aren’t sure whether you absolutely need the Rotation 180 feature, then you should at least glance at my FirstLight review as well, and pay particular attention to the 30L version which is the sweet spot in the lineup for me.

The next range of packs is called the Ultralight series, with the largest version coming in with a 36L volume – very close to the Horizon’s 34L volume and actually $60 cheaper. It lacks the full rotation feature, but it does have a split design with a side opening in the lower half that allows reasonably fast access. Not quite as slick and fast as an R180 pack, but faster than more traditional styles like the FirstLight where you have to remove the pack entirely. I have to say that I love this Ultralight Dual 36, and it’s probably the most used bag in my arsenal at the moment. Since you can break open the divider between the top and bottom halves of the pack, and remove the camera section from the bottom, it can be turned into a traditional, regular backpack if needed. The other noteworthy thing is that its camera section easily accommodates a pro-sized camera body, where the belt pack of the Horizon does not. If you have a larger gripped camera, but don’t want to spend the extra money on reaching for the R180 Professional, the Ultralight Dual 36L is a fine choice. Again, it really comes down to whether you really want the rotation 180 feature, but at very least, you should be taking a look at these other two packs as well as the Horizon. They will also both accommodate a laptop, which the R180 Horizon will not.

Conclusion

The R180 Horizon is what the R180 Panorama should have been. The Panorama pack was an OK pack, but the lack of a front pocket and the fact that you couldn’t totally unclip the side straps always irked me. When I reviewed it on this site, it got the lowest score out of all the MindShift packs so far. I’m pleased to say that all the problems I had with that pack have been addressed in the R180 Horizon, and the slightly larger volume just feels right to me. It delivers more space for gear, but really doesn’t feel noticeably bulkier or heavier on your back than a Panorama. Even if you think the smaller volume of the Panorama will be enough, I’d recommend going with the Horizon instead. The difference in price isn’t all that much and I really think you’ll find the front pocket useful, as well as the larger size of bladder pocket on the side.

I suspect that this will be the pack from the R180 lineup that I recommend to people most in the future. I LOVE the R180 Professional and have used it for many years, but its more elaborate construction and super high-end materials make it a pack that is priced out of many people’s reach. With the R180 Horizon you have a pack that holds very nearly the same volume of gear, still gives you the unique Rotation 180 component but costs about $130 less.

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Where To Buy

Further Reading – Other MindShift Gear Reviews

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