Review: the Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Pack is confused about its mission
Is it a true tactical backpack? A versatile EDC pack? Let's find out.
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For the better part of a decade, Mystery Ranch of Bozeman, Montana, has occupied the collective mind of the tactical gear-collecting public as one of the premier names in backpacks for the serious outdoors enthusiast. Having just cleared their 21st year of making revolutionary packs, they’re still going strong and are showing no signs of slowing down. This legendary reputation shows, because as part of my equipment as a forward observer in the Marines, I’m issued the Mystery Ranch Observed Fires Pack, which is a combination of the COMM 4 pack, the Hitchhiker 20, and the Daypack Lid, along with a few other pieces. The point is, I’ve got a bit of experience with Mystery Ranch products, both personally and professionally.
The 3-Day Assault Pack, also known as the “3-DAP,” has been a standard choice for military users since at least the late 2000s, issued to many special operations units and a private purchase item for people who want to look like special operations forces. But today, we’re talking about the little brother of the 3-DAP, the Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Pack, also known as “2-DAY.” Mystery Ranch is very careful to not list this as an assault pack, instead advertising it as an everyday carry (EDC) bag for people who want the aesthetics of a 3-Day, but who live a “non-combative” lifestyle. At around $199, it’s also half the price of the 3-DAP, so that might be another important aspect of what someone might want in a pack that looks like a smaller 3-DAP, but I digress.
Setting aside the fact that using this backpack in any sort of everyday environment is the equivalent of concealed carrying while wearing 5.11 pants, a moto t-shirt, camouflage ball cap, hiking boots, a Garmin watch, and a memorial band, and also setting aside the fact that all this talk about “everyday urban operations” and “the aesthetics of a 3-day assault pack for the non-combative lifestyle” sounds a lot like, well, LARPing, the question remains: Is this thing any good? Furthermore, does it actually serve a purpose besides being a diet 3-DAP? I’m here to find out.
The 2-DAY comes in a clear plastic bag with a selection of tags on it that detail that it is indeed, made by Mystery Ranch (comforting) and that’s it. The packaging is incredibly simple, and apart from the tags that explain the basic features of the pack, you’re pretty much on your own. The entire pack is presented in coyote brown 500 denier cordura, though you can get it in black, a generic woodland camouflage, two different shades of green, and a vivid blue. It’s easy enough to get out and get into action, since zippers and backpacks are pretty self-explanatory for the most part. One thing that’s lacking is the “Made in USA” tag that’s proudly displayed on all of Mystery Ranch’s military packs. Due to the Berry Amendment, for an item to be used officially by the military and receive a National Stock Number, it needs to be made in the U.S. or in specific countries (usually for small components). However, Mystery Ranch doesn’t consider this a military pack, and therefore it is made in Vietnam. Time will tell if that’s something that will cause a drop in quality or performance.
Getting the 2-DAY out of the bag, we see the feature that makes Mystery Ranch NOT self-explanatory, which is the telltale triple “Y” zipper that Mystery Ranch has popularized. This is a feature designed to allow you to quickly access the contents of your pack from top to bottom without having to dump the entire pack, with the upper arms of the Y shape allowing easy access to the top in a traditional fashion, and the lower arm of the Y running the length of the pack for the aforementioned access. The 2-DAY has color-matched brown urethane-covered zippers and buckles throughout and features a generic “Mystery Ranch” sewn-on tag, as well as a loop-side Velcro panel on top, which can be used for name tags, distress strobes, or more realistically, Punisher skull patches.
The pack measures 21 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and 11.25 inches deep, and weighs 3 pounds, which is not light by any means. Mystery Ranch advertises it as being a 27-liter pack or, if you only understand ‘merican, 1,650 cubic inches, which is “an okay amount for a normal backpack” in layman’s terms. In contrast, my issued U.S. Marine Corps FILBE assault pack is a 35-liter pack that has an unloaded weight of 70 ounces, which is roughly 4.3 pounds.
This pack redefines “richly-featured” and takes it to the point of excess, with a truly staggering list of pockets, attachment points, and options for fitment. In terms of pockets, the 2-DAY features the main compartment (obviously), two pockets in the lid, a pocket on each side of the flaps, a small mesh zipper pouch on either side of the inside, two internal lightly padded pockets, suspended from the bottom and sides, all topped off by two elastic canteen pockets on either side, which Mystery Ranch says are for water bottles (really?). The rearmost internal pocket is a laptop pocket that can be accessed from the outside of the pack through a zipper, or through conventional means by opening the entire pack up. I was also able to use this zipper feature to rout a hydration hose through while using the laptop pocket for a Camelbak bladder.
The sides of the pack feature three rows of four-column MOLLE, each flap has five rows of three-column MOLLE, the straps feature loops for you to hook carabiners into, and the bottom of the pack features loops on the bottom for you to attach an isolation mat or bedroll. All of these loops are sturdily attached with bar-tack stitching, and the loops themselves are made of very sturdy and well-finished nylon. The “Futura” system of straps features a padded yoke, a partial internal frame, and comes in two different sizes for different body shapes. In addition, there is a removable chest strap and a rudimentary removable kidney strap for added stability while in use with heavier loads.
