- Buyer's Guide
Mystery Ranch Mission Duffel 55 Review: Drive By
I’m a backpack guy, no doubt about it. But from time to time, when I’m out in a vehicle or train, what I need is a good travel duffel. So when one of my favorite pack companies introduced a line of duffels…I just had to try it. So say hello to my Mystery Ranch Mission Duffel!
Who It Suits
Anyone looking for a tough, meaty, premium duffel. Fans of Mystery Ranch will be delighted with this bag.
Who It Doesn’t
Those looking for a budget-oriented solution. And ultralight fanatics looking for a featherlight, almost see-through bag with minimal internal organization.
This time I won’t bore you with a long review…but only because it’s not really needed. Simply speaking, it’s a duffel bag that carries like a backpack if needed. I tried it on a couple of different outdoor trips, but also on regular travel back from the US. I could easily pack into my Mission 55 all the stuff I’d need for a week-long vacation. As the name suggests it’s rated as 55 liters, but to me this sounds quite conservative. Maybe it’s just because of the regular shape and packability but I was able to put inside way more gear than a 50-liter alpine backpack…extended up to almost 60! So treat this 55 as a ‘big 55’ or ‘super packable 55’ if that makes sense.
First of all the shape; it’s oval, or actually almost flat compared to classic round duffels. So I was able to pack my clothing in a more structural way, in flat layers. And also my clothes were not as wrinkled as they usually are after unpacking. And thanks to that shape when carried in backpack mode it stayed closer to my body, more like a regular backpack and not like a barrel with shoulder straps. What is cool is it keeps the shape and stays in a vertical position.
There is a separate storage area in the ‘bottom’ part (in backpack mode) and it’s great for heavier items like shoes, a camp stove, etc. That storage is separated from the main compartment by an oversized floppy nylon barrier and I really like this feature for traveling. I use it often as a laundry area so during my travel more stuff goes in there after use. And that flexible separator allows me to store progressively less in the main cavity, and more in the side storage. Well done.
“There is a separate storage area in the ‘bottom’ part (in backpack mode) and it’s great for heavier items like shoes, a camp stove, etc.”
Of course there are multiple pockets inside and one more accessory pocket outside. I really like the double inside pocket in the top flap (for stuff you need close at hand but still secured) and long side pocket on the inside, which I used to store my long bush knife during travel (Chris Reeve Impofu to be precise). Basically it’s very well organized without being “too organized” with a separate pocket for each item, cable, sock and memory card. Yeah, I believe in robust simplicity, just like Dana Gleason of Mystery Ranch I guess.
Now the carry methods. There is a standard two-piece handle of course but I really dig how nicely it follows the bag’s outline without any sign of being floppy. You can also use it to attach a small daypack underneath, like the pictured MR Hitchhiker 20 nicely rolled and secured. Next is the shoulder strap…actually, I took it off the bag and I’m not missing it at all. It’s good but just complicates things.
And finally…a stowable shoulder harness. YES! That’s how you do it! Suddenly, out of nowhere, you’ve got a fully padded set of backpack-style shoulder straps. And it comes with a sternum strap to make it even more comfortable! It works simply great. I’ve had some other duffel bags with shoulder straps but none was as close to backpack comfort as this one. The base serves as the pack’s back and there are many advantages to such a solution. First, you can hide away straps completely. And I mean completely; there is no sign of them in stowed mode, so with the snug handle (mentioned above) it’s ready for air travel as checked luggage without any additional preparations (I tried that on a flight from NYC to Frankfurt, no problem at all). Try that with shoulder straps flopping outside… So, MR got a big win in this regard. Another advantage, you’ve got the equivalent of a frame sheet on your back as the bottom of the Mission Duffel is semi-stiff (kind of high-density foam I guess). And last but not least, most people pack heavy stuff at the bottom of a duffel, so the center of gravity is as close to the body as possible – something exactly opposite on most other duffels with shoulder straps located on top.
“I’ve had some other duffel bags with shoulder straps but none was as close to backpack comfort as this one.”
Disadvantage? Well…yes, you need to be more careful as the bottom might be dirty but on an adventure-oriented duffel it’s not a big deal for me. In this case the advantages outweigh that single downside in a huge way (to me).
And last but not least, the construction. Well, what should we expect from a MR product? Perfection! And it is perfect indeed. Heavy-duty YKK zippers, high-density TPU-coated 1000D nylon fabric laminated on the inside, tough and weatherproof (and really holds its own). Plus heavy-duty webbing and of course perfect stitching. It’s almost boring to repeat it every time when reviewing MR stuff but what can I say? There is nothing to nitpick about. As usual.
For me this duffel represents exactly what MR is all about – pure brute performance and perfect craftsmanship, but at the cost of being a bit overbuilt so not the most lightweight on the market. So if you’re an ultralight junkie I suggest you look elsewhere. But if you favor robust stuff that lasts, it’s just for you. A bag you can enjoy for many years and countless adventures.
The Not So Good
As mentioned above, to make the straps fully stowable they located them at the underside of the bag. So if the bottom gets dirty from soil, mud, water etc. it might leave some marks on your jacket or shirt. However, I didn’t experience this last summer. Also when traveling for adventure I simply don’t care as my jacket would be dirty at the end anyway. But it’s something to consider, or at least to be aware of.
Others to Consider
At this moment it’s the coolest duffel in my bag collection bar none. As I said I’m not a duffel kind of guy BUT when I use one it needs to have that something special. And the Mission Duffel delivers. It’s spacious, very robust and I really like the slightly flat shape. And that stowable backpack harness is just exemplary, it carries like a backpack if needed and disappears when I want it to for a clean look and easy use. A big thumbs-up from me!