Heavy loads and high demands from equipment… those items are top criteria Mystery Ranch cites in the design of its 2016 backpack line.
With a tagline of “Built for the Mission,” Mystery Ranch focuses on function over form, with durable fabrics, compression systems, oversize zippers, and redundant design that avoid single fail-points in the field.
Mystery Ranch founder Dana Gleason is known for his namesake, and now defunct, brand Dana Designs.(See our coverage in “Relaunch Of An Icon: Dana Designs To Mystery Ranch”) Fans of Dana Designs will recognize features in Mystery Ranch’s 2016 line.
These are not ultra-light backpacks. Rather, for its 2016 line, Bozeman, Mont., based Mystery Ranch aimed its biggest packs toward guides, forest rangers, and people on expeditions or well-stocked backpacking trips who need to hump big loads far into the woods.
I tested the Glacier backpack, a 70-liter model, this summer on a three-day mountain trip in the backcountry of Montana near Whitetail Peak. Our intent was to climb a couloir on Whitetail so we were loaded down for a two-night trip.
Even though we didn’t end up climbing — conditions in the couloir where no-go, with rockfall and slides — we toted copious gear to the base camp, in heavy rain, for what proved to be a solid first test.
Mystery Ranch Glacier 70L (available January, 2016; $350)
Who’s It For: The Glacier pack is built for carrying heavy loads for a long time. With a base of 70 liters, and expandable capacity at least 15 liters more than that (if you extend and stuff the shroud), it is suitable for any kind of expedition with serious gear.
At $350 it sits in the higher price range but remains competitive on price versus features.
First Impression: The pack had all the comforts of a big pack with its own spin on the top panel, outer facing pockets, and sleeping bag compartment. The top panel is split in two and when fully loaded it will fold over the main compartment instead of being rigid on top.
On the outside are two pockets that extend most of the length of the main compartment — you load these from the side and they are able to fit an impressive amount. Lastly, the sleeping bag compartment has a flat zipper with a closure like a roll-top dry bag (although it’s not totally waterproof like a dry bag). The suspension system is comfortable and adjustable but that’s what I would have expected from such a company.
Pack Design: The company describes the glacier as a “classic top-loading pack,” but the company adds to that a lid with two compartments and vertical long pockets for external organization that are remeinscent of Dana Designs backpacks. It has the requisite ice axe loops, daisy chain, and compression straps on the outside. The pack bottom is double layered for durability.
Fit: With an adjustable yoke system and 6 sizes in mens (4 in women’s), the obvious goal for the Glacier is precise fitting. Shoulder straps move up and down easily with velcro attachments on the yoke system.
The hip belt was comfortable, especially since I was wearing a thick leather belt and hadn’t had a heavy pack on my back for awhile. (I was forced to wear the leather belt on the whole trip after the snap on my pants came off and was lost!) On the way in to Whitetail Peak I had the pack perfectly balanced and it handled like a dream.
On the way out my alpine boots ended up on the wrong side and I felt a little lopsided. The lesson: Take an extra minute when you’re packing up the campsite to evenly load.
Specs: The Glacier comes in a few sizes, and for men and women, but its average pack weight is about 5.5 pounds. The women’s small size has a base capacity of 65 liters; the men’s packs are set at a base of 70 liters.
If you’re looking for a pack that makes long hauls a little easier and lighter on the pressure points the Glacier is a good bet. It’s what one would expect from a company that produces packs to haul 150-pound loads for the military.
More Information: Mystery Ranch.