Think Tank Backlight Sprint Review – Lightweight 15L Photo Pack

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Think Tank Photo has expanded its famous line of BackLight outdoor photography packs with a new slim, lightweight BackLight Sprint model. Designed for those who want to keep things maneuverable while traveling fast and light, the bag’s 15L volume is still impressively optimized to hold an f/2.8 trifecta, or telephoto zooms such as the Sony 200-600mm, Canon 200-800mm or Nikon 180-600mm. Perhaps more impressively, it does all this while hitting a sub-$149 price point, making it over $90 cheaper than the nearest-sized 18L model in the BackLight lineup. How did they do all that? Let’s find out!

In this review, we’ll do the usual deep dive into all the features of this exciting addition to the Think Tank catalog. We’ll look at what kind of gear you can fit into the bag and compare it to some of the other options in the BackLight lineup.

Disclosure: Think Tank Photo sent me the BackLight Sprint for this review. No money changed hands, and they were not allowed to see the review before it was published. If US readers buy through their store links on this page, I may make a small commission.

Naming Note: BackLight series bags used to be sold under the MindShift name. MindShift was Think Tank’s sister company, and in recent years, the brand has been phased out, with all products moving back under the Think Tank Photo name. This site contains reviews of most models in the BackLight range, tested by me at various points in the past ten years. Older reviews still refer to them as MindShift BackLight. Know that these bags are the same as the Think Tank BackLight bags.

Think Tank BackLight Sprint Specifications

Think Tank Photo Backlight Sprint color variations.
The Think Tank Photo BackLight Sprint is available in Woodland Green or Charcoal.
  • Exterior Dimensions: 9” W x 17.5” H x 6.75” D (23 x 44.5 x 17 cm)
  • Interior Dimensions: 8.25” W x 16.5” H x 5.5” D (21 x 42 x 14 cm)
  • Weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz (1 kg)
  • Volume: 15 Liters
  • Price: Review time price $147.75 – Check Current Price
  • Exterior Materials: For superior water resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellent coating, plus the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. It also has highest-quality abrasion-resistant YKK® RC-Fuse zippers, 420D velocity nylon, 420D high-density nylon, 320G UltraStretch mesh, 350G airmesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
  • Interior Materials: 210D silver-toned nylon lining, hexa-mesh pockets, high-density closed-cell foam, PE board reinforcement, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.

Key Points

  • Back-panel access to your camera gear
  • Slim, lightweight backpack for the minimalist photographer
  • Front pocket offers 2 liters of capacity for personal gear
  • Meets most international and U.S. carry-on requirements and will fit under most airline seats
  • Tripod can be carried on either side of the bag
  • Removable padded waist belt
  • Two large water bottle pockets
  • Side compression straps with locking SR buckles for additional lash points
  • Airmesh covered lumbar support and rear-panel for all-day comfort
  • Ergonomic glove-friendly zipper pulls
  • YKK® RC Fuse zippers, 420D Velocity and 420D high- density nylon for long-lasting durability
  • Adjustable dividers for large telephoto lenses, traditional photo gear, or personal items
  • Top zippered pocket for quick access to phone and other essentials
  • Seam-sealed rain cover included

What Fits in the BackLight Sprint?

Nikon Z 180-600mm in the Think Tank Backlight Sprint
Nikon Z8 + Z 180-600mm VR lens in the BackLight Sprint.

Reading Think Tank’s official guidance on what fits, they say:

  • Holds a standard-sized camera body with lenses attached and 1–3 standard zoom lenses
  • Fits personal gear in the 2L front compartment
  • Maximum lens size: 300mm f/2.8 or 150–600mm f/5–6.3 attached to a body

I have a lot of gear in the office and always enjoy playing around with different packing configurations when I review camera bags. In my testing, I found Think Tank’s recommendations largely accurate. However, I want to highlight a few specific lenses that work very well with this bag and might not be obvious from Think Tank’s specifications. I also think it’s worth highlighting some of the larger lenses that are a good fit for this bag. I never receive emails asking “will my 24-70mm fit in this bag”. Instead, for obvious reasons, they are always questions about larger lenses that might push the maximum dimensions to their limits.

