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Mystery Ranch Wet Ribs: The Hiker’s Office

Mystery Ranch Wet Ribs
Mystery Ranch Wet Ribs – High Carry Position

Mystery Ranch’s Wet Ribs are a backpack accessory pocket that connects to your packs shoulder straps and hangs on the front of your chest or ribs while hiking. It has a large zippered pocket perfect for storing snacks, a map, a camera, hat, glove liners, and other small incidentals that you want easy access to, as well as a mesh bottomed bottle pocket that’s large enough to store a 1 liter Nalgene Bottle.

A lot of experienced winter hikers I know carry Wet Ribs because they provide such convenient storage and help eliminate stops to take out a map, refer to notes,  access a camera, drink and snack, or adjust hat layers – without having to take off your pack and slow down your hiking partners. They also make a good adjunct to three season packs that have wimpy hip belt pockets that aren’t good for anything except a Cliff Bar.

Who is Mystery Ranch?

Mystery Ranch is not a brand name that comes up a lot at your neighborhood REI, but the company has a stellar reputation in the expedition backpacking community and is known for their high volume and mission specific hunting, wilderness firefighting, and military combat backpacks. Mystery Ranch was founded by Dana Gleason, the owner of Dana Designs, which might be a name you will recognize, after he sold the his first backpack company to K2 Sports which handed off operations to Marmot.

Back in the day, Dana Designs sold Wet Ribs but after the company was purchased you could only buy them used on eBay, if you were lucky. However, Mystery Ranch has started making them again, although they’re a bit spendy at $37.00, plus postage.

One open and one closed pocket
One open and one closed pocket

Pocket Configuration

The Wet Ribs accessory has one open pocket large enough to carry a 1 liter Nalgene bottle and a large 45 cubic inch (o.75L) pocket that closes with to heavy-duty reversible zippers. The bottle pocket has a heavy mesh bottom to help drain or dry wet bottles and can be cinched tight with an adjustable drawstring collar, although it’s not quite big  enough to fit a 1L bottle wrapped in winter insulation. Instead I use it to store a gorp bottle with high-energy winter snacks or a water bottle in warmer weather. The zippered pocket can hold a lot but has no internal organization. It would be nice if it included a key clip or cell phone pocket, so you need to be careful when you open it up so that things don’t fall out.

Locking Clip - Open Position
Locking Clip – Open Position

Attachment System

The Wet Ribs accessory pocket connects to the straps of your shoulder strap using removable clips that make it easy to switch the pocket between different packs. Mystery Ranch doesn’t provide any instructions in the box on how to position or use this attachment system when you purchase the product (ding). This seems to be a common problem because I keep running into people who’ve purchased Wet Ribs, but don’t know how to set them up.

The Web Ribs pocket mates to the shoulder straps of your backpack using three plastic clips that clip onto your shoulder pack straps and make it universally compatible with all packs without the need to rethread the shoulder strap itself, which can be a royal pain in the ass or impossible if the webbing is doubled back and impossible to unthread.

Webbing threaded through locking clip
Webbing threaded through locking clip

If you want to switch the Wet Ribs to another backpack, you can re-open the clips by levering the pinheads open with a wide flat-head screwdriver. My advice is not to do this too often though because the screwdriver chews into the soft plastic pin heads of the attachment clips.

Mystery Ranch was nice enough to send me replacement pins free of charge, but you might want to head off this issue at the pass and ask for them in advance. This is unfortunately one of the weaknesses with this product, but it’s less of an issue if you don’t switch packs very often. I on the other hand do, but I am willing to stock up on replacement clips because I like the functionality provided by the extra front pockets and I’m not bashful about requesting replacements from Mystery Ranch (they’ll fix the problem eventually, I’m sure).

Wet Ribs - Low Carry Position
Wet Ribs – Low Carry Position

There are two ways to attach the Wet Ribs, in a high position where they cover your sternum strap and chest or lower down so over your ribs. Whichever you choose will be a matter of personal preference and depends to a certain degree on the fit and style of your backpacks shoulder pads. Personally, I like wearing my Wet Ribs pocket higher up on my chest because I can see my feet better for winter hiking with crampons or snowshoes. If you want to position the pocket lower down, simply attach the clips under the bottom of your shoulder pads.

