Think Tank Shape Shifter V2.0 Backpack Review: Flexible design makes for an excellent travel pack
posted Friday, September 23, 2016 at 4:53 PM EDT
Photo backpacks are typically quite rigid in their design, often to provide extra protection for your equipment. However, Think Tank's new Shape Shifter V2.0 series of backpacks contracts and expands with your gear, allowing it to get as thin as three inches in depth when it is compressed. All of this while still ensuring that your gear is secure, safe and protected in the backpack.
Design: Plentiful pockets and storage yet compact when necessary
The Shape Shifter V2.0 is available in three configurations. Two of them, the 15 and 17, are identical except for their volume. A third option, the Naked 17, features a modular design that allows you to adjust the interior as you see fit with separately sold Skin Pouches and Lens Changers. I was sent a Shape Shifter 17 V2.0 to review and its design impressed me a lot.
When taking a look at the exterior of the backpack, which is made of a durable water-repellent material with polyurethane coating, you find a variety of pockets. At the top is a pocket with a soft, plush interior for your smartphone. It is said to hold smartphones with up to 5.5-inch displays, but I think you could squeeze a bit bigger phone in there as my iPhone 6 Plus with a case fit very comfortably in the pocket. Behind the cellphone pouch is a zippered pocket with an array of smaller compartments, straps and a zippered pouch (which is where I like to keep the tripod straps when not in use).
On the outside of the bottom of the backpack's front is a roomy pocket which could hold any number of smaller items. I would like it if this pocket had a built-in divider of some kind, but it can also be used to store a leg or two of a tripod you've strapped down to the front, so I understand why it's a single, large pocket. Speaking of strapping in your tripod, there are places to strap your support system in place at the top and bottom of the Shape Shifter. Behind the large front pocket is an even larger zippered pocket, this time with a divider. There's a small zippered plastic pocket inside of here as well.
Against your back is yet another large pocket, this one designed to store a 17-inch laptop (or 15-inch notebook in the case of the Shape Shifter 15 V2.0) and a large tablet. The design features don't stop there, as when you take a look at the very back of the Shape Shifter (the padded area that will typically be resting against your back), there's a very cool feature for those who travel with rolling bags. One of the horizontal padded sections is attached to the rest of the bag via Velcro, so you can pull it away from the backpack and slip the Shape Shifter over the handle of a larger, rolling bag or case. Neat!
On the exterior of the backpack there is yet another nice feature. There's a sturdy panel on the very bottom of the Shape Shifter that can be opened up, allowing you to utilize modular components like Think Tank's Pro Speed or Thin Skin belt without needing to take off the accessory belt when you want to remove the backpack. It's the seemingly small things like these that make a big difference when you're regularly using a backpack out in the field.
Now to take a peek inside the backpack. Rather than the rigid system you find in most photo backpacks, the Shape Shifter V2.0 uses a pouch layout. There are padded neoprene pouches organized vertically on the interior of the backpack for storing your camera, lenses, flashes and whatever else you need to travel with. One of the "pouches" is actually a wrap pocket with a versatile Velcro system that lets you strap in a pro-style body or a smaller body with an attached lens, but the rest are regular pouches that can be shut tightly using a cinching system to keep your gear safely in place when on the move. Note: I reviewed the Shape Shifter 17. The Shape Shifter 15 has fewer pouches (three rather than four) than the 17 and is specified to hold a gripped DSLR with up to three lenses.
Across from the gear storage area is another zippered pocket and a couple of expandable pockets. In case it isn't obvious from my descriptions or the product shots throughout this review, there's a lot of room inside of this backpack.
Real-world use: Design paid immediate dividends when travelling
While there is a lot of room inside the Shape Shifter, it is also capable of being made very thin, which is its primary appeal. All of the pockets, despite being padded, can be made very flat. To make the backpack as thin as possible, you simply close the smaller interior zipper of the camera gear compartment and then close the larger, durable exterior zipper. After that, the backpack is only three inches deep, while still fully capable of holding a variety of gear. If you won't need to quickly access your gear and you aren't carrying large cameras or lenses, you can still make it quite thin through careful organization.
For photographers who sometimes travel light, or often travel with a backpack, the Shape Shifter V2.0 has immediate practical use. I recently traveled to Peru and in making use of public transportation and simply not wanting to have a large, bulky backpack with me, the Shape Shifter V2.0 was a perfect companion. Even with the larger 17 V2.0 version, it was a remarkably small, lightweight bag. It was perfect for bringing along a smaller camera and lens with a bottle of water, some snacks and whatever else I needed for the day.
Compared to the Think Tank StreetWalker Hard Drive Pro I reviewed last year -- a fantastic bag, by the way -- it was immediately noticeable how much easier it is to travel with the Shape Shifter. While it doesn't have quite the same level of protection as a larger backpack by virtue of its collapsible design, it does have a lot of padding inside and your gear is nestled at the very core of the backpack, meaning that if you had items in the front and back pockets, you really ought not worry about your gear being safe and secure.
Thanks to the heavily padded and well-designed shoulder, sternum and waist straps, the Think Tank Shape Shifter V2.0 is very comfortable to wear as well, even for an extended period of time. With all of the included accessories, the bag only weighs 4.6 pounds, which isn't much at all once you're strapped in.
While I didn't fill it to its limit very often, you can comfortably carry 1-2 gripped DSLRs, 3-4 detached lenses, a 17" laptop, 12-13" tablet and a variety of personal effects (and there's a detachable water bottle pocket on the side). To be able to carry all of that gear one day while also having access to a three-inch deep backpack the next day is the kind of flexibility I wish more backpacks offered.
Conclusion: An excellent backpack with a lot of versatility
Does the Think Tank Shape Shifter V2.0 offer the most storage capacity in their backpack lineup? No. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a bag that offers more flexibility. If you're a regular commuter or traveler, but also an ardent photographer wwith a lot of gear you occasionally want to carry along, then the Shape Shifter V2.0 is a great option for you.
It is available now in 15 and 17 configurations for around US$250 and $280 respectively. You can also get the modular, customizable Naked 17 V2.0 Shape Shifter for just under $220.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed using the Shape Shifter V2.0 as a travel backpack. It's very comfortable to wear, easy to use and it offers quick access to your gear. It's great to have a backpack that when not full of gear can be compressed down to a more manageable size.