MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology: The Dragon Awakens

Published 2021-03-24

By Senior Editor at Carryology, Taylor Welden

MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology: The Dragon Awakens

Ladies and gentlemen, our team is incredibly proud to introduce the…

MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology No Escape.

Our second collaboration with none other than MYSTERY RANCH. One of the greatest pack makers the world has ever seen.

If you’re reading this, you’re aware of the last collaboration: the MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology Assault pack, AKA ‘The Unicorn’. It was a project of labor, love, and inspired by one of the rarest packs of all time, the Beams Day Assault pack. And it sold out in just minutes… on two separate drops.

After experiencing what can only be described as shock, we rubbed the dust from our eyes. Just four minutes after the website said “SOLD OUT” on the first drop, I reached for my phone and immediately texted D3 to congratulate him. And then the question arose: “What next?”.

It was clear in no uncertain way. Our next collaboration had to eclipse The Unicorn. Heck, it had to breathe flames and toast The Unicorn to a crisp. That was the challenge. How to create a Dragon…


A lost (but not forgotten) mythical beast

Like The Unicorn, a mythical beast searched for but never attained, MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology round two needed the same DNA – we had to make the unattainable attainable. Then reimagine and improve it. Make it our own.

There was little discussion, really. During our first phone call, the words were already inside my mouth, trying to force their way out… “SCAPE ARTIST!” Hopefully, I didn’t scream it. I probably did.

It had to be the Japanese powerhouse A&F’s 40th-anniversary celebration pack. The unattainable, ultra-rare reimagined hunting pack turned urban legend. One of the most desired MYSTERY RANCH backpacks of all time. One that if you are able to find one, it regularly sells for between $800-$1,000 USD on eBay, secondhand, and made of Cordura nylon.

Dragon in the Ranch

I watch a warm sunny Austin, Texas disappear down into the clouds from my window seat (window seats always and forever) and land into a blistering-cold snow-covered Bozeman, Montana. For me, that’s just what I was hoping for. Unlike most folks from hot-weather states, visiting the cold is a rare treat and one that I enjoy. Feeling that crisp mountain air as I step out of the airport, makes me want to go after it.

Walking into the front door of “The Ranch” (the nickname for MYSTERY RANCH’s HQ and factory), I see “The Big Guy” (the nickname for Dana Gleason, founder). They have lots of nicknames here. Dana and I exchange friendly small talk through our fabric masks. Always great to shoot the breeze with him, a design hero of mine as well as a fantastic human. But damn, I can’t say I’m not looking forward to the next time I actually get to hug that gent.

Past racks upon racks of stacked multi-colored Cordura nylon fabric rolls and past a sea of whirring sewing machines piloted by some of the best sewers on US soil, I enter the belly of the beast… the design room. This is where it all happens.

Here, D3 (Dana Gleason’s son, also named Dana) and Alex Rich (one of the super-talented pack designers at The Ranch) are both waiting for me at a worktable stacked with a pile of prototypes and Scape Artists. One particular pack catches my eye. Prior to knowing we would be using the Scape Artist for a collab jumping-off point, Alex had designed and handmade his very own version of an updated Scape Artist (he was a fan already!), with a laser-cut MOLLE Stick-It style tail and other unique tweaks. That’s when I knew we were already on the right trail… in hot pursuit of The Dragon.

Admittedly, I’d been thinking (dreaming) of what a MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology collaboration version of the Scape Artist might look like for more than two years. Yes, I’m a nerd and I’m proud of it. This is what I sit around and think about, all day and night.

One thing we agreed upon immediately was the overall direction: Absolutely next level.

Reborn without compromises

D3 coined the term and it needed no explanation whatsoever. It would follow the concept of “Maximalist Design”. No punches held back. Only the very best fabrics, only the best hardware, make it a monument of carry awesomeness, and ignore designing within any cost or manufacturing constraints. No features removed to trim the price tag. Full on. Blue sky. What might be considered improbable and maybe even impossible. Crazy.

