Finding the perfect heavy duty pack - Mystery Ranch? Gregory?

1:02 a.m. on February 4, 2015 (EST)
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I recently picked up a Gregory Baltoro 65 pack (on sale!). I haven't been happy with the way my Osprey Volt carried with loads over thirty pounds. I don't plan on carrying more than that very often, but I'd like to have an internal frame pack that can handle it when I need to carry more for things like hunting/ climbing/sherpa-ing.

The Gregory is very nice. The materials seem great, and the compartment-filled design is growing on me. The only problem is the big one. The fit is off. I think I'm in between torso sizes. The medium seems to fit, but just barely and not perfectly. I'm on the verge of needing a small. Even then, I'd be swapping out hip belts and I'm honestly just not that interested in doing so much online shopping.

I chose the Gregory because I liked the size and the reported durability. I also considered packs from Osprey, REI, and Mountainsmith. One thing I really like about the Baltoro is the compressibility. It has a reputation for being a monster bag that's too big and too heavy, but it cinches down to almost daypack size.

But it's looking like I'll have to send it back, preferably for something with more fine tuning options for torso length.

Since I'm already sold on getting a heavy pack, I've considered two packs from Mystery Ranch. The Big Mountain and the Glacier. Both these packs are in the capacity range I'm looking for (60 to 70 liters). The Big Mountain is lighter, but still not lightweight by any means. The Big Mountain is also cheaper by more than $50. Both are on the far upper range of the amount I'm able to pay.

So if any of you know, how would these packs compare to something like the Baltoro or the Osprey Aether? Is the padding similar? How about the suspension? The yoke setup on MR packs is significantly different than the suspension on my Baltoro. What are other similarities and differences? Advantages/disadvantages? Finally, are MR packs worth the price?


5:04 a.m. on February 4, 2015 (EST)
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Fit is a very personal thing, so you will just have to decide that all by yourself.... but I will throw in another suggestion you likely havent thought of: UK brand Berghaus... their BioFlex series, while slightly heavy, ride very well and have great adjustability.

9:31 a.m. on February 4, 2015 (EST)
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Thanks for the suggestion. I'm definitely frustrated that I can't try on more of these packs in person. I end up having to ask a lot of questions because I want to know if a pack is worth the expense of ordering in order to try it on.

10:53 a.m. on February 4, 2015 (EST)
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As TJ said, fit is a personal thing. Certain particular packs fit me very well, while others just do not fit, despite being in my torso range and having lots of adjustable pieces. And that is packs from the same manufacturer that are nominally for the same purpose in the same weight range. Certain packs fit me perfectly (my Terraplanes, both designed by Dana Gleason and his crew, the older one from Dana Designs, the new one from Mystery Ranch). Certain manufacturers of really well designed and and well made packs just don't fit me no matter how much I fiddle with the adjustments, despite, on paper, fitting me (Gregory, which I am sad to say, since Wayne Gregory is a good friend of many years). I have an Osprey Aether that fits me extremely well and is adjustable to the load, but is less than the capacity you say you want - it works great for backpacking for a few days, but would not do for most hunting or sherpa-ing.

You  mention a half dozen very different packs. So I have to question the criteria you are using. How did you decide on the capacity? The best way to decide capacity is to get your kit together, go to the shop, put the gear in the pack and wear it around the shop for at least an hour. Walk up and down stairs. What are you really going to use the pack for (no pack is truly all-purpose)? You mention "hunting/ climbing/sherpa-ing". These are very different activities. Hunting is likely (depending on your prey) to require the capability to strap your prey on, rather than stuff it into the pack (e.g., deer vs rabbits or birds). Climbing (depending on whether you mean technical climbing vs scrambling) is very different - carrying a load across a glacier has very different requirements than peak-bagging on a 4th class route is very different from a mixed rock and ice route in the M4 or M5 class. Sherpa-ing can mean a range of different things - the folks supplying the AMC huts in New England use packs that people who haven't seen them before think are insane, but actually quite well suited to the task. Sherpa-ing is often best done with an external frame pack, due to the nature of what is needed to be transported often being in boxes or barrels.

Bottom line is fit is the top priority with packs and boots. Both require trying on for a period of time, with the assistance of an experienced, trained fitter. Capacity is determined by what you are going to carry, not the other way around.

3:43 p.m. on February 4, 2015 (EST)
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Have you taken a look at the Osprey Atmos 65? It has all of the load handling capacity of the Baltoro, but is much lighter and less bulky. I had the Deva 60 (the ladies version of the Baltoro), but I ended up selling it because it was too heavy and didn't fit me properly. For the record, they have a new Atmos 65 out, the AG (anti-gravity) series. It looks awesome.

