Mystery Ranch Snapdragon
First impressions of a new acquisition are excellent.
Design: front or top load
Number of Pockets: 2
Max. Load Carried: 25
Height of Owner: 5' 10:
Price Paid: $230
First impressions of a new acquisition are excellent. This is a large daypack, 2300 cubic inches of volume. This pack does not have a lot of divisions or pockets, just a main compartment and a small zippered top pocket. It does have two full-sized water bottle carriers, one on each side, that will easily hold a one liter nalgene bottle.
First, the pack is exceptionally well-built and solid. Sturdy fabrics, no loose stitches, webbing and hardware is heavy duty. It has two daisy chains running down the back of the pack, plus upper and lower compression straps and two ice axe loops, so you could attach a lot of gear to the outside. It is also designed with slots, just beneath each water bottle pocket, that are designed to hold skis. From using one of their larger packs, I expect this to be very durable. The price you pay for that quality is weight - a large daypack that weighs over four pounds. Most definitely not an ultralight.
Second, the shoulder harness is very comfortable and very solid. It is the same shoulder harness used on the larger packs, including the ability to slide the harness up or down to fit your torso. That is a great feature which allows you to get a semi-custom fit. like many good daypacks, it has two "load lift" straps on top of the harness to pull the pack closer to your back. It also has a sternum strap. The shoulder harness interior is mesh.
Third, the frame on this pack is a single, hard plastic or polyurethane frame sheet. It feels comfortable on my back and does a good job transferring weight to the hips, if you choose to use the hip belt. the back pad is padded and covered with mesh for the upper two-thirds, and straight cordura nylon in the lower third, the lumbar area.
There are two options for the hip belt - a very thinly padded "wing" on each side with a thick webbing strap is the baseline, but you can purchase thicker pads that would fit around this and make the hip belt more substantial. I don't plan to use the hip belt much, but even the base version transfers small amounts of weight (20 pounds or less) well to the hips. I would imagine that above 30 pounds or so, one would want the thicker hip belt, and I would probably not carry much more than that with this pack. However, it will easily carry more weight comfortably than the average daypack.
A very nice feature unique to Mystery Ranch is that the hip belt folds away into the pack, with plastic clips that keep it out of the way so the belt doesn't flap.
Fourth, the way this pack opens is unique and really one of the highlights. Access is via three zippers - two that run diagonally from the middle to the upper edges, and one that runs down the length of the pack. These are very heavy zippers, not your typical coil or talon zippers like you would see on smaller pockets or garments, so they appear built to last. this star-shaped design means that when unzipped, the pack is basically a panel-loader, with the entire inside easily accessible. at the same time, you can unzip the two top zippers, and this pack looks and functions like a top-loader.
It's a creative design with a lot of flexibility. the interior is a big, open space but has rows of webbing (secured to the back of the shoulder harness) to attach things internally, a hang loop for a hydration bladder, and a nylon half-pocket to hold the bottom of a hydration bladder, with hydration ports on both sides of the pack. The top has a small zippered pocket that will hold a few small items. I had a long-sleeved shirt and a rain hat in there, along with a phone, wallet, and other small items.
Fifth, and most important, it carries well. 25 pounds was a breeze, and though I used the hip belt to test it, I didn't need it. It's comfortable, stable, convenient. Because I tend to use a hydration bladder, I use the water bottle pockets for snacks and small items I want accessible.
An excellent choice for a large daypack.
Update after 2 1/2 years of use:
I have been very happy with the backpack. Despite regular use, it has suffered no tears, pulled seams, or other damage. it has some stains. the zippers are in excellent condition. relatively recently, i purchased the 'live wing' hip belt pads because i was carrying more weight in it.
the fold-away hip belt pad that is built into the pack is thin foam and a belt; the additional hip pads are much better at comfortably putting the weight on your hips, yet they still fold away. with the new hip belt pads, i'm comfortable carrying 25-30 pounds occasionally.
it remains my favorite large day pack - the best i have ever used.