Think Tank has today announced a backpack version of their popular Retrospective camera bags, and we’ve been fortunate enough to get one for a sneak preview!

When I heard that this great-looking, popular series camera bag was going to be changed from a shoulder/sling design to a backpack, I was really excited. I’ve stopped using shoulder bags many years ago, due to an injury (lifting a piano; hire professional movers, people!) …and the fact that I like to cram 30+ lbs worth of camera gear into my backpacks, no matter how small they are.

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 10 travel wanderlust

The Retrospective came with me on a plane to CES in Las Vegas, and has been my daily commuting backpack for the last few weeks. Here are my initial thoughts on the backpack, its pros and cons, and who I think should consider buying it!

Think Tank Retrospective Backpack | Specifications

Price: $249.75
Colors: Pinestone, Black
Internal Capacity:
20 L (15L main camera compartment, 5L additional rear pouch)
Materials: Canvas Exterior, (DWR treated) fully padded, divided interior
Weight: 4 lbs (1.8kg
Included Accessories: rain cover, detachable waist belt, 2X detachable side/rear straps

Pros

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 01 two

Let’s cut right to the chase: If you like the retro look, then you’re probably going to like everything else about it too. It’s built to last, gear access is convenient and versatile, and the main compartment has a traditional, adjustable camera & lens compartment system. So many other bags try some new gimmick for storage organization or have limited and impractical gear access. The Retrospective backpack is a refreshing camera bag to use!

Extremely Durable

It’s clearly made to last a lifetime. All of the materials, design, and workmanship are intended to survive many years of heavy use. Admittedly, I don’t know how weather-proof the bag’s external material will be without its included rain-proof cover; canvas as a material can eventually get a little less moisture-resistant over time. With that said, the provided rain cover should do its job nicely.

Bonus points for not just having a freely open top compartment, there is also a zipper closure for the top of the backpack. (In case you’re like me, and like to just toss all kinds of random accessories and junk in the topmost compartment, and don’t want it to fall out.)

Relatively Comfortable

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 07 strap

The padding on minimalistic and/or “indestructible” type backpacks is usually terrible. The general consensus in the rest of the camera bag industry seems to be, “if you want it to look good and/or last forever, it’s going to be uncomfortable.”

Not so with the Retrospective backpack, thankfully.  Indeed I was at first concerned, especially when I saw the word “rucksack” in the product description. Such a word just gives strong vibes of, “no pain, no gain!” However, as soon as I loaded it down with a full-frame camera, five medium-sized and small lenses, accessories, water, food, and a 15″ laptop, …I was pleasantly surprised- it’s comfortable! At least, for a daily commute, or a lightweight all-day outing.

The padding and overall form-fitting design of the Retrospective is generous and avoids poking your spine or tailbone. The shoulder straps have an adjustable chest strap, which helps to keep heavier loads evenly distributed on your shoulders and upper torso.

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 08 waist belt

Having said that, I do miss having a more substantial waist belt, for longer hikes and heavier loads. If you fill the bag completely with the heaviest types of gear, and get the bag’s total up to 25-35 lbs, then you’ll want to use the (removable) waistbelt to help take some of the load off your shoulders and upper back.

Versatile Storage Space

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 04 full frame camera

Unlike so many retro or other stylish backpacks out there, this one is a practical design that allows traditional rear access, (the padded side that rests against your back zips completely open) …as well as topside access. You can store a full-frame body attached to a 70-200mm f/2.8, along with a couple of other lenses, or you can reconfigure the entire storage space to fit just your compact camera and 1-2 portable lenses, leaving tons of space for other stuff like overnight personal items & clothing.

Oh, and it also has a (fully padded) compartment for up to a 15″ laptop, which is truly awesome for a 15L (well, 20L) camera backpack of this size! Once again, it’s one of the most well-rounded backpacks I’ve encountered.

Stylish

How should I put this… I guess I’ll go with total honesty: I’ve been wanting a daily commuter backpack that didn’t look too dorky. The backpacks I already own simply aren’t going to win any awards for style.

I generally repel all things fashion, but I can still appreciate a retro style of un-assuming colors and design, because it doesn’t scream “hey, I’m full of expensive stuff!”

(I don’t know, what do you think? Is “low profile” even a style? Would you want a backpack that looks like this?)

Affordable Price

I like that for $249, you’re getting a product that is built to last a lifetime, and yet you’re NOT paying an extra premium for an unnecessary status symbol.

That’s exactly the type of camera bag and product, in general, that I really like to recommend to others. I don’t have to caveat anything about value or price, I can just say this: if you like what you see, then save up and buy it!

