Type “backpack” into Amazon and you’ll get over 100,000 results, almost all of which are the exact same thing: your typical book bag with a small and large pocket, a laptop sleeve, and maybe a “special feature” like a fun colorway. Translation: the everyday bookbag has become boring and stagnant. That is, until recently.
Thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking, the designers at Mystery Ranch were able to make a much more exciting and useful backpack with their Urban Assault 24L ($165). The biggest improvement? Mystery Ranch’s choice to build it with only one main compartment, but construct it with a three-zipper design. With the trio of zippers, you can open just the top of the main chute so the contents don’t spill out, or if you need to, completely splay the main pocket open to get immediate access to anything inside, including what’s buried at the bottom. It seems like a simple fix, but after using the design hundreds of times, I was sold on how the zippers and access points immediately improved organization and saved an enormous amount of time and frustration when digging for a piece of gear.
Mystery Ranch is famous for its large, heavy-load packs that carry and distribute weight exceptionally well—that’s why it’s had pack contracts with everyone from the military to local ski patrols. The brand incorporated some clever tricks to make it carry better than a traditional book bag. My favorite feature: Mystery Ranch took the laptop sleeve (which easily fits a 15-inch Macbook Pro) out of the main compartment and placed it as close to the straps as possible. Separating the sleeve from the main compartment creates much quicker access and helps you breeze through TSA. It also greatly improves how the bag feels on your back over long periods of time. Your laptop is as snug as it can get against your spine, and never pulls backward.
Mystery Ranch nails the details, too. There’s an external water bottle sleeve that holds a wide-mouth Nalgene or a Yeti Rambler 26-ounce bottle, an easy-access pocket in the lid for your keys and wallet, and plenty of organization pockets inside the main compartment for everything from an iPad to pens to extra clothes for an after-work run.
The Urban Assault is absolutely bomber—another trait Mystery Ranch is known for. The outer material is a 500-denier Cordura that will easily give the pack double or triple the lifespan of the average competitor, even if you’re rough on your gear. That makes the pack about a pound heavier than your typical Jansport, but the weight is well worth the added durability and lifetime value.
If there was anything to criticize about the Urban Assault, it would be the lack of colors. You only get three muted options to choose from, but that’s on purpose. Mystery Ranch is not screaming from the rooftops with this bag. They’re making a discreet piece of gear that looks slick, carries exceptionally well, and will last a very long time.