A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win a pack from Mystery Ranch from their #hauloffame photo contest on Instagram. They were gracious enough to pick my photo, and then let me pick out a pack paired with their guidelight frame. A week later it showed up on the front porch. This will be my initial thoughts and impressions about the pack, and later on this fall, after I get to throw some elk meat in it a time or two, I will write some more about my thoughts on it.
To be completely honest, I had a Mystery Ranch pack, well packs actually, in the past. I had a crewcab, Metcalf, and dragonslayer at different points in time, but I sold those off about 5 years ago to explore other options. Since then, I have used both Kifaru and Stone Glacier with great success, and have had a few packs from both of them respectively. Originially, I had some things that I didn’t particularly like about Mystery Ranch’s old NICE frame, but from initial impressions it seems that they have fixed the majority of what I disliked about that system. Below are the areas that I felt like my old Mystery Ranch pack lacked in, and how I feel that the issues were solved in the newer version that has been out for a few years.
This is the obvious one in my opinion. Not everything about a pack can be summed up by total weight by any means, but it does factor in, at least to me. The crewcab pack I had back in 2012 weighed in at 7lbs and 14oz empty and without add on accessories. To me, an 8lb empty pack is overkill, even for the level of durability that a mystery ranch product provides. Stone glacier has proven that an incredibly durable and reliable pack can be built for well under 5lbs, and even under 4lbs in some of their products, while still remaining capable of carry weights into triple digit figures.
I was happy to see that when I put the pintler on the scale it was much closer to the 5lb mark than it’s older predecessor, thelongbow, was on the NICE frame. It still won’t be the lightest pack on the market, but they’ve cut the weight down enough to make it a competitive option while still providing a very good frame for load hauling.
Load Lifter/ Frame Height
This is probably the number one reason I had sold my NICE frame and pack bags originally. The old frame had no functional shoulder lift other than a glorified stabilizer strap from the shoulder straps to the top of a short frame. Around the time I sold my NICE frame Mystery Ranch did come out with an add on accessory that I believe was called a lift kit, but it added even more weight to the old design, and just seemed like too much of a bandaid to me.
The newer guidelight frame addressed this issue in its design by providing a taller frame and plenty of lift for people of average height. It may have adequate lift for longer torso sizes as well, but I can’t especially comment on that as I am only 5’8″. There is plenty of rigidity in the frame to get the lift needed, and the angle is adjustable at least on the lower side where it attaches to the shoulder straps. I also like that the frame attachment for the load lifter and the upper compression straps come from the same point on the top of the frame, which helps the two opposite forces balance each other out some and eliminate some stress.
While not a deal breaker before the old waistbelt was a standard outward pull belt. While functional enough, it lacks the ability at times to get enough tension on the belt to switch a load fully to the hips. I’m once again, the guidelight frame addressed this and includes a center pull belt that tightens much more easily and smoothly than the old design. The belt is also better ergonomically fit wise in my opinion, and more comfortable from my initial impressions with some weight in the pack for brief stints. More testing of it this fall though will help me decide if it’s as effective as I think it will be.
At the time the NICE frame was released the load shelf idea wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. There were people, including myself, who were strapping meat between the bag and frame still, and it worked just fine. The guidelight has what Mystery Ranch refers to as the overload feature. This means there is a panel sewn to the bag and buckled into the frame underneath the bag for extra space when the two are separated.
The extra panel isn’t necessary to pack things in this location, as I’ve done it plenty of times without this feature. However, it’s a nice add on feature that certainly doesn’t hurt at all when getting some extra gear or meat on your pack.
The shelf on this pack is well designed and quick to access. Some other packs can take quite some time to get everything readjusted and tensioned correctly for the shelf to carry well. The design on this pack is well thought out and works efficiently, letting you turn a small pack into something to carry your gear plus 60lbs or more of meat at the same time. I am also very fond of having good compression at all 4 sides of the frame, which this pack does very well.
Overall I really like this pack so far. It solves every issue I had with my previous Mystery Ranch pack, at least on first appearance. The tri zip design of the bag is also why I chose this bag when they gave me the option. It’s by far my favorite design of any bag I’ve used, and it’s incredibly organized and easy to access all of your pack contents at any time. It’s also one of the easiest designs to load when packing up.
It seems every bit as quality as the American sewn packs I’ve had from Mystery Ranch as well as other companies, and I don’t have any initial reservations about quality. It also includes some of the great designs that Mystery Ranch has developed over the years like the adjustable yolk for torso length sizing. The bag attachment system is similar in that it is also a very elegant design to seamlessly accomplish what it need to and do so in a very easy manner for the end user.
Overall I’m very excited to put a little bit of time under this pack and really give it a spin in order to compare it to a couple of other packs from Kifaru this fall. I’m not sure that I will prefer it any more over what I have been using, but it’s a worthy competition and a very good option, especially at retail price of under $500.
Look for my full detailed review on this pack later in the year.