Mystery Ranch Terraplane

Review: Mystery Ranch Terraplane

Multi day trips to the backcountry require a good pack.  One that handles the weight with a level of comfort that doesn’t fatigue the  user and offers protection to his/her belongings from the elements.  Within that general need lies an entire focus of some major outdoor companies product lines and in some more boutique firms their entire offering.

As a wilderness counselor, I gravitated toward the bombproof construction and end user focus of pack designer Dana Gleason.  When I came aboard, the veteran counselors and leaders all had Dana Design Astraplane or Terraplane models for hiking and Bomb or Humbug Spires for climbing.  It was the pack of what I deemed the “professional.”  Eventually, I purchased through a “pro deal” a Terraplane LTW and found out first hand why they dropped the money when we had free Lowe Alpine and Mountainsmith bags available.  Cavernous, user friendly features and enough 500 and 1000 denier to survive a nuclear blast, it was amazing.  Dana’s load bearing hip belt and yoke held unwieldy amounts of weight and they just plain looked cool.

As life progressed, there was a period of time where I found myself in need of money and not doing any hiking. As a result, I listed my Salsa colored LTW on eBay and in the years following I didn’t notice it’s absence.  Fast forward a decade, my better half found me obsessing about Dana Gleason’s new company Mystery Ranch.  Gleason began Mystery Ranch and adopted a “made in the USA” model (after selling off Dana Design some years prior) with the end user focus being military, wilderness firefighter and hunters.  A demographic that previously was not acknowledged in his designs.  This was precipitated by some Navy Special Warfare guys who approached him with needs for the mountains of Afghanistan. The company’s bags and supporting accessories are well received within the communities they were meant to serve. Based on my past success with their products, I found myself the owner of a new Terraplane in mid-2014.

mystery ranch terraplane

At 7lbs, 7oz this 85 liter bag is built from 500 denier cordura.  It offers an adjustable yoke to match the hikers height and a padded waist belt with lumbar support along the pelvis.  It has a generous removable lid with two large pockets that can second as a “fanny style” pack and a double draw string to seal up the top loading portion of the pack.  A zipper for quick access is half way down on one side and compression straps across both sections criss cross both sides directly over two ample pockets for water bottles (holds a large Nalgene).  Two tubular pockets run on the backside length of the pack offering quick access to additional layers on a hike or stove/fuel to separate from the rest of your load.

My Experience:

Despite my great experience with Gleason’s designs in the past and my loyalty to his products, I am not happy with the bag’s performance.  I was careful to ensure it is appropriately adjusted for my frame/height and the belt is the correct size, yet with a 60lbs load the bag is reduced to a $485 book bag.  The belt slides down my hips causing my shoulders to take on the burden.  This bag is touted to be for loads of 80-100lbs.  I called Mystery Ranch and shared photos of me carrying the load, the bag, etc.  The company’s customer service team was excellent and talked through everything to conclude that it was “just a lot of weight.”  Honestly, I am not sure how you build an 85 liter pack and then tell the user that 60lbs is too much weight. 60lbs is at the high end of the recommended weight for other 60-70 liter packs on the market. This pack adds 15+ liters of space, but you are supposed to carry 10-20lbs less than someone with a smaller pack?

Since that call I have used the bag again on a shorter backpacking trip with a bit less weight. The problems still existed and frustrated me to no end.  Add in the fact that Melanie has the Osprey Aura 65 and it rides like a feather while I am constantly being reminded of the load on my back, and you have an unhappy hiker.

With modern suspension systems offered from Osprey and lighter, less over engineered materials being used by the majority of other manufacturers, I am hard pressed to recommend this pack to anyone.  The price makes it an even more compelling argument.  I still have the bag and I’m not sure what I’m going to do at this point. I know it’s a bombproof pack, but for the price and the reputation, I also expected it to ride at least somewhat comfortably. I know I should move on but my loyalty to the brand and the design has me saying “just one more time.”   I guess we will see…

Stay safe.



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