Tri-Zip system, the signature of Mystery Ranch backpacks, has been on top of my list (as far as pack accessibility is concerned) for last couple of years. I really liked the design, but I simply did not need another backpack. I was quite done with my 16, 20, 30 and 42 L pattern (different makers). I was always under the impression that MR backpacks are fairly heavyweight. In fact they're in the middle of the lot, not very lightweight and not superheavy. Especially the non-military models are quite OK in that regard. And finally, my gear acquisition syndrome came to the 'point of no return' and I ordered my ASAP with removable Stick-It pocket... man, why did I wait soooo long? So I got ASAP, and it's awesome.
Mystery Ranch ASAP (www.mysteryranch.com/military/assault-patrol-packs/asap-pack) is a small backpack with big harness system, which means volume of 18 liters combined with Futura Yoke harness (which can support a backpack 3-times as big). It's made of 500D cordura, which should survive virtually anything in regular outdoor and/or military use. It opens via Tri-Zip system, made of 3 zippers creating Y-shaped opening. Zippers (YKK) are rubberized and weather sealed. The vertical one goes well above the meeting point of the horizontal zippers, which increases both rigidness and security of the solution - just bind the two horizontal zippers with a grimlock etc. and you're very safe in the city crowd - there is no way one could open the pack quickly and without alerting you, it's a trick worth remembering. The zipper's action is smooth, but requires quite some force (imagine vault door action), which is again very good for security - zippers won't open by themselves even when jogging, jumping etc.
Why Tri-Zip is so convenient? What makes it superior to other systems? Well... let's start and open just the horizontal zippers and you can use it as a top-loader. Now open the vertical one and voila, the pack opens up and gives the access to every corner of the inside. What makes it better than typical front-panel opening is the way it expands, it just opens lose and nothing is stressed/compressed inside any more. There are no 'borders', which keep stuff compressed like in a suitcase. It just expands and releases the content for you. Love it! And of course it allows for faster packing and compressing your stuff when zipping it back closed. As you can see the ASAP has PALS everywhere - on sides, on the back and also one line at the bottom - which means you can strap to ASAP all-kind of stuff - small axe, ice-hatchet, walking sticks, crampons, etc. and of course PALS compliant pockets and pouches (not just MR).
Of course the pack is as strong as the weakest component so let's check it - the zippers - they are VERY well made, very strong, sealed and reliable. This zipper system works in 100 liters backpacks so 18 liters is nothing. I've never heard bad stories about the MR zippers so I'm sure it will last a lifetime. What's more you can always use a compression strap and take some tension from the zipper. In 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 worst-case scenario) all you need is one yard of paracord and... just lace it! Take a look at the photo below, yeah, it’s that easy. So if you're worried about zipper - don't be, it's strong and 'plan B' is very easy to deploy.
Now let's take a look inside. As you can see there are two huge internal pockets on the sidewalls. Originally intended for hydration bladders, but I use them differently now in the Fall & Winter season - One is for rolled merino sweater (TAD Equilibrium, my favorite, discontinued unfortunately) and the other one for 3-layer hardshell jacket (TAD Spectre in this case). I put all the other stuff in the middle, put a bottle of water (thermal insulated) and close the vertical zipper, which compresses the stuff nicely inside. On top I put usually admin-pouch with smaller items and zip the pack closed.
Inside the pack you can find 3 small loops to hang the hydration bladders. ASAP is equipped also 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 MR pack. It let's you also to take the pouch easily from the pack and use separately so it seems to be good system for medical pouch. Well, ASAP is my only MR at this time so I use the slot to keep a map in there. But it may change soon And last but not least there are 3 rows of internal PALS, which can be used to attach pouches etc. I'm going to use it to attach internal iPad pocket.
Top flap of the pack forms one huge pocket. It's high and can keep really impressive amount of stuff inside! Camera, phone charger, flashlight & spare batt's, G-Shock watch, etc. And on top there is a small mesh inner pocket for documents and/or wallet. Really, such a flap-pocket in a small pack is GREAT, I was missing it in all my small packs so far incl. TAD Gear LiteSpeed and MR Spartan. Finally I can have my camera easily accessible at any time, no need to keep it inside the main compartment. Even Fuji X100 fits easily, and it ain't so tiny! There is another short zipper just behind the top flap for the bladder's drinking pipe. However it's also handy for putting small items into the pack, or in my case to take the map from Spade-Lock slot. Handy. Of course all zippers are rubberized & fully sealed.
