Think Tank Shape Shifter Backpack Review . . . continued

The event guys really liked the neoprene gear pouches. Everybody does. It's a welcome departure from ubiquitous, padded nylon/velcro divider systems found in most backpacks. The neoprene pouch and cinch system is flexible enough to hold a wide variety of gear while keeping everything snug in place. Although it takes a small bit of practice to learn the best way of getting gear in and out of the pouches (grab edge, yank, stow or remove body or lens, cinch snug), everyone quickly discovered that the neoprene used in the Shape Shifter is very tough material. It appears to be very close in grade and toughness to the neoprene used in high quality professional diving suits. The event guys liked the full height laptop compartment too. They were able to pack a power block, a 17" Dell Vostro, cables and a mouse all together. Gear used at events: Canon 1Ds MKIII body, Canon 5D MKII body, Canon G10 compact, two pro Canon 16-35mm II L f/2.8 zooms, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom, and a pair of Canon 430EX flashes. The Shape Shifter was full.

My own trip to Anchorage, Alaska was quite easy with the Shape Shifter. I'm a Nikon guy these days. For my northern research trips I now carry a pair of Nikon D700 bodies (without grips), a Nikkor 105mm VR Micro, Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 pro zoom, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR zoom, Nikon SB-600 flash, Gary Wong diffuser, and a 15" Lenovo ThinkPad laptop. The Shape Shifter handled it all perfectly well and with a bit of room to spare. My research usually involves me in a lot of personal interviews. Being able to walk into a meeting area, indoors or out, and almost silently deploy my gear is a real pleasure and it was easy to do so with the Shape Shifter. During a couple of hours-long walks in and around downtown Anchorage, the pack proved comfortable and easily adjustable.


All of the testers also couldn't help commenting very favorably about the quietness of the Shape Shifter. The heavy duty nylon tracks and metallic zippers (as well as the smooth finishing and clean-sliding operation of the YKK zippers) are very quiet. Accessing all of the main compartments is a quiet process. There are no excess bits of hardware or poorly placed clips or clasps to rattle or clink when you're walking.

No backpack of any kind (hiking, day pack, trekking, photography, video, wilderness, climbing, etc., etc.) can be designed to suit all body types. The Shape Shifter is a terrific design, but you're well-advised to try it in-store before you buy it (in-store, online or elsewhere). If it fits even only reasonably well, it will break in beautifully and you'll likely have a pack that will outlive you. If it doesn't fit, try one of Think Tank's other excellent packs instead. Just make sure you get the right fit. The integrated Shape Shifter waist belt is very securely mounted and specifically designed to place the load on your hips (where it belongs), so use it all the time. Choosing a backpack takes time. Always remember to bring a full range of gear with you in order to load each pack you're trying and get a real sense of how each one carries on your particular body.

Cons: Only two things bugged us about the Shape Shifter. First, when the grab handle sewn into the top rear seam breaks in nicely, as it did during the review period, it will re-contour from its flat factory-fresh position into a loop shape that brushed the necks of two of the three dozen people who tried on the Shape Shifter after it completed the review ordeal. Second, the thickly padded lower lumbar pad is finished on its lower edge with a velcro flap which can be opened to partially lift the pad so that an accessory waist belt (such as Think Tank's Pro Speed Belt) can be substituted for the normal integrated waist belt supplied with the Shape Shifter. The problem is that the velcro flap contains a piece of stiff material of some sort, and with certain loads, the stiff edge can put some pressure against you. It bothered three of the people who tried it - two men and one woman.

Pros: Think Tank Photo continues to impress us with the quality of its approach to design and construction. We've yet to find any construction problems - nothing even close to a flaw - in any of the Think Tank products we've reviewed. Backpacks are particularly difficult to design because of the wide range of body types which must be accommodated. At the same time, designers must resist the urge to make compromises which lower the overall quality of a backpack's suitability for it target users. So Think Tank's designers seem to be, again, keeping their eyes firmly on the ball. Working pros and serious amateurs appreciate Think Tank's thorough attention to usability and construction details. The Shape Shifter is very quiet in use, making it suitable for a wide range of applications. The YKK zippers are supremely reliable, but the design and construction of the zipper tracks (more importantly) result in opening and closing operations which never bind, kink or delay access to any gear. Neoprene gear pouches are roomy enough to hold big stuff, but can also be cinched down to securely hold small lenses, bodies and flashes. Although the Shape Shifter looks big, it's carry-on legal for use on all domestic North American airlines and, judging strictly from actual dimensions when loaded, should be carry-on legal everywhere else as well (always check with your airlines to be sure about anything you're considering as a carry-on). The waist belt ladder locks and main clasp don't budge, yet remain easy to adjust - a very good design - and the Rock Lockster clips lock up tightly and securely. It's all made to last through years and years of heavy use. No special knowledge needed. If you're a working pro or a busy amateur shooter in need of a photography & laptop backpack for events, day trips, light trail use, or urban walkabouts, the Shape Shifter is a terrific choice. Good stuff from Think Tank Photo. Highly recommended.



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