6:00 p.m. on February 4, 2015 (EST)
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Not much to add except to say I think very highly of Mystery Ranch packs in terms of materials and construction quality. Others may disagree but I (generally speaking in apples to apples) put Mystery Ranch in a quality strata just above Gregory ( I have no Osprey experience to speak from).

My go-to pack is the Mystery Ranch Trance (unfortunately no longer made) which I've had since early 2011. As others have already alluded, fit is key, and application is important. For me, the yoke, harness, and hipbelt found standard on most MR recreational products is the best suited for my body type of any brand that I've tried on. I was luckily able to try one that a local outfitter had in the shop for display (not exactly sized for me in all aspects)  and that was enough to convince me to order one with all the correct sizes.

I personally find pack selection the most difficult choice (yes, even ahead of footwear) in a backpacking kit. My difficulties are largely due to my odd body and so trying things on is the best way to go. Like Bill said, you find variance across models from the same manufacturer that have ostensibly the same sizing.

If you are willing to spend the money on return shipping costs, of course you can order packs you really want to try and return them if they don't fit but that does get expensive and potentially vexing.

Good luck with this difficult process!

12:24 p.m. on February 6, 2015 (EST)
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Who wants a 6 or 7 pound pack that costs $400.

Kelty Tioga

11:18 a.m. on February 7, 2015 (EST)
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Who wants a 6 or 7 pound pack that costs $400.

I might, if it's quality and if it fits me well. 

Lots of good advice here. I visited Portland last summer, and I was blown away by the selection of packs you could see in person and try on. I saw ULA packs, Granite Gear, and even a used McHale pack for $500. You might think we'd have a lot of choices here in western Colorado, but we actually don't. So I have to go through this process of doing research and asking silly questions about packs that I haven't tried on.

I know my combination of packs I've looked at is strange, but trust me, I've put a lot of thought into these packs I've considered. I don't take the 6+ pounds of a mystery ranch pack lightly! One of the great things about trailspace is that it helps people like me get a lot of great info instead of having to ask a ton of stupid questions! Hopefully I'm nearly done asking mine.

3:37 p.m. on February 7, 2015 (EST)
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I contacted Mystery Ranch, and they said the Big Mountain pack is very similar to the Glacier, only it uses 210D nylon instead of the heavy duty stuff you'll find on the Glacier. Otherwise, according to them, it has very similar load carrying ability. It's a heavy and expensive pack, but the folks at MR have been very helpful with my questions about fitting and I think it might be worth a shot. Also, it's cheaper and lighter than the Glacier pack! My only other concern is the big zipper running down the middle of the pack, but MR's reputation for bombproof durability soothes those fears a bit.

7:28 p.m. on February 7, 2015 (EST)
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I have a kifaru highcamp bag and love it. Best heavy duty pack i have ever purchased. Quality is leaps and bounds above any other pack manufacturer i have used.

9:15 p.m. on February 7, 2015 (EST)
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Kifaru is my dream pack, at least for hunting. Andrew Skurka gives them a shoutout. Calls his "an investment," which sounds about right. Might have to save up for a few years for that! I also hear good things about the Paradox packs from Seek Outside.

12:00 a.m. on February 8, 2015 (EST)
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i have both the baltoro 65 and a larger mystery ranch backpack, the G6000.  both used extensively.  if you're looking for a backpack on the heavier side, durable, made to carry a fair bit of weight, they are both good choices.  if you consistently carry south of 50 pounds, you could probably consider backpacks that are somewhat lighter.  

i understand the issues with the torso length for the gregory backpack.  moving the shoulder strap attachment point only allows a limited adjustment range.  other than that, the backpack does very well with 50 pounds for me, though i tend to be lighter than that.  the suspension works well for me, and it has proved to be very durable.

mystery ranch does a great job.  the hip belt is wider and more heavily padded than the baltoro's belt; on mine (several years old), the foam on the hip belt is less firm than the belt on the gregory.  both belts very capably tighten above the hip bone, so they both function the way a hip belt should.

i don't really notice the padding along my back with either of these, for the most part.  the baltoro padding is fairly stiff and doesn't ventilate all that well; my mystery ranch has mesh over foam that isn't quite as stiff, so it doesn't feel quite as warm.  (in the winter, though, it doesn't much matter).  

mystery ranch's shoulder straps are more useful and adjustable than the baltoro.  the big advantage, for me, is that the mystery ranch frame is made from 2 fiberglass rods that are long and therefore have a high attachment point, well above my shoulders.  that helps the 'load lifter' straps actually work; most backpacks, those load lifter straps are all but useless, in my opinion.  

