MindShift Rotation 50L+ Review – Unique New Camera Bag Features!

MindShift Gear recently launched a completely revised series of Rotation backpacks that replace the previous Rotation 180 series. For those that don’t know, the Rotation technology in these packs allows the lower part of the bag to be rotated out of the pack and around to your front, thus allowing access to your camera gear quickly and without needing to remove the pack. You’ll get a clearer vision of this feature as we move down through the review, and I’ll talk about the pros and cons of this unique system.

With the launch of the new Rotation, series comes a change in the way the Rotation series is organized. The Rotation packs are now available in three sizes: Rotation 22L, Rotation 34L and Rotation 50L+. The original series started with the R180 Pro nearly a decade ago (it was actually MindShift’s first-ever camera bag) and the series was gradually expanded over the course of several years, evolving slightly with each new bag in the range. With all three of the new packs being re-designed alongside each other, there is now a common design language and shared features between them all. The result is a much more cohesive collection and a simpler lineup of just three sizes.

A self-portrait of me testing the prototype Rotation 50L+ in the mountains of the Canadian Yukon.

While there are three sizes in the range, all of them now have adjustable torso length, and the largest Pro 50L+ has some expandability to take it beyond the 50-litre capacity. With these features, the three sizes will easily cover people’s regular photo pack capacity needs.

Disclaimer: As I have been in the past, I was involved with the development of these new packs, as well as some of the marketing content for the bag’s launch. I pride myself on delivering honest reviews, so that is what you’re getting. I have not been paid to write this review, and MindShift has no idea what I’m going to say about the bag.

Video Review

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Out With the Old

With the launch of the new Rotation 50L+ pack, we are saying goodbye to the original R180 Pro pack that launched the MindShift brand in 2013. Of course, we are getting a newly updated and improved version of the pack, so this isn’t a sad day, but I wanted to point out that these new packs do replace the old ones in the lineup. This also includes the R180 Panorama and R180 Horizon that are being replaced by the Rotation 22L and Rotation 34L respectively.

In With The New

Can’t put your bag on the ground? No problem with the Rotation packs!

In this review, I’m going to be focusing on the Rotation 50L+, but there will be an extensive comparison to the two other packs in the Rotation range. While I have plenty of experience with all three bags in the range, it’s the Pro 50L+ that I am most familiar with, having had one in my possession for close to a year before the public launch.

Rotation 50L+ Feature List

  • Rotating belt pack
  • 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
    • a. DWRcoatedfabrics
    • b. zippercovers
    • c. belt pack elements barrier
  • Zoned harness system to maximize airflow, breathability and comfort
  • Top pocket for quick access to essential items
  • Large side pocket fits most 1.5L water bottles
  • 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
  • Expand your access: Attach accessories (sold separately) to the belt wing
  • Enhance your protection: Rain cover for downpour conditions (sold separately)
  • Dedicated padded sleeve fits up to a 15” laptop or a 3L reservoir in the front pocket
  • Jacket-sized front stuff pocket
  • Increase your capacity: The Stash Master Pro (sold separately) maximizes photo gear in the top compartment
  • Rear panel access to easily grab extra photo or personal gear
  • Floating top-pocket allows you to strap a rope or a jacket underneath
  • Weather resistant zippers
  • Extendable collar adds 6L expanding the total volume to 56L
  • Waist belt zippered pocket for instant access to small items

Rotation 50L+ Specifications

  • Capacity:
    • Total – 50L (56L with expanded top section)
    • Top section – 40L (46L with expanded top section)
    • Belt pack – 10L
  • Photo gear:
    • Belt pack – One gripped Mirrorless or DSLR kit with 3-5 lenses or 24-70mm f/2.8 attached.
    • Stash Master Pro insert (optional) – 1-2 gripped Mirrorless or DSLR with up to 70-200mm f/2.8 attached. Sony 200-600mm unattached and 3-4 additional lenses.
  • Dimensions:
    • Backpack Exterior – 13.8″W x 24-31.9″H x 11.8″D (35×61-81x30cm)
    • Backpack Interior – 11.8″W x 14.1-19.3″H x 8.7″D (30×36-49x22cm)
    • Balt Pack Interior – 12.2″W x 7.7″H x 7.1″D (31×19.5x18cm)
    • Laptop Pocket – 10.6″W x 14.8″H x 1.0″D (27×37.5×2.5cm)
  • Weight: 6.2lbs (2.8kg)
  • Materials: 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 YKK® AquaGuard and RC Fuse zippers, 100D high-tenacity Triple Ripstop material, 100D high-tenacity Ace Twill, 1680D nylon ballistic bottom panel, triangle perforated high- density cross-linked angular foam, 580G honeycomb air-mesh, 350G air-mesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
  • Retail Price: Backpack $459 / Stash Master Pro $74.95 / Rain Cover Pro $29.99

Rotation 180 System Explained

The main feature of the bag is, of course, the Rotation 180 system. This clever design allows you to get a camera in your hand in just a few seconds, and then stow it away again just as quickly. All while wearing the backpack. The quick video below will demonstrate this.

