Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ Backpack Review This Adventure Travel Backpack Fits Everything!
For every photographer who travels, whether through airports or over alpine passes, how we carry our camera gear is very important. The challenge seems simple: to carry a lot of heavy, expensive camera gear, in any type of weather, and do it with comfort for our shoulders, spine, and hips. In reality, this is a daunting task for most camera bag makers, it seems. This is the reason why we love Think Tank camera bags so much. Today we are doing a Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ backpack review for that exact reason: it achieves impressive durability with surprising comfort.
While most camera bags simply fail to meet one or more of those needs, Think Tank has had a long history of achieving the objective. They also acquired the brand Mindshift a few years ago; Mindshift was/is entirely dedicated to outdoor adventure camera backpacks. Today, their Firstlight, Backlight, and Rotation series of backpacks are our absolute favorites for many types of adventures. They’ve served us very well on some truly intense adventures to some breathtaking places!
In this Think Tank Firstlight 46L+ review, we’re going to explain exactly what makes this particular backpack so special. Also, you’ll find out a lot more reasons why these ThinkTank/Mindshift backpacks are consistently our favorites overall. So, let’s dive in!
Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ Backpack Specifications
- BAG TYPE: Backpack, travel/hiking style
- GEAR ACCESS TYPE: Front/outside main compartment access, small top & side pockets
- CAPACITY: 46 liters
- MATERIALS & CONSTRUCTION: Ballistic nylon, aluminum torso support frame, high-density closed cell foam divider compartment for lenses
- COLORS: Grey/Black
- WEATHER PROOFING: All exterior fabric has water-repellent coating: 420D Velocity nylon, 1680D Ballistic Nylon, 840D matte TPU dynamic nylon
- DIMENSIONS – INTERIOR: 13.4” W x 20” H x 7.3” D (34 x 51 x 18.5 cm)
- DIMENSIONS – EXTERIOR: 13.8” W x 21.7” H x 9” D (35 x 55 x 22.9 cm)
- CARRY-ON (AIRPLANE OVERHEAD BIN) COMPATIBLE? Yes
- WEIGHT: 6 lb (2.7 kg)
- ACCESSORIES: Rain cover, whistle integrated into sternum strap
- PRICE: $425 (46L+) $399 (35L+)
(B&H | Amazon)
Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ Review | Who Should Buy It?
With its capacity and overall design in mind, the number one type of photographer who should consider the Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ is definitely the outdoor adventure-seeker. Whether you’re simply traveling the globe and doing a lot of walking everywhere, or you’re literally climbing mountains, this is one of the few backpacks that you can comfortably carry 46L worth of gear on your back for hours on end.
Oppositely, a lot of travel bags (including allegedly travel-oriented backpacks) are simply not designed for all-day use. If fully loaded with heavy gear, you could seriously injure your back or shoulders. More on this later, but, The FirstLight’s supportive straps and adjustment points make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
Air Travel VS Ground Travel
HOW you travel is indeed very important when choosing a camera bag. Sometimes, a rolling suitcase is the best way to get through an airport, hop a taxi/uber, get in and out of hotels, etc. Other times, it’s best to have your gear on your body more often and to have both hands free for more active types of travel. Either way, you should think about which exact form(s) of travel you are going to do.
With that in mind, here are what we think are the top three types of traveling photographers who should consider the Think Tank FirstLight 46L+…
Hiking & Backpacking (Landscape & Nightscape Photography)
If you’re “just” going on a long day hike with a ton of camera gear, then the FirstLight 46L+ is one of the best choices available. What about overnight hiking/backpacking, though? Very few camera backpacks are capable of carrying not just your camera gear, but also overnight camping equipment.
However, if you’re wandering off into the wilderness or mountains even for just one long day, you absolutely must carry a lot more than just camera gear! At a minimum, you need serious amounts of water and food, even if you don’t plan to be staying out overnight. (You might be forced to, in an emergency!)
Of course, if you’re planning to backpack/trek and carry overnight gear on your back, then both internal and external carrying capacity becomes extremely important. Most backpackers will do well to just opt for a dedicated backpacking backpack for longer treks, say, the Pacific Crest Trail or something. (Walking from Canada to Mexico; that’s measured in months, not days!)
For 1-3 night adventures, though, the FirstLight 46L+ is more than enough. You’ll likely have to strap a few of the larger items to the outside of your backpack, such as tent poles, or a larger sleeping bag or pad.
Is it perfectly ideal for multi-night backpacking? To be totally honest: no, a dedicated backpack could offer 55+ liter capacity and weigh under 4 lbs, while this FirstLight 46-liter backpack weighs in at 6 lbs. (2.7kg)
However, if you have more camera gear than would fit in an average-sized padded camera “cube”, the convenience of having a camera backpack should be worth it. You might have to get creative and stuff your dehydrated meals into the laptop compartment, though. (This is not recommended in bear country!)
