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Mystery Ranch ASAP review - the quest for a perfect EDC pack

Discussion in 'Gear Reviews' started by PiterM, Feb 8, 2014.

  1. PiterM

    PiterM Loaded Pockets

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    Disclaimer - please remember I'm not a native English speaker, so my English is not always perfect...

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    Tri-Zip system, the signature of Mystery Ranch backpacks, has been on top of my list (as far as pack accessibility is concerned) for last couple of years. I really liked the design, but I simply did not need another backpack. I was quite done with my 16, 20, 30 and 42 L pattern (different makers). I was always under the impression that MR backpacks are fairly heavyweight. In fact they're in the middle of the lot, not very lightweight and not superheavy. Especially the non-military models are quite OK in that regard. And finally, my gear acquisition syndrome came to the 'point of no return' and I ordered my ASAP with removable Stick-It pocket... man, why did I wait soooo long? So I got ASAP, and it's awesome.

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    Mystery Ranch ASAP is a small backpack with big harness system, which means volume of 18 liters combined with Futura Yoke harness (which can support a backpack 3-times as big). It's made of 500D cordura, which should survive virtually anything in regular outdoor and/or military use. It opens via Tri-Zip system, made of 3 zippers creating Y-shaped opening. Zippers (YKK) are rubberized and weather sealed. The vertical one goes well above the meeting point of the horizontal zippers, which increases both rigidness and security of the solution - just bind the two horizontal zippers with a grimlock etc. and you're very safe in the city crowd - there is no way one could open the pack quickly and without alerting you, it's a trick worth remembering. The zipper's action is smooth, but requires quite some force (imagine vault door action), which is again very good for security - zippers won't open by themselves even when jogging, jumping etc.

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    Why Tri-Zip is so convenient? What makes it superior to other systems? Well... let's start and open just the horizontal zippers and you can use it as a top-loader. Now open the vertical one and voila, the pack opens up and gives the access to every corner of the inside. What makes it better than typical front-panel opening is the way it expands, it just opens lose and nothing is stressed/compressed inside any more. There are no 'borders', which keep stuff compressed like in a suitcase. It just expands and releases the content for you. Love it! And of course it allows for faster packing and compressing your stuff when zipping it back closed. As you can see the ASAP has PALS everywhere - on sides, on the back and also one line at the bottom - which means you can strap to ASAP all-kind of stuff - small axe, ice-hatchet, walking sticks, crampons, etc. and of course PALS compliant pockets and pouches (not just MR).

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    Of course the pack is as strong as the weakest component so let's check it - the zippers - they are VERY well made, very strong, sealed and reliable. This zipper system works in 100 liters backpacks so 18 liters is nothing. I've never heard bad stories about the MR zippers so I'm sure it will last a lifetime. What's more you can always use a compression strap and take some tension from the zipper. In emergency, if you don't have such straps and you just need to support the zipper (or when the zipper gets destroyed by something, which can always happen in worst-case scenario) all you need is one yard of paracord and... just lace it! Take a look at the photo below, yeah, it’s that easy. So if you're worried about zipper - don't be, it's strong and 'plan B' is very easy to deploy.

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    Now let's take a look inside. As you can see there are two huge internal pockets on the sidewalls. Originally intended for hydration bladders, but I use them differently now in the Fall & Winter season - One is for rolled merino sweater (TAD Equilibrium, my favorite, discontinued unfortunately) and the other one for 3-layer hardshell jacket (TAD Spectre in this case). I put all the other stuff in the middle, put a bottle of water (thermal insulated) and close the vertical zipper, which compresses the stuff nicely inside. On top I put usually admin-pouch with smaller items and zip the pack closed.

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    Inside the pack you can find 3 small loops to hang the hydration bladders. ASAP is equipped also with a slot with hidden velcro, which is used to attach the Mystery Ranch Spade-Lock velcro pouch system. It's handy when you want to share packed pouches between ASAP and other MR pack. It let's you also to take the pouch easily from the pack and use separately so it seems to be good system for medical pouch. Well, ASAP is my only MR at this time so I use the slot to keep a map in there. But it may change soon ;) And last but not least there are 3 rows of internal PALS, which can be used to attach pouches etc. I'm going to use it to attach internal iPad pocket.

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    Top flap of the pack forms one huge pocket. It's high and can keep really impressive amount of stuff inside! Camera, phone charger, flashlight & spare batt's, G-Shock watch, etc. And on top there is a small mesh inner pocket for documents and/or wallet. Really, such a flap-pocket in a small pack is GREAT, I was missing it in all my small packs so far incl. TAD Gear LiteSpeed and MR Spartan. Finally I can have my camera easily accessible at any time, no need to keep it inside the main compartment. Even Fuji X100 fits easily, and it ain't so tiny! There is another short zipper just behind the top flap for the bladder's drinking pipe. However it's also handy for putting small items into the pack, or in my case to take the map from Spade-Lock slot. Handy. Of course all zippers are rubberized & fully sealed.

