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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Mystery Ranch BDSB > Owner Review by Richard Lyon
OWNER REVIEW – Mystery Ranch
Personal Details and Backpacking Background
I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since I moved to Texas in 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13,000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too. Regardless of type of trip, I'll tote a few extra pounds to have the camp conveniences I've come to expect.
Product: Mystery Ranch BDSB
(Big Dana's Special Blend) backpack
The BDSB is a top-loading, internal frame expedition backpack designed for use by U.S. Navy SEALs.
Dana Gleason of Bozeman, Montana founded and gave his name to Dana Design (DD), which he sold some years ago to Kelty. His noncompetition clause has expired and he's back in business at Mystery Ranch (MR). As at DD, he offers a full line of packs, from computer carriers to mountaineering monsters. When my DD Terraplane finally earned honorable retirement after 16 years of service, it was to Mystery Ranch (MR) I went for a replacement. After one summer with an earlier model MR expedition pack (the Alpacka, now discontinued), Dana talked me into the BDSB. MR does a substantial defense business (there's a separate section of its website devoted to military products), and the BDSB is its largest pack, the G-7000, modified for the SEALs. (For those not from the U.S., SEAL is an acronym for "sea, air, land" used by our Navy for its demolition experts and other special forces. For us civilians it's a synonym for "tough customers.") The BDSB is now regularly available for commercial sale.
The design of this pack is similar to DD's "ArcFlex" models. Its main compartment is loaded from the top and has an apron that is cinched at the top with a toggle. This can either be one very large compartment or separated into two by use of a detachable divider about three-quarters of the way down. There is a zipper at the bottom for separately loading a sleeping bag or other gear into the lower section. Compression straps can be used easily to flatten the lower section when it's not needed, to reduce things moving.
On the back are two large vertical pockets with side zippers
running from the top of the pack bag to the top of the lower compartment, for
stuff needed in a hurry. I use these for
rain gear, first aid kit, sunscreen, and fishing box. A top section with two zippered compartments
(900 ci, 15 l total storage space) serves as the
"lid." As discussed in my
review, this can be detached for use as a day pack.
The BDSB has several features not found on DD packs. The most useful is the addition of one stretch pocket (made of Spandura, a Spandex-Cordura cross) on each side of the pack. I've used these for skis and regularly for small items needed close to hand. A radio pocket on the frame inside the main compartment provides a perfect fit for a 100 oz (3 l) Camelbak bladder.
But it is in the pack structure that Mystery Ranch has made the most functional improvements. The pack has a plastic frame supported by two fiberglass rods for shape and rigidity, and a connected but separately adjustable shoulder yoke. The yoke can be easily raised or lowered for a personal fit without simultaneously moving the pack frame. MR includes a plastic sheet with printed directions on how to do this (discussed below) with each of its expedition packs. The hip belt "wrap" (said to be patented) that connects the yoke and frame extends across the back to distribute the pressure of the load across the waist and thus avoid undue pressure at any one point.
The BDSB is listed only in one frame size. (Its civilian counterpart, the G-7000, may be purchased with a man's or woman's frame, and MR says it could attach a BDSB bag to the smaller woman's frame on request.) The adjustable yoke makes further frame sizing used by most manufacturers (including DD) unnecessary. So says Dana and so I discovered. Three different hip belt sizes are available.
The pack bag is made of 500d/1000d Cordura, in a special manufacturing run that includes waterproofing inside and out (according to MR's website, a "polyurethane layer of waterproofing inside, and a outer layer of Teflon HT").
Bag, buckles and straps are all titanium/castor grey, a color the SEALs selected to reduce contrast and visibility. Other colors (forest camo is one) are occasionally available. The G-7000 comes in red or black.
To get a feel for this pack I used it on all my hikes after buying it last May. That's seven times in the Rockies last summer and fall (two long day hikes, four three-day trips, and one seven-day trip), once this past winter (overnighter), and several day hikes in Texas. Except for day hikes on the long trip, each time I carried the entire pack, not just the detached top section. (My most frequent day hiking companion took full advantage of my experimentation and the BDSB's capacity by using me as the group's pack horse.) Loads varied from 15 to 75 pounds (9 – 34 kg). Weather was mostly sunny, but I encountered one big thunderstorm, a couple of rain squalls, and some driving snow. The waterproofing works well. I did not notice any sogginess or extra weight in the pack after the showers. I followed my customary practice of lining the pack with plastic garbage bags, however, so I can't say that it was the fabric that kept the contents dry.