Nikon Z8 + Z 180-600mm VR lens in the BackLight Sprint.

The Nikon Z8 and Z 180-600mm VR lens are a perfect fit in this bag. Once that kit is sitting in the bag’s main slot, there is room for up to four smaller primes or zooms next to it. Alternatively, you could use that extra space for a second camera body and a 24-120mm f/4. Or one larger zoom like the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR or Z 100-400mm VR. Honestly, I was surprised by the bag’s camera capacity when considering the specified 15L volume.

Nikon Z8 + Z 600mm f/6.3 VR + Z 100-400mm VR

Another great combination is the Nikon Z 600mm f/6.3 VR with a body attached and the Z 100-400mm VR lens alongside it. This is a powerful, lightweight wildlife photography kit, and the ethos of the BackLight Sprint – lightweight, low-profile – perfectly matches the concept of Nikon’s PF super-telephoto lens. Of course, you could also swap the Z 600mm f/6.3 for the Z 400mm f/4.5. And either lens still leaves a little room at the end to store your teleconverters.

Sony 200-600mm G + 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II

What about Sony shooters? Well, the Sony 200-600mm G zoom is a perfect fit in this bag with a body attached. You can also stash the 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II or opt for a second body and the 70-200mm f/4 G II (or similar-sized zoom). There is room for teleconverters if you need them, and since I prefer the 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II with teleconverters instead of the aging (at this point) 100-400mm GM, this is the combo I tested. Again, this is a powerful, lightweight kit for nature and wildlife photographers. The Sony 300mm f/2.8 GM is also a good fit for this bag.

What about Canon shooters? The Canon RF 200-800mm f/6.3-9 IS is a great fit in this bag. I’m afraid I goofed and forgot to shoot a photo of it during my studio session, but I’ll remedy that when I return to my office after my overseas trip. In the meantime, know that the Canon RF 200-800mm lens is about 10mm shorter than the Sony 200-600mm and the Nikon 180-600mm lenses pictured in the bag above. In other words, another near-perfect it for the BackLight Sprint. Alongside this lens, there is room for a second body and the RF 70-200mm f/2.8 or f/4.

Compared to the BackLight 18L and BackLight 26L

After fiddling with packing configurations, my overall impression is that this bag holds more gear than you’d expect. There is no real-world difference between the camera gear capacity of the 15L BackLight Sprint and the slightly larger BackLight 18L. The volume size difference between those bags is purely in the “other stuff” accessory pockets and the 18L’s 13″ laptop sleeve. If you need to carry many other items for a day of hiking, or a smaller laptop, the BackLight 18L might be worth the extra cost.

What surprised me most was the difference between the BackLight Sprint and the BackLight 26L. The 26L model isn’t so much wider that you can fit an extra row of lenses. The result is that while the BackLight 26L can carry more photography-related items like a small drone, flash, or action cam in that third, skinny row, there’s almost no difference in how many mirrorless cameras and lenses you can carry. That said, there is a huge difference between how much “other stuff” the BackLight 26L carries compared to the Sprint model, with the front zippered pocket on the BackLight 26L feeling cavernous, while also containing a padded laptop sleeve.

BackLight Sprint Design and Features

In this section, we’ll detail each of the bag’s features. Remember that you can click the images to open larger versions.

Top Pocket

The BackLight Sprint has a small zippered pocket on the top of the bag. As I have demonstrated in the photo above, this pocket is pretty slim. I can just about slip my fingers into it. It’s best suited to store spare batteries and a memory card holder or flat items like your phone and wallet.

Front Pocket

The bag’s front pocket offers a further 2L of storage. Again, the pocket feels tight and will limit the objects you can squeeze into it. I had no issues scrunching up some waterproof clothing, squishing and flattening it into the corners of the pocket. However, bulkier items, such as my binoculars or filter case, didn’t fit.