But wait, there’s more! Inside there’s a hook for you to hang a hydration pouch, the outside of the pack features two horizontal compression straps, and the larger of the two top pockets opens to a mesh pouch, which in any other pack I’d call perfect for storing wet socks or clothes to let them dry, since everything below it would be in a waterproofing bag. But that seems excessive for “everyday urban operations.”
The 2-DAY is supremely wearable, thanks in no small part to the aforementioned Futura harness system. It features the usual lower tightening straps, as well as load lifter straps on the top, which really help you to get a weighted pack higher on your back, mitigating the potential for injuries. In addition, the chest strap is a godsend for prolonged use, but can be removed if you prefer, and each of the adjustable buckles on either side features a routing bungee for any loose-hanging cords, wires, or hydration hoses. The kidney strap is literally just a strap, but it does help with heavier loads, should you decide to use this for backpacking instead of “everyday urban operations.” The straps present the issue of, unlike the 3-DAP, not featuring the Velcro strap gathers, which means that you’ll have to kick it old school and bust out the black electrical tape to make sure your pack isn’t a mess of hanging straps.
How we tested the Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Backpack
I don’t wear backpacks casually or call my trips to the liquor store “everyday urban operations,” but I can definitely find occasions to wear a backpack and see if I can use it for what it looks like, which is a pack for the military (semi) professional. I tested it in three different ways: stress point durability, casual 10K, and in a military context. I’m going to spoil the fun right here and tell you that in every case, the 2-DAY performed admirably and hasn’t failed me yet, but obviously, there were issues.
For the durability test, I loaded the pack up with 30 pounds of stuff and picked it up by each of the MOLLE loops, as those loops are oftentimes points of failure if not properly executed. Then, to test the Y-zipper, I hooked my fingers underneath the lid while closed, and ripped it open, which it passed, as it’s designed to do. I tested the top carrying handle by taking the fully loaded pack and swinging it wildly by the handle, which survived. Finally, I tested the straps by doing the same thing I did to the top carry handle, and of course, they passed.
On the casual 10K, I packed my gym clothes, cleanup kit, towel, and a gallon of water into the 2-DAY, and walked the 3.1 miles to my gym, changed, exercised, and then walked back. During this I was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots. One of the things that I noticed is that the Futura Harness with its yoke and adjustable load-lifters really helped make the pack fit close to my body and the load not feel overly heavy. Properly packing my bag helped too, but having the variety of adjustment options took the comfort all the way and really made this a joy to wear.
Even though Mystery Ranch really seems to be insistent that the 2-DAY isn’t a military pack, I mean, come on. It’s a MOLLE-covered coyote brown pack with Velcro “for morale patches” and most of the alternate colors for it are explicitly military, so I’m going to use it in the military. The first step is to see if it can actually be used as an assault pack, which means seeing if it’ll fit over armor. Like a complete dork, I brought my CIF and put the pack on over my flak. The 2-DAY definitely can fit over armor, but it’s not as much of a revelation as the 3-DAP, since the latter has Bolstered Ventilation and Stability (BVS) foam blocks that keep it stabilized on your back by straddling your rear rifle plate.
The second military test occured when my unit did a simple 5K hike with a 30-pound pack for PT. The packing list for this was an ECH, a woobie, front, back, and side ESAPI plates, and a full Camelbak bladder, and I used the laptop case’s feature of being placed higher in the pack to hold the ESAPIs to keep their combined 20 pounds high and close to my body. This made the hike even more bearable than it would have been with my FILBE assault pack, although the distinctive Mystery Ranch pack shape got me a bit of attention for wearing something other than what I’m issued. In this case, using the kidney strap was a godsend, as that much weight in an internal frame pack with no kidney straps is not a fun time.
Overall, the pack passed the tests with two key caveats. First, the lack of Velcro strap keepers meant that when going from wearing the 2-DAY over armor to wearing it over civilian clothes or cammies, I had to re-tape all of the adjustment straps. It’s a minor annoyance, but it’s still there, especially since the Observed Fires Pack and 3-DAP both have those, and that’s what I’m used to seeing. The other is that the mesh covering the padding on the straps started to fray from wearing it over my flak, due to abrasion from rubbing up against the edges of the shoulder straps. This was due to lateral motion under load, as the 2-DAY lacks the 3-DAPs “BVS” stabilizing blocks (pictured below) and I wasn’t using a chest cinch strap, both of which would have alleviated this. However, the choice of using mesh under the straps is a point of friction that I foresee becoming an issue in the future if you use this pack often.
