As a diehard hunter/hiker trying to get to the bottom of what backpack design is best for my wants and needs, I turned to one of the top manufacturers of specialty packs. I asked Dana Gleason, founder of Mystery Ranch, some questions about what separates its packs from the rest of the market, and why so many specialty orders have been placed with their company. What I found out should inform and enlighten anyone from day-hikers or hunters to weekend warriors or hard-core trekkers.
(Editor’s note: Check out the interesting video below for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what makes Mystery Ranch packs so special.)
Q: From Dana Designs in 1995 to Mystery Ranch in 2000 . . . walk us through the history – tell us what has changed and what has stayed the same throughout the years?
A: Old school backpackers and retailers still remember Dana Designs. We built up a pretty good reputation in the late 1980s and early 90s. Back then, we built packs that placed durability and load-carry at the top of the pedestal, and we made a difference for people. By the mid-90s, we had grown so rapidly we needed more help on the operational side. K2 Sports bought us in 1995, and I worked with them for a few years, but change is inevitable, and eventually, I knew I had to part ways. I took a little hiatus from pack building, but then one day my daughter asked me to build her a hip pack with some customizations. That one hipbelt relit the spark, and I founded Mystery Ranch in 2000 and went back to building packs our way. It was small to start out, but when the Navy SEALS approached us in 2004 to build some custom packs for a special mission, our company’s history was forever changed. We landed big contracts for custom-made packs and began selling direct to mostly specialized customers like hotshot firefighters and military special ops. Our niche was carved out, but eventually we expanded into hunting and now, full-circle, we have returned to outdoor. It’s nice to be back where it all started. At Mystery Ranch, we call our packs “Built for the Mission.” That means that no matter your goal or mission, our packs aren’t going to fail when you’re out in the field.
Q: What brought you back to outdoor retail?
A: I started out in Bozeman repairing the failed packs that my buddies and I used backpacking or climbing. I got curious and started building my own packs, really thinking through the designs, their purpose and functionality. By first understanding how packs fail, I learned how to build them right, so that they don’t fail. Durability was the key. The truth is our packs aren’t cheap, and they are not cheaply built. Every detail of the design and the construction has a backstory, so we brought on the very best retailers we know to convey to their customers exactly who we are and why we are different than other pack companies.
Q: If you had to describe your packs in one word, what would it be?
A: That’s easy: Load-centric. We got our break behind-the-scenes, by building packs for the world’s most elite special forces in life-or-death conditions. And the loads these men and women carry are ridiculous. The packs we make cannot fail; they have to get the job done. Our packs are designed to carry heavy gear and to carry it comfortably. We build packs made for getting out there and getting dirty and working day-after-day. They’re tough. They’re reliable. If a pack doesn’t handle the load, the job doesn’t get done, and that is unacceptable for us.
Q: Where does the name Mystery Ranch come from anyway?
A: It’s the old Western cartoon I used to watch as a kid. I guess I never grew up.
Currently the Mystery Ranch offers several packs specifically built for hunting, to meet the needs of all hunters whether the mission is a day hunt or an expedition. The 2016 “Mountain” collection covers the gamut of needs, with a complete line-up of packs in four categories: expedition, trail, alpine and everyday carry.
What does this mean for hikers and backpacking enthusiasts? The bottom line is there are products on the market to make any type of outing more enjoyable and easier to tackle. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is very true in the pack world. And if you’re high on adventure, Mystery Ranch would be worth a look to see just what features you’ve been missing out on. Whether you are day hiking your favorite trail, planning a weekend excursion or longer getaway, there are specific packs and designs to make your job easier than that of a Navy SEAL.
For more information on Mystery Ranch products or to find a retailer near you, click here.
Images courtesy of Mystery Ranch