For a bag to meet our daily needs, we all have a few things to look for. A small wishlist: most days I need padding for electronics, protection from wet weather, and organisation for small items. Nothing unique there. I also want a bag to be well built, carry comfortably on my body, and, y’know, look cool. After spotting the Mystery Ranch Slick, which should tick all my boxes, I wanted to try it out… if any pack could be perfect, maybe this could be it
The Slick is a 23L pack, designed for urban carry and offered as part of MR’s ‘everyday’ collection. It has a padded laptop section, a panel-loading front compartment, an admin area for pens, sunglasses, or a multitool, and an external bottle pocket. Asides from that the exterior is clean, creating a sleek office-friendly look. The zippers are all water resistant and the bag is made to the same standards that Mystery Ranch have become famous for. Of course, the more features built into a bag, the more there is to go wrong. The Slick has the potential to be great, but only testing would reveal how well the design was put together.
Holding it in person, the Slick really is a nice looking pack. My better half, a trained artist, described it as having an ‘architectural’ quality, with the clean, continuous silhouette. Large panels of fabric present a smooth face, and the zippers are positioned to hold the bag’s shape. This stylish design is appropriate, given the Slick’s intended use – it’s meant to be carried to the office and back, on the daily commute. This is a common enough use, but quite a specific one; the Slick isn’t made for days in the mountains (where much of MR’s lineup is right at home).
The straps are a complete departure from the excellent harness and support systems that MR’s outdoors packs feature. The straps run right off the top of the pack, without any load lifters or suspension. I suppose the nice thing about this ‘fixed harness’ is that, with nothing to adjust, it’s easy to form an opinion on. It either fits you or it doesn’t. The pack’s back panel is well padded with airmesh and contains an 18” hdpe sheet, giving it some rigidity, and that’s about it. Normally 18 inches fits my body perfectly, but in this case (with the pack not extending any higher than its shoulder position) it felt a little short – my partner, being a bit shorter and a lighter, loved it. For a midweight load that’ll be on-and-off the body a lot, this pack is plenty comfortable, but there’s nothing special about it.
In terms of actual contents, the Slick has two central compartments, both accessible by large curved zips. The rear section is made to hold a laptop and documents, and has a tall narrow shape to its internal space. It contains a sleeve made of a padded foam, with room for a 15” machine. This sleeve is suspended from the floor of the pack, secured by elastics and velcro, and covered by material overhead, the padded wall also hides another slip pocket ideal for a tablet or e-reader – I’ve been greatly impressed by this laptop compartment and have no concerns about the safety of my electronics inside the Slick, which is a good thing. Inside that same rear compartment are a pair of shallow dividers which could hold notebooks or folders, and would keep them tidy. The central wall of the pack is also made of some light foam, giving the pack some extra structure and adding another layer of protection to the rear compartment. It’s good to see MR providing something so well built for this role.
The front compartment is rather different – its zip runs two-thirds around the Slick’s front, allowing the face of the pack to fold out of the way when open – and makes room for most of the pack’s ‘cargo’ volume, meaning a lunchbox, gym kit, or light jacket. Even then, there isn’t a ton of space here, and users may have to be sparing with any bulky items they want to pack. For the first few days of use I struggled to fit everything I wanted to carry, in a comfortable way, but it became easier as I got used to the space.
The Slick also has a decent amount of small-item organisation, which is built into the rear wall of this front compartment. This, more than anything else, created problems for me; the mesh pocket, slots and loops are all stitched into the mid-wall of the pack. By themselves these are pretty decent: I found space for a small notebook, pens, a battery pack and booboo kit, but the positioning is what causes confusion. When the large space around it is loaded up, this admin area is behind the bigger items loaded into the pack. Grabbing a pen for a quick note means pulling out the raincoat or snacks sitting above them, which (by their nature) are cumbersome and hard to manage. Only one pocket (a mesh one, built into the pack’s front panel) is quickly accessible, and whilst the zipper design means Slick should be usable ‘on body,’ the fact that this pocket combines admin with cargo loads like this make it much less functional than I had hoped.
By making a few compromises, I could make the Slick work, and really see the merits of it. It’s wonderfully made – the materials are high quality and well chosen. The bag feels tough, but not heavy. It keeps its contents safe and the rain out. If anything, between the YKK zippers, ITW hardware and 500d cordura the Slick is quite orthodox for a high end pack… except that it isn’t a high end pack. At time of writing the Slick sells on MR’s site for US$125; it’s highly possible for the computer it’s protecting to be ten times that. For the technically minded, urban professional that Mystery Ranch are targeting, that’s entirely affordable, whilst still sitting in a sector that gives a level of reassurance that no corners have been cut in manufacture. For someone looking to carry their lunch, laptop and a few files to work and back (and nothing else), I can see the Slick being really prized.
The wishlist, then, is a dangerous thing – a pack is more than its specsheet. The Slick has a lot of potential and (for the right user) might be a real hit, but its design is very specific. By performing so well to a certain function, the pack becomes something for users to conform to, rather than fitting to their individual needs. That’s not a unique problem – ultimately what I have to find is the perfect pack for me, and that means being clear about what I need.