What we like about the Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Backpack
The 2-DAY is comfortable, easy to use, and super flexible in terms of how you can use it. While it’s not intended to be used as a military pack, it definitely can fulfill that role in terms of features, and it comes in enough tactical colors to where you can make it fit into whatever your respective branch likes (if they allow you to wear private purchase packs). For someone who spends a lot of time in-garrison and only ever rarely goes to the field, this is a good option, as even though it’s not a great assault pack, it’s a good military-style backpack and can work as an assault pack in a pinch. It carries weight well, accommodates a variety of attachments and configurations, and overall seems to be well-made. Additionally, you’re getting a real Mystery Ranch tactical-style pack for $200, which is more than you can say for the legions of impersonators with much lower quality control levels. The fact that this pack isn’t made in America, but is simply an American design executed overseas, doesn’t seem to have affected it either, especially when comparing it to other Mystery Ranch packs that I’ve used. Is it perfect or even as good as USA-made Mystery Ranch packs? Of course not, but you’ll be hard-pressed to get one of them for $200 new.
What we don’t like about the Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Backpack
I’ve already griped a couple of times about the straps not having the Velcro strap keepers, but it’s a pretty important thing for me. Why aren’t these included? I can’t imagine they’re that much more expensive, and they’d solve one of my biggest complaints with this pack. Other than that though, who the hell is this pack for? Probably my biggest gripe in relation to this pack is that by being a jack of all trades, it’s a master of none. They list this as an EDC bag, but honestly, wearing a bag like this for any sort of “EDC” situation, even if you’re unarmed, is just asking for undue attention, especially in colors like coyote brown, foliage green, or black. It’s a fine backpacking or camping pack, sure, but Mystery Ranch offers plenty of other options that serve that purpose better, are lighter, and cost less. The 2-DAY approaches greatness as a military pack, coming in the color I need, featuring MOLLE webbing and a comfortable strap system, but it falls short by not having the features that I need to make it work in a tactical environment. Overall, this pack strikes me as something for people who want to feel tactical, while not delivering any of the minutiae necessary to make it work at the professional level in any of the fields mentioned.
The Mystery Ranch 2-DAY is a pack that can’t figure out what its purpose is. I can’t recommend it as a great pack for everyday use, because it looks too overtly tactical. I can’t recommend it as a great pack for military use, because it lacks the features that you need to make it work as an actual assault pack. Really, the only way in which the 2-DAY excels is by being 85 percent of a 3-DAP for half the price, and if I was a betting man, I’d say that’s the point. By marketing this to the EDC market, and by using goofy terms like “everyday urban operations” or whatever, Mystery Ranch basically says the quiet part out loud: this is a pack for people who want to look tacticool, but who don’t necessarily rely on the pack in a life-or-death situation, and it does so at an affordable price.
But that doesn’t mean that this pack isn’t right for you. It just means that you have to evaluate the features that are present or not present and see if they fit into your intended usage. A chest cinch strap will likely fix a good chunk of the issues that I had with the lateral movement over my flak, and purchasing it in the bright blue colorway alleviates some of the issues I have with the overtly tactical appearance of the pack. It’s a solid pack, but it leaves me a little confused as to who it’s for.
If you plan on using this pack (or any pack, for that matter) over armor, there are some key considerations that you need to keep in mind. First, you should have your hydration bladder in your assault pack, which serves the double duty of making it accessible for refilling without having to get a buddy to do it and preventing the weight of your pack from squeezing the water out of the lid. The second consideration is that you should probably use a backpack cinch strap to keep the assault pack straps from constricting your armpits, which anecdotally has caused nerve damage to some people, and has definitely caused numbness in my hands due to lack of circulation since I didn’t have one of these on hand.
One final caveat: this is very important, but should you be intending to field this pack in any environment where you’re dealing with an enemy threat that could be using night vision, this pack is NOT shielded to absorb near-infrared frequencies, while Mystery Ranch’s real military packs are solution-treated at the yarn level to be IRR-compliant and absorb near-infrared. Meaning that your pack will be a giant glowing spot under standard Generation 3+ night vision. I understand that this is a very niche concern, but this pack is not suitable if you’re planning on using it in any sort of modern tactical environment
FAQs about the Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Backpack
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q: How much does the Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Backpack cost?
Q: Are Mystery Ranch packs made in the USA?
A: Some are, but this particular pack is not, and most of their packs that aren’t made for military or fire usage are made overseas in places like the Philippines and Vietnam. When in doubt, look for the sewn-in tag that will say “Made in USA.”
Q: Are Mystery Ranch products worth It?
A: Depends on who you are. If you’re looking for durable gear for professional usage, and you’ve got the money to spend, Mystery Ranch is a definite win in my book. But those options are also not discounted, even if you’re a professional. For civilian options, like their hiking packs, they’re definitely still an option, but compare whatever option you choose with other brands, because while Mystery Ranch is peerless in terms of their military packs, the field is a lot more populated when it comes to hiking bags, and the prices can vary more.
Q: Don’t you buy tactical gear that you don’t get issued and have no deployments? Aren’t YOU just a LARPer?
A: Yes. Albeit a paid one.