A brother to the Unicorn

The Dragon had to be something of its own, but share the same legendary bloodline with The Unicorn. There had to be a cohesive design language. These things were easy. Paracord heat-shrink tubing zipper pullers. Done. YKK AquaGuard zippers. Done. Orange interior lining accents. Done. No exterior MOLLE/PALS. Done. Hypalon puller tabs. Done. The world-class, ultra-comfortable, super-adjustable Futura Yoke suspension system. Done.


Lighter, stronger, built to fly anywhere

A pack is only as good as its fabric. The original Scape Artist used 500D Cordura nylon fabric, which is an absolutely brilliant fabric. It’s quality, durable stuff that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, which is why it’s used everywhere. But we wanted to turn this up to the next level. D3 showed me some wild fabric up at the Ranch and invited me to try to rip it in half. With all my strength, I couldn’t get 1mm of tear. It was damn cool, but there were maybe like three yards available and it didn’t really drape the way we wanted.

After experimenting and considering dozens of options, we cleared the table. What are the best fabrics we want to work with? Dyneema, Dimension Polyant X-Pac, and Cordura. They’re our three favorites for good reason. They’re super technical, modern, strong, durable, drape well, and well… they look awesome.

Working with the R&D team at Dyneema, we carefully ran through our use cases and requirements, and their team came back with “CT9HK.18/blkwov6” as their recommendation, and started creating the yardage for us right away. Yes, that is one long scientific-sounding name for an incredibly sexy fabric. Stronger than steel and technically speaking, Dyneema is the strongest material… on Earth.

We opted for the best of the best X-Pac, based on our professional experience. It would be the waterproof and durable X50 in MultiCam Black (the Ranchers have their own nickname for MCB: “BlacktiCam”). Like our Tokai Sling collaboration with Aer, we added this fabric only on the sides. This way, you have a bit of subdued street-inspired flare, but it’s not totally in your face or in the face of someone walking behind you.

Rounding it out, we used the tried and true classic 500D Cordura nylon on the “core” construction of the pack, such as the Futura suspension and the structural areas and base, to give it strength and boosted abrasion resistance where it mattered.

Fire-breathing mouth

The large-mouth U-shaped panel-loader opening allows for killer access to all your gear, opening up to our signature high-vis orange ‘fire breathing’ interior, so you can find everything you need in a blaze of orange glory.

Pocketfuls of gold (and access)

Inside, we’ve added five new accessory pockets, so you can find the right-sized pockets for all your essentials. Pens, multitools, flashlights, you name it.

Two up high out of crunch zones for easy access. Two down low for larger objects or cylindrical shapes (umbrella, camera gear or bottle, etc). And one large vertical zippered pocket on the backside of the front panel.

And while the panel-loader provides extreme access to the interior of the pack, if it’s super full, it can sometimes be difficult to fight around your stuff to gain access to your laptop. So we added a quick-draw exterior vertical zipper access for your laptop too. So you can get to your tech, quick smart.

For those of us who love pouches (all of us?), we’ve added not three but four rows of MOLLE/PALS to allow users to utilize a wider range of pouches to be mounted. Because, hey, we want everyone to load up their Dragon just how they need it.

Adding some spy-level fun, we included two vertical zipper pockets (one on each side near the bottom of the back panel), to stash something like a passport or other sensitive items. Like any good secret agent gadget, you’d never know they were there unless you knew what you were looking for.

A waterfall (when needed)

As many of our Unicorn owners requested, The Dragon’s laptop compartment has a toggle to hang a hydration bladder, as well as a hydration hose passthrough, so folks can carry into the mountains, and be prepared (and hydrated).

Speaking of water. We love a clean aesthetic and generally exterior water bottle pockets aren’t really our… bag. However, we listen to our readers. People begged for our next one to include external pockets to hold their favorite cylindrical vessels to hold this “H2O liquid” we keep hearing all about. The original Scape Artist has bottle pockets, but they don’t play well with taller/larger bottles. So we tweaked the patterns to securely hold vessels or objects of all heights (we’re looking at you, compact tripods).

