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Interviews

Studio Visit :: D3 Mystery Ranch

by , July 16, 2014
If you head to Bozeman, Montana you’ll find one of the most respected names in carry design, along with his equally respected brand. We’re talking about none other than the founder of Mystery Ranch, Dana ‘D2’ Gleason. However, another Gleason has risen through the ranks to become one of the main sparks behind many of the new Mystery Ranch designs. Dana ‘D3’ Gleason spent many years in Montana learning and developing the skills needed to harness the craft that flows in his blood. However, the son of D2 is not content to simply sit back and maintain the status quo. Now based in Berkeley, D3 honors his father’s achievements but expands on them, furthering the brand with a distinct D3 twist.
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From a one-man workshop in the Bay Area, he’s able to conceive, prototype, and spec bags for both Mystery Ranch and Kletterwerks. There’s still plenty of to-and-fro with HQ, but it’s surprising to see just how much of the design work has been carried out from this remote satellite centre.
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D3 studio fire damage
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Oh, and it recently burnt to the ground..
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outside equipment
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This is where the studio was. It’s now a charred mass of building debris and melted 1000D. Countless original samples, one-off prototypes and irreplaceable Mystery Ranch history now lies waiting for the bulldozers to haul it all away.
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damaged fabric rolls
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If I had visited just after the fire had happened, it would have been a pretty depressing trip. But thankfully, in the delay between flames and my plane touching down, D3 got busy.
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D3 at burnt studio
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A stone’s throw away, D3 is putting the final touches to a new space. He’s salvaged what he could from the rubble. Occasionally a sample box was saved by a heat shield, or a sewing machine was built tough enough to come back to life with some diesel and TLC.
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studio b&w
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damaged packs
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So for much of an afternoon, we got to pick through ash-covered carry classics, while talking design and development. Here are just some of the things I learned…
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D3 at burnt studio 2
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Kletterwerks
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While D3 is living in Berkeley, his twin brother Paul remains in Montana, resolving details on some of Mystery Ranch’s most complex load-carry systems. Apparently the twins have quite different passions, which makes for a complementary skill spread.
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D3 in new studio
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Repairing packs is one of the best ways to learn what can go wrong with them. Repairing your dad’s designs is probably the only thing that can beat it. D3 and Paul began working in the family business as far back as 1999, courtesy of the Dana Design warranty department. D3 then moved to Mystery Ranch with his father and brother, and progressed through pretty much every major part of the business. From assembly and sewing, to sales and production, and then to pattern-making and design. If you have a deep understanding of all the steps that follow, your design ability changes.
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D3 and sewing machine
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When you’ve completed a decade and a half through one of the world’s best carry apprenticeships, you’re apparently allowed to mess with the family jewels. In this case, the family jewels are such classics as the 3-Zip format and Futura Yoke System.
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D3 in studio
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D3 has already created a reinterpretation of the 3-Zip with the recently released 3 Way Briefcase Expandable, where it achieves a messenger-flap style opening with twin zips. And there are more extreme variants in the works.
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3 Way Briefcase Expandable.
One of the industry’s best adjustable harness systems has also undergone a rethink, with several innovations on how the Futura is put together. The most noticeable changes bring the framesheet base out and anchor it to the waist section on each side. This allows for better pivoting around your hips, and yet still transfers as much weight as you could hope for. But then the waistbelt pulls a switchback trick, giving better freedom of movement again, and also making for a cleaner pack when the waistbelt is removed.
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Despite further evolution of his Kletterwerks project, D3 is still spending plenty of time working on the D3 Mystery Ranch range. Recently released adventure backpacks like the Rush, Swift and Big Mountain show that D3 is really building on the brand’s legacy rather than trying to completely reinvent it.
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Mystery Ranch Rush Pack, Swift Pack and Big Mountain Pack
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I was surprised at how quickly D3 seems to work. Where in other carry brands I see whole teams labor over a design for weeks (or even months), D3 can concept, prototype and pitch a design in the time most teams take to do their mood board.
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There seems to be a healthy level of debate within the Mystery Ranch team over virtually every aspect of their gear. Every fabric, clip and closure gets questioned at some point, with champions for each option trying to convince the others of their merits. These debates sound like they are typically resolved with an informative mix of simulated tests and extreme user feedback.
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studio supplies
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In terms of new developments, there are loads of interesting projects in the works to look forward to. Mystery Ranch is certainly not kicking back and just doing what they know. While we can’t yet reveal any of it, expect the next year to be super rewarding for those of us who want to see more from this team.
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Oh, and apparently soaking a fire-damaged sewing machine in diesel helps bring it back to life. Who’d a thunked it…
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sewing machine
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