Lightening the Load

Published 2021-10-18

How the MYSTERY RANCH OVERLOAD® feature helps you haul more and hurt less.

Load Carriage™ is the cornerstone of the MYSTERY RANCH design philosophy; it’s at the core of what makes our packs different. We specialize in building packs that adapt to awkward and changeable loads.

Origins: OVERLOAD® is the conception story of the patented OVERLOAD® feature – explaining how it started in our Military line and is now a prevalent feature on products throughout the entirety of MYSTERY RANCH offerings.

By: Mike England

For as long as humans have walked the earth, we’ve hauled stuff around with us—heavy stuff, like weapons, food, building supplies and other humans. And despite the hardworking horses, mules and other animals conscripted to the cause, our own bipedal backs have borne much of that weight—and still do, to this day. Which makes the story of humanity a tale of struggle against the inexorable effects of gravity and our own attachments to a variety of large and weighty objects.

Interwoven within that epic is a supporting cast of characters, not least of which are the pack-makers. Their mission has always been to increase the load—bigger capacity meant a better pack. The problem, of course, was that each pound of weight heaped a commensurate amount of pain upon the bearer. And so explains the ongoing push-pull of traditional pack design: weight and speed, pain and productivity, material volume and human vexation. And all too often, this tension has tilted toward suffering.

Until recently, that is, when modern ideas finally overtook the old. When creativity replaced convention. When design and engineering evolved to give comfort and capacity equal consideration. A key point in this transformation involved a revelation, a moment of clarity when MYSTERY RANCH co-founder Dana Gleason devised what is now known as the OVERLOAD® feature. It’s arguably the most impactful innovation in human load-hauling since the Himalayan head strap—without the ensuing chiropractic care.

The old way to increase weight was to just pile it on. Loops, hooks and other attachment points allowed weight-bearers to bloat their burdens, often to absurd extremes. The result was more weight, more stuff carried—but also more pain and suffering. One striking example: a piteous picture of an exhausted soldier, stooped under the weight of an enormous pack, with his heaviest item—a 60-pound mortar baseplate—strapped to the back of the pack. The burly baseplate served as a lever, the backpack a fulcrum, pressing the soldier to the point of collapse.

When that photo came across Dana’s desk, he was appalled. He’d been improving backpack design his entire adult life, and he knew that load-hauling didn’t have to be a Sisyphean slog, a debilitating suffer-fest, with weight carried and pain felt increasing in direct, miserable proportion. Sure, huge loads are gonna hurt. We can’t beat gravity, but we can work with it. We can fight it less. We can feel its effects and suffer from them less.

Dana also knew that the simplest solution was usually the best—and thus, guided by Occam’s razor, his design instincts drove a quantum leap: separation of bag and frame, the bulk of the weight in between. Build a flexible shelf, elongate the straps and voila: the heaviest part of the load sits against your back, aligned with your center of gravity. Simple as that: carry the same load, just carry it properly. The OVERLOAD was born.

And there it was: out with the old, in with the new. The idea soon took on a life of its own, a veritable chain reaction of new uses: from the mortarman’s baseplate to water cans and ammunition boxes, sniper rifles and rocket launchers, surveillance drones and communications equipment. If it was big and heavy, it went on the OVERLOAD—because so configured, soldiers could go farther and move faster, with less pain and discomfort along the way. In short: they could haul more and hurt less.

Hunters soon saw the light and began snatching up every available OVERLOAD pack—they could get half an elk or an entire deer out in a single trip, reducing both time and fatigue. They knew that as important as the feature itself was the brand that bore it: MYSTERY RANCH, renowned among operators everywhere for being the toughest, most durable packs on the planet. Packs that stood up to abuse, with super-strong fabric, water-repellent zippers and auto-locking buckles that held fast no matter how much pressure was applied. What this meant for both soldiers and hunters was that now, finally, the only limit was their endurance—the pack could hold as much as they could carry, for as long as they could carry it.

Less pain under load is a beautiful thing, no doubt, but so is comfort’s twin sister: convenience. Easy-open compartments, quick buckling and compression, and ample pockets for organization all saved time. Throw in a quick loading system—snap, cinch & go—and the scales were officially tipped. The OVERLOAD became a new standard in the field and on the battlefield.

Like all great ideas, word of the OVERLOAD’s virtues soon spread—and as the number and variety of pack models equipped with the new feature increased, so did the stories surrounding its use. A wilderness packrafter takes his BEARTOOTH 80 on a two-month trip in the Alaskan wilderness, complete with half-day portages from one water body to the next. A backcountry angler packs her paddleboard over 10 miles in a PINTLER to fish a remote alpine lake. Two Utah desert rats load up their METCALF packs with haul bags and bundles of firewood, which they carry to their Redrock climbing camp.

Halfway around the world, a backpacker hauls hefty cast-iron cookware to the top of a mountain in his TERRAFRAME 65 to prepare a traditional Japanese meal: a treasured ritual binding himself and his family to their shared past. In the valley below, a traveling musician packs his guitar case snugly against his back in a TERRAFRAME 80 as he walks from one village to the next.

Others have gotten both creative and utilitarian: in the off-season, a hunter uses her POP-UP to transport lichen-covered landscaping rocks down a steep mountainside. An avid backpacker carries a crosscut saw in his MARSHALL, clearing trail and loading up logs for winter firewood. Backcountry skiers use their SAWTOOTH 45 packs to haul the group kit, self-contained and segregated from their personal gear. Once at the hut, the bins drop and everyone’s off for a quick lap before supper.

And of course, soldiers around the world continue using their original CREWCAB, plus the new OVERLOAD and JUMP OVERLOAD packs to help them complete their missions—with as much weight and as little pain as possible.

Seeing a pattern here? With the OVERLOAD, carry options are endless, the only constraints being one’s gear and imagination. Ideas are elastic, and the OVERLOAD outstripped its original application because it’s based not on a product, but a principle: that vertical alignment of weight and bulk, held tight to your back, is best. That tenet stands up to the scrutiny of physics and has borne itself out in the field time and again. It holds true whether you’re hauling a baseplate or a bull elk, a Pelican case or a packraft, a pile of logs or the kitchen sink.

Fact is, until we’re replaced by weight-bearing robots, humans will keep hauling gear. And from soldier to skier, hunter to hiker, world traveler to weekend warrior, proper load bearing makes life better. It makes the bearer stronger, faster, more nimble, more mobile—and in less pain and discomfort. The story of struggle goes on, our affinity for heavy stuff unaltered, but in this chapter, the long haul just got a little easier.