terraframe 50 3-zip
Photo credit: Peter Reese

Heavyweight Hauler: Mystery Ranch Terraframe 3-Zip 50 First Look

Need extra room for camera gear, an extended water supply, or hunting accouterments? This expandable Mystery Ranch pack has you covered.

Meet the Mystery Ranch Terraframe 3-Zip 50, the new secret weapon in carrying “excessive loads,” according to the brand. With this hunting-and-hauling-inspired model from Mystery Ranch, there’s no reason not to go heavier (well, other than your own fitness), even over rugged terrain.

While weight will certainly put you to the test, the Terraframe totes up to 150 pounds in reasonable comfort. It does so with a carbon fiber frame paired with a durable, easy-access bag and well-matched hip belt.

In short: Ideally suited for activity-centered packing trips, the 3-Zip 50 easily adapts between light-duty activity like ridge scrambling (as I did on the Arizona Trail) to heavy hauler.

It uses a “shelf” system common in hunting backpacks to expand, allowing users to carry bulky, heavy loads. Mystery Ranch calls this “OVERLOAD mode.” Stretch water bottle pockets, hydration reservoir compatibility, and daisy-chain attachment points transcend both scenarios.

Testing the Mystery Ranch Terraframe Pack

Arguably the best feature on this new pack is what the brand calls the OVERLOAD. It’s an expanded shelf (made of 330-denier CORDURA just like the pack) that makes room to strap in virtually any other gear. While fairly unique to backpacks meant for hikers, it’s a very common feature in hunting backpacks.

And it definitely works well. Hunters have proven this feature even within the Mystery Ranch line with the Metcalf. They usually use it to haul meat, loading 60-pound elk quarters into the “meat shelf” while hauling the rest of the gear in the pack.

In the case of the Terraframe, it now intends this shelf to carry things like a hard camera case, duffel, or daypack crammed with fishing, climbing, or packrafting essentials. Heck, you could even strap in a guitar or chainsaw.

Personalization is another one of this 5-pound pack’s strengths: I fit in a full kit of photo and video gear — including microphones, an audio mixer, an external drive, and the Peak Design Travel Tripod. The ability to carry this kit made for pro-quality in-camp interviews, morning time lapses, and bird-watching candids among the majestic saguaro cacti.

terraframe 50 3-zip with Overload shelf
Expanding and loading up the OVERLOAD shelf with excess gear; photo credit: Peter Reese

Mystery Ranch Terraframe: Fit, Comfort

This pack has a fairly standard design in terms of hip belt, back panel, and shoulder straps (padded). The key to using this pack is ensuring comfort as you add weight, whether or not you’re using OVERLOAD. I found the pack’s custom torso fit not only adds comfort but improves load-balancing in the OVERLOAD mode.

The 50L pack’s internal capacity is a nice and accessible volume that rivals other 50-55L sized packs (thanks to its many tie-down straps). In my testing, boosting a normal packed weight of 40 pounds up to 75 pounds was more about deft handling of the OVERLOAD space (to maintain balance) than coaxing comfort out of Terraframe.

Several reviewers online have also mentioned that the suspension system and frame are comfortable to carry despite heavier weights.

While a big-game haul out or other heavy loads are well within reach of the frame’s ability, the pack’s modest capacity is going to be the limiting factor for longer treks. Overall, this pack was comfortable to wear and carry, but just know that the more weight you add the more you’ll want to adjust to find that comfort-versus-capacity sweet spot.

Mystery Ranch Terraframe Specs

  • Weight: 5 pounds
  • Capacity: 3,051 cu. in.
  • Features: Telescoping yoke, OVERLOAD shelf, compression straps, side and lid pockets
  • Price: $350


Here’s where pre-trip planning is critical. I had four add-in pack candidates for photo gear. But in the end, I felt only one had enough structure to avoid collapsing when cinched down into this 3,051-cubic-inch pack’s extensive strap-and-clip pattern. Essentially, whatever you decide to haul, make sure you can safely strap it in without compromising structure. And, as always, pack smart.

One con: In testing, the unique three-zip top flap with access to the pack body was obstructed on the trail when in OVERLOAD mode, as the load-securing straps wrap over the top of the pack. So using the OVERLOAD feature — including the load-securing straps — does limit on-trail access to the lid and full pack body.

That being said, the three-zip access did come into play once at camp. It’s a great feature, but a little more challenging than other pack systems.

Final Notes

Mystery Ranch’s Terraframe 3-Zip 50 Pack should definitely be on your shortlist if you’re looking for something that can handle large amounts of gear (like for travel photographers, trail crew workers, or hunters). The value of this pack lies in its features and versatility while staying not too heavy.

It’s on the pricier end at $350, but for that price, you can get a super-adaptable pack.

terraframe 3-zip 50
The Terraframe 3-Zip open front access panel

For desert or high-mountain travelers, this Mystery Ranch model carries another powerful advantage: the ability to transport enough potable water to thrive in drier places where few visitors likely venture. If you’re looking for a do-all pack that extends to outdoor pursuits besides hiking that command extra space or weight, definitely consider this one.

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