If you're a wildland firefighter, in the Army, or a hunter, you've likely heard of Mystery Ranch, which has been making bomber backpacks for soldiers, mountain professionals, and the hook-and-bullet crowd since 2000. But they haven't really gone for outdoor recreationalists until now.
In February, the Bozeman, Montana-based company launched a new consumer outdoor line, which are now in retail stores in the U.S. The goal of the launch is to bring high-quality packs for the pros to regular consumers. If you’re hard on your gear, spend months living out of your pack, or just play often in harsh conditions, Mystery Ranch wants you to buy their stuff. “We went from weapons carry to ice climbing in about five minutes,” says Ben Noble, Mystery Ranch’s national sales manager.
The new line—which is made up of four backpacking packs, eight daypacks, and four climbing-specific models—looks a lot like its special-ops brethren. They have three-way, Y-shaped zippers that provide easy access to the main compartments, and fully adjustable yokes and harnesses that carry comfortably even fully loaded down. And then there are the burly fabrics, like Cordura, which don’t blow apart, even under constant abuse. The company reduced the weight of some fabrics and added a few new colors for the consumer line, but they’re still heavy compared to their competitors—the 82-liter Terraplane weighs seven pounds, for instance. (Our 2015 Gear of the Year-winning pack, the 75-liter Gregory Baltoro, weighs just 5.3 pounds.) It’s a tradeoff that's not right for everyone, but Noble says the emphasis is on durability, not shedding ounces.
This is not the first time Mystery Ranch has launched a consumer line. They’ve had a small selection of packs for years, but only available for purchase on their website. Moving into retail spaces won’t make them an immediate challenger to larger brands like Osprey, but they’re hoping for more brand awareness.
That’s something Mystery Ranch founder Dana Gleason knows a thing or two about. Gleason also founded the cult-classic Dana Design packs of the 1980s (he sold it in the 90s) and old models from that line still have a used online following similar to Patagonia’s famous Snap-Ts. His obsession with design and materials is also a big part of the reason the packs are so trusted. Sit down next to him on a chair lift and he’ll spend the entire ride monologing about how fit impacts Vo2 max and the benefits of full-length zippers.
"We have a specialty, and that specialty is helping folk who have serious mission-based needs, who have to carry 60, 70, and 80 pounds or more in bad conditions, someone who had to use this stuff in the field and couldn't simply have it fail on them," Gleason says.
The company is still a favorite with the pros and the military is its largest customer. They first got noticed in 2003 when a Navy Seal found a pack, loved how it carried when weighed down, and commissioned a bunch for his team. Word spread from there, and soldiers from multiple sections of the Armed Forces now use their gear. Hunters love the packs because Gleason used similarly burly designs to create packs that will haul elk meat out of the backcountry. And a full 80-percent of hot shots in the United States use the packs because the fabrics will take a beating while bushwhacking through forests, plus they carry well while hunched over a shovel, or chainsaw. Several ski patrols across the country use the company’s airbag to haul ropes and bombs.
"The frame is comfortable and built well and can handle all that weight, which makes the skiing with that heavy load easier" says Jason Lombard, the snow safety director for the Wolf Creek Ski Patrol in Colorado.