Hidden magic (Stick-It)

Folks, I’ve always loved MYSTERY RANCH’s version of the “beaver tail”. It provides additional exterior storage at a moment’s notice for so many different shaped essentials. And until recently, the Removable Stick-It was another discontinued product from their legendary catalog. We’re happy to see its return in Blaze Orange, Coyote, and MultiCam. Unfortunately, for the Stick-It to work with the No Escape, it requires additional lash points. So we decided to especially build it in (and maintain a clean exterior at the same time).

So we took the Stick-It concept and gave it the “Maximalist Design” treatment. It would be able to be quickly deployed and then stowed away, attached into its own hidden zippered pocket at the bottom. It would be made from Dyneema and X50 MultiCam Black to match the rest of the pack. And it would have vertical webbing lash points, a nod to the 1DAP backpack (another Carryology favorite from MYSTERY RANCH). Super minimal and clean when you want it or rapidly deploy it and have a pop of MCB and additional function.

Load-bearing origami wings

Like the Stick-It, we wanted a waist belt for “just in case” scenarios. While we love the function of the Carryology Assault’s hidden hip belt, some said they could feel it against their lower lumbar. To improve on this, we switched to the Scape Artist’s origami folding-style hip belt that folds up and away behind the water bottle pockets.

Branding at the heart

The label. A minor detail, but worth noting. There’s something so perfect and iconic about the woven black and orange MYSTERY RANCH label. It just so happened that the Scape Artist already used this handsome woven label. We redesigned it to include both brands and in the process, actually shrunk it a few millimeters, making it smaller than the original. And most importantly, for that ideal design balance, we took the off-center Scape Artist location and placed it exactly in the middle. Perfect.

A samurai myth (for morale)

And this wouldn’t be a MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology collab without a morale patch. A morale patch with a story, symbolism, a bit of magic.

Again, to pair with The Unicorn – the knight holding the grail, riding a unicorn with a shield made from Unobtanium – this would be the equal opposite. The dark to the light.

There is a deep dive into the relevance of each of the four symbols chosen for this patch design, which can be read about here in full geeky detail. But they represent things which cannot be attained by mere mortals; a samurai warrior, a dragon, a very special sword (Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi / “Grass-Cutting Sword”), and a five-colored jewel from a dragon’s neck (from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter).

The two patches are meant to be displayed side by side, as a diptych, with the two warriors riding their mythical beasts towards each other. Maybe towards war, maybe towards peace, maybe towards both simultaneously.

Of course, we need to give a big shout-out to the incredibly talented genius illustrator who designed the last patch and who does all kinds of fantastic work for Carryology (one of the founders of Carryology), Hadrien Monloup. Extra shout-out to our friend Alexander Ryu Long in Japan who helped us fact-check the symbolism for the patch design. Thank you!

No Escape

Lastly, the name. Sure, the codename we’ve been using is “Dragon” (like the Carryology Assault “Unicorn”). But it needed a real product name. Carryology Scape? What if we dropped the “Carryology” and went with some kind of play on words? Scape Artist is kind of like “escape artist”. Maybe Houdini? No, no, no. None of it felt genuine. It felt like a magician’s gimmick. Throughout the long prototype process, we’d suggest names back and forth. None of them stuck.

Then Alex Rich, the designer assigned to this project, mistakenly stumbled upon the name via a humorous and creative intentional accident. You see, he was stuck inside during the never-ending pandemic, toiling away for hours on end, completely alone, sewing, refining, and patterning this beautiful dragon. Out of frustration, to label the patterns he was working on for future identification, in pencil he wrote “No Escape” onto the cream-colored paper. We all agreed, it was a brilliant lightbulb moment. The truth of it all. And the irony: because this pack would bring anyone who wore it freedom too.

The fire-breathing dragon would be known as the MYSTERY RANCH x Carryology No Escape.

Tuesday, March 30th, 1pm (MDT Time)

Make sure to visit at this exact time for the ‘Exclusive Release’ article which will have the shop link.
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**Note, there will be a limit on 2 packs p/person.