Action Sports & Wildlife Photography
When you’re hiking all day to glimpse and photograph a rare animal, you need a camera backpack that can comfortably carry some of the biggest, heaviest, and most expensive lenses in existence! This is no exaggeration; a 600mm f/4 lens will cost well over $10,000 and weigh 7-8 lbs. Even a 150-500mm lens is pretty big, plus you’ll often want to strap a rather large, heavy-duty tripod to your backpack.
This is why both comfort and protection are important; not only do you need to be able to comfortably bear 30-40+ lbs worth of weight, but you also need to bring that gear home in one piece, too. With that in mind, this is indeed where the Think Tank FirstLight shines: The durable quality, strong protection, and advanced support systems are the best.
On-Location Photo Shoots & Video Productions
If you’re on a job, then you need an adaptable backpack that can carry almost anything. You might need a whole set of strobe flashes, or you might need a drone and a gimbal. On some big multi-media jobs, you may need to pack the whole kitchen sink!
With that being said, The ThinkTank FirstLight 46L is one of our top choices because of how well it balances versatility and professionalism. In other words, you can organize your gear storage in many different ways, and then you can show up to any high-end “luxury” client’s jobsite without looking like, well, you just walked off the Pacific Crest trail!
It also should be mentioned that this FirstLight backpack has a spacious, padded laptop sleeve, so it truly is a well-rounded backpack in terms of traveling for work versus hiking into the mountains.
Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ Review | Pros & Cons
In this section, I’ll briefly describe the specific details that stand out about the Think Tank FirstLight 46L+, whether they are good or bad. No camera bag is perfect, at least not perfect for everything that you might use a camera bag for. This bag, like every other, is very well-suited for some things, and less perfectly suited for others.
The quality of materials and craftsmanship that go into Think Tank products is truly impressive. Unlike camera bodies, which seem to need to be upgraded every couple of years or so, a good backpack could last you a lifetime!
In a time when consumers are becoming more accustomed to buying cheap, highly breakable products from nameless dropship “companies” on the internet, camera bags is one of the categories where I absolutely recommend people buy the best quality product. It’s worth it.
Simply put, 46 liters is a lot. As you can see in the above example images, you can configure the backpack very differently depending on what gear you have. If you have giant flagship camera bodies and/or full-frame bodies with vertical grips, they’ll fit. If you have pro camera bodies without vertical grips, you may even be able to fit them in “sideways”. Most lenses will fit in vertically, except for the bigger telephoto lenses of course. (A 70-200mm or 100-400mm will barely count as “medium-sized”, in this backpack!) According to ThinkTank’s literature, the largest possible lenses you can fit would be up to a 500mm lens with a camera body attached, or up to an 800mm lens if detached from the camera body.
All in all, this backpack can probably fit all the camera gear you own, and still have room left for a “misc” zone for your memory card wallets, backup devices, USB batteries, etc.
Design & Features
With the FirstLight and Backlight camera backpacks, Think Tank offers two rather similar design styles. They can appear similar at a glance, but in terms of their key functionality, there are a number of important differences.
The way the FirstLight series is designed, you open the main compartment from the back. The reason for this is that it allows the shoulder straps to have the best support and the most adjustment/customization possible. The entire shoulder strap system can be adjusted up and down, which is critical for perfectly suiting a backpack to your height. Especially when fully loaded with heavy camera gear, the exact balance of weight distribution on your shoulders and waist can make the difference between a pleasant all-day hike, and a miserable experience that puts you at risk of injuring your shoulders or back!
Called the Torso Adjustment, this feature makes the FirstLight series a literal perfect fit for almost everybody who doesn’t fit the norm of body height/type and wants to carry a bunch of gear on their backs for any longer than 30-60 minutes per day.
Furthermore, the FirstLight’s waist belt is fixed to the backpack’s main body, which allows maximum support to be distributed to your hips. (For comparison, the ThinkTank Backlight series has a fixed shoulder strap height position and a removable waist belt. We’ll talk more about this later.) All in all, the FirstLight tallies up 11 points of adjustment!
The other features of the Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ make it also well-suited for adventurous types, too. There are two very large side pockets, (big enough for a Nalgene water bottle) with straps for snugging things down.
The topmost pocket of the backpack is detachable and perfect for quick runs to grab a few photos at sunrise if you want to jog a few yards away from camp without having to hoist your entire 46-liter backpack. (You can’t exactly fit a large lens in this pocket, but it’s perfect for everything else you need, such as camera batteries, lens filters, memory card wallets, and a breakfast snack!)
We’ll get into the additional features that this backpack is brimming with, but, suffice it to say, the FirstLight 46L+ is a nearly perfect design. The only drawback of its overall design is, of course, that your gear access is from the outside/front, which means you’ll have to lay the backpack down. If you’ve been sweating for a while, and/or if you’re anywhere near anything “pokey”, from pine needles to cactus, you’ll have to be very careful every time you lay your backpack down and then re-hoist it.
As we just noted, the Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ is highly configurable and versatile. The highlights are definitely the fully adjustable shoulder straps, which make it adaptable to various different body types. The other major aspect of versatility is just how wide a variety of things it can carry besides camera gear, from a laptop and other work necessities to the explorer/wanderlust influencer types.