Video Demonstration

To release the rotating belt pack you must first grab the dangling toggle on the right of the bag. A quick downward tug releases a magnetic latch and the side hatch springs open. Now reach for the belt pack’s side handle with your right hand and swing that hand around towards your front. You might also use your left hand on the waist belt to help with the rotation, depending on how tightly the belt is done up around your waist. Up to this point, little had changed from the first version of the bag. If it ain’t broke…

Now the belt pack is reachable, unzip the lid and use the tabs on the side to break the magnets free and open the pack. Wait… magnets? They weren’t there before…

For these new Rotation packs, MindShift has added a series of magnets around the lip of the belt pack lid. When you go to close the lid, these pleasingly strong magnets will suck the lid shut with a very satisfying “CLICK”. The general idea of this new feature is that you don’t need to use the zippers on the belt pack lid at all. The magnets are strong enough to keep the lid closed, and there’s no chance of it coming open when the belt pack is stowed away.

Here you can see one of several magnets hidden in the rim of the belt pack.

Initially, I was sceptical about this, but in practice, I was put at ease and found the magnets did a great job of securing the lid. Most importantly though, this small design change now makes it even faster to access your camera. Instead of always zipping the belt pack closed, you can rely on the magnets. That means that when you do swing the belt around to your front to grab your camera, you no longer need to use both hands to open the zippered lid as you did with the original Rotation 180 packs. Now you can simply use a hand to grab one of several nylon tabs and give a quick upward tug to release the magnets and open the lid.

With these magnets, there’s no doubt that this new version of the pack gives you even faster access to your camera. During my many months with the bag I have never had any issues with this feature, and I’ve come to really love it. When I’m travelling I do close the zippers on the belt for a little added security, but once I have opened them for the first time on a day of shooting, I then rely on the magnetic closure for the rest of the day until it’s time to head home.

Benefits of the Rotation System

Over the years of using various bags with the Rotation system, the biggest thing I have noticed is that I take way more photos when I’m wearing one of these packs. Just think about all those times when you have seen something cool and thought to yourself “I should probably take a photo of that”. But then you think about it, and you think about taking your backpack off and unzipping the camera compartment, you think about how it will slow down the group you are with, or you think about putting your gear down on the ground in the dirt. And by that time it’s too late. You never take that shot and just move on, telling yourself it wasn’t quite the right shot you were waiting for anyway.

With any of the Rotation packs, you can get your camera in your hand, take the shot and put the camera away again in less time than it takes to have all those thoughts. It really is that fast. So not only do you take more photos, but you also have the chance to capture more fleeting moments of light and nature that would otherwise have passed by too quickly.

Without the need to take the pack off your back, you also gain some flexibility in where you can shoot. If you want to wade out into a river and then get your camera out, you can do that. If you want to take photos on a windy day at a beach, without fear of filling your bag with sand when you put it on the ground, you can do that. This gives you some additional creative freedom, as well as protection for your gear.

The final major benefit of the Rotation System is the fact that you not only have yourself a new backpack, but you also have yourself a new belt pack that can be comfortably worn any time without the backpack. I have worn mine on its own while rock climbing, and I have also used it in a small aircraft while doing aerial photography. You can even attach a strap to it and use it as a shoulder bag while you’re travelling and don’t want the large pack with you at all times.

Downsides of the Rotation System

It’s fair to say that the Rotation System does break the mould for typical camera backpack layouts. There are many benefits to the design, but there are also a few negatives that are worth considering before buying.

The first negative to the system is the added weight when compared to other similarly sized backpacks. Without an identical non-Rotation pack to compare it to, I have to make a bit of a guess here, but I’d estimate the Rotation System to add about a pound and a half to the weight of a pack. This includes the side hatch mechanism, magnetic buckle and some of the weight of the belt pack.

Though slightly smaller, the BackLight Elite 45L pack probably provides the closest approximation to a non-Rotation pack. That comes in at around the 6lb mark, compared to the 6.6lbs of the Rotation 50L+. To have a better comparison, you must also add the weight of the Stash Master accessory to the Rotation 50L+, which would take the total weight up to approximately 7.8lbs. There’s no denying that this added weight is a downside to the system, so you’ll have to weigh that against the benefits to figure out whether it’s worth it for your specific needs.

The second negative to the system is that there are probably going to be times when the piece of camera gear you need is not in the belt pack. Most people who are contemplating the largest 50L size are probably doing so because they want space for additional camera gear in the top section of the bag. Inevitably this means that sometimes you are going to have to take your camera out of the belt pack, and also access the top section of the bag to get to that other lens, or perhaps your filter kit. At this point, you will have to remove your backpack – as you would with any photo pack – but once you have put it in the ground you’ll also have to pull the belt pack out. At first, this seems kind of messy, and it certainly takes a little longer to do than if you were using a more traditional back panel opening system to get to all your gear.

Again, this is just something you have to consider before you buy one of these packs. Do the benefits outweigh that negative aspect? How often do you see yourself having to do that? Careful packing of your bag can offset this specific downside in many cases. You will always want to keep your wide zoom lens (16-35) and your standard zoom lens (24-70) in the belt pack. If you have a mid-zoom like a 70-300mm, keep that in there too. I personally keep a polarizing filter in there as well, along with my memory cards, batteries and a lens cloth. If you’re using longer lenses and happen to have a second body, keeping those together in the top of the bag can also minimize the times when you need to split the two sections apart.

