Mystery Ranch’s overbuilt, external frame expedition, hunting, and wildland firefighting packs have earned them a reputation for hauling heavy loads. My first experience with a Mystery Ranch pack even came when an old Army buddy dropped a not-insignificant portion of his paycheck on one.
However, the company’s expansion into backpacking, EDC, and general travel lineups is quietly becoming a masterclass in adapting to demand, while retaining an indelible fingerprint. The travel packs have the brand’s trademark robustness. Their EDC and day packs feature the company’s iconic, pocket-aplenty, easy-access, tri-zip design.
The company’s founder, Dana Gleason, is famously unimpressed with most ultralight packs. Yet, with it being a major market trend, Mystery Ranch’s 2024 Radix series leverages fabrics like Ultra-PE to haul traditional loads in what — for Mystery Ranch, anyway — might qualify as ultralight.
In short: With one of the market’s most unique harnesses, a robust frame and hip belt, lightweight fabrics, and multiple reinforced openings to access gear — the Bridger 65 feels like a marriage between Mystery Ranch’s rugged heritage and latest lightweight experimentation. This marriage, though, comes with compromise, a hefty price tag, and a steep learning curve.
- Volumes 35, 45, 55, and 65 L
- Verified weight 5.5 lbs. (65L)
- Main fabric 100d Robic recycled ripstop nylon, 330d Robic nylon (reinforced fabric)
- Frame Spring steel wire frame
- Men’s torso sizes S-XL, ranging from 13" to 24”
- Men’s hip belt sizes S-XL, ranging from 26" to 39”
- Women’s harness sizes XS-L ranging from 13" to 22”
- Women’s hip belt sizes XS-L ranging from 26" to 39”
- Excellent adjustability
- Excellent load transfer
- Ample internal storage options
- Comfortable harness
- Excellent access to gear
- Removable lid/hip pack
- Reinforced zippers
- Unnumbered torso measurements
- Steep adjustment learning curve
- High base weight
- Small hydration bladder pocket
- High cost
Mystery Ranch Bridger 65 Review
The Bridger 65’s eclectic parentage has left it with a complex of defining compromises that ultimately work well together.
Its relatively stiff frame and robust, adjustable suspension system allow for excellent load transfer, but bump up the the pack’s weight. The running style vest allows extra storage and distributes whatever weight is on the chest comfortably — but combined with all the adjustment options, adds complexity to the fitting process.
The front panel zipper, sleeping bag compartment, and top opening offer best-in-class gear accessibility. However, the reinforcements for all of these access points can leave the bag feeling cluttered.
Still, the pack ultimately does so many things well, that it’s easiest to discuss the few things it could do better first.
Hips Don’t Lie: Hip Belt, Straps, and Fit
From mile one, my back and rear hips felt swaddled in a layer of some of the most comfortable mesh and padding I’ve ever worn, flexibly sewn to the lower middle of the pack. This was reinforced with rigid external padding sewn to the bottom exterior corners of the pack. This dual anchor point system felt fitted, free-floating, and rigidly supportive all at once.
Just one problem: the padding didn’t extend below the rigid backing. Once my loadout pushed past 40 pounds and the weight settled down on the belt, a prominent seam started biting my hips with every step.
The complex connection system and unnumbered hash marks for the torso adjustment made adjusting this difficult. I even visited two retailers that sell the pack for a second opinion — but with limited experience and none in stock, they found adjusting the pack difficult.
A quarter inch up. That’s it. After a few hours and miles of experimenting, this was all the adjustment needed to place the hip belt firmly into the top two or three most comfortable I’ve ever worn.
Individually: Some Shortcomings. Together: Compromises
With the hip belt fine-tuned, I was left with the most minor annoyances. The reservoir pocket was too narrow to easily fit anything beyond a 2L bladder. The side pockets felt like they could be a touch larger — or cinchable. Still, their inch-wide webbing managed to offer good durability and relatively smooth access to two 1.5L Smart Water bottles apiece.
Plus, the hip belt’s external reinforcement band offers loops for MOLLE-compatible bottle or hard can holsters. The pack offered so many options for water carry, that neither pocket ultimately caused me any issue.
The front zippered pocket, felt like it narrowed unnecessarily toward the top. Its internal mesh lining (as well as the mesh for the pockets along either side of the top of the main compartment) felt unnecessarily thick. Overall, this left the flayable compartment feeling slightly storage-compromised. However, between pleating, a spacious lid, frontal daisy chains, and numerous other external staps and loops besides, I never felt lacking for outermost storage.
Simply put: Once I started had the pack dialed in, every grievance I had went from a mild annoyance to functionally unnoticeable — all save for the price tag.
After 2 months as my primary pack through temperate forests, midwestern wetlands, and desert canyonlands alike, I can confidently say the Bridger 65 is the most comfortable and heavy-hauling internal frame pack I’ve ever carried.
The company has likened it to a Cadillac. And it’s not a farfetched comparison, in performance or price.
The pack’s frame transferred weight to my hips excellently. It didn’t begin to notably bow until north of 50 pounds. Even 70-pound loadouts carried for miles with only mild discomfort. The hip belt might have taken me considerable effort to fit. However, this was largely because of how adjustable it is — both horizontally and vertically. Similarly, the load lifters offer adjustable top and bottom anchor positions.
The running vest-style harness might be overbuilt, and may not be for everyone. Being broad-chested, the running vest-style harness did put slightly more pressure on the outside of my pecs. And while the vest pockets offer extra storage, anything too angular or bulky like a Leatherman or a large water bottle, felt immediately awkward.
Nevertheless, the vest distributed any topside weight across my chest with best-in-class comfort and Fort Knox security, while keeping my bug spray, knife, and lens close at hand.
I’m the kind of pack obsessive who considers a panel-loading option necessary on any pack north of ultralight. Here, the Bridger sets the bar.
The frontmost pocket is accessible without having to loosen any compression straps. The panel opening can be flayed entirely or unilaterally unzipped, while keeping some straps clasped to secure gear.
The sleeping bag compartment’s expandable opening easily swallowed my largest synthetic sacks. Its internal compression strap and unique opening folds back on itself, which de-stresses and protects the zipper — and provides a flat face to which you can strap more gear.
Granted, the number of compression straps and amount of 330D nylon reinforcing every opening borders on excessive. However, it all results in a pack that feels like it will punch well above its weight class in durability for years to come — while still offering first-class access to your gear.
Just about the only area in which it doesn’t outperform others is in a removable lid that, when used as a hip belt, carries with less comfort and storage than Granite Gear packs around half the price.
The Bridger 65 isn’t for everyone. Both its price tag and complex adjustability favor those with some miles under their belt. Even then, the unique vest-style harness is best tried on in a store (before you purchase). But, budget permitting, try it you should.
It might take prior expertise, and a few trials and miles, to dial down the fit. However, for those with the patience, practice, and paycheck, the Bridger 65 balances the best of Mystery Ranch’s heavy-hauling capability and increasingly lightweight aspirations. This uber-functional (yet $375) pack provides best-in-class gear accessibility, load transfer, comfort, and durability.