Testing the Tri-Zip system, the signature of Mystery Ranch backpacks, has been on top of my list for last couple of years. I really liked the design, but I simply didn’t need another backpack. I already had 16, 20, 30 and 42 L sized packs from different manufacturers. I was also under the impression that MR backpacks were fairly heavy. However, my gear acquisition syndrome finally came to the ‘point of no return’ and I ordered a Mystery Ranch ASAP Pack with removable Stick-It pocket to try it for myself. The question now is – why did I wait so long?
The Mystery Ranch ASAP Pack is a small backpack with a big harness system, which means that the volume of 18 liters is combined with Futura Yoke harness (which can support a backpack 3-times the size). It’s made of 500D cordura, which should survive virtually anything in regular outdoor and/or military use.
The pack opens via a Tri-Zip system, which is made of 3 zippers creating Y-shaped opening. The YKK zippers are rubberized and weather sealed. The vertical zipper goes well above the meeting point of the horizontal zippers, which increases both the rigidness and security of the pack. Just bind the two horizontal zippers with a grimlock and you’re very safe in the city crowd. There is no way anyone could open the pack quickly and without alerting you. This is a trick worth remembering. The zipper’s action is smooth, but requires quite some force (imagine a vault door), which is again very good for security purposes as the zippers won’t open by themselves even when jogging, jumping, or moving about.
What is the fascination with the Tri-Zip? Why is it so convenient? What makes it superior to other systems? Well, let’s start and open just the horizontal zippers and you can easily use the pack as a top-loader. Now open the vertical one and voila! The pack opens up entirely and gives access to every corner of the inside. What makes this better than typical front-panel opening is the way it expands, it just opens loosely and nothing is stressed and/or compressed inside any more. There are no ‘borders’, which keep stuff compressed just like in a suitcase. It simply expands and releases the contents for you. I love it! It allows for faster packing and compressing your stuff when zipping it closed. As you can see, the ASAP has PALS everywhere. It’s on the sides, on the back, and also one line at the bottom. You can strap all kinds of stuff to the ASAP like a small axe, ice-hatchet, walking sticks, crampons, etc. Also, you can use a variety of PALS compliant pockets and pouches from just about any manufacturer.
Of course the pack is only as strong as the weakest component. Let’s take a closer look at the zippers. First of all, they are VERY well made, very strong, and both sealed and reliable. This zipper system works in 100 liters backpacks so an 18 liter pack is nothing. I haven’t heard any bad stories about the MR zippers so I’m sure they will last a lifetime. You can always use a compression strap and take some tension away from the zipper too.
In an emergency, if you don’t have such straps and you just need to support the zipper (or when the zipper gets destroyed by something, which can always happen in a worst-case scenario) all you need is a yard of paracord and just lace it closed! Take a look at the photo above. Yep, it’s that easy. If you’re worried about zippers, don’t be. They’re strong and ‘plan B’ is very easy to deploy.
Now let’s look inside. As you can see, there are two huge internal pockets on the sidewalls. Originally intended for hydration bladders, I use them differently now that we’re in the Fall & Winter seasons. One is for a rolled merino sweater and the other is for 3-layer hard shell jacket. I put all the other stuff in the middle, add a bottle of water (thermal insulated) and close the vertical zipper. This compresses the stuff nicely inside. On top I put usually an admin-pouch with smaller items and zip the pack closed.
Inside the pack there are also 3 small loops to hang the hydration bladders. ASAP is equipped with a slot with hidden velcro, which is used to attach the Mystery Ranch Spade-Lock velcro pouch system. It’s handy when you want to share packed pouches between ASAP and other Mystery Ranches packs. It lets you remove the pouch easily from the pack and use separately so it seems logical that it would be a good system for a medical pouch. Currently my ASAP is my only Mystery Ranch pack at this time so I use the slot to keep a map in there. However, that may change soon! There also are 3 rows of internal PALS, which can be used to attach pouches or anything else you like. I’m going to use it to attach internal iPad pocket.
The top flap of the pack forms one huge pocket. It’s high and can really keep an impressive amount of stuff inside of it like a camera, phone charger, flashlight, spare batteries, and a G-Shock watch. On top there is a small mesh inner pocket for documents and/or a wallet. Having such a flap-pocket in a small pack is GREAT. I was missing it in all my other small packs so far like the TAD LiteSpeed and Mystery Ranch Spartan. Finally, I can have my camera easily accessible at all times and don’t have to keep it inside the main section. Even a Fuji X100 fits easily, and that isn’t that tiny. There is another short zipper just behind the top flap for the bladder’s drinking pipe. It’s also handy for putting small items into the pack, or in my case, to take the map from Spade-Lock slot. Of course, all the zippers are rubberized and fully sealed.
