If you don’t already know, MYSTERY RANCH makes some of the best backpacks available– from load-bearing military, fire, and hunting packs to your laptop-slingin’ work bag.
A Little Background:
MR was founded by an east coast born, fun-loving, big-hearted, passionate man who knows more about backpacks than any human ever should. His name is Dana Gleason. When Dana started making backpacks full time, he didn’t expect to attract such a following of avid outdoorsmen and women. Today, MR packs are not only used by premiere military units and wildland firefighters, but serious hunters across the globe. These packs are trusted, used, abused, rebuilt, & reused year after year.
Where They’re Made:
Based in Bozeman, Montana– a hub for outdoor recreation– MR makes a point to test their products in real-life strenuous situations. Their proximity to the wild (right outside their door) allows them to go from ideation to field testing in a matter of days, while, for many companies, this process can take months.
“We keep a tight loop on our design process,” says MR product designer, Alex Rich. “I can pattern it, sew it together, run up a mountain, see if it works - if it sucks I can take it back to the office, tear it apart, figure out what’s wrong with it, put it back together, then go out and test it again. I think that’s been key to the success of our hunting line and our products in general. We’re users. I like to spend as much time as I can in the mountains chasing elk in September. If a pack that I design fails in some way, I’m pretty pissed about that. That’s motivation to come back and build it better– for our end users and so that I don’t get mad.”
All product prototyping, research & development is done right here in Bozeman, MT - in the USA.
Understanding the needs of your consumer is an essential part of any product company. Design aesthetic and “looking cool'' is well and good, but the product has to perform more than anything - functionality is at the core of any successful product. The folks at MR are unwavering in their belief that if that pack doesn’t work for the consumer, it’s not worth making - no matter how cool it looks. They truly are dedicated to their users.
MYSTERY RANCH + Guidefitter:
MR joined the Guidefitter community in 2019, and right off the bat, they were a hit. Put some of the best backpacks in front of a group of hard-core outdoor professionals, and it’s a pretty good recipe for success. We had the honor of sitting down with MR employees, including their founder Dana Gleason, to get the inside scoop on what makes MR packs so unique and so damn good. After checking out their facility, we dang near left feeling like part of the MR family.
So, what makes them an ideal choice for a hunter?
“These packs are meant to be used,” said Dana. “We want people to go out and abuse their gear. If they’re using our packs to the limits of the materials, they’re teaching us how to make it better. We want to appeal to customers who actually go out and do things. And that’s generally the outdoor and hunting community.”
If you’ve been on any sort of big game hunt, you know that a dead animal is not a light load– and having the right pack matters. Once you have more than 25 pounds on your shoulders, it all depends on the engineering of your rig. MR has spent decades designing their packs to have the right framing, the right fabric, the right straps, the right hardware, and the right adjustability to be as functional, durable, and as comfortable as possible. “What matters most is how the user feels at the end of the day,” says Dana. “We build packs with the hopes of making a difference for the folks using them.”
Dana has been building backpacks for close to four decades (do the math) which is testament to the fact that there is a serious science behind load carriage.
MR packs don’t have the traditional S- or C-curve frames that most backpacks have. Instead, they use a straight, semi rigid frame, which under tension and with the correct harnessing and adjusting, allows you to attach whatever crazy load you need to your back. The semi-dynamic frame is incredibly adjustable, allowing you to modify the fit to your unique shape for improved comfort and performance. While, yes, you need to ensure you have the right size pack for your stature, MR packs are designed to be micro-adjustable, because no small, medium, large or xl bodies are the same. One extremely unique feature is the futura/telescoping yoke system which allows you to slide the yoke up and down to adjust the torso length. In addition, MR has gone so far as building a gap between the frame and the segmented waist belt (instead of compensating with additional foam), allowing the pack to make solid contact above the hips in the love handle area where load transfer is most effective. In short, MR’s main focus has been creating a pack designed for people of all shapes and sizes - putting time and effort into the ergonomics of the packs vs solely on “cool” design. The bags should fit the user properly and have enough structure to transfer the load well, without restricting movement.
“All these little things may not seem like they matter, but when you're out in the middle of nowhere packing out a 100 pound elk quarter - that’s not where you want to have had the company cut corners.” Tim Hoffer Sales Director
As far as materials go, MR doesn’t hold back. They use a Cordura 500D– a common gold standard fabric for packs, wallets, luggage, and other items that need to withstand the elements. Cordura 500D can be described as a textured nylon coated in polyurethane with a durable water-repellent finish. It’s a rugged material known for being strong, versatile, quick drying, and easy to clean. Cordura is typically fade-, abrasion-, rot, and mildew-resistant, not to mention its impressive tear strength. But not all Cordura 500D is created equal. MR works closely with their supplier to create a custom coating that makes their Cordura 500D more durable, more rugged, and more impressive than your standard, off-the-shelf offerings. The devil is in the details and this team doesn’t skimp on those details. MR packs sport robust YKK zippers, industrial-strength thread, and polyurethane foam for ultimate comfort and weight control.
