Climbing through sandstone canyons in Moab, hiking through the Grand Canyon’s Havasu Garden, wading up the frigid, limestone cliff-flanked waters of Oak Creek, and hauled on a 120-mile bikepacking trip through a swath of Arizona high country — Mystery Ranch’s Gallagator 25 quickly became my favorite daypack for a wide swath of adventures.
Mystery Ranch is known for overbuilt heavy-haulers. But for a while now, the brand has expanded into progressively lighter-weight packs. Its latest daypack series, set to launch on January 3, 2024, apes the manufacturer’s iconic tri-zip design — but trades the more robust frames and hip belts of predecessors like the Coulee and Scree, for an ultralight build with a running vest-style harness that offers supreme flexibility in gear storage and access alike.
In short: Mystery Ranch’s front-man daypack series for spring 2024 is emblematic of its steady expansion into lighter-weight offerings to round out the brand’s heavy-duty heritage. With fantastic gear accessibility and a vest-style harness that offers a snug carry even sans hip belt, the Gallagator lineup makes an excellent budget alternative to some of Mystery Ranch’s other daypacks — with sleeper utility for cyclists.
Mystery Ranch Gallagator 25
- MSRP $129
- Volume 25
- Weight 1.43 lbs.
- Fabric 210 Ropbic Nylon with DWR-coated zippers.
- Harness Running vest with load-lifters
- Torso Fixed
- Variants Also available in 10L, 15L, and 20L sizes (starting at $89)
- Quality DWR coating
- Comfortable running vest-style harness
- Easy access to gear
- Easy access mesh pockets
- Frontal daisy chain and compression straps for external storage
- Hydration reservoir compatible
- No torso adjustment
- Vest-style harness won’t be for everyone
- No rain fly
- Mesh pockets only available on 25L version
- Narrow reservoir pocket
- No hip belt
Mystery Ranch Gallagator 25 Review
An ‘In Vestment’
I must admit some bias: As a man with the B-cup bust of an aspiring dollar store Jason Momoa, I love running vest-style harnesses.
I’d argue they have more utility on anything short of the heaviest-hauling packs than shoulder straps. Granted, I’m happy to cinch down shoulder straps in tough terrain, and shift a little more weight to my shoulders, if it means I can keep a pack snug and moving with me. But with vest harnesses, whatever weight you’re carrying up top is automatically more distributed, and tends to move with you better.
My first foray into them was also Mystery Ranch’s: The Bridger. While testing the 65L version for GearJunkie, it quickly became my go-to backpacking pack — largely for the vest. The Gallagator is quickly following the same trend.
As a frameless pack with no hip belt, the vest harness plays strongly to the Gallagator’s favor, allowing it to haul heavier loads than I’d usually want to pack without a hip belt or adjustable frame, by instead opting to keep the weight snug and distributed topside.
Like the Bridger, the Gallagator’s vest also comes with cinchable chest pockets. On a recent canyoneering trip, where I had to stop and take product photos in between rappels, I appreciated the ability to quickly access the lens in either chest pocket. The dual chest straps for the vest, when buckled over my camera strap, also made for a convenient way to keep the camera from dangling about.
Granted, the Gallagator’s vest harness won’t appeal to everyone. Bulky or angular objects can feel weird against your chest. The spring in the shock cord cinch on one pocket also managed to slip out somehow. Additionally, it remains to be seen if the pack will be in enough brick-and-mortar retailers for many to get a good chance to try before they buy.
Even so, the Gallagator’s harness is a remarkable in-vest-ment for a hip belt-less pack.
Easy Access, Easy Stow
The Gallagator’s vest pockets are just the beginning of an over-engineered approach to gear compartmentalization. Mystery Ranch’s tri-zip design is deservedly iconic. Boasting easy, grip-and-rip access to the top or front of the main compartment, it offers fantastic gear accessibility.
Still, there are a few Mystery Ranch packs where the bulk of the zippers and water-resistant liners can require a little muscle to get open. The Gallagator ain’t one of them. Omitting the water-resistant liner, it opts for less protective, but smoother opening DWR-treated YKK zips.
Inside, the hydration reservoir pocket, as is often the case for Mystery Ranch, runs a bit narrow. While most any 2L hydration reservoirs will fit, you’ll likely want a narrower collapsible bottle like the Hydrapak Seeker to bump the internal water storage up to 3 L.
As a consequence of the tri-zip, the pack’s lid offers a triangular zip compartment. Still, I found it spacious enough for a daypack, especially one that puts so much effort into making all the gear it stows accessible.
