Whether you’ve followed backpack blogs for a while, or you just stumbled on this review while doing research about your first serious pack, you’ve no doubt heard of Mystery Ranch. Although I’ve been in the pack game for a few years, I am almost ashamed to say that I’d never done more than fondle these packs in the store, so when the opportunity for me to own a Mystery Ranch ASAP came up, I jumped at the chance.
If you’re not already familiar with Mystery Ranch, it’s time to get acquainted. Although the brand is relatively new, only being officially founded in 2000, owners Dana Gleason and Renee Sippel-Baker have been in the backpack business under various aliases (Kletterwerks and Dana Designs among others) for much longer. The brand’s history is firmly rooted in the outdoor environment, and their reputation for quality lead them to a series of military contracts that are evident across their line of hiking, outdoor, and firefighting packs.
The ASAP falls under the “assault” category of the MR lineup. At 15 litres, it’s the smallest of the lineup but takes plenty of design attributes from it’s larger cousin the 3-Day Assault Pack (AKA 3DAP) including the legendary Mystery Ranch suspension system (more on this later) and iconic Tri-zip design.
Mystery ranch markets the ASAP as a light assault bag that suitable for day hikes, Everyday Carry, or as an overnight bag (if you’re disciplined in your packing). As always, the 500D Cordura, heavy-duty YKK zippers, and strategically reinforced stress-points make this pack virtually bulletproof–not to be confused with literally bulletproof. If you’re concerned about that, you should probably still wear your vest.
The bag is obviously oriented towards military application. 6 rows of PALS webbing on the front, 3 on the side, and one on the bottom means that the ASAP is incredibly expandable, but means that most available colors stand out as pretty tactical–which was a departure from my normal routine where I tend to prefer more muted or urban bags for EDC. On the inside, two rather large pockets kind of flop out –these are intended to hold radios, but can also each hold 3L hydration bladders.
A port with double zips on top that is intended for radio antenna, cables, or hydration adds to the mix. I primarily used the port for my water hose on hikes, but also found it was JUST big enough to slide my kindle in and out of the bag when I used it as a carry on for a domestic flight.
Before we go any further, I have to stress the importance of setup for this (and pretty much any other Mystery Ranch) pack. With a lot of bags, you can just rip them out of the box, adjust a strap or two, and you’re ready to go. This is exactly what I did for the first few days with my ASAP and I hated it. I was pretty sure I had ordered the right size frame, but I just couldn’t get comfortable.
Finally, after an uncomfortable short hike in a local park I took to the internet to find out what was wrong. Obviously, I’m not one who really reads directions because the Mystery Ranch website is pretty much plastered with information about how to fit your pack comfortably. This was a relatively quick process, but it did require the help of a friend–in this case my partner, which meant I had to explain why I suddenly had another backpack in the lineup. Other than that, the process was painless and I was indoctrinated into the cult of MR-wearers who rave about the comfort of these packs.
One caveat is that the straps are BEEFY. While most of my bags have maybe 1-2 cm of foam, the ASAP comes in around 3-4. This was actually probably the biggest thing I had to adjust to with the pack. Definitely not uncomfortable, but I was certainly aware of the extra girth the first few times I took it out.
The majority of testing for this pack took place between home and my office. I was able to easily carry a 15-inch MacBook in a protective sleeve, a 1L Hydroflask, lunch, and a change of clothes for the gym without any issues. On a few occasions where I had to bring back heavy books, the suspension made my 25-minute bike ride a breeze even when loaded up to maximum capacity.
On the weekends, it was time to hit the trail. The pack was comfortable in the freezing 75F / 23C temperatures of a Southern California winter. I did notice that the thickness of the front straps meant I got a bit sweatier in that area, but if you’re wearing this pack for most of its applications, you shouldn’t mind a little dampness. I did notice that if the bag is mostly empty, the heavy duty harness feels a bit overkill–you basically feel like you’re bringing a gun to a knife fight–but I was glad to have the ability to load up with water and supplies if I wanted to turn this into a lighter weight 1-night camping bag.
- Solid, awesome, fantastic construction.
- The IDEA of a hideable waist belt is great. There when you want it, not when you don’t.
- The Tri-zip. If you’re new to the Mystery Ranch market like I was, this will be a revelation. I love being able to access all parts of the pack from top to bottom without having to clam-shell it.
- A good balance between tactical functionality and urban style…to a point (see below).
- A surprising amount of space in a relatively slim design.
What’s not great?
- A waist belt made with 1” webbing is rarely something I want to see in a pack. Upgrade that sucker to 2” webbing and I’m all in. Maybe in throw on some kind of PALS webbing on TOP of the belt–Now we’re talking!
- If you’re not using the radio pockets for their intended purpose, they tend to pop out and catch things you try to stuff into the main compartment of your bag. Newer versions of this pack have compression straps to keep them out of the way, but I’ll probably add a bit of velcro to them so that they stay shut when not in use.
- Although this is not the MOST tactical looking pack, it’s still not quite under the radar. The combination of the PALS webbing and Coyote fabric (in my case) definitely makes you stand out a bit in an urban setting.
- If you’re a big boy (or girl) this pack might be borderline. Those of us who are tall and skinny can probably pull it off, but if you’re a bit on the thicker side, you might want to look at the 3DAP or something similar.
Overall I think the ASAP is a great intro for someone looking to move into high-quality backpacks. It looks great, carries well, and will definitely last a lifetime. This has been the first pack in 2 years that has managed to pull me away from my BOGear Bullpup for any prolonged period of time and it will definitely stay in my rotation for the foreseeable future.