Ok, now that we have fully dissected the main feature of this pack, let’s dig into all the other features…

Additional Features and Design

Expandable Design

Beneath the top pocket is a draw-string closure that gives you top access to the main section of the bag. When flattened, the bag’s volume is 50L, but by filling this top section you can expand the capacity to 56L.

Floating, Removable Top Pocket

The top pocket of the pack is removable and has a 4-point adjustment system that allows the top of the bag to expand upwards beneath it. There’s a zippered pocket on the top with a large glove-friendly zipper toggle and a further zippered pocket on the inside. This interior pocket is split into two sections, with the left-hand section containing a key clip that is also perfect for securing your memory card wallet

Back Panel Access

A zippered back panel provides a second entry to the top half of the pack. Note that this section of the bag is a voluminous 40 litres, which would be a good size for an entire pack! You can opt to leave this top part of the bag open for non-photographic gear, or use the optional Stash Master camera insert that. you can see in my photos. The Stash Master will be discussed in more detail later in the review.

For the zipper on the rear access, MindShift opted not to go for any sort of weatherproof zipper, instead opting for a very smooth, large gauge of YKK zipper that’s partially protected beneath a flap of nylon. Weatherproof zippers are always a trade-off. They can be useful, but they never run as smoothly as a regular zipper so I’m fine with the choice that has been made here.

Harness

The harness on the Rotation 50L+ is adjustable in nine different places, including a 3-stage torso height adjustment that will be a welcome addition for shorter or taller photographers. Shoulder strap padding is generously thick and uses a mesh ventilation system. Back panel padding uses a huge amount of mesh-covered ridged foam, similar to what you would find on a high-end hiking pack, and seen before on the BackLight Elite pack.

This foam material on the back panel is a welcome improvement over the original version of the bag that offered little in the way of cooling. The ridged design and light mesh covering makes a world of difference compared to the moulded EVA foam panels that are found on many other packs.

If anyone has used the BackLight Elite 45L pack before (review here), the comfort level of the Rotation 50L+ will be familiar. The two packs use the same straps and padded materials, although the Elite 45L does not feature any form of torso length adjustment.

Once you have dialled in all of the possible adjustments, carrying comfort is truly excellent, and definitely better than the slightly cheaper, smaller models in the Rotation range which do not use the same ventilated shoulder straps.

Tripod Carry

A tripod can be carried in two locations on this pack. Using the side straps and the large side pocket is your best bet for a heavier tripod as it keeps the weight closer to your spine and doesn’t pull you backwards. Alternatively, you can use a pull-out tripod cup on the front of the bag, along with a hidden tripod securing strap that is stowed away in its own pocket. I personally don’t like this method of tripod carry. Not only does your tripod drag you backwards, but it also prevents easy access to the gear you have stored in the front pockets of the bag.

Side carry is my preferred method. Seen here with my Peak Design Travel Tripod.

Belt Pack Details

The belt pack features a small zippered pocket on the top which turns out to be a useful place to store the optional rain cover. Opening up the pack we can see a zippered mesh pocket on the lid’s interior, as well as a padded flat pocket that is great for notebooks, field guides or small tablet devices.

Moving to the belt, we can see a small zippered pocket on one side and an accessory rail on the other side. Padding on the belt pack is generously thick.

Front Pockets

The front of the bag features two storage areas. The first is a simple expandable stuff pocket that is perfect for quickly stowing layers of clothing. Cinch straps on either side of the bag allow you to compress this expansion pocket to reduce its volume.

The second pocket features Aquaguard zippers and a pair of glove-friendly zipper toggles. This gives you access to the front pocket of the bag, in which you will find a lightly padded 15″ laptop sleeve and a small hook and loop tab for supporting a water bladder. Cleverly, the zipper extends all the way down to the bottom on one side, making it easy to access smaller items at the bottom.

Hydration Compatibility

The open side pocket of the pack will hold a 1L Nalgene bottle. If you prefer to use a bladder, the Rotation 50L+ is capable of holding up to a 3L bladder in either the front pocket or the zippered side pocket. Both of these locations feature a hook and loop bladder attachment, and a hose exit port.

I appreciate having the choice between two bladder locations. If you use the side zippered pocket, note that this will likely make it a little harder to put a tripod into the open side pocket. For this reason, I have been using the front pocket when a bladder is needed because I prefer to carry my tripod on the side.

Optional: Stash Master Pro

The Stash Master Pro is an optional accessory that is designed specifically for the Rotation 50L+. It will not fit into any other bags in the rotation range. It retails for $74.95.

This insert slots into the top of the bag and gives you the option to really load it up with additional camera gear. The main access to the Stash Master’s contents is through the zippered back panel on the top of the bag. You can also access longer lenses, or a camera with a large lens attached, through the top of the bag using the zippered lid of the Stash Master.

Main access to the Stash Master Pro is through the bag’s back panel zipper. Here you can also see a zippered mesh pocket on the inside of this access panel.

When testing this accessory out I was very pleased to find that my Sony 200-600mm lens fitted neatly inside. I have included some photos of that lens below because it gives you a good indication of size. For reference, this lens is 12.52″ long (318mm) and it just fits into the Stash Master while still being able to zip the top lid. You could fit a slightly longer lens, but you would have to be comfortable with not closing the lid.