The harness system is a key feature of each backpack, and in case of ASAP it’s one of it’s strongest points. As I said earlier, the ASAP has been equipped with regular ‘adult’ harness called the Futura Yoke. The Futura consists of nicely padded, S-curved straps which are connected together. It also has an internal composite plastic sheet, which makes a small internal frame. You can adjust the straps attachment point (yoke length) to your torso via the Spade-Lock velcro system. There are detailed tutorial videos on the Mystery Ranch website, which show how to adjust the yoke to fit your back. They are definitely worth checking out! The back of the backpack is also padded and finished with the same kind of mesh as the straps. The straps are adjustable, and you an also pull top of the pack towards your back via the top adjustment webbing straps. The chest-strap is removable and fully adjustable as well. As with most military-oriented packs, the ASAP can be also used on body armor without the straps. Just buckle it to your armor vest and you’re ready to go.
The waist belt, well, I’d more likely call it a “waist stabilizing belt” as it’s nothing more than a thin nylon canvas belt with fastex buckle. It helps a lot to stabilize the pack when running or skiing, but it won’t transfer any load to the hips. There is also no optional padded belt available for ASAP, which would be handy. For an 18 liter pack it is not a big issue, but for longer hikes in the mountains having a padded belt would be very welcomed option. You can hide the waist belt in the special small slots on the sides of ASAP when not in use. I really like this feature.
It’s too bad that a lot of other companies use sub par carry harness systems on their smaller packs. The harness really separates ASAP from most of the “up to 20 L” backpack crowd. It’s a fully adjustable real-load-bearing harness and I want to thank Mystery Ranch for that! So far I’ve used my ASAP in Fall and Winter weather conditions. I can’t say much about thermal comfort when wearing the pack year round, but I can imagine it’s not so great as the back panel is just mesh covered foam padding without any back respiration channels or slots. Of course it is a military oriented pack, so it should stay flat on your back and protects the back from hard/edged items inside the pack. For what the ASAP is, it’s acceptable, but it’s not the same back thermal comfort as offered by most of high-end civilian outdoor packs.
Now let’s take a look at how it rides on the back. I’ve chosen my backpack with M-size yoke, as advised by the Mystery Ranch website. To adjust it to my torso it only took me a couple of minutes. I pulled the yoke from backpack a bit, checked it, and then pulled a tiny bit more and it was done. I also adjusted all the straps including the chest and waist. Suddenly the pack felt like it became part of my body! It must be the most comfortable strap system on any pack I’ve ever tried, especially for heavy load. This really sold me on the Mystery Ranch. It’s that good! There is no pressure on the back, no pack movement, etc. It just feels great.
After initial adjustments, I rolled the waist belt into the dedicated pockets and so far I haven’t had a real need to use it. I will need it soon during my ski trips, but so far I haven’t had a need. The pack feels like glued to my back even without it. During my day-long walks and trips into the local woodland, I worked a couple of times with my knife and/or small hatchet and the pack didn’t disturb either my work nor my movements at all.
My typical load so far has been spare cloths for the kids, a thermos with tea for them, a small hip flask for me, chocolate, sandwiches, documents, flashlight, and my camera. With such a light load you can hardly feel it on your back. The heaviest load I had in my Mystery Ranch ASAP pack so far was about 8kg (including the pack) and it was still very comfortable to carry. It was very important to me is that ASAP easily take a serious DSLR camera with 70-200mm tele lens attached, so I can use it for my wildlife photography trips.
The Mystery Ranch ASAP Pack is one of the packs in Mystery Ranch lineup that can accept their Stick-It removable ‘pocket’. The Stick-It is a kind of beavertail attachment, which can be found on some other brands, but Mystery Ranch took the design a bit further. There are two plastic sheets inside the Stick-It which expand and give it a 3D form. It protects the contents from the sides as well. This helps keep stuff in place like rolled jacket or helmet. I tried the Stick-It with a 5-liter waterproof bag with fleece jacket inside of it and it was no problem at all. The Stick-It can be also configured in such a way that allows to carry skis, a bow, or even a rifle on your ASAP – something that can come in quite handy. The Stick-It is a great addition and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a must-have and really expands the ASAP’s packability and functionality. I’m sure I’ll use it a lot on all of my trips!
To sum up it up, the Mystery Ranch ASAP Pack must be the most comfortable and versatile ’about 20 L’ pack I’ve used so far. It’s very well designed with great attention to detail and executed perfectly in Bozeman, MT. I’m sure that my ASAP will join me on many future trips.