ThinkTank ShapeShifter – Travel Review

More and more photographers are traveling with their gear. Whether it be a weekend trip to a national park to photograph sunrises and sunsets or the long haul to a foreign country, photographers demand safe options to transport their gear. Rollers, backpacks, and shoulder bags all come to mind when we think of stuffing away our beloved cameras, but is there something that can work for hauling all your tools including most of your workstation and still act as a daily functional walk around pack?

I used to think my Pelican S130 fit my needs for travel. It has room a body or two, and a few pro lenses while also being capable of storing a large laptop in its (nearly) bombproof shell of a laptop compartment. But somehow it seemed to be lacking. It’s not the best looking backpack, there aren’t many pockets, and getting to your gear requires too many steps for it to also be a functional pack.

The ThinkTank Shape Shifter is a step up in many way and unique because of its ability to serve a dual purpose. First off, it’s larger and smaller than most photography backpacks. Don’t want to carry a computer? That’s fine, the bag benefits from leaving your workstation and home by “shapeshifting” into a slim backpack if the laptop is removed – and this is with the main compartment fully loaded with lenses and bodies. Though, personally, if I’m carrying a backpack it’s going to have my laptop along with my cameras inside, especially when I’m traveling. In this case I would not be able to zip the bag into the thinner profile, but that’s not really a problem for me.

It’s a backpack, but it’s not like any other camera backpack you’ve used. Diving into the main compartment you’ll find pockets attached to the back of the bag for lenses, bodies (both pro size and non-pro size) and a few extra pockets for cables, memory cards, and other essentials.

Loading this pack is a little different as you’ll have to load from the bottom up. Because of how the lens and body pockets are stacked, you might run into difficulty loading a pocket if there is something in the pocket above it – but, this is how the bag saves space and keeps everything slimmed down and hugged against the back.

With the bag fully loaded and no laptop, you can easily zip the bag shut into the slim profile. Everything is snug and the low profile really removes a lot of the unnecessary bulk if you elect not to carry a laptop.

But if you’re like me, you’re going to load this bag up to the max. I recently took this bag on a trip to Switzerland, using it as my primary “goodie” bag for photography gear, workstation, and other random things that I’d want to take on a long-distance trip. I feel that I pushed this bag to the max filling it with my workstation tools, a pro body, a few pro lenses, along with all the other gadgets and gizmos that we photographers love

And this was with room to spare. Of course with all this gear I wasn’t able to take advantage of the bag’s shape shifting capabilities, but with all the weight the bag kept great composure and felt good on my shoulders. It even fit under the seat of an airplane leaving me room for another carry-on. I wasn’t questioned on its size or weight on both international and domestic flights (Swiss & United).

Any backpack can fit most of this stuff and then some, but the real selling point for me is when I can use this bag for travel, get to the hotel and dump half the contents, zip it up with the photography equipment I need for the day, and go. To me this dual purpose is gold. I’m not left dragging around a bulky travel bag with my camera gear. I have room for the bulk when I need it, and can slim it down with one zip when I just want to walk around the city.

It’s a comfortable backpack and the shape shifting feature that lets me slim down the bag is fantastic if you just want to shave some size. Walking around France and Switzerland, both in cities and out in the Swiss Alps, was a pleasure with this pack. I was able to access what I needed very easily and I wasn’t constantly taking the bag on and off to readjust or shift my gear. On daylong trips when you’re walking and hiking the shape-shifting feature is very noticeable at the end of the day when you’re shoulders don’t hurt. Being able to zip the bag closed in a smaller form factor brings your gear closer to your back and shifts the weight more efficiently on your body rather than having it be expanded and hang further away from your shoulders.

Would I change anything about this bag? Yes. I’d love to see MOLLE/PALS webbing on the bag for more attachment options, but not to the point where the entire bag is covered in it. Just something for a water bottle on either side, or maybe one for quick access to another lens. If the bag can handle all my gear and a tripod on the outside, it can sure handle a few extra pounds in water and another lens.

The build quality is like any other ThinkTank product; solid. I don’t have any concerns with ripping and excessive wear and ThinkTank has never given me a reason to.

Overall, I really enjoyed this pack and will continue to use it as my go to bag. I will be replacing my Pelican S130 with this bag for long distance and daily travel.

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