Backpack manufacturer Mystery Ranch has been providing premium packs to hikers, first responders, and military special operation forces for the better part of two decades. Here at Task & Purpose, we’re no stranger to the Bozeman, Montana-based company’s products after subjecting their 2DAY Assault Pack and Urban Assault 21 backpack to a battery of tests for earlier reviews; we even included the former on our list of the best tactical backpacks worth carrying.
Throughout Mystery Ranch’s history, their most distinctive feature has arguably been the Y-shaped tri-zip. This unique zipper allows a pack’s wearer to access the bag’s entire contents without removing any items they don’t need, and it has effectively become synonymous with Mystery Ranch and the quality of their brand.
But at SHOT Show 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada in January, Mystery Ranch made an unusual move in debuting four brand new packs without the company’s signature Y-shaped zipper, raising questions as to what’s next for Mystery Ranch and whether the popularity of the tri-zip has run its course.
At first glance, Mystery Ranch’s four new military packs — the Gunfighter 14, Gunfighter 24, Raid 32 LT, and Blackjack LT 35, with the numbers indicating the internal capacity of the main compartment in liters — impressed us with their highly innovative designs, lightweight construction, and the use new and unusual materials in comparison to the rest of the company’s oeuvre. All of these new packs feature a lightweight 330 Denier Cordura construction and use laser-cut Hypalon webbing instead of stitched MOLLE for added weight saving. All of them are Berry compliant and near-IR treated to not stand out under night vision.
Then there’s the lack of the distinctive Y zipper, with each new backpack instead opting for various side zipper styles. The Gunfighter 14, which is extremely small, uses a lid with two side zippers, allowing the user to simply grab the lid and rip it open rather than having to use the zippers. This model expands Mystery Ranch’s military line into the concealed carry and EDC market by providing the features of the new line of packs but focused on making a grab-and-go pack.
Similar to its baby brother, the Gunfighter 24 features the side-zipped rip-top, but with the addition of two zippers that run down the sides of the pack from top to bottom, allowing the same full pack access as the tri-zip did. In addition, the Gunfighter 24 is a fully “jumpable” pack, with the zippers featuring safety loops that prevent it from getting ripped open while parachuting.
The Raid 32 LT is probably the most conventional of the new packs, featuring a horseshoe zipper style. But despite being a smaller pack, the Raid innovates in featuring load-lifter straps on top of the shoulder straps, which are essential for the heavy loads that many military personnel find themselves hauling in their assault packs.
Finally, while the Blackjack 35 LT may be the largest of the new packs, it’s in fact a much smaller variant of the Blackjack 50, 80, and 100 rucks that keeps the same design DNA in a much more compact package. The Blackjack 35 LT features a zipper on the right side of the pack, which allows the same whole-pack access as the tri-zip packs, while remaining completely jumpable, and featuring a more conventional closure at the top.
So why is Mystery Ranch ditching the Y? It appears that the company is bringing the more conventional shapes of their larger packs to increasingly small packs and, in the case of the Raid 32 LT, has removed the full pack access vertical zipper capability entirely. According to a Mystery Ranch brand ambassador at SHOT Show, attaching sustainment pouches to the MOLLE webbing on the more typical tri-zip Mystery Ranch packs is difficult when the pack is cut in half vertically. This is something that I’ve experienced personally with the Mystery Ranch 2DAY and a 3-Day Assault Pack that I got to use temporarily; in fact, this problem is especially pronounced with the 2DAY, which has 3 columns of MOLLE on either side of the zipper when many sustainment and general-purpose pouches are 4 columns wide or more. The newer, larger packs such as the Raid 32 LT and Blackjack 35 LT feature 4 columns of MOLLE, which will allow the mounting of more types of pouches. (Another potential reason I’ve noticed myself: people like variety, and not everyone is a fan of the tri-zip layout, as distinctive as it is, but they want the Mystery Ranch name and features.)
Whatever the case, these packs are not yet available for public sale at the time of writing, and only time will tell if their new features make the packs more user-friendly. Stay tuned to Task & Purpose for product tests as soon as these packs become available to us.