Capacity. Even with my penchant for extra gear, the BDSB is more pack than I really need for a short trip. Tying off the bottom section prevents loosely packed items from shifting, but I still have to carry that big frame. Removing the lid would save some weight. My long trip last summer was as a Forest Service volunteer in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, and with work clothes added to my standard summer backpacking kit and only a fly rod and sleeping pad strapped outside, about a 65 lb (30 kg) total load, the pack wasn't full. I'm glad I'm not a SEAL.
Weight distribution. This is an expedition pack and it's with a big load that it excels. The BDSB surpasses even DD's Terraplane (a terrific pack) for efficient weight distribution. The main reason I used this pack even for short hikes was to do my personal fine tuning, to reduce the hip belt's slipping down on my hips and the top of the pack's pulling back off my shoulders, the only two complaints I ever had with the Terraplane. All I had to do was use the compression straps to keep the load from shifting before shouldering the pack, then, with the pack on, pull the strap on each shoulder pad to keep the load forward and centered over my hips. Once the yoke is properly adjusted and set – easily done at home or on the trail by setting the peak of the yoke even with my shoulders, then re-attaching the velcro to hold the bag and yoke to the frame – further adjustment isn't necessary. I've never been truly comfortable with a sixty-pound load, but it's never been easier to handle.
Special Features. Shoulder straps on the detachable top section are an inspired innovation. These roll up and are stashed out of sight when that section is attached to the pack body but allow use as a day backpack (rather than a fanny pack). I found this much more comfortable and efficient for my day hikes from base camp or to hike from camp to a fishing spot, since I could attach water bottle and fishing box to my waist and carry lunch and rain gear on my back. When using the full pack, the side flex pockets let me keep camera and water bottle accessible without removing the pack. Best of all, it's simple. The BDSB thankfully doesn't include a number of overly technical extra straps and micro-adjustments that Dana experimented with on earlier Mystery Ranch packs.
Durability. Unbeatable. Not a tear, scratch, or loose thread on it after considerable bushwhacking, fording, low-lying branches, thorns, rain, snow, mud, dust, rocks, and overnight hanging from bear poles, and I'm not especially careful where I set down my pack on the trail or in camp. I should note that my Terraplane withstood 16 years of similar mistreatment and though worn in a couple of spots was still in good enough shape to donate to the Forest Service. I expect durability from anything made by Dana.
Room for improvement. I wish the top section were a wee bit bigger, big enough for rain jacket, rain pants, sweater, lunch, work gloves, and first aid kit. I now have to lash the jacket to the outside. I don't need more overall capacity, so I'd sacrifice some space in the main compartment for a larger daypack. Dana suggested removing the seam between the two compartments of the lid section, which should solve the problem. Re-attaching the top section to the pack takes some care to avoid its flopping around, even when cinched down.
Possible savings. MR's G-7000 pack is the same size, has most of the features, and saves half a pound (220 g) and $110. But then you'd lose the radio pocket and that great low-vis grey, which my girlfriend, on first seeing the BDSB, described as "beautiful."
Customer service. Mystery Ranch remains a small, friendly business, and all employees from Dana down to the janitor are both extremely knowledgeable about the company's packs and eager to help, by phone or at the Bozeman store. Dana and his team are genuinely interested in what customers have to say, and they act on feedback. Several of my comments on prototypes I used are now standard equipment on the BDSB or other MR packs.
Availability. MR is moving to a direct sales approach, and its website now lists only nine dealers in the United States. The best way to order is by telephone to the shop (406-585-1428) or on the web. I'm in Bozeman several times a year but for those who aren't this makes pre-purchase inspection and sizing something of a problem. MR does have rental packs, which could be shipped for testing and comparison shopping. MR has sent me replacement parts, including improved features, quickly and at its own expense.
Overall. I'm very pleased with this behemoth. I haven't gone lightweight yet and I normally carry an expedition pack even on three-day trips. I've seen slightly lighter weight expedition packs available from reputable manufacturers, but I consider the great weight distribution worth an extra pound. In Dana's words, "making a pack as light as possible without sacrificing its ability to function in a real world environment." In future I'll limit its use to overnight or longer trips, though, unless a case of beer is needed.
The BDSB has been renamed the Kodiak, and is now available in a slightly smaller version (6000 cubic inches/98 liters) as the Grizzly.
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