Form VS Function?
Here’s one thing that I appreciate, although it’s not really critical: many camera backpacks either sacrifice function in order to look stylish, or they are all about function, and they end up looking, well, the opposite of stylish.
So, I am happy to say that this FirstLight “plus” series of backpacks actually does a great job of looking quite sleek! If you’re the type of adventurer/traveler who does a lot of vlogging or anything along the lines of being an influencer, then there’s a chance your camera bag will end up in a lot of your videos/photos.
Depth For Large Lenses
On smaller backpacks, many lenses, even 24-70mm f/2.8 sized, can’t be slid into a padded compartment vertically. With this FirstLight 46L+, you have no such problem; even some of the more portable 70-200mm or similar lenses might be able to be carried in a vertical orientation, such as the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS, or the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 or Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3.
In fact, the backpack is deep enough to transport almost all of the largest lenses available for super-telephoto wildlife photography, if you lay them down of course.
Comfort & Ergonomics
Comfort is what the FirstLight series is all about, indeed. With its perfect balance of adjustments and strong support, this backpack is the kind you want if you have 30-40+ lbs worth of camera gear to carry. I won’t mention other brand names yet, but I’ve tried plenty of other camera backpacks and they have largely been woefully inadequate when passing the 25-30 lb range of weight. Some have been downright painful e
Gear Protection & Weather Protection
With virtually every material used and each aspect of the design taking rough conditions into consideration, the FirstLight 46L+ definitely gets our highest recommendation for gear protection. Whether you are being abused by nasty weather, or you are the one being rough by tossing your camera bag in the back of a pickup and driving for hours on a bumpy dirt road, the ThinkTank
At $425 for the Think Tank FirstLight 46L+, your initial reaction may be that it’s quite expensive. However, keep in mind just how much camera gear would fit into this backpack: With a basic configuration, you could easily rack up two camera bodies, two telephoto lenses, and a half-dozen other smaller lenses. That could easily be $4,000 worth of camera gear, or maybe $10,000+ if you’re carrying flagship bodies and super-telephoto wildlife lenses.
So, simply put, if you need to protect that much gear, you absolutely should see the FirstLight 46L+ as an investment of great value. This backpack will last a lifetime if you take decent care of it, and will offer some of the best protection for your gear even in extreme weather.
Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ Review | Compared To Alternatives
Other photography backpacks may offer large capacity, and/or an affordable price, and some may even be relatively comfortable. However, few offer everything the FirstLight offers. For example, if you want large capacity, often you’ll lose comfort and gain serious back pain! If you want something lightweight and comfortable, though, you may sacrifice gear protection. Lastly, if you are hoping to pay an extremely low price, you’ll almost always have to give up build quality and longevity.
That is why we only recommend name brands like Think Tank. Also, among the majority of name brands, we prefer Think Tank (and Mindshift) designs whenever we are going to be carrying our gear on our backs for long periods of time.
Of course, there is the Think Tank BackLight series, which comes in up to a 45-liter capacity, and is very similar to the Firstlight, but quite different in a couple of major ways. What you’ll like about the BackLight 45L is this: you can access all your gear from the back, as its name implies, so you’ll never have to worry about pine needles or cactus spikes jabbing you in the back after you’ve laid your backpack down in the dirt to access your gear.
However, to achieve this rear access, the BackLight series has a fixed shoulder strap attachment style, plus a sliding, removable waist belt. If your body is of roughly average height & shape, then this isn’t a problem at all. I am 6’1”, (1.85m) and I find the BackLight 45L to be just fine for me. Unfortunately, if you’re significantly shorter or taller than average, then you may not like this adjustment restriction. The BackLight series comes in 18L, 26L, 36L, and 45L capacities, ranging from $219 to $439.
The Think Tank Rotation Series is also designed for hiking with lots of gear. (Another original Mindshift genius design!) This is our current favorite for the most active, run-and-gun types of photographers because its entire lower portion rotates out for easy access without even taking the backpack off! Also, this lower section is fully detachable so you can do trail running (jogging) with an entire camera body and a lens or two. The Mindshift Rotation series comes in 22L, 34L, and 50L capacities, at $274, $329, and $459 respectively.
As you can see, the Think Tank FirstLight series, offers a great compromise between the other two travel & hiking-oriented backpacks, at the best price in terms of sheer capacity.
Think Tank FirstLight 46L+ Review | Conclusion
All things considered, the heavier your camera gear is, the more you need to think about comfort and support when looking for a camera backpack. Also, the more expensive your camera gear is, the more you absolutely must protect it while traveling! With these two main criteria in mind, we highly recommend the Think Tank FirstLight series overall, and especially the FirstLight 46L+ for those longer trips with more gear. It is an investment that should last you a lifetime, and both your gear and your back/shoulders will thank you!
Check Pricing & Availability
The smaller sibling for the 46L+ is another great option for anyone who needs to carry slightly less gear: The Think Tank 35L+. Its price is slightly lower, at $399.75, so we recommend simply assessing how much gear you want to carry, and saving up for whichever backpack is truly the best suited for your needs.