I find that I use the Stash Master about 80-90% of the time. Even when I’m not putting camera gear in the top half of the bag, the extra organization of the insert is useful for all the other things I carry on a day out. Using the dividers to create dedicated slots for important gear really saves you having to dig through things to find what you’re looking for.

Even with the Stash Master installed, there is still a ton of room in the top of the bag.

In general, I use the Stash Master to hold my 200-600mm lens, my extenders, a second camera body, my binoculars, medical kit, Garmin GPS/InReach, USB battery pack, snacks, rolled up gloves/hat and my filters (stored in my MindShift Filter Hive filter case).

Although a shoulder strap is not provided, there are loops on the exterior that would allow you to connect one and use it as a shoulder bag. This could be useful when you’re travelling and not able to bring both a backpack and a shoulder bag with you. You might also find it useful if you try to fly with the bag and are asked to gate-check the pack due to its size. At this point, you would simply attach a shoulder strap and place all your most expensive and precious gear inside. There might not be room in the cabin for the whole backpack, but the Stash Master will easily fit under any seat.

Should you buy the Stash Master Pro if you’re buying the Rotation 50L+ pack? Yes, I believe that it’s worth the additional cost. Having already put nearly a year’s worth of usage on my prototype pack, the Stash Master has barely ever left my bag.

Sony 200-600mm G lens compared to the Stash Master Pro.
The Sony 200-600 G lens inside the Stash Master Pro.

Optional: Rain Cover

Most packs from MindShift Gear come with an included rain cover, but not the Rotation series. I believe this is because the added complexities of the Rotation rain covers makes them too expensive to be included at the right price point. Unlike a regular one-piece rain cover, these covers come in two parts. One for the main body of the pack, and one for the belt pack. The cover retails for $29.99.

The answer to the question “do you need it?” probably depends on where you live, or where you plan to take it. I remember taking my original V1 R180 pack to Cambodia in the rainy season, and boy did I ever need it on that trip! In fact, I have already used the rain cover on this pack on a couple of occasions while shooting down in the ever rainy Pacific Northwest. So I’d personally always want a rain cover for my bags, but your opinion on this might vary if you live in a dryer climate.

Flying With the Rotation 50L+

This bag is not advertised as carry-on compliant because in most cases, it isn’t. While it’s possible that it might squeeze into dimensional restrictions with some carriers on internal US flights, you’re not going to find any international flights that will welcome this particular bag. I was also unable to see any internal Canadian carriers that accepted bags with these dimensions: 13.8″W x 24″H x 11.8″D (35×61-81x30cm).

Having said that, I have flown with it on several occasions because as photographers, this is so often the game we play! Although I did not experience any issues when I flew with the bag, I did carry that uneasy feeling with me throughout the whole journey. At any moment perhaps I would hear the dreaded words “Excuse me, Sir, could you just try and put that bag in the cage please?’. Or maybe even worse: “Can you just pop that on the scale for me Sir?”

On the flights that I took, the bag was technically too tall and too thick to be compliant with the airline’s rules. Despite this, I was able to fit in into the overhead bins of a 737 without issue. In fact, I didn’t even have to put the bag horizontally and be that guy who takes up more than his fair share of the precious overhead space.

Whenever I’m pushing the boundaries of carry-on regulations I always try to make the bag look as small as possible. For the Pro 50L+ pack, the first step is to completely remove the top pocket of the bag. After that, I made sure that every cinch strap was tightened down, and I removed all items from the front and side pockets to try and minimize bulging. On most photo packs I would also remove the waist belt and put it in my checked duffel bag, but the belt is not removable on the Rotation packs because it needs to be very firmly attached to the rotating belt pack.

You might wonder whether you could make the bag carry-on compliant by removing the belt pack and then perhaps carrying it as your personal item. I certainly had this thought myself, and although it doesn’t technically reduce the bag’s height (there’s an internal rigid frame), it would definitely be worth trying if you ever run into any problems.

Although I have so far gotten away with it, my general feeling about flying with this bag is at some point it’s going to catch you out. It just looks a lot bulkier than some of my other bags (because it is), and I can’t shake the feeling that I only escaped unscathed because I was never on a full flight. If you really want to fly with peace of mind, you might want to check out the smaller Rotation 34L.

Compared to The Other Rotation Pack Sizes

My partner Kait is holding the 34L (left), 22L (centre) and 50L (right).

The Rotation packs are available in three sizes: 22L, 34L and the 50L we have been looking at in this review. If you have been drawn to this review because of the rotation system, it’s worth considering all sizes in the range to make sure you’re getting the right pack for your needs.

I have tested all three sizes extensively, so in this section of the review, I’ll walk you through the differences between the three sizes, and make some recommendations as to which pack will suit which types of photographers.

To kick things off, here’s a quick comparative graphic that underlines the main feature similarities and differences between the three pack sizes.