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    Harness system is a key feature of each backpack, and in case of ASAP it's one of it’s strongest points. As I said ASAP has been equipped with regular ‘adult’ harness, called Futura Yoke. Futura consists of nicely padded, S-curved straps, which are connected together. Plus internal composite plastic sheet, which makes small internal frame. You can adjust the straps attachment point (yoke length) to your torso via Spade-Lock velcro system. There are detailed movies on Mystery Ranch website, which show how to adjust the yoke to your back - it's really worth checking! The back of the backpack is also padded and finished with the same kind of mesh as the straps. Of course straps are adjustable, and you an also pull top of the pack towards your back via top adjustment webbing straps. The chest-strap is removable and fully adjustable. As most military-oriented packs also ASAP can be also used on body armor without the straps - just buckle it to your armor vest and you're ready to go.

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    Waist belt... well, I'd call it "waist stabilizing belt" as it's nothing more than just thin nylon canvass belt with fastex buckle. It helps a lot to stabilize the pack when running or skiing, but it won't transfer any load to the hips. There is also no optional padded belt available for ASAP, which could be handy sometimes. Well, for 18 liters pack it is not a big issue, but for longer hikes in the mountains such a padded belt would be very welcome option. And you can hide the waist belt in the special small slots on the sides of ASAP when not in use, I really like this very feature.

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    It's too bad that many other companies use subpar carry harness systems on smaller packs. It really separates ASAP from the most of 'up to 20 L' backpack crowd - fully adjustable real-load-bearing harness. Thank you Mystery Ranch!So far I used my ASAP in Fall & Winter weather conditions so I can't say much about thermal comfort when wearing the pack. But I can imagine it's not so great as the back panel is just mesh covered foam padding, without any back respiration channels / slots. It's of course military oriented pack, so it should stay flat on your back and protects the back from hard/edged items inside the pack. So for what ASAP is - it's still acceptable. But it's not the same back thermal comfort as offered by most of high-end civilian outdoor packs. I used to have MR Spartan for some times, with the same mesh back panel - used it during Summer a lot and I think it's not the best but still fine. Especially when combined with thermal clothing. Of course I'll update this topic later this year, during Summer.

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    Now let's check how does it ride on the back. I've chosen my backpack with M-size yoke, just as advised by MR’s website. To adjust it to my torso took me just couple of minutes - I pulled the yoke from backpack a bit, checked, pulled a tiny bit more and it was done. I also adjusted all straps incl. chest and waist… and… suddenly the pack became part of my body! It must be the most comfortable strap system on any pack I tried, especially for heavy load. Really, I'm sold on for MR! It's that good. There is no pressure on the back, no pack movement, etc. Feels great. After initial adjustments I rolled the waist belt into the dedicated pockets and so far I didn’t have a real need to use it. I will do soon during my skiing holidays, but so far - no need. The pack feels like glued to my back even without it. During my day-long walks & trips into the local woodland I worked couple of times with my knife and/or small hatchet and the pack didn’t disturb neither my work nor my movements at all.

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    My typical load so far was spare cloths for kids, thermos with tea for them, small hip flask for me ;) and chocolate, sandwiches, documents, flashlight and my camera. With such a light load you can hardly feel it on your back. So far the heaviest load I had in my ASAP was about 8kg (incl. the pack) and the pack was still very comfortable to carry. What is quite important for me is that ASAP easily takes serious DSLR camera with 70-200mm tele lens attached, so it’s also suitable for my wildlife photography trips.

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    ASAP is one of the packs in MR lineup, which can accept Stick-It removable ‘pocket’. Well, Stick-It is a kind of beavertail attachment, which can be found on some other brands as well (like TAD Gear) but Mystery Ranch took the design a bit further - there are two plastic sheets inside the Stick-It, which expand and give it 3D form! So it protects the content also from the sides! That helps to keep in place stuff like rolled jacket or helmet. I tried the Stick-It with 5-liters waterproof bag with fleece jacket inside - no problem at all. Stick-It can be also configured in such a way, which allows to carry ski, bow or rifle on your ASAP - that can be very handy! So yeah, Stick-It is a great addition and I cannot recommend it more - it’s a must-have and really expands ASAP’s packability. I’m sure I’ll use it a lot on my trips!

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    To sum up - Mystery Ranch ASAP must be the most comfortable and versatile ’about 20 L’ pack I’ve used so far. It’s well designed, with attention to details, and executed perfectly in Bozeman, MT. I’m sure ASAP will join me on many many trips. Highly recommended piece of gear!