In the section detailing camera gear capacity, I mentioned this bag’s limitation is the remaining room for “other stuff.” You’ll likely end up packing some non-photographic gear in the bag’s main section, so please keep that in mind when looking at the bag’s capacity. The BackLight range is flush with sizing options, and you should remember that this Sprint model is specifically designed for fast and light missions. If you’re the kind to pack the kitchen sink, you’re looking at the wrong bag.

Camera Access

Think Tank’s outdoor photography packs fall into three categories distinguished by how you access the camera gear. The Think Tank FirstLight series has front panel access, the BackLight series has back panel access, and the Rotation series uses Think Tank’s patented rotating belt pack. As a member of the BackLight series, camera gear in the Sprint is accessed through a back panel that hinges at the base to reveal the entire internal volume.

Chunky, highest-quality YKK RC Fuse zippers with large, glove-friendly zipper pulls give access to your camera gear through the bag’s back panel. Back panel access in camera packs is beneficial for two reasons: In a bustling urban environment, your camera gear is safe from pickpockets as long as you always keep your pack on your back. Secondly, if you take your pack off while using it outdoors, the bag is placed with its front on the ground. This keeps dirt, sand, and snow off the back panel and shoulder straps, thus preventing it from transferring to your clothing when you shoulder the pack after getting the shot.

The signature glove-friendly zipper pulls found on Think Tank’s outdoor photography packs.

Think Tank is no stranger to this kind of camera access and learned long ago that you shouldn’t skimp on zipper quality or zipper gauge (thickness) when the zipper has to make mission-critical 90-degree turns. A cheap, too-small zipper is difficult to move around a tight bend. The BackLight Sprint doesn’t suffer from this issue. These zippers are some of the best hardware on a camera bag in this price range.

Side Pockets

The two sides of the BackLight Sprint are identical. Both feature large elasticated pockets with elastic drawcords. The subsequent sections will talk more specifically about using these pockets for carrying a tripod or a water bottle. Don’t underestimate the usefulness and size of these side pockets for other uses, though. Given the relatively low space in other areas of the bag for your non-photographic gear, the side pockets were perfect for my gloves, a hat, and a puffy mid-layer. As long as you tighten the drawcord, everything in the side pocket is secure, and it’s much easier to grab those kinds of layering items from the side pocket rather than the front pocket.

Tripod Carry

A tripod can be carried in the side pocket on either side of the bag. Above the elasticated pocket is a fixed but adjustable nylon strap to secure it. For the photos above, I deliberately chose the shortest tripod in my arsenal: the Peak Design Travel Tripod. This is a perfect fit for the BackLight Sprint as it doesn’t stick up above the height of the bag.

You would not want to use a much taller tripod than this, or you will find it smacking you in the back of the head while you walk. This is always a consideration when side-carrying a tripod on a photo pack, but it is essential to consider with the BackLight Sprint since the bag is so skinny. That skinny width places any protruding length of the tripod very close to your head. It’s much closer than it would be with a wider bag. Would anyone be choosing an ultralight backpack and then trying to carry a giant 3-Series RRS tripod on it? Hopefully not.

Water Carry

Both side pockets of the BackLight Sprint can accommodate large 1L Nalgene water bottles. If you aren’t using one of the pockets to carry a tripod, you can easily hold 2L of water for a long hike. Although large enough, the bag’s front pocket is not set up to carry a water bladder. There is no bladder handing hook or bladder hose routing through the bag. I did not find this to be a problem.

Although I used to use huge bladders, more recently, I have been sticking to a 1L Nalgene bottle and carrying a Platypus QuickDraw water filter in my pocket. The advent of very pocketable, safe water filtration devices has been a great way to shed some weight in my pack.

Shoulder Straps and Padding + Comfort

The BackLight Sprint’s shoulder straps are basic but thickly padded and feature nylon webbing loops for clipping accessories such as a GPS device. At this price point, and to create a lightweight pack, it should come as no surprise that it doesn’t have an adjustable torso length.

The bag’s back panel is generously padded and covered with Airmesh.