Rotation Pack Feature Comparison

 Rotation 22LRotation 34LRotation Pro 50L+
Rotating beltpackYesYesYes
Adjustable torso heightYesYesYes
Laptop carryNo13" unpadded15"
Hydration compatibleNo3L3L
Front zippered pocketNoYesYes
Front stuff pocketNoYesYes
Rear panel accessNoNoYes
Removable top pocketNoNoYes
Extendable volumeNoNoYes
Tripod Suspension Kit compatibleNoYesYes
Accessories attach on waist beltYesYesYes
Zippered pocket on waist beltNoNoYes
Retail Price$249$299$429

Rotation Pack Capacity Comparison

 Rotation 22LRotation 34LRotation Pro 50L+
Ungripped MirrorlessYesYesYes
Ungripped DSLRYesYesYes
Gripped MirrorlessNoYesYes
Gripped DSLRNoYesYes
Lenses2-33-53-5
24-70mm f/2.8 attachedNoYesYes
Additional gear insertNoStash Master Top LoadStash Master Pro
Tripod attachmentYesYesYes

Rotation Pack Dimension Comparison

 Rotation 22LRotation 34LRotation Pro 50L+
Backpack Exterior12.6"W x 20.5"H x 8.7"D (32x52x22cm)13.4"W x 22.8"H x 10.2"D (34x58x26cm)13.8"W x 24-31.9"H x 11.8"D (35x61-81x30cm)
Backpack Interior11.2"W x 11.4"H x 85.9"D (28.5x29x15cm)11.2"W x 13.4"H x 7.1"D (28.5x34x18cm)11.8"W x 14.1-19.3"H x 8.7"D (30x36-49x22cm)
Belt Pack Interior10.6"W x 6.7"H x 6.1"D (27x16x15.5cm)11"W x 7.7"H x 7.1"D (28x19.5x18cm)12.2"W x 7.7"H x 7.1"D (31x19.5x18cm)
Laptop PocketN/A9.4"W x 13.3"H x 1.0"D (24x34x2.5cm)10.6"W x 14.8"H x 1.0"D (27x37.5x2.5cm)
Weight3.9lbs (1.8kg)4.8lbs (2.2kg)6.2lbs (2.8kg)

Rotation 22L

Here’s a self-portrait of me enjoying the fall Yukon colours with the Rotation 22L backpack. It’s a great choice for a quick grab-and-go pack when you’re on a shorter hike. Beautiful bokeh courtesy of my Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM lens.

The Rotation 22L is a small outdoor photo pack that suits someone using a mirrorless system or small DSLR with 2-3 small lenses. I’m providing the comparison here within the 50L review for purposes of completeness, but in all honesty, I don’t think many people will be weighing up the 22L vs. the 50L. The two packs are hugely different in size and intended use.

The Rotation 22L is a great pack for short hikes of a few hours in duration, where you want to take a camera, a small travel tripod, some snacks and a couple of extra layers. Its small size also makes it ideal for highly active pursuits such as mountain biking. The weight of the pack is kept close to the spine and doesn’t feel like its momentum will derail you in your pursuits. I gave this a try myself and was totally comfortable on a multi-hour ride with a camera body, 16-35mm and 24-70mm.

The benefit of the Rotation 180 system quickly came into play again while riding my bike, as I was able to stop my bike, swing the belt pack around to grab the camera for a few shots and get underway again without even dismounting. Come the winter I’m looking forward to using this smaller pack for cross-country skiing, too.

Having said not many people will be choosing between the 22L and the 50L, there might certainly be some people who are thinking of buying both the 22L and the 50L. If your gear closet has enough space, you could definitely make a good case for this because the two packs can be used in such different ways. If you’re a fan of the Rotation 180 system but can’t bear the thought of always carrying the huge 50L pack, having this pair is a nice balance. If I were to buy two of them, I’d definitely buy the 22L and the 50L, versus buying the 34L and 50L, or 22L and 34L. It just makes sense to have a larger size spread between them. For more information on this bag, you should read my detailed review of the MindShift Rotation 22L.

Rotation 22L Video Walkthrough

Rotation 34L

The Rotation 34L is an upsized version of the 22L, with three main differences. The first is that it adds a large zippered front pocket to the pack. This front pocket can be used for storing a water bladder and other outdoor gear, but it’s also large enough to hold a 13″ laptop. The pocket is unpadded, so you’d probably want to put the laptop into a neoprene sleeve for protection.

Related Post: In-Depth Review of the MindShift Rotation 34L

In addition to the front zippered pocket, you also get the same front stuff pocket that we have seen on the larger 50L pack. This is very useful for quickly stowing a jacket or insulating layer while hiking. In the smaller 22L pack the assumption is that you will stow additional layers in the main part of the pack. However, on the 34L pack, you have the option of buying the Stash Master Top Load camera insert. This padded insert allows safe storage of camera gear in the top part of the pack but consequentially means that these additional front storage areas are needed for your additional non-photographic gear.

From the standpoint of camera gear carry, the 34L is a huge step up from the smaller 22L. In the 34L you can carry gripped bodies (DSLR or mirrorless), and the Stash Master Top Load accessory doubles the camera/lens capacity. It also provides safe storage of larger lenses up to a 70-200 f/2.8 or 100-400mm / Canon RF 100-500mm.

Overall, the Rotation 34L is a serious pack that can easily be used by amateurs and professionals alike. If you’re weighing this up against the larger 50L pack, one thing of particular note is the carry-on compatible sizing of the 34L. Although I have flown with the 50L on a couple of occasions, it was technically larger than the regulated size and I always had that slight fear as I approached the plane.