both frames/suspensions can handle a lot of weight.  the mystery ranch backpack i'm using is a very large backpack, something i use in the winter or on the occasional longer trip.  the most i have carried in it was about 65-70 pounds, and it could have carried more - though i'm not so sure about my legs.  the frame is more robust than the gregory, but that's normal for a backpack that is quite a bit larger.  mystery ranch uses 2 fiberglass rods; the baltoro uses one stiff aluminum (7000 series, much stiffer than the typical 6000 series aluminum most backpacks use) bar.  both also have a hard plastic sheet as part of the frame.  the baltoro is fine with 50 pounds and starts to feel overloaded with more weight.  

the G6000 has a zipper that runs much of the length of the backpack, right down the back.  it is a very heavy duty zipper.  no worries about a failure, with the zipper or anything else.  as durable as you will find.  the shoulder harness adjusts up and down to fit any torso within a range of several inches - that won't be an issue.  you will still need to assess how it fits overall, like any backpack; you do get to choose the size hip belt and torso length, which is ice.  

i think that backpacks generally are worth the price if they can be used failure-free for a long time.  amortize what you pay over 10 years for mystery ranch, though the backpack will probably last a lot longer than that.  how many less-durable backpacks would you otherwise use, and what would they cost?  then again, that gregory backpack would also give you years of happy use too - but it doesn't fit you, which means it's not the right backpack.

other alternatives - if Osprey backpacks fit you, the xenon backpacks are the ones that can carry a lot of weight and will probably prove to be the most durable.  i tried the aether when i ended up with the baltoro; my view was that the aether would have benefited from a more robust hip belt, and i considered getting a xenon belt.  the added cost and nuisance, a sale on the baltoro, and a slightly better fit and comfort level with the gregory were the deciding factors.  

mchale backpacks are supposed to be outstanding.  there is a lot to recommend their design and materials.  i haven't used one, though, so hard to recommend.  same for kifaru.

a friend swears by his arcteryx bora for carrying a lot of weight; i don't think they make it anymore, and i don't know enough about their larger backpacks' capabilities.  the altra could be worth trying on.  arcteryx products tend to be expensive; they also tend to be very well designed and made.  i had one of their daypacks for 10+ years...a friend still uses it today to carry his rock climbing gear.  outstanding.  

find something that fits you well and can carry your stuff comfortably, that's the bottom line.  i normally favor trying things on, but that isn't generally possible for a mail order only place like mystery ranch.  no matter - they do well fitting things by phone.  

good luck.  

1:01 a.m. on February 8, 2015 (EST)
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Thanks for a very helpful comment! I'm not biased in favor of heavier gear, but being in between sizes has messed me up big time. I talked to some knowledgeable folks at our one non-REI mountaineering store in town, and they offered to order in a small Aether for me to try. I might take them up on that offer. I've also been looking at Deuter packs. The ACT Lite packs are comfortable, but the Aircontact (not the Lite version) packs have bulky padding and are pretty uncomfortable on me.

McHale! Oh boy... when I win the lottery, the first phone call I make will be to get one of those things. 

I know I seem mixed up with what I'm looking for in a pack. I like to go light (for me, light means taking the tarp shelter instead of a tent - I'm not yet fully initiated into the ultralight world), but I also like trips with my friends where we take tents and chairs and canned peaches extra junk. Those trips are more camping-focused than hiking focused. My gear is compact enough that I can't imagine ever needing more than 70 liters (I don't know that Denali is in my future), but I can certainly imagine carrying a fifty to sixty pound load for five or six miles every now and then.

Besides, I could always just lose six pounds of body weight. Cancels out the weight of any of the packs I'm looking at!

10:44 a.m. on February 8, 2015 (EST)
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The one use I can see spending big money for a heavy pack is for backpacking hunters. "They go in light and come out heavy." That is their main market actually.  In this age of ultralight, it is hard to see the attraction.  Maybe for 3 week or longer trips with no re-supply.  Maybe it is wishful thinking.

12:17 p.m. on February 8, 2015 (EST)
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I'm reading along with interest here, I am also going to be getting a heavy pack at some point.

I have a lot of Light & Ultra Light gear, but I like engaging in several activities on a lot of my trips. So my base weight may be 20 lbs or so, but by the time I add all the things I wish to carry along my pack is overflowing.

My current heavy hauler is a USMC ILBE which is a nice pack all things considered. I have removed all the MOLLE webbing and such because I don't like or need the MOLLE system for what I do. I used it years ago with several surplus packs.

A lot of nice packs out there to consider.

2:50 p.m. on February 8, 2015 (EST)
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Thanks again for all the helpful responses!

