The Mystery Ranch Terraplane, left, Big Mountain and Glacier

Relaunch Of An Icon: Dana Designs To Mystery Ranch

Dana Designs was THE backpack brand of the ’90s, and then … poof, gone. Now an incarnation of it is back, under a new name, and ready to take on the outdoors industry again.

Dana Gleason

Dana Gleason, founder of his namesake Dana Designs, is a legend in the world of pack-making. Many gear nuts, climbers, and backpackers of a certain age have solid associations with the brand, which hit a heyday in the mid-90s.

The company’s long-discontinued packs — including models like the Terraplane and Bomb Pack — can still be found for hundreds of dollars on eBay. But the man himself faded from the mainstream over a decade ago, his company sold off, then resold, the packs rebranded by K2 and Marmot, and now not many people under age 30 have a clue what Dana Designs was.

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Strong zippers, and then straps to back them up… one calling card of Mystery Ranch packs is their smart redundancy; if one part fails in the field, there’s a built-in backup

Gleason did not stop making packs for long. He stepped back for a few years to ski and travel the world. Then one day Dana’s daughter asked him to make her a pack. That was all the spark needed, and in 2000 a new company, Mystery Ranch, was born.

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R&D department

Tactical Packs

Originally the Mystery Ranch packs were designed with a complex fitting process that failed to gain traction with general consumers. Instead, the U.S. military recognized the packs’ durability, ability to carry serious loads, and domestic manufacturing in Montana.

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Mystery Ranch won a bid to design packs for the U.S. Military years ago. Since then the company has moved on to design specialty packs for secret gear that is typically heavy and awkwardly shaped.

Fire-fighting “hotshot” crews were another Mystery Ranch client, and for a few years the company did most of its business away from the recreational segment.

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Load test: Pushing a pack to its breaking point in the Mystery Ranch facility

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Outdoors Relaunch

That changes this year. The company has a renewed push to get on the backs of hikers and climbers. Mystery Ranch, based in Bozeman, Mont., has a full consumer pack line relaunch debuting this summer and for sale starting in 2016.

2016: The Sphinx is among the new pack offerings coming to market

Last week we toured the factory and offices in Bozeman. Gleason is still at it, and he has surrounded himself with people who are passionate about their craft, from the R&D team to the seamstresses in the back, to the guy with the logo’d-out ’90s Volvo in the parking lot. Here’s a peek at what we saw at the Ranch.

Mystery Packs

Mystery Ranch already has three outdoors/backpacking oriented packs available, the Glacier, Big Mountain and Terraplane (a name that should stir reminiscence for some readers). And they look very Dana Designs-esque.

The Mystery Ranch Terraplane, left, Big Mountain and Glacier
Current line: The Mystery Ranch Terraplane, left, Big Mountain, and Glacier

They also come with the familiar old Dana Designs price tags. The packs range from $285 to $485. Also in its outdoors line are packs for day use, climbing and hunting.

Coming 2016…

For 2016, the company will launch a new line. We saw the whole spread on the tour, including packs made for climbing, backpacking, and everyday outdoors use. The models, including the Pitch 40, Sphinx (see image above), and Glacier, are sleek and smartly designed.

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Mystery Ranch touts they are “built to endure weeks on a mountain and years of abuse.” With the new line, we look forward to putting that very statement to the test.

The company manufactures products in Montana and the Philippines. See below for a few more images from the Mystery Ranch tour. It’s a peek inside the Bozeman facility where the Dana-inspired packs are designed, repaired, and made.

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One of Mystery Ranch’s main packs is designed for fighting forest fires. In order to make sure it would live up to the standards needed by these hotshot crews, The company installed an oven for testing. Packs must maintain function needed to remove them in an emergency at a grueling 450 degrees.

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Jeffrey Lefebvre – head of repair
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Not only is pack repair completed in the U.S., but future customers also benefit from each repair. Since design and production happen in the same building, real world feedback on failure points is utilized to guide new designs

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Tools of the pack-making trade