MR packs undergo ruthless testing to ensure they’re up to the brand’s extremely high standards. Machines test tear and tensile strength (essentially, the limits of the pack), buckle pull strength, and are subjected to time in an autoclave (a.k.a. kiln) which tests the endurance of the hardware in extreme heat. Hardware must perform at 400 degrees fahrenheit or it’s a no-go. “These packs are conceivably saving a firefighters’ life,” says Alexis Welch, Warranty and Repairs Manager. “So it has to work.”
Okay, but my hunts are extreme - can a MR pack really keep up?
These packs are tough. Not ‘hog-hunting-out-of-a-chopper-tough,’ but more like “BC-Stone-Sheep-hunting-tough.’ They can handle a lot. If you don’t believe me, take it from experienced Wildland Firefighters, Special Forces guys and gals, and professional hunting guides who rely on MR packs daily. And you may not see it at first glance, but each of these groups have a common goal: to carry gear effectively and safely with no concern about durability of the pack.
But, okay, let’s say your hunts are extreme– if you do happen to tear, cut, rip, slash, or bust your MR pack, they will do their damndest to fix it. And if they can’t fix it, they will replace it (if the damage is under warranty). “We can pretty much fix anything,” says Alexis from Warranty & Repair. “We’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff. We had a girl who sent us a lovely email that said, ‘I’m sorry, I got drunk & I ran it over with my snowmobile. I like to party.’ We emailed her right back and said, ‘We get it, we like to party too.’ “ It’s clear there’s an emphasis on working hard and playing just as hard.
“At the end of the day we are a backpack company, and we build the best load-bearing backpacks in the world.” says Sales Manager, Tim Hoffer. “We have a level of expertise, history, and heritage that is unmatched in this industry.”
The passion for building top quality backpacks is undeniable. From the founder and employees to the facility and the product itself, there’s no question where MR’s expertise lies– high-quality, consumer-friendly, built-for-anything backpacks. So when you’re in the market for a backpack, we’d recommend giving MR a try. It might just be the last backpack you ever need.
Check out MR on Guidefitter to learn more about the brand and products.
Real Life Testimonials:
“The MR owners and employees are some of the most active skiers, hunters, climbers and outdoorsmen and women in the Bozeman community. Adventure is encouraged– many employees take extensive backcountry trips which creates a direct feedback loop on design and innovation of the product. Their innovation in backpack hunting has led to lighter, more comfortable packs, a load shelf for hauling multiple elk quarters, and other feature sets specific to hunting all while remaining the most bombproof packs on the market.
I spend 200+ days a year in the field pursuing wild creatures and places with a camera and/or weapon. With so much invested in my own outdoor pursuits, I only use products that I trust won’t fail and that are geared to my style of hunting. MR fits that bill perfectly.”
“Perfect Day Pack And More”
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“Great pack for someone who is doing day trips in and out of a camp or using on horseback. It carries all my gear for a normal day out as well as having room for extra layers or rain gear. If I really needed I could easily put a sleeping bag and tent in the load lifter for an extended trip. It is small and light enough to wear on horseback without throwing off balance and fits great in a pack saddle bag until those bags are full of meat! Another hidden feature is that the aluminum load lifters work great as a rest for a stable shot. The heavy canvas that binds the frame can be extended up and provides a quick and easy shooting rest for a situation where you can't lie prone or forgot shooting sticks. Overall great pack and solid product.
“Typical MYSTERY RANCH”
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“After years and years of using typical Walmart backpacks, buying a new one every few months, and all the while just not being happy with the product for my daily work use, I FINALLY just bit the bullet and went with MR. I use MR for all my hunting bag needs and absolutely love them. So buying any other brand just seemed silly. As I expected the bag is flawless, tough, and extremely useful. I love the magnetic closure systems and ample space. Whether I have 10 pounds or 40 pounds worth of gear the bag feels just the same on my back. As it should since MR is legendary when it comes to how it handles weight. The only con I could possibly think of is the load lifter straps are a bit long. This is easily remedied however by threading them through the shoulder straps. Guidefitter's prices are terrific and for the discounted price there isn't a better bag on the market period. Just do it!”