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    Key strenghts:
    Tri-Zip opening system
    Fully sealed heavy-duty zippers
    Awesome top-flap pocket
    PALS everywhere
    Stick-It
    very good harness system
    Bombproof construction

    Key weaknesses:
    No optional padded hip belt
    Thermal comfort could be better
    Quite expensive
    Hard to buy outside US

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    Hope you enjoyed…


    P.
     
    Last edited by PiterM, Feb 9, 2014
    Bedlam, kensington, Krellh and 29 others like this.
  2. hunter s gatherer
    • In Omnia Paratus

    hunter s gatherer EDC Junkie!!!

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    Thank you! Now I really have the MR fever. Excellent crispy sharp photos as well.
     
  3. willbilly

    willbilly Loaded Pockets

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    I'm sold. Great review.
     
  4. twogunmojo

    twogunmojo Banned

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    nicely done...there is no problem with your english...
     
  5. Cheeser
    • In Omnia Paratus

    Cheeser Hey Bub!

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    That is a beautiful pack. And a great review thank you :)
     
  6. lethgar

    lethgar Loaded Pockets

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    Amazing review!



    --sent from the phone of an angry scotsman.
     
  7. swany66675
    • In Omnia Paratus

    swany66675 Loaded Pockets

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    Great review, and loved the pictures.

    I'm a huge MR fan (Dana Gleason), I own a dragonslayer plus old Dana Design astralplane and a number of accessories from them. My favorite accessories are the wetrib (own two) and the spadelock. Although have have thought about sending my dragonslayer back to be modified to accept the beaver tail.

    I love the trizip setup and the frame, of course I think anyone caring more then 15lb would be more comfortable with a frame and waistbelt.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.
     
    cowsmilk likes this.
  8. Tenfooterpipi

    Tenfooterpipi Loaded Pockets

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    Great concise review, there aren't may reviews for MR backpacks, they seem to be seriously lacking in these forums. Specially recent reviews for their gear, which is a shame. But at the same time, I'm glad that they remain underground, only for a few devoted group who seek nothing but short of the best. Who knows...I might do a review soon on its BIGGER brother: 3DAP. Great Work, Great Pictures. More reviews need are dire need of order for Mystery Ranch Gears...
     
  9. PiterM

    PiterM Loaded Pockets

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    As you could read in first part of this thread, I really liked the design, construction and features of the pack. However, I didn’t have a chance to test it in really demanding conditions… but that changed end of January. I'm just back from the mountains (a week ago). And now I'd like to share with you some random thoughts about the ASAP, which came to my mind during my lone trip to the heart of snowy Tatra Mountains in Southern Poland. One day - just me, my backpack and my camera.

    I started in the very morning with a clear plan… well, not so safe plan as you can see below. As you can see it was quite easy to attach the ice-axe to the ASAP with just a piece of paracord. Also I stored my crampons under the Stick-it flap, but also put additional compression strap on the pack as a secondary fixing point.

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    Time to decide where to go and to put the crampons on! Also you can see some details of the setup.

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    First checkpoint and of course time mark.

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    And here is my Mystery Ranch on a frozen rock in a fog. You can easily attach some extra gear to the PALS via straps, paracord, carabiners etc. Customization of ASAP is really impressive thanks to the webbing panels.

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    And here me resting in the white…

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    And close-up of my ‘snow chair’ – with the crampons on my boots I had an empty Stick-it, so with a bit of imagination (and with ice-axe) I converted my pack into quite comfortable snow chair! Another reason to get the Stick-it ;)

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    On my way I also spotted the climbers. It looked like a climbing training camp to me.

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    And finally my stuff. So what I had inside? Full frame Nikon camera with f/2.8 tele-zoom (which means big & heavy setup), spare warm cap, Klean Kanteen thermal bottle (with hot tea), small silicone cup, medical kit (ITS Tactical), emergency foil blanket, camera accessories in small pouches, 5 L waterproof bag (just in case I need to carry some cloths in the Stick-it pocket), some energy bars, etc. Plus crampons & ice-axe. Quite a lot of stuff for such a small pack. BTW, I used the heavy Nikon only twice. Not worth taking at all, my Fuji X100 did the job done.

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    Hardly visible but still... mountain goat's fresh tracks. Path starts to verticalize more and more - time to draw the ice-axe from my pack...

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    The red sign says ‘Very dangerous trial, beware of falling rocks’… nice, very nice!

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    And that was the place, where the REAL adventure started. Yeah, down there!!! I decided to go off-trial and try almost vertical climb-down on ice and snow. This is the beginning. Sorry, I was not able to take any pictures half-way, it'd be way too dangerous! I just tightened the straps even more and started the climb down. Notice a group of people (pixels) down there...