8:02 p.m. on February 8, 2015 (EST)
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I own Dana's original Terraplane before he sold Dana Designs. It's pretty much like the MR Terraplane. And it's HEAVY at 7.5 lbs. I use it only for winter and mostly in a pulk at that.

I like my new Osprey EXOS 58 lightweight 3 season pack but I'd agree with Ashleigh that the Osprey Atmos 65 would be better for your purposes. You can always buy aftermarket side pockets for added volume.That's what I have always done. It's a "take 'm if ya need 'em" situation. I get short, narrow straps with QR buckles to attach them to a pack. 

Right now Camp Saver has Granite Gear's discontinued side pockets in three sizes. I'd recommend size Large for a bigger pack like the Atmos 65. I got size Medium pockets for my EXOS 58 and they are barely large enough for my purposes.

Plus Mystery Ranch has the "Wet Rib" front pouch to increase volume another 400 cu. in. It attaches on your lower shoulder strap webbings. I've used a Dana Designs version for two decades.

8:16 a.m. on February 9, 2015 (EST)
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I'll agree regarding the recommendation of Osprey's Atmos 65. It's been a useful pack for me for nearly six years now. 

Of course, you'll have to see if it fits your needs, but for me, it's been the real deal, and wasn't a bank breaker.

If you wish to read more, here's my review:

9:33 p.m. on February 16, 2015 (EST)
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My wife has an Osprey Aura 65, the women's version of the Atmos. It's a pretty great pack! 

I've decided to splurge and go beyond my initial budget. I just ordered a Seek Outside Unaweep, and I'm pretty excited for it. I was lucky enough to try out one of these packs in person, and I was blown away. I guess it's an external frame, but it felt as secure and stable as any internal frame I've used. I'd call it more of a hybrid system. The hipbelt is like nothing else I've tried (I've never so much as seen a McHale). 

After initially thinking I'd go with the 3900 cu in model, I'm going with the 4800. It's enormous, but it compresses down so well that I might as well take the additional capacity. I'll just have to show restraint when I pack for summer trips.

My hope is that this will be the one pack that will do it all for me. Only experience will tell, though. First impressions are great, but obviously I'll need to but it to the test to give any sort of verdict.

Oh, and it should be as light as or lighter than my wife's Aura 65. Hopefully these packs will do the job for us as we hit the trail this summer. I'll be sure to write a review!

12:18 p.m. on February 17, 2015 (EST)
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All I ever use now are G series Mystery Ranch packs---now DISCONTINUED of course.


1:43 p.m. on February 17, 2015 (EST)
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will look forward to a review after you have used this.  seems great!

3:35 a.m. on February 18, 2015 (EST)
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I bought my Kifaru with backpack hunting in mind, though i now use the pack year round regardless. Best pack I have ever used to date. It's surprising how a well designed pack can make 150+lbs be not all that uncomfortable. Wish i had one of these when i was trudging through the sandbox!

5:41 p.m. on February 18, 2015 (EST)
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The Kifaru packs seem great, even if they are heavy compared to backpacking packs. The price scared me away, and I'm thinking the Unaweep pack will suit my style a little better. Still, it's hard to argue with the testimonials of so many satisfied customers!

6:18 p.m. on February 19, 2015 (EST)
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The price is definitely high for kifaru. I bought several keltys and ospreys before i got one and the difference is night and day. I also like how the kifaru frame is seperate, so once  you buy a frame buying a different sized pack to go on it isnt much sifferent than buying a pack from anywhere else. The kifaru frame has so many adjustments it really ends up being a true custom fit.

in hind sight i wish i would have bought one years ago, would have ended up saving a good bit of money haha. Not to mention being about 1000x more comfortabl.

6:44 p.m. on March 15, 2015 (EDT)
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Or Eberlestock...

11:27 p.m. on March 31, 2015 (EDT)
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Received my Unaweep pack a few weeks ago. Leg surgery has kept me from really testing it out, but so far I'm pretty much thrilled. Won't pass any judgments yet, though, since I haven't used it more than walking around the house with 40 lbs in it. A lot of comfort for barely over 3 lbs of pack weight.

12:13 p.m. on April 1, 2015 (EDT)
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Is it only the torso length?  If the pack has metal stays, you can bend them to fit you better - that can make a big difference.

10:49 a.m. on April 2, 2015 (EDT)
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Eberlestock makes great packs, perfect for hauling out delicious game animals in heavy loads.

10:39 p.m. on April 8, 2015 (EDT)
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Did anyone recommend buying a used Dana Design for $100-200?  Or an older Osprey from the 1996-2000 era?  Overbuilt.  Quality above and beyond.  Great values.

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