Aside from this difference in overall sizing between the 34L and the 50L, the other main difference is the lack of back panel access on the smaller 34L pack. If you opt for the additional Stash Master Top Load for the 34L, access to it is done from the bag’s top zip.

On the 50L pack with the larger optional Stash Master Pro, its contents are accessed via a dedicated back panel zipper. This makes it slightly easier to access Stash Master-stored gear, especially if you have a lot of smaller items in there. From the back panel access on the 50L pack, you see all the gear laid out in front of you. From the Top Load version in the 34L, smaller items have to be stacked on top of one another.

Rotation 34L Video Walkthrough

Additional Comparative Photos

Compared to the MindShift BackLight Elite 45L

Self-portrait of me in the field testing the BackLight Elite.

If you’re looking at the Rotation 50L+ then there’s a good chance you might also be considering MindShift’s other similarly sized pack: The BackLight Elite 45L. These bags share the same design language, as well as much of the same material and hardware. The primary difference is that the BackLight Elite 45L doesn’t have the rotating belt pack section. Instead, the entire volume of the pack is accessed through a back panel opening in the style that you also find in packs from F-Stop and Shimoda.

In terms of carrying comfort, there’s really nothing to choose between these two bags. They both use the same harness system and foam back panel materials. If you want to carry larger lenses though, this configuration is likely to work better for you than the Rotation 50L+. The BackLight Elite 45L is also carry-on compliant for a much broader range of airlines and travel routes due to the slightly smaller size. There are also several travel-specific features to help make air travel smoother.

If you want to learn even more, I have written an in-depth review of the MindShift BackLight Elite 45L. That should answer all your questions, including going into more detail about those air travel features.

Size Guide

I’m only one size, so it’s always difficult for me to answer questions about pack fit for people that are much shorter or taller than me. Thankfully MindShift has created this useful graphic that gives some visual clues as to how each pack will fit people of different heights. Using the adjustable torso length on each pack, all sizes of the pack should comfortably fit people whose height is between 6’4″ and 5’4″.

Torso Length Recommendations

  • Rotation 22L – 12.3” – 15.5” (31 – 39.4cm) torso height
  • Rotation 34L – 16.5” – 19.5” (41.9 – 49.5cm) torso height
  • Rotation 50L+ – 16.5” – 19.5” (41.9 – 49.5cm) torso height

Conclusion

The Rotation 180 system launched the MindShift brand back in 2013. To this day, likely because they smartly patented it, there’s nothing else like it on the market. With the new versions of these bags, MindShift has developed a product range with a nice cohesive design language and a size to suit everyone’s needs. Looking at the range as a whole, the addition of torso length adjustment on all sizes of the bag is a big deal. When combined with the smart sizing choices, these bags will be suitable and more comfortable for a broader range of photographers.

Honing in on the Rotation 50L+ pack that is the specific subject of this review, we see some nice refinements to the design of the original R180 Pro, although it’s definitely more evolution than revolution. I particularly like the magnetic closure features on the belt pack, as well as the new front stuff pocket and huge side pocket. If you’re looking for a big photo pack for professional usage, this is right up there with the largest ones on the market. With the removable belt pack, you are also getting two camera bags in one!

I do live in the perfect place to test all these packs, don’t I?

A word of caution, though. For the Rotation 50L+ to be the right pack for you, you have to want the Rotation 180 feature. I think it’s a wonderful system, but the inclusion of this feature really splits up the bag into two halves. On occasion, that means that there will be something in the top part of your bag, probably a lens, that you want to put on the camera that is in the belt pack at the bottom. This will mean accessing both sections and potentially slowing you down. Thoughtful packing can often alleviate this, but it’s worth considering.

And don’t forget, if you like the overall style of the pack but have a large super-telephoto lens that needs the full length of the bag, or you just don’t think you need the Rotation 180 feature, there’s always the BackLight Elite 45L pack. This is MindShift’s other top-end photo pack that uses all the same materials and hardware as the Rotation 50L+ but swaps the rotating belt pack for simple back panel access to the entire volume of the pack.

Overall, this bag is exactly what you’d hope it would be. A refined version of a hugely popular and unique camera bag, that modernizes the design and adds a few new tricks to speed up camera access even more.

Where to Buy + Deal

The new MindShift Rotation backpacks are currently available directly from the Think Tank/MindShift website:

Anyone who clicks through to their store from one of my links, and spends more than $50 will get a free gift at the checkout. More details here.

Photo of author

Dan Carr

Professional photographer based in Yukon, Canada, and founder of Shutter Muse. His editorial work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as Nike, Apple, Adobe and Red Bull.

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36 thoughts on “MindShift Rotation 50L+ Review – Unique New Camera Bag Features!”

  1. It’s a bummer there’s no rear panel access on the two smaller sizes. Not that I need another pack but I’d consider the 34L if it had that feature.

    Reply
    • Yeah I think it would not be worth it on the 22L, but it certainly could be good on the 34L. I’m 100% sure that this is a cost issue, though. The back panel hardware adds a lot to the cost, and most people looking for a pack of that size would not pay $400+ for it.