What’s most noticeable about the bag when you first put it on is how slim it is. You can understand that by looking at the back panel photo above. This skinny bag feels like it’s sitting in the middle of your back rather than covering the whole. That slight distinction makes a big difference when moving your body around in active pursuits. This shape keeps the weight of your camera gear close to your center of gravity, lowering fatigue across a day’s use. It isn’t a large bag, but we’ve seen it can hold a good amount of camera gear. Still, the slimline design makes it feel like an even smaller bag on your back.

Sternum Strap

The sternum strap has good adjustability, both in length and vertical positioning on the shoulder straps. A small amount of elastic in the strap allows you to tighten it but still have room for some heavy breathing as you hike those hills!

Hip Belt

The BackLight Sprint’s hip belt is relatively thinly padded and can be removed from the pack if you feel it is unnecessary. Removable hip belts attached to a bag this way are much harder to use for transitioning pack weight to your hips. I find it hard to get right, and the pack always feels like it is sagging at the belt attachment point. This is an area of the BackLight Sprints’s design where Think Tank has saved a lot of weight and presumably some production cost to help the bag reach the impressively low price point.

I think of a hip belt like this as a stabilizer strap more than a full-on support system. If you are moving rigorously, be that on the trail, on a bike, on horseback, or some other bumpy type of transportation, this belt will stabilize the bag and stop it from swinging everywhere. If you’re looking for a pack that can help you transition pack weight to your hips on long, strenuous hikes, it’s going to be worth it for you to move up the BackLight range to one of the larger sizes that has a much larger, contoured, firmly attached hip belt.

I’m sure that part of Think Tank’s logic for using this part of the bag to save weight is that due to its relatively low volume, it’s hard to overpack it and reach a weight where everyone will feel a hip belt is necessary. With a camera and a couple of lenses, I indeed haven’t found the need to use the hip belt, and I will likely remove it for any ongoing long-term testing.

Another use for a hip belt is to allow you access to your camera gear without putting the bag down on the ground. This can be useful if the ground is wet, muddy, or sandy or if you don’t fancy putting it down in the middle of a busy urban center. To use the hip belt in this way, you only need to loosen it slightly and then rotate the bag. I find it awkward as you have to open the back panel towards you, but it might suit you in a pinch.

Included Rain Cover

BackLight Sprint rain cover

Like all Think Tank’s outdoor-focussed camera bags, the BackLight Sprint includes a seam-sealer rain cover for heavy downpours. While the 420D nylon exterior will shed water from a brief shower without much difficulty, a few downpours are inevitable in the life of an outdoor photography pack. I appreciate that this is included, even though this pack is priced much lower than other models in the BackLight range.

Conclusion

The Think Tank BackLight Sprint, with its 15L volume, is another worthwhile entry into the brand’s extensive catalog. At first glance, viewed alongside the similarly-sized BackLight 18L, you might question whether this bag was necessary. That is until you see it only costs $148 compared to the $242 of the BackLight 18L—a nearly 40% difference. The bags use the same materials, carry the same cameras and lenses, share much of their hardware, and exude the same quality look and feel. So, how did they do it?

There are two ways you could make a cheaper camera bag: The first is to have all the same features but lower the quality of the materials, zippers, and other hardware while likely including some cost-saving pattern changes and altered stitching. The result is a bag that will tick many boxes in terms of features but has the overall feel and lowered lifespan of a cheaper bag.

The second option is to delete features that cost money and increase production costs while using the same materials and hardware from the more expensive models. If you do this carefully, you not only end up with a bag that hits a lower price point but also create a lighter, more streamlined bag that fills a new niche and appeals to a new audience. This is what Think Tank has done with the BackLight Sprint. It should appeal to those who want a Think Tank pack for outdoor photography, but can’t afford the other models, as well as those looking for something lighter and smaller than the rest of the BackLight range.

Where to Buy (Free Gift)

US Customers who click this link get a free gift when they spend over $50 in the Think Tank/MindShift online store. For more details or if you have any issues, see this post.

As always, using our links for your purchases is appreciated. Of course, US readers should shop directly with Think Tank to take advantage of the gift you get when spending over $50. Canadian readers should shop with B&H Photo as they offer free shipping and the option to pre-pay the tax and duties. This results in a better final price than buying from Think Tank distributors in Canada.

Photo of author
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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