Light Done Right: Mystery Ranch's Bomber Packs Get a Lightweight Update

How the Montana brand best known for making maximalist, durable (and yes, heavy) backpacks is going light with new Galligator, Scree, and Radix packs

Light Done Right: Mystery Ranch's Bomber Packs Get a Lightweight Update


Tanner Bowden


Courtesy Mystery Ranch

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Ask any mountaineer, climber, or backpacker who's been around for a few decades what's changed the most about the gear they carry and they'll all tell you the same thing: it's gotten lighter. Once a cottage industry trend, ounce counting has gone mainstream in recent years. And outdoor gear makers are racing to zero to help the rest of us go higher and roam farther, while treading lighter on the land. Perhaps the most unexpected brand to embrace a lightweight ethos is Montana’s Mystery Ranch, who just this season released three new pack lines—the Gallagator, Scree, and Radix—with weights as low as 14 oz and topping out at 3.8 lbs.

For a brand synonymous with maximalist “bomber” gear that focuses less on weight and more on durability and function, the new lightweight category packs are a pleasant surprise to say the least. Where most ultralight backpacks feature limited function and few comforts, Mystery Ranch’s take on approaching the outdoors with nothing more than is necessary looks a little different. Then again, the Bozeman-based brand has always blazed its own trail.

Mystery Ranch Gallagator

Since legendary designer Dana Gleason launched Mystery Ranch in 2000, the company has designed backpacks with a focus on what it calls "load carriage." That is, how a bag feels when bearing awkward, irregular loads. When you're a wildland firefighter, emergency responder, member of the military, backcountry hunter, or a failure-is-not-an-option backpacker or climber, "necessities only" can still translate to carrying a lot. These are the people who Mystery Ranch makes bags for. Even though the Galligator, Scree, and Radix, bring the ounce count down, these bags don't abandon the brand's longstanding principles.

As with every bag Mystery Ranch makes, each of this new batch has a different use case in mind. The Gallagator takes its best shot at versatility. Available in 10, 15, 20, and 25-liter sizes—weighing between 0.9 lbs and 1.4 lbs—the minimalist Galligator is made of durable recycled fabric and designed for easy carry and quick access, making it suitable for day hiking, runs, bike commuting, and travel. Central to the design is running vest-style shoulder straps with pockets that can fit a phone, camera, or snacks. Bungees and daisy chain lash points on every size make it hard to call the Galligator bare bones.

Mystery Ranch Scree, a lightweight technical mountain pack

The updated Scree is a lightweight technical mountain pack. The Scree edges closer to true UL ethos. Available in 22 and 33-liter sizes, it's a technical pack for scrambling, climbing, and moving quickly through rugged terrain. It's a pack for a strike mission to a nearby peak, or a quick overnight out and back. Mystery Ranch says it's also a pack for hauling only the essentials, but the company still gave it an adjustable padded harness system, a cinch top, and plenty of compression straps for dialing in your load. The 22-liter version is just under two pounds and the 33 is 3.3 lbs, but—in a nod to the DIY modularity at the core of ultralight design—you can remove its hip belt and aluminum frame to dial it down further if you’re really a weight weenie.

Rounding out the trio is the Radix. The Radix is for outdoor overnighters lasting single or multiple days and it's available in 31, 47, and 57-liter sizes to suit the length of your trip. Instead of taking another pack in its catalog and paring it down to reduce weight, the company's designers started fresh to make a backpacking pack that has the qualities of an ultralight bag with the added benefit of a frame.

The Radix might not have a specific pocket and zipper for every item you want to carry, but it does have three huge external dump pockets with a quick cinch closure and of course, a fully adjustable padded harness system. If you do want to slim it down, the frame, waist belt, and some compression straps are removable. And the bag's compression straps and the bungee cords that cinch its pockets are repairable, too. All three sizes are made with Ultra-PE Birdseye and recycled 100D Robic Ripstop fabric, materials that are durable and light enough to help bring final weigh-outs to 3.1, 3.5, and 3.8 lbs, respectively.

The Radix has ultralight-style modularity and repairability

The Radix has ultralight-style modularity and repairability. It's reassuring that over more than 20 years, Mystery Ranch has kept its core values intact, staying the course instead of going wherever the trend winds blow. The company's "built for the mission" approach has often translated to heavier gear, and it might make these new bags seem unusual. But they're not a full departure from that mantra. For some, that mission might be bagging an elk 10 miles from the nearest trailhead, but it could mean a quick scramble up a nearby peak for others. Or even an urban trail run for that matter.

Minimalism can be good, it can be necessary, and it can be done without abandoning comfort. These new bags aren't ultralight; they're light done right.


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