If you’re a reader of The Perfect Pack, you’re probably familiar with Mystery Ranch. The Bozeman, Montana company are pretty well regarded for their urban line, famous for their military packs, and downright legendary in the world of backpacking and hiking gear. The company have been making outdoor backpacks for 20 years, and its founders for another 20 years before that. They’ve gotten pretty good at it.
The Bridger series is a new release for Spring ‘22, with 65 litre and 55 litre offerings available (I tested the 55L). Intended for backpacking and camping, the design takes influence from trail running vests to further develop Mystery Ranch’s already A-Grade stability and comfort, while improving comfort through breathability and ventilation to the harness.
Dimensions provided by Mystery Ranch
Primary Material: 100d Robic recycled ripstop nylon (body), 330d Robic nylon (high abrasion areas)
Quality & Comfort
The key feature of the Bridger backpacks is Mystery Ranch’s new harness system, which they’re calling the Endurance Yoke. The new yoke builds on MR’s classic Futura design, which adjusts to the wearer’s height and spreads weight beautifully across the hips and shoulders.
The differences start with the fabric: Mystery Ranch have ditched their standard airmesh and gone for a softer, more aerated padding. Separation between the belt and shoulder pad allows air to move against the wearer’s back, reminiscent of the Bergans packs I’ve used in the past. Using the Bridger 55 in Spring I stayed practically sweat-free – I can’t wait to test for hot-weather performance, when I feel like this system will actually make a difference.
The Endurance yoke improves the breathability of the Bridger pack, but also does an awesome job for comfort under load. The belt is well padded and shaped to ride the wearer’s hips snugly, without rubbing or pressure points. The shoulder straps are broad and spread across the chest when worn, with two sternum straps included to keep the load in place. I didn’t expect this to make much difference, but moving around with the Bridger I found it exceptionally stable on my back.
Typical ventilation systems on backpacks involve lifting the pack away from the wearer’s body, which creates leverage away from the hips and generally I actually had a hard job getting the Bridger 55 to put me off balance, despite being loaded with some heavy weights.
It is good to know that Mystery Ranch packs bear weight well, as they’re invariably on the heavy end of the scale. Empty, the Bridger 55 weighs roughly double the Granite Gear Crown 60. The Bergans Helium 55 I used last year comes in at less than 1kg, despite having a remarkably similar feature set.
The obvious counterpoint might be durability – both of those packs showed clear signs of use after just a couple of outings, whereas the Bridger feels as though it’ll last me for decades. The fabric, zips and plastic hardware all feel brilliant. The materials are weather resistant (though not waterproof) and have held up well against rocks, mud and snow.
That being said, the Bridger 55 is heavier even than Mystery Ranch’s own Terraframe 50, so may be hard to justify for some users. Naturally, everyone has different priorities, and how the weight on the scale plays against weight on-body is up to you, in your own order of ranking.
Organisation & Access
Weight aside, a few staples of ultralight pack design have made their way onto Mystery Ranch’s drawing board, showing up here on the Bridger 55. A deep, generous stretch pocket covers the front panel, making a great spot for an extra layer. Likewise, the side stretch pockets are capacious enough to hold two bottles each, or even a backpacking tent, but offer good retention.
Mystery Ranch have added smaller pockets onto the belt, and also the shoulder straps of the Bridger pack, both made of a slightly stretchy mesh. The belt pockets zip up and are well sized for at-hand items like snacks or a headlamp, but will also hold a smartphone or pair of sunglasses in a case. The two pockets on the wearer’s chest are open-topped and incredibly handy. A 500ml soft bottle fits well, but I often used mine to hold my map, in a weatherproof case. I will say that, given their placement, these pockets compete with anything else worn on the chest, whether that’s pockets on the jacket or a standalone chest pack.
As well as pockets, Mystery Ranch have added a few attachment points to the outside of the Bridger for longer items. Daisy-chain webbing on the front panel comes with shock cord to hold trekking poles in place. I’m glad to see this feature, though frankly it could be better implemented: more than once in testing I had my poles twist in the cord, sticking out sideways.
Similarly, the Bridger 55 has a number of compression straps across the sides, base, and even inside the top-loading collar. The straps do a good job of pulling the bag’s load toward the user’s body and keeping it neat, but aren’t long enough to hold much against the outside of the pack. For example, I’d been hoping to strap a Z-Lite style sleeping pad to the side of my Bridger, but found it impossible to get the straps around it.
Unbuckling the side compression straps reveals a zippered access to the main compartment of the pack. Folding down the front panel opens up the whole body of the Bridger, making it easier to pack neatly, or to grab a set of gloves that have slipped down below my food bag. This is really useful and well implemented, as a supplement to the main access beneath the lid. It’s also good to see Mystery Ranch considering the durability of their gear, using compression straps to take the strain off zips, which are common points of failure.
Likewise, the dedicated zip to the sleeping bag compartment at the base of the pack folds up when closed, moving tension from the teeth onto a Duraflex buckle. An internal divider keeps this space separate from the main pack, though it’ll fold out the way if unwanted.
In testing, I found myself not getting much use out of this feature; I know some folks like to pull their sleeping kit without unpacking, but I found that my tent, extra layers, food were all out of the pack first, every time. Even in that case, I don’t think the Bridger makes a good example, as the opening was too narrow for my 3-season bag to fit through. The zip here feels like unnecessary weight and complexity to an already heavy and complicated bag.
Internally, Mystery Ranch have fitted a couple of mesh pockets to the walls of the Bridger 55. They’re perfectly sized for a Jetboil cooker, and are well positioned for items that don’t need to be accessed instantly but benefit from being kept secure, such as spare batteries or toilet paper. There’s also a sleeve for a hydration bladder and a hanging loop, with ports left and right.
Finally, the Bridger 55’s lid sports a decent volume in itself, opening clamshell with one additional mesh division inside. The smaller pocket zips closed and has a key leash; an incident during testing renewed my appreciation for key retention, so I’m glad to see this here.
The lid is floating but also removable, with a hidden strap to be worn separately around the waist. I was briefly disappointed that this didn’t implement the Bridger’s full padded belt (as other designs do, that I’ve used), but in use I found it so quick to deploy. Whether it’s a quick out-and-back section of a hike or stopping in town at the end of a trip, I think this is a really convenient and effective feature.
- I love the new Endurance yoke, and can’t wait to see it appear on more packs.
- The pocket layout is extensive and versatile, with room for everything.
- The pack feels tough and built to last.
- External mounting options need some fine-tuning.
- The sleeping bag compartment is frankly unneeded, in my opinion.
- The Bridger’s weight will be a lot for many folks, not just strict ultralighters.
During testing I passed my Mystery Ranch Bridger 55 to a friend so he could try it on. I’d packed heavier than him; coming from his Granite Gear Blaze 60 he commented on the weight in-hand. As soon as he tried it on however, he saw what I’d seen. The harness was unlike anything he’d ever worn, making the perceived weight of the bag feel less than his own. It was all I could do to stop him running away with it, there and then.
I’m excited to see how Mystery Ranch go on to use this new harness in future – a daypack with this kind of harness could easily become my new favourite. As for the rest of the pack, I’ll agree that some tweaks are needed.
Disclaimer: The Bridger 55 backpack was provided by Mystery Ranch for this review. The content of the review was not shared with Mystery Ranch prior to publication. Our review are impartial and never altered to keep a brand happy.