Mystery Ranch isn’t your typical outdoor gear manufacturer. While most brands were started by mountain climbers and backpackers with a thirst for life off the beaten path, Mystery Ranch was started in 2000 by Dana Gleason of the original Kletterwerks, with the goal of creating heavy-duty, mission-ready gear for the firefighters and tactical hunters of Bozeman, Montana. Soon after, they were asked by Navy SEALS to create tough-as-nails, virtually-bulletproof backpacks for use in tactical missions – a challenge they readily accepted. Just over a decade and a half later, and Mystery Ranch is one of the most trusted names in the outdoor space, creating high-quality, functional backpacks that withstand even the toughest of missions and at the same time, don’t break the bank.
Even when they were first getting started, it wasn’t as if Mystery Ranch was lacking in experience, however; the ownership already had decades of experience in creating, designing and sewing backpacks – all of which are made right here in the USA – and they’ve only continued to perfect their designs and bag architecture. They use a slightly different philosophy than most brands when designing new packs, too, opting to put attention and engineering prowess into how the load is carried, and how the frame fits and travels on your back and hips, before creating the actual pack. Most other brands treat weight distribution and load carrying as an afterthought.
What does this look like in action? Mystery Ranch’s frames are built flat, for example, as opposed to the arched shape most often seen on large-capacity backpacks. At the same time, Mystery Ranch designs their frames to flex, which helps it spread the entire weight of a full bag evenly over the wearer’s entire back for a more even, lighter load. Their “Load-Carriage” frames, as they call them, also keep in mind how a full pack tends to change shape and round out, and they don’t design the bags to follow the shape of your back perfectly.
Instead, they build the frame separately from the rest of the bag, out of composite materials that flex when tightened, essentially fitting itself to you back as closely as possible. The brand also believes it’s more important to focus on distributing your load evenly to make carrying it easier, as opposed to simply trying to cut weight at the expense of design, comfort and materials. In addition, they use a telescoping design for their yokes, allowing you to adjust it up and down to achieve the perfect fit for your height. They’ve deemed it the Futura Yoke.
If this all sounds a bit technical, it is. But we promise you, wear a Mystery Ranch pack fully loaded up on a long backpacking trek, and you’re likely to find it far more comfortable than a pack of similar weight but lesser attention-to-load-bearing-detail. We had the chance to try out the Mystery Ranch Glacier 70 on an 18-mile day hike in the Big Sur and were impressed with how comfortable it was; the pack probably weighed in at 35 pounds, but didn’t dig into our shoulders, hips or chest, and definitely felt a bit lighter than you would expect at that weight.
(Why wear a 70-liter for a day hike, you’re asking? Good question; we just wanted to try out these legendary suspensions).
We could go on and on about technical specifications and why this design works, but the best way to see for yourself is to…well, see for yourself. With that in mind, here are a few of our picks for Mystery Ranch packs worth investing your hard-earned cash in.
The Terraplane is Mystery Ranch’s flagship expedition pack, built for everything from weekend backpacking trips to long-haul treks lasting thousands of miles. It uses the legendary Mountain Frame, with the two vertical rods and full-length frame sheet for serious load-bearing plus comfort, as well as the patented waistbelt that shapes around your hips and shifts the weight evenly. It’s also got their patented, vertically-sliding Futura Yoke.
With a 70-liter capacity, ultra-tough 500D Cordura build, and extra-large size, it certainly isn’t light, however; it’ll add 7.1 pounds to your kit. If that sounds like a lot, remember Mystery Ranch’s philosophy: quality, fit and Load Carriage can outweigh weight alone.
Why the Scree? Mystery Ranch bills it as a single pack with 10 uses; whether you’re grabbing it for an all-day hike or packing for a quick overnight, the Scree’s 32 liters and 3-pound weight have you covered. A hydration slot lets you hang a water pouch, and there are two side water bottle pockets if you prefer the old-fashioned way.
Constructed from 420D nylon, it’s a hefty-but-not-heavy pack – one that ensures confidence and durability. They also both have the Futura Yoke and waistbands for Mystery Ranch’s signature fit and adjustability. The Scree will go virtually anywhere you can, making it a trusty companion for whatever mission you need to tackle.
3-Day assault packs have been a standby in military use for quite some time, and Mystery Ranch’s take on it delivers the expected goods while improving on more standard designs. Built in the USA – as it should be -the 3-Day Assault BVS has Mystery Ranch’s 3-Zip Design for quick access to inside the compartments, 29 liters of storage for all your supplies, and an array of MOLLE webbing for attaching more pouches and customizing your pack the way you need (and like) it. For this new version, Mystery Ranch also included a 17” laptop sleeve for when your computer is mission critical; it doubles as a hydration sleeve for when it isn’t.
Mystery Ranch calls the Metcalf the king of bivy hunting packs. At over $500 apiece and with a 71-liter capacity, it’s certainly a beast of a bag. It features Mystery Ranch’s Guidelight frame, which actually includes super-light carbon fiber stays that flex with your body, as well as compression straps and load lifters for stabilizing the load. The Redirect waistbelt further transfers weight to your hips while keeping things firm and stable.
Further features include an Overload Shelf, which allows you to pull the frame off and actually expand the distance between it and the bag itself, increasing load capacity for carrying game quarters or whatever other gear you need; the Futura Yoke can be quickly adjusted up or down to fit your torso exactly; You can lash your rifle or bow onto the side with the compression straps, and the Futura Yoke can be quickly adjusted up or down to fit your torso exactly; and, the Metcalf’s large size and load capacity notwithstanding, it’s light and compressible enough for day-hunts as well, thanks to those same compression straps.
Being a hotshot is a demanding job, and it demands a lot from your pack as well. The appropriately-named HotShot has been designed, redesigned and optimized for the long, grueling days on the fireline – days that eventually run together into weeks. It rides low on your back so as not to impede while using tools; wing pockets allow for easy access to fuel and water bottles without removing the pack; and
It’s built from both 500D and 1000D Cordura, coated with Teflon and PU to protect from the incredibly-rugged, hectic elements a hotshot faces everyday. Attachment points and high-stress areas are all reinforced or double-coated. The YKK zippers are coated with Uretek and nickel-plated for even more durability and weather resistance. There’s an internal hydration sleeve, with included CAL FIRE Spec hydration reservoir; and MOLLE webbing allows you to attach all the extra pouches and accessories you need, such as the included HotShot Lid and Shelter Case.
Last but not least, Mystery Ranch has a few options for slightly-less demanding jobs, such as the Slick. With a smooth, slim design and lightweight, this 23-liter daypack is perfect for slinging over your shoulder before hopping on the bike, or just heading out for a day on the town. Maybe grab it for a quick-day hike, too.
While there’s no fancy frame or load-bearing system on this one, the Slick does have an asymmetrical u-shaped opening, which Mystery Ranch says makes grabbing stuff out of the main compartment even easier, without needing to remove the pack. A padded laptop sleeve accommodates your 15” or smaller PC. Construction is from 500D CORDURA, with urethane-coated YKK zippers and all the craftsmanship you’ve come to expect from Mystery Ranch.
You need the modularity, load-bearing and capability of the Metcalf, but don’t need something that huge. Enter the Divide. This tri-fold style pack has 24 liters of capacity, and a multitude of pockets both inside and out. The internal frame is a HDPE sheet consisting of two carbon fiber stays that give it both some flex and stability; the waist belt cinches down tightly, while Mystery Ranch’s Futura Yoke lets you adjust the torso length for the perfect fit. And, just like the Metcalf, it expands to create extra storage for carrying large loads of meat.