      I’m curious, though… what exactly is making it a total deal-breaker for you? Unzipping the top of the 34L to pull gear out the top is still a viable option, and because you stand the bag up on its base to do that, you aren’t lying it fully down in the dirt/sand/mud. In some ways that’s a benefit. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts and I’ll pass them on the MindShift designers in the future.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for your honest review as I was initially very excited to buy it when I first saw it, but realized the breaking up of the pack means I can’t put long lenses in there and you’re right that the existing 45L elite is more suitable. I already have the current 26L and love it.

    Reply
    • Yes Kien, the Sony 200-600mm is realistically the longest useable lens in this pack. If I need to use a longer lens then the Elite 45L is great.

      Reply
  3. Great review, as always! But, let me get this straight – the 22L can longer hold a hydration bladder? I already have the old Panorama 22L which had a great zippered pouch in the upper backside which easily holds a 1.5L bladder which is super convenient, especially for skiing where I use this pack daily for schlepping around my E-M1 Mk III with 12-100 lens. What reason would there ever be to “upgrade” to the newer pack? Anything?? Seems like a total downgrade to me. Am I missing something here? Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Correct, the 22L no longer has that zippered side pouch for a bladder. If you already have the Panorama and are happy with it, there probably isn’t a reason to upgrade to the new 22L.

      The main differences between the old and the new 22L are updated back panel materials to the nice new green foam stuff, magnetic closure on the rotation pouch and adjustable torso length.

      Reply
    • I agree it’s a total bummer they removed the hydration bladder from the 22L. I think the magnets are going to add to how quick the access to the camera will be so I pledged for the 34L. I’ll stick with my Panorama with the hydration bladder plus the bright blue color. 😉

      Reply
      • Yep, major bummer. I cannot see why they would do that. The old 22L is the perfect pack for resort skiing and riding lifts. The hydration reservoir is a must for me and makes the pack nearly perfect for that application. I would LOVE to have the magnetic closures!! That sounds like a great addition. But not giving up my hydro and $$$ for it. It could easily have been a straight upgrade on the 22L, but ends up a downgrade for me. A bit puzzling.

        Reply
  4. Thanks, Dan, for this superbe review. I have to say you put me a bit in trouble here. I own an Osprey 38 Exos hiking backpack, which I regularly use for day hikes in the Swiss Alps. During my last hikes this summer, I clipped my Sony RX 100 iii with a PD capture clip to a shoulder strap of the Osprey and had the 5Div with the 100-400 L ii plus the 1.4x iii attached traveling stowed in a Kinesis holster, which I then put inside the Osprey. As you can imagine, I ended up not having the long reach of the 100-400 x 1.4 at hand for alpine wildlife when I needed it, or I carried the 5D with the long lens in my hand, using the PD clutch for security or even nestle the Osprey’s sternum strap through the clutch such that the heavy 5D with 100-400 x 1.4 was hanging down in front of my chest.
    Obviously, this is far from ideal and less than comfortable since the heavy weight pulling at the sternum strap pulls the shoulder straps towards each other and thus impairs the otherwise fantastic comfort of the Osprey. All of that really shouts for the Mind Shift Rotation solution, doesn’t it?
    Well, what I really love about the Osprey apart from its super light weight is its mesh back that is tightly spanned between the backpacks aluminium tube frame. In fact, there is always a gap of about 1″ between the backpack and this mesh. This gap allows air to freely circulate between the back of the hiker and the pack. This makes it extremely comfortable and the days of sweat soaked shirts are gone. I came to love this system so much that I tend to discard any other solution immediately. Specifically, foam pads do not seem to really be in position and shape to fit the ergonomics of the individual wearer’s back, not to talk about their inability to keep the contact surfaces cool, despite any clever design they might advertise.
    Now it appears that I am at crossroads between two comforts: The superb wearing comfort of the Osprey versus the quick access of the Rotation system. However, would the Rotation 50L even be able to accommodate the 5Div with 100-400 x 1.4 in the rotation pouch?

    Reply
    • That is a tricky decision. I know many people love the Osprey packs for that reason.

      Unfortunately I don’t own that camera/lens combination anymore. If you want to measure it, then come back and leave another comment I will check the measurement against the size of the belt pouch in the Rotation 50.

      Reply
    • Hi Urs,

      Vaude and Cosyspeed designed a photo backpack together called photohiker 44 or soemthing similar.

      It has a mesh back and given it’s design for photographers acess to the camera stored in the pack schould be quicker than pulling a holster out of a pack and then unpacking the camera.

      With the weight and size of the 5D IV + TC + 100-400 lens it’s prabably imposible to find a solution to carry it safely and comfortably on longer hikes while having super quick access like a hip pouch would offer for a smaller setup.

      Reply
  5. Hi Dan:
    Can you comment on the minimum thickness of the Rotation 50 when the front pocket and laptop sleeve is empty and all the side compression straps cinched down? I know it exceeds North American carrier carry-on limits but I’m curious by how much. The published specs say the exterior depth is 11.8″ but the interior depth of the upper compartment is 8.7.” I wonder if the 11.8″ measurement factors in the front pocket being full.

    Reply
    • The problem here is that you can’t really compress the bottom rotating part of the bag. In order for the rotation system to function smoothly, the belt pack has to be a constant size and shape. Otherwise you’d always be fighting to get it back into its ‘garage’. So that means the belt pack is quite rigid.

      So yeah, you can compress the top half of the bag to about 3 inches if you remove the Stash Master and leave it empty. But that bottom part of the bag is essentially a constant thickness.