Cons

When a reputable brand offers a well-made product at a rather affordable price, there isn’t going to be much to complain about. As I just said, if you like what you see, then just save up and buy it! If you’re interested in reading my attempts to nit-pick, though, here we go…

Form Versus Function?

I usually never go for camera bags with an outward design that is just meant to look cool. That was a main concern with the Retrospective Backpack. With that said, I think its balance of form and function is nearly perfect.

The two main rear metal buckles, and the two side pouch metal buckles, are a very simple design that is easy to operate, however, they’re still not as effortless as velcro, magnets, or a plastic buckle. Anything metal is likely to last far longer, which is a plus, but in everyday use those two side clips do love to snag on random things if you leave them un-latched.

Having said that, one main I would have liked to see done differently is the zipper pulls; they’re strong, durable leather strips, but they’re a bit thin and get slippery if your fingers get oily/sweaty. Maybe looped zipper pulls are going out of style, (that would be a shame!) …but I could have imagined at least a slightly thicker pull tab that is easier to grip.

Depth For Medium-Large Lenses

To get right to the point: the main compartment isn’t deep enough to store medium-large lenses vertically, such as full-frame 24-70mm f/2.8’s; those lenses must be laid down on their side (see below) which means they consume nearly double the overall space in such a small backpack.

[Related Reading: ThinkTank Signature 10 and Signature 13 Camera Bags | Hands-On Review]

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 02 compartments 70 200mm

Then again, clearly, you can still fit a body with a 70-200mm f/2.8 attached, plus both a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 16-35mm f/2.8, and have room left over in the third main divider section for something like a flash. That’s a LOT of gear for such a small backpack.

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 03 inside

So, I don’t think anybody who is shopping for a backpack this small will be disappointed with the overall capacity of the backpack. However, to state the blatantly obvious here: if you’re shooting with an APS-C or Micro Four Thirds system instead of full-frame, …you can store almost all of your lenses vertically, and save room for more gear or other items.

Comfort Level For All-Day Hikes & Trail Jogging

Last but not least, if you’re looking for a backpack that you can wear for 8-10+ hours a day, fully loaded, and hike up a mountain, or literally jog down a trail or through the wilderness, then the Retrospective backpack won’t be as truly comfortable as a dedicated hiking backpack that has a big, padded waist belt.

Even though the capacity of this backpack is just 20 L, you’ll get greater all-day comfort from, say, a Mindshift Ultralight Dual 25L, or Firstlight or Backlight 30-36L backpack, due to both their padded waist belt and the extensive adjustments for the shoulder straps. (Note: Mindshift is owned by Think Tank; both are incredible quality brands!)

(Read our full review of the Mindshift Ultralight Dual 25 HERE)

(In case you didn’t know, shoulder straps are NOT meant to bear the bulk of the weight of your backpack, a waist belt is. The shoulder straps are supposed to be tightened in a way that merely keeps the load stabilized and tight against your back so that you can hike with good posture.)

Who Should Buy This Backpack?

Thinktank Retrospective Backpack Review 11 wanderlust vanlife camera backpack
Photo courtesy of Think Tank

The Think Tank Retrospective backpack seems perfect for a lot of different things, from everyday commutes to that increasingly popular life choice known as “wanderlust”. If you’re hopping on an airplane or rolling out on your next week-long road trip, the Retrospective backpack is ready to carry a fair amount of gear and accessories, plus other accessories and daily necessities.

The adjustability of the whole compartment system means that you can transition from filling the entire main compartment with camera gear, (such as a full-frame body and 2-3 full-frame f/2.8 zooms) to just a single lightweight camera and 1-2 lenses, with the rest of the backpack free to store other items.

In spending a few weeks with the backpack, for both types of use, I can definitely confirm that it’s well-suited for almost anything. I wouldn’t be as quick to recommend it for extremely long hikes, as I mentioned, because there are more comfortable all-day backpacks out there, ones that can fit even more gear. However, there’s no denying that the balance of being good at daily commuting, looking unassuming, and being as comfortable as possible.

Conclusion

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I’m thrilled that we now have a backpack version of the Retrospective design camera bag. For too long, the vast majority of camera backpacks that attempted to be stylish were wildly impractical, or painfully uncomfortable. If you’re looking for a backpack that balances each of these priorities as equally as possible, here it is.

The Retrospective backpack is definitely a must-have for anyone who likes the combination of rugged durability, style, and relative comfort.

Pricing & Availability:

The Think Tank Retrospective backpack is available now, in both Pinestone and Black, for $249.75 on the Think Tank website. and is available for pre-order on B&H here.