Mystery Ranch are a brand with a reputation, hard earned after decades of quality: their founder Dana Gleason began designing packs back in the 1970s before starting his company Kletterwerks. The problem with heritage is that it can restrict as well as support, and too often designers will look too much on their past successes rather than seek out new innovations. In 2012 Mystery Ranch briefly resurrected the Kletterwerks brand for a series of heritage models including the Flip (reviewed by our friends at Carryology), after classic alpine rucksack design once popular with climbers. The line has been phased out again but Mystery Ranch have reformed this model into the Robo Flip, a bag which straddles the classic with a futuristic look, fitting neatly into their ‘everyday’ line of bags.
Quality & Comfort
As a confirmed Mystery Ranch fan, I’ll own up to being slightly disappointed by my first encounter with the Robo Flip. I couldn’t pinpoint what I disliked, but equally couldn’t find anything particularly special about it. It’s very simple. The straps are utterly unsophisticated, just foam and mesh, lacking even as much structure as MR’s other urban packs I’d tried. The shape meant it loaded up weirdly and sagged when not full. It’s certainly low on features, not even including a sternum strap (to clip across my chest), which is standard on so many backpacks nowadays that I was shocked to be missing it.
I persevered though, and after a few trips to work and the supermarket, I remembered what I’d disliked about Mystery Ranch’s Slick. I realised that the Robo Flip’s deceptive simplicity is its strength. The basic framesheet and more flexible straps fit me better than the Slick, leading to a comfortable ride regardless of what may be missing. The pack’s shape aids this, being low profile it keeps weight close to the body and prevents the load from pulling away from the wearer. The materials felt tough and every stitch on the bag was immaculate.
The materials used for the Robo Flip mark it out from the vintage pack it’s grown from. The body features the same 1000d nylon present on the older Kletterwerks models, but also panels coated in TPU, giving it a rubbery sheen. Curiously, Mystery Ranch have chosen to carry over the metal hardware for the sliders on the straps, a luxurious throwback over the plastic so prevalent on their many others. Personally I like the look, but I understand why some folks might not. Certainly the TPU doesn’t add much practical benefit – for example any additional water resistance is offset by the numerous seams where the panels intersect. There’s a consideration of aesthetics at work that I can’t complain about, creating a humble daily driver that will blend into a range of environments.
With a pack as light on features as the Robo Flip, organisation is always going to require some effort, but if it works it can work very well. The way to approach a bag like this like the outdoors packs it takes inspiration from – pouches and modular packing keep gear tidy in the main bag, a zippered lid pocket for things that need to be grabbed quickly. There’s nothing in the way of pen-loops or small item organisation here, so the interior can become quite a jumble, especially since the only way into the bag is through the top lid which (true to its name) flips open satisfyingly.
Unlike an outdoors bag, Mystery Ranch have fitted a padded sleeve to the back wall of the Robo Flip, perfect for a laptop, with an extra velcro flap that might contain a tablet or notebook. This is lifted off the bag’s floor (protecting it from drops) and is quite rigid. I had no qualms about keeping my computer in there with no further casing. The other internal feature is a water bottle sleeve, more tubular and build into the bag’s wall. This sleeve is handy for keeping a bottle upright and quick to grab, but won’t much protect the bag’s contents if a leak does occur since a drainage hole just feeds directly into the bottom of the bag.
As far as the bag’s intent – taking the old-school klettersack and modernising it for city use – I think Mystery Ranch have pulled things off brilliantly. The bag looks great, directing the vintage appeal forward in a way few others have managed.
I’ve mentioned this before but I really like the laptop sleeve Mystery Ranch are using on their current everyday packs. It’s functional but unobtrusive.
For many folks, a top-loading bag will be a no-go for everyday use – the restricted access to gear becomes a real inconvenience. Likewise the minimalist organisation means there’s a real risk of contents swimming around inside the bag. If that’s a dealbreaker, I get it.
Like I said, the Robo Flip was comfortable enough for my use, but I didn’t carry any particular weight at any point in testing. The fixed harnesses Mystery Ranch are using on their everyday packs are fine but simply don’t compare with their more sophisticated yokes; if they don’t fit, there’s very little in the way of adjustment here.
My attention was drawn to the Robo Flip first by its looks, and secondly by its price. Value isn’t something we cover often here at The Perfect Pack, but it’s silly to pretend it isn’t a factor for most users; at time of writing the Robo Flip is listed on Mystery Ranch’s website for just $99 – very affordable compared to much of their line-up. Fortunately, Mystery Ranch’s build comes without compromises, and this bag doesn’t feel like a budget option; in fact, from any other brand, I’d be praising it wholeheartedly.
The design is light on features but that’s not, in itself, a negative. Rather the Robo Flip has the potential to polarise – for many people it really won’t appeal at all, but others will love it.
Disclaimer: The Robo Flip was purchased privately and subsequently used for this review. The content of this review was not shared with Mystery Ranch prior to publishing and our reviews are never edited to keep brands happy.