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 ASAP has been equipped with regular ‘adult’ harness, called Futura Yoke. Futura consists of nicely padded, S-curved straps, which are connected together. Plus internal composite plastic sheet, which makes small internal frame. You can adjust the straps attachment point (yoke length) to your torso via Spade-Lock velcro system. There are detailed movies on Mystery Ranch website, which show how to adjust the yoke to your back - it's really worth checking! The back of the backpack is also padded and finished with the same kind of mesh as the straps. Of course straps are adjustable, and you an also pull top of the pack towards your back via top adjustment webbing straps. The chest-strap is removable and fully adjustable. As most military-oriented packs also ASAP can be also used on body armor without the straps - just buckle it to your armor vest and you're ready to go.
Waist belt... well, I'd call it "waist stabilizing belt" as it's nothing more than just thin nylon canvass 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 could be handy sometimes. Well, for 18 liters pack it is not a big issue, but for longer hikes in the mountains such a padded belt would be very welcome option. And you can hide the waist belt in the special small slots on the sides of ASAP when not in use, I really like this very feature.
It's too bad that many other companies use subpar carry harness systems on smaller packs. It really separates ASAP from the most of 'up to 20 L' backpack crowd - fully adjustable real-load-bearing harness. Thank you Mystery Ranch!So far I used my ASAP in Fall & Winter weather conditions so I can't say much about thermal comfort when wearing the pack. But I can imagine it's not so great as the back panel is just mesh covered foam padding, without any back respiration channels / slots. It's of course military oriented pack, so it should stay flat on your back and protects the back from hard/edged items inside the pack. So for what ASAP is - it's still acceptable. But it's not the same back thermal comfort as offered by most of high-end civilian outdoor packs. I used to have MR Spartan for some times, with the same mesh back panel - used it during Summer a lot and I think it's not the best but still fine. Especially when combined with thermal clothing. Of course I'll update this topic later this year, during Summer.
Now let's check how does it ride on the back. I've chosen my backpack with M-size yoke, just as advised by MR’s website. To adjust it to my torso took me just couple of minutes - I pulled the yoke from backpack a bit, checked, pulled a tiny bit more and it was done. I also adjusted all straps incl. chest and waist… and… suddenly the pack became part of my body! It must be the most comfortable strap system on any pack I tried, especially for heavy load. Really, I'm sold on for MR! It's that good. There is no pressure on the back, no pack movement, etc. Feels great. After initial adjustments I rolled the waist belt into the dedicated pockets and so far I didn’t have a real need to use it. I will do soon during my skiing holidays, but so far - no need. The pack feels like glued to my back even without it. During my day-long walks & trips into the local woodland I worked couple of times with my knife and/or small hatchet and the pack didn’t disturb neither my work nor my movements at all.
My typical load so far was spare cloths for kids, thermos with tea for them, small hip flask for me and chocolate, sandwiches, documents, flashlight and my camera. With such a light load you can hardly feel it on your back. So far the heaviest load I had in my ASAP was about 8kg (incl. the pack) and the pack was still very comfortable to carry. What is quite important for me is that ASAP easily takes serious DSLR camera with 70-200mm tele lens attached, so it’s also suitable for my wildlife photography trips.
ASAP is one of the packs in MR lineup, which can accept Stick-It removable ‘pocket’. Well, Stick-It is a kind of beavertail attachment, which can be found on some other brands as well (like TAD Gear) but Mystery Ranch took the design a bit further - there are two plastic sheets inside the Stick-It, which expand and give it 3D form! So it protects the content also from the sides! That helps to keep in place stuff like rolled jacket or helmet. I tried the Stick-It with 5-liters waterproof bag with fleece jacket inside - no problem at all. Stick-It can be also configured in such a way, which allows to carry ski, bow or rifle on your ASAP - that can be very handy! So yeah, Stick-It is a great addition and I cannot recommend it more - it’s a must-have and really expands ASAP’s packability. I’m sure I’ll use it a lot on my trips!
To sum up - Mystery Ranch ASAP must be the most comfortable and versatile ’about 20 L’ pack I’ve used so far. It’s well designed, with attention to details, and executed perfectly in Bozeman, MT. I’m sure ASAP will join me on many many trips. Highly recommended piece of gear!
Tri-Zip opening system
Fully sealed heavy-duty zippers
Awesome top-flap pocket
very good harness system
No optional padded hip belt
Thermal comfort could be better
Hard to buy outside US
Hope you enjoyed…
EDIT: for PART II (real Winter mountains testing) click here: http://www.bushcraftuk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=118315