The pack’s side mesh pockets can comfortably swallow Nalgenes or two 1L Smartwater bottles apiece. Notably, though, while the pocket’s wide webbing makes it easy to draw a bottle, it also allows lone slim-body bottles from sliding out when you bend forward.
The front of the pack sports a daisy chain complete with dual elastic loops up top, and cinchable webbing loops on the bottom. Combine that with two compression straps running across the pack’s face, and five other gear loops distributed across the pack besides — and the 25L offers a true glut of external storage.
Any pack without a frame or torso adjustment isn’t distributing any weight. Those topmost straps aren’t lifting any load. They’re just cinching the pack closer to your body.
The Gallagator is no exception. With the vest-style harness, I found it best to buckle the chest straps and draw the shoulder straps to a point where it feels like the vest is securely cupping your chest — before picking up the extra slack with the load lifters.
How did it carry once fully loaded? Secure as Fort Knox and comfortable as a dream — with a few stipulations.
I packed the bag in a variety of ways: placing my laptop along the back, running a hydration sleeve in the reservoir, filling the bottom half of the bag with a camera bag, stuffing two sleeping bags into the main compartment, etc.
While my heaviest load with the pack was only around 22 pounds, weight was never close to an issue. Packing, however, could be.
The two ridges of padding running down the back provide a lot of leeway. Nevertheless, when I ran larger, narrow hydration reservoirs while underfilling the pack with an abundance of odd, lumpy items (a battery pack, camera, stove, trowel, etc.) and no extra clothes or sleep system to fill up the extra space — I found that the frameless pack bowed out along the center of my back, and let the hard corners of odd items dig into it.
Of course, if that implicitly sounds like a bad way to pack, you will be genuinely hard-pressed to make the Gallagator uncomfortable.
Gallagator: Unexpected Bikepacking Hero
Any chance I can take someone less experienced out bikepacking, I will. This makes me the default pack mule.
Cycling backpacks can be a tough thing to get right. For short rides, anything works. As the mileage ups, so do the complaints from my back about being hunched over and weighed down.
However, on a recent trip bikepacking about 120 miles around the mountains north of Flagstaff and through the valleys of Sedona, Ariz., the Gallagator proved to be an unexpected top contender for a bikepacking backpack.
Certainly, 25 L is on the high end, volume-wise, for a bikepacking pack. When I used that volume to carry the bulk of the water for two people, my back was quick to complain. Nevertheless, when I repacked it with my camera kit, a sleeping bag, a Nalgene in either pocket, and a windbreaker for the drops into chilly valleys, the Gallagator shined.
Like most bikepacking packs, the Gallagator comes in clutch for bulk, not weight. Unlike most other bikepacking packs, it provided incredibly quick access to any gear. With a lens in either chest pocket, an extra top drying on the outside, my snacks and camera one zip away, and my sleeping bag filling out the pack, it cut down tremendously on the amount of time I spent rummaging through my saddle bag or panniers.
Even with all the weight carried topside, the well-ventilated vest kept my chest relatively dry, bulky items snug to my body, and the load comfortably distributed across my chest, back, and shoulders — making the Gallagator a dark horse pick for adventure cyclists looking to make their gear carry system more flexible.
I have packs with frontal access. I have packs with detachable daypack lids. Even so, the Gallagator has quickly come to live in the camping go-pack in my trunk. Folded, it eats less space than my favorite fleece. And while the notion may shock ultralight snobs, less than a pound and a half of weight is acceptable for all the added versatility.
While complete wilderness backpacking may be the face of outdoor adventure these days, mixed adventures are every bit as popular. Not everyone might have the time, equipment, or desire to hit the long trails.
Enter the mixed adventure: Four days backpacking with a friend or three around a mountain; a night back in town to go splitsies on a hotel room, and a little too hard at the bar; a morning at the local airport’s car rental; and a road trip up to another area for some car camping, fishing, day hikes, MTB rides, or whatever else floats your boat.
That’s where the Gallagator shines. You can stash those times when backpacking gets back-burnered for day hikes, when tents are up and it’s time to explore the area, when camp gives way to a night on the town, or when you want to rent an MTB for a day without bringing your usual bike bags.
For me, it’ll be there for when it’s time to stash the bike or the main bag. After all, it’d be inadvisable to scramble to the creek below down that sketchy hill, with all that. And my tackle, rod, camera — and, most importantly, my fish — could all be snugly one zip away.