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    That was my way down. I'm not sure if I'd do that again... I learned a lot about adrenaline that day! Oh, can you see the grey pixel on top? Yeah, another guy looking down and wondering if he (or she?) should follow the snowy path.

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    Time for a short rest. Well, the pack was very secure on my back during the climb. It was really close to my back, without any movement. So I was able to keep perfect balance on the slope. For me the score was 10/10 easily! And it was a bit more challenging than the average Sunday walk in the forest…

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    And finally the shelter:

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    Inside. And some more people... with climbing rope. Must be smarter than me ;) And again my stuff out of the pack. I really like how the pack compresses when I zip it closed. It’s much more effective way to put a lot of stuff into the pack vs. classic toploader. Especially with irregular-shaped objects like camera with lens.

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    OK, that’s it… time to go back to the base, to my wife and kids. Evening fog starts to rise up the hills...

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    Clear statement: I’m really extremely happy with the pack! It has been probably the most comfortable small backpack I’ve ever tried. And for sure THE MOST comfortable of all military-styled tactical packs I’ve ever tried. I like tactical stuff  Well, optional padded waist-belt could make it even better, but for 18 L pack it was not really necessary. Neither my shoulders nor my back were really tired. My legs were! I need more training during the year ;) What else shall I say? Oh, one more remark – the mesh on the back is very comfortable but it also attracts the snow – so in snowy conditions, when you need to find something in the pack, I recommend to put it vertically, lean it on your leg, and unzip like that. Don’t put the mesh directly on the fresh snow. You can clean it easily, but some snow will surely melt and the mesh can get a bit wet. Some small hypalon panels would probably help, but… hypalon panel on the back is not my preference for hot Summer days. So since my hardshell wais *really hard* I didn’t have ANY problem with that. Well, with just the fleece jacket that could be more problematic, but if you wear a hardshell – again - no problem.

    It was an awesome day! And one of the most awesome 'good bye' views I was ever rewarded with!

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    And a small bonus to close the review – I used it also for skiing (a lot!). And with ASAP I was able to carry my full equipment on my back! Just two pics of the configuration below, so you can consider Mystery Ranch ASAP really extremely versatile pack! Great as a city pack, but also for biking, skiing, hiking, mountaineering (serious!), weekend walking, and for many many more application.

    Don’t be afraid, push it REALLY to the limits and it should still serve you for a lifetime.

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    Thanks for looking. Hope you enjoyed.

    PS. I purchased the ASAP directly from MR with help of my good friend, who lives in US...
     
    kensington, Muse, m2usa and 8 others like this.
  10. mbakes

    mbakes Loaded Pockets

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    Forget the pack, great pics and what looks like an awesome day on the mountain!
     
    tmedina likes this.
  11. cowsmilk

    cowsmilk EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    Great pictures, and review. I added a link to the first part of the review in your first post, so folks can find it since you posted them separately.

    Edit: Scratch that, I have merged them instead.
     
  12. hunter s gatherer
    • In Omnia Paratus

    hunter s gatherer EDC Junkie!!!

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    Fantastic! Love the illustrated story. I bet that beer felt like a real reward.
     
  13. Tenfooterpipi

    Tenfooterpipi Loaded Pockets

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    Once again, you have outdone yourself. Cheers. Great Pic.
     
  14. twogunmojo

    twogunmojo Banned

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    looks like a great day man...have you ever noticed that sometimes when you go hiking alone whether its in the snow covered mtns. of poland or scrambling across boulder fields in tn. you take more chances than normal because you are not worried about anyone else and a mans reach should always exceed his grasp...
     
  15. Toepack24

    Toepack24 Loaded Pockets

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    Awesome review... love the dog, the snow, the watch, the nikon, and most definitely the bag... l'd love to see more pictures from your adventures with this bag... :)
     
  16. Radioactive_Man

    Radioactive_Man Loaded Pockets

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    Great review Piter! I love hearing about how things hold up in the real world. Beautiful dog too!
     
  17. Lasers-Edge

    Lasers-Edge Banned

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    WOW, That was a fantastic review!

    Nice to see/hear that used in the "field". The idea/setup with the rifle - Thank you.
     
  18. tmedina

    tmedina EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    You might want to send some of those pictures into the Mystery Ranch website - they love getting photos of their product and your work is really good.
     
  19. PiterM

    PiterM Loaded Pockets

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    Thanks guys!

    tmedina, you can check MR Facebook page ;)
     
    tmedina likes this.
  20. northwest

    northwest EDC Junkie!!!

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    Very nice pictures!! Looked at them twice. :)

    Seems like a nice backpack too.
     
    PiterM likes this.