- Buyer's Guide
Drive By :: Mystery Ranch Sweet Pea
Designer, Alex Knorr, takes the Sweet Pea on an epic adventure…
Sometimes you plan a trip but you never really know exactly what to expect. But that is what makes it exciting.
A few months back, I embarked on a journey with one thing in mind – to get out there. This was not going to be the run-of-the-mill backpacking adventure and not knowing exactly what I was going to encounter, I wanted a pack that would cover all bases (or at least try). Enter the Mystery Ranch Sweet Pea, which Mystery Ranch advises for use on day trips, hiking and climbing.
First on the itinerary: the urban streets of Tokyo.
I landed with my clique on frosty streets, tucking in to sake and karaoke on day one. After a couple of days (and blurry nights), the Sweet Pea doubling as my daypack, I set off in search of snow and packed for Hokkaido; stashing the ‘live wings’ and compressing the Pea to get through check-in without the extra baggage charges.
Its first challenge: snowboarding. Something that’s way outside of the Pea’s comfort zone. After a solid couple of days boarding, we took to some of the local resorts where we could really dust off the cobwebs and find some untracked powder. With the pack loaded with our beacons and safety gear the Futura harness made it super comfortable and secure; the bag held snug and kept me balanced as we carved along. And thanks to good weather, the pack stayed relatively dry.
After a whole week of waking up in awe of the impressive peak of Mt. Yotei, we decided to take on the ascent (or at least to the treeline due to the weather). The pack loaded with gear, we drove to the base of the mountain, the Pea carrying my board thanks to a little hack – it was secure enough and didn’t move around. Win!
We set off from the car park in light snow, which lucky for us got heavier and heavier. After a few hours of packing snow, the Pea had lost the battle with the wet, and had become quite damp, but my precious items remained dry and protected in a ziplock bag. 😉
Next up, we flew into San Francisco. After a few days of exploring the city and my first surf at Ocean Beach (and run-in with one of SF’s ‘friendly’ local surfers), we had the thirst to escape once again. We took off for an overnight hike into the depths of Yosemite National Park. This, for me, is where this pack truly shone.
Walking up the snow-lined trails high above Yosemite Valley in pitch black with nothing but the light from our head torches, the comfort of the fully loaded bag with tent and trail mix to spare made it easy for me to enjoy the ride. The three-way zip made it a breeze to access items anywhere in the main compartment. For an added bit of carry history, the Sweet Pea was also the first Mystery Ranch pack to utilize this innovative zip design. The zips are beefy (YKK #10 for the main compartment and YKK #8 for the top pocket) and durable enough to handle frequent use for years to come.
It was also the perfect size for the overnight hike and it seemed to be able to fit a little bit more than its 33-liter tag.
“The three-way zip made it a breeze to access items anywhere in the main compartment.”
The side pockets were ultra-handy for carrying quick-access items like water bottles without having to unzip when on your hike – which seems to be a dying breed after the minimal design movement. The only thing I could say is sometimes the side pockets got caught on trees and brushed past rocks which made it difficult when pushing through brush off the path.
The top lid pocket offers handy access to items you want within easy reach, and serves as a useful storage space for smaller items outside of the main compartment.
After a cold night at the back of Sentinel Dome and waking up to one of the most beautiful views you can imagine, we packed up our gear and went back to SF.
We finished in Austin, where we rolled to SXSW. After those couple of weeks, I was itching to get out of the city – every time I looked at the bag it would tease me. So I took the contents out of my bag and put it in the cupboard where it could not remind me of the adventures I wasn’t taking.
Who It Suits
People who want to go a little further than their everyday travels and don’t mind getting off the beaten track.
If you want to carry water bottles etc. externally.
If you need a bag that can handle the transit and be completely comfortable in the backcountry.
If you appreciate quality, features and functionality.
Someone who wants to step into the world of Mystery Ranch. The price point is very reasonable.
Who It Doesn’t
Anyone who wants to stay in the city and twiddle their thumbs.
It is also worth mentioning it doesn’t have any suitable room for your laptop. So it wouldn’t suit someone who doesn’t want to carry a laptop or a camera without a separate independent storage option.
Or anyone who needs to go for longer than a three-day hike – unless you are badass and can trap and cook your own food.
For me the list is long. Comfort is absolutely exceptional. The pack weighs in at 3lbs 9oz (1.6 kg) and the Futura frame makes this pack feel lightweight even when fully loaded; it has ruined any other bag for me that I have put on my back since.
The compression is great, allowing you to cram more in for the longer trips and still make it through check-in as carry-on without too many questions. Still it is a little touch and go whether it will fly with some airlines, as since writing this review I did have one run-in with an unnamed airline – but hey, they are trying to run a business.
The 3-Zip design makes access a breeze – the centre zip means you can access items at the bottom of your pack when needed. It made me the go-to guy for carrying the good snow gear as my pack made it easily accessible. The ease of access also made it a breeze to move and access goods on the run.
The nice hand-signed quality check makes it feel like you are getting a quality product. And from my experience with this pack you are. It’s a nice touch.
The Not So Good
This is a tough one for me. Being a designer, aesthetics is obviously important and ranks high in my list of must-haves. On face value the pack would not be my first choice but after this trip I truly understand the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. The only comparison I can draw is the unconditional love a mother has for her baby. In short, not the most beautiful bag but I can definitely see past that.
“…sometimes the side pockets got caught on trees and brushed past rocks which made it difficult when pushing through brush off the path.”
Internal organization is lacking – when traveling for longer than a week I have to take a laptop/camera bag as well to complete my quiver. The pack is Spadelock-compatible, a system that allows you to mount various MR accessories onto the interior back panel of the pack. However, if you carry around a lot of bits and pieces or you simply want to keep certain items separate from others, you may need to use packing cubes or pouches to keep your gear organized.
“Internal organization is lacking – when traveling for longer than a week I have to take a laptop/camera bag as well to complete my quiver.”
‘Love’ is a word that I rarely fly around. It’s not my ‘perfect bag’ and could be a little prettier but still this pack will have a special place in my heart. Maybe it was the epic adventure it took me on or the fact that it opened my eyes to seeing beauty in a different way. Every time I look at that bag I wonder where it will take me next. And even if I am not up to the task, there is comfort in the fact that my gear is.
It’s a rugged pack that will take me further in a variety of situations than most packs could dream of, without worrying about uncomfortable harnesses, a sore back and shoulders or shitty access. Well played, Mystery Ranch, you have gained an admirer – this thing will be part of my quiver wherever I go.