      Reply
      • Thank you, Dan. Yes, I understand the lower half has to have a minimum thickness for the waist pack to work properly. I’m happy to hear that the upper compartment can be cinched smaller without the Stash Master Pro in place. That would certainly help in looking as slim as possible to get pass gate security.

        Reply
  6. Thank you, Dan. Yes, I understand that the lower half of the bag has to have a minimum thickness for the waist belt to work properly. It’s good to know that without the Stash Master Pro in place, the backpack compartment can be cinched smaller. Every little bit helps in getting a large pack thru gate security. Great review, BTW. Much appreciated.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome. Yes, when I flew with the Rotation 50 in the past 12 months, I kept the top section somewhat empty and used the side compression straps to tighten it all up. I didn’t fly with a ‘personal item’ so my plan was always to pull the belt pack out and tell them it was my second bag if I had trouble. WHile the frame size of the pack would still make it technically over the limit at that point, they would see that essentially the bottom of the bag, at that point, is a big empty hole. My hope was/is that at this point they would be ok with it.

      Reply
  7. I have the old version Horizon and like it except for 2 issues:

    1. Water bladder on the side creates balance issues. I’m glad to see that fixed in the new version.

    2. The foam back panel gets hot in the warmer months and my back gets soaked with sweat. How much better do you think the new back panel is compared to that? It’s not going to be as good as a tensioned mesh panel but some improvement here is much needed.

    You say: “ Once you have dialled in all of he possible adjustments, carrying comfort is truly excellent, and definitely better than the slightly cheaper, smaller models in the Rotation range which do not use the same ventilated shoulder straps.”

    What is the difference in the 34L shoulder straps compared to the 50L?

    Thanks for your review.

    Reply
    • 1. Yep. 100%

      2. This is hard to quantify! You are right in saying it is going to be better, but “It’s not going to be as good as a tensioned mesh panel”

      Regarding the shoulder straps, the ones on the new 22L and 34L are the same materials as were used on the Horizon and the Panorama. They aren’t made from such a ventilated material. I will be publishing reviews of the 22L and 34L soon that will have more detailed images of those models.

      Reply
  8. Do you think the improvements from the old version (Horizon) to the new (34L) are worth it for someone who owns and uses the old one regularly?

    Reply
    • If you are comfortable with the Horizon, it’s not really worth upgrading. One of the big new features is torso length adjustment which will make it more comfortable for more people. But if you don’t feel like that is an issue for you at the moment, it’s probably not worth it. Unless you just feel like a change and really dig the new colour scheme!

      Reply
  9. Hi Dan
    Your site is a goto for me for reviews of new equipment and accessories. I have been entering your give-aways for some time and it just occurs to me with the bag give-away as to whether I am even eligible to enter, being as I am in Australia? I would have no issue picking up the tab for the freight if that would be an issue to enter. I know other sites in your part of the world only allow entries for the continental US.

    Regards
    Dave

    Reply
    • Hey David. You’re very welcome to enter. I’m not putting any restrictions on geographic location. As long as you are legally allowed to enter a giveaway in your country, it’s fair game. Shipping cost is on me. Thanks for your readership! Repeat readers like you are what is helping me to continue the growth of the site 🙂 My best, Dan.

      Reply
  10. Awesome review, Dan! Made me to spend some $$ and I can’t wait to get hands on that new 34L. I love my old 22L but there are shoots that I wish I had a bigger one and was able to bring 3 lenses along. Your review came at the right time. Btw, Yukon looks good on ya but we miss you here in Whistler!

    Reply
  11. Im using the largest version of the rotation today (ROTATION180° PROFESSIONAL 38L DELUXE EDITION).
    Some of the issues I have are:
    The gear accessible from the back is sometimes hard to get through the opening in the back. Is the opening larger in the new one?
    The zippers are not that easy to pull sometimes. The new one has better zippers that are easier?
    Will you be able to unleash the shoulder straps on the new one.. and turn it around like on the Lowepro Flipside 400 AW II and similiar bags to access your gear without putting it down on the ground?

    Reply
  12. How is the harness at weight carrying? Does the belt take most of the weight off the shoulders, like a regular non-photo backpack? Or is most of the weight on the shoulders?

    Reply
  13. Hey Dan,

    Fantastic review. I’ve been on the fence about the rotation pro. I had the 45L Backlight Elite in mind since I read your review and was ready to buy it and then the pandemic happened.

    Now that this has come out, I’m torn between the 34L and the Backlight Elite. The biggest question in my head was, “do I really need the rotating swivel pack?” and the answer is yes. That does help considerably and the fact that it allows me to jettison the larger pack for more mobility is an added plus.

    Now the next question is can I take the 10L reduction in capacity. The jury is out on that one.

    My question is more towards the Peak Design Travel Tripod. I did a video review of the aluminum version of it on my channel (www.youtube.com/c/noelguevara), and only considered it OK for leisurely travel. You however, seem to be using it for what you do. I’d like to know:

    1.) Which did you get, the aluminum or carbon fiber?
    2.) Did you replace the head?
    3.) Can you use it with a gimbal? (Note that I’ve fully embraced Nikon Z mirrorless so I’m more for lighter setups and loads)

    Reply

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