By: Zach Lazzari
I’m a gear junkie. That’s a problem because I live on the road full-time. Saving space in my camper is critical, which is why choosing the perfect backpack is so important to me. I can only carry one backpack and prefer something that will handle ultralight overnight trips but also has the capacity for a week-long hunting or fishing trip.
Finding the perfect pack to handle those miles requires a good amount of research and testing. I sat down with MYSTERY RANCH ambassadors Becky Switzer and Lindsey Davis and Director of Sales, Ben Nobel, to better understand what makes the ultimate backpack.
Know Your Load Requirements and Understand the Features
Choosing a pack off the shelf requires an understanding of capacity. You’ll want to start with your longest trip and work backward. You’ll need a pack capable of handling your most extensive trip but also one that’s not overkill for simple overnighters. The load you carry will also influence your pack choice, but all MR packs are designed for hauling weight.
Capacity varies by model, but the new BRIDGER series and TERRAFRAME are great all-around lines for overnighters to longer-haul trips and everything in between. Nobel says, “For shorter, lightweight trips, the BRIDGER series checks all the boxes, but a Terraframe will be your new best friend if you’re going deep.”
After settling on capacity and narrowing down the pool of contenders, it’s time to examine features. Nearly every pack on the market boasts a list of features, but savvy shoppers will pay special attention to zipper construction, lashing points, access to the main compartment and external pockets. Detachable lids are also excellent for breaking off from basecamp with a lighter load. Peak bagging, fishing and short exploratory trips from camp are all the better with a simple day pack.
Switzer says, “I enjoy packs with useful lids, and if the lid can detach and become a day pack, even better. I also enjoy having a couple outside stuff pockets for things like snacks and my BeFree bottle. Eating and drinking on the go is how I operate, so having those items easily accessible is key.”
For Davis, the ultra vest-style harness on the BRIDGER backpacks allows quick access to gear, which is particularly important when time is of the essence. “Having so many smart, accessible pockets means fewer stops to take my pack on and off to grab necessities. It’s great to have bear spray, sunscreen, snacks, and my camera all stashed in front for easy access.”
Photographers, anglers, hunters and anyone wanting access to gear throughout the day will benefit from MR designs. The external pockets and multiple access points make for a convenient and highly-customizable setup.
Finding the Perfect Fit
In the world of backpacking, fit is everything. Blisters, injuries and stress from a poorly fitted pack quickly sour a trip. Hip straps riding too low will wear on your muscles, and sagging shoulder straps will leave you sore.
Not everyone has the same build, and Switzer recommends fitting your torso first. She explains, “Although I’m an average height for a female, my torso length is quite short. For most unisex pack styles, even if they’re small, many companies use small/medium if they are only making two frame sizes, and they are too long in the torso for me. So my first rule when pack-fitting is to find a pack that fits my torso length.”
This is no simple task with the standardized sizes available on the market – too many backpacks are designed for a limited range of common body types. MR excels with adjustable torso lengths that create an exact fit. I’m also short in the torso and have owned packs that never quite settle the load correctly. The fine-tuning options in the MR pack’s adjustable Futura yoke makes all the difference, especially when I’m hauling a heavier load.
Nobel understands the importance of designing backpacks for as many people as possible. “Every suspension frame on the market is curved, which is fine if your spine is the perfect fit for that curve, but it’s challenging if you’re slightly off.”
Instead, MYSTERY RANCH designs the straight frames where the shaping is done in the harness. “For 40 years, we’ve done load carriage and fit studies, and what we found is every spine is a bit different. By fitting the person through the harness, we can get a perfect fit for a much larger spectrum of people. This way, you don’t have to be a perfect fit for that pack for it to fit perfectly.”
Davis appreciates the speed and simplicity of pack fitting that the BRIDGER series offers. “The Endurance Yoke on the BRIDGER packs takes the guessing game out of pack fitting. This system is so quick and easy to use that nothing is there to keep you from finding the perfect pack fit.”
Nobel confirms the MR approach to pack-fitting. He says, “Our focus is, and always has been, to build the best load-bearing packs on the market. So for anyone who has ever suffered through a trip with a pack that didn’t carry its weight well, switching to MR will change your life.”
Airflow is a final consideration when deciding what makes up the ultimate backpack. A backpack can meet your load requirements, have an excellent feature set, fit correctly, but if it’s a hot, sweaty mess, you’re likely to grab a different bag. One thing to know about airflow is that it often works inversely with load capacity; the more load capacity, the less airflow. At least that’s the case with most packs on the market.
Nobel says, “Most packs out there feel fine until about the 30-pound range, which is when they start to buckle. So it was a big deal for us to get to the 40-50 pound range with a ventilated body panel. We’ve come a long way with body panels to become more breathable in terms of ventilation and breathability. Our packs feature both vertical and horizontal channels airways.”
Davis enjoys the bi-directional airflow in the BRIDGER packs. “MR has rethought and streamlined this harness to cut the bulk and create space in the lumbar for open airflow, which is comfortable on long, sweaty trail days!”
Testing Off the Shelf
Backpackers struggle to find the right pack off the shelf because everything looks good, and there are no options for field testing. Other than testing a friend’s pack with a full load, ordering online or shopping in the store limits your ability to really feel load distribution. Pay extra close attention to the fit in the store and choose a backpack designed for your body.
When Switzer fits a pack, she pays close attention to positioning. “The waist belt will be appropriately situated at your hips versus your waist or lower down your butt. The lumbar support should be hitting your lower back, and the shoulder harness should be wrapping your shoulders and meeting the pack body for appropriate load distribution and manipulation.”
This simple system for store fitting is essential. MR takes things a step further by providing detailed sizing based on the adjustable
yoke design. It still helps to see and feel the backpack in person, but you can get the sizing right sight unseen.
Nobel is confident in the unique sizing system designed by the team. He says, “Fortunately, MYSTERY RANCH has taken all the guesswork out of pack-fitting. Simply match the pack to your jacket size, adjust the yoke, and you’re done. We build the easiest packs to fit on the market.”
Finding the right fit is flat-out easy with MR, and the features are designed and implemented based on feedback from the most adventurous backcountry experts around. The durability, comfort, and performance create the ultimate backpack for your next adventure.