The Hiker’s Office

Colin Fletcher, author of the hiking classic The Complete Walker IV, often refers to his office, a pocket where he keeps maps, itinerary, and navigational tools, all easily accessible during a hike. I’ve often longed to find a pocket that suits similar needs and has the capacity to store a notebook for recording observations, my camera, digital tape recorder, maps, and guidebook notes. Mystery Ranch’s Wet Ribs are the best “office” solution that I’ve found yet.

Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) purchased this product with his on funds. 

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  1. Nice to see that a Hunersdorf bottle can fit in it. So often these days most water pouches are too narrow to fit a Hunersdorf.

  2. I have just purchased a very similar pouch, OMM Trio 4l. I have decided
    to dump my Lowe fanny pack(worn as a front facing “office”)for this years Tgo challenge.
    The OMM has an integrated map pouch which will take a4 copies plus my tablet for offline map detail.
    Regards Stormin’

  3. Front packs, pouches, “Wet Ribs”, Aarn Packs, all have a real good points about carrying loads. They keep the overall pack load ergonomically balanced across a wide range of loads. This allows better standing and walking posture. A simple 2-3 pounds in the front packs allows 6 pounds to be “balanced” around your shoulders. Great for heavy loads.

    In cooler weather, they really shine by trapping heat close to your body. This is a two edged sword to many, though. In warmer months, they can trap too much heat, making you hot and sweaty.

    Slinging the pack on and off is a problem, though. the front packs need to be unclipped, then they interfere with putting the pack on, again. Or settiing the pack down. (I found myself rolling the pack over to get at things.) How do the Mystery Ranch people do these basic tasks?

    • Good Question. There are three connectors on the Wet Rib that attach to your backpack shoulder pad straps. The two connectors on the left always stay attached to your left backpack strap when you put your backpack on and take it off. The thrid Web Rib connection point is also fixed: it is piece of webbing attached at one end to your right backpack shoulder strap, with a squeeze style plastic connector at the interior end of the strap that snaps into a female end on the back of the Wet Rib. When you take off your pack, you just need to undo this (center) squeeze buckle and the buckle of your sternum strap. It’s very straightforward and not as annoying (hardly at all) as you might imagine. The only potential annoyance is if the center squeeze buckle is the same color and size as your sternum strap buckle, so you confuse them. You can avoid this by getting a Wet Rib in a color that is different than the color of your backpack straps, since the plastic clips are also colored. On my pack and Wet Rib (where both are black), the buckles are different sizes and I quickly learned to distinguish them from one another.

      I’ve tried myriad other front pocket systems over the years and the Web Ribs are the least annoying of the lot. They’re small without being too small and easy to enter and exit.

  4. In bear country, the open pocket is a great place to store your bear spray canister for quick access!

  5. In Summer Months does it seem to hold a lot more heat? I like the design but I get crazy hot even in the winter and that might keep me from keeping cool.
    Have you had a chance to use this in the summer?

  6. Has anyone used the Zpacks Multi Pack for this purpose? how does it compare?

  7. I just use my smock pockets – I can fit most of the gear you describe. But then I’m a Brit. and wear a Buffalo Mountain shirt in the cooler months. Just a brilliant piece of kit – http://www.buffalosystems.co.uk . No messing with clips etc.

  8. I’d love to see a comment from a woman who has used Wet Ribs or similar. I have a very short torso and am not exactly flat on top. Not sure where this item would fit comfortably, though I find the idea of this item’s functionality quite appealing.

  9. Take a look at http://www.ribzwear.com/Women seem ok with the setup.

  10. I use 1 of gossamer gear’s largest hip pockets. (http://gossamergear.com/packs/pack-accessories/hip-belt-pockets.html) I keep it right on my waist belt centered to my navel. It’s lightweight and can hold the days snacks, compass, a small fixed blade knife (esee izula 2), iphone, and still have room for more. AND it’s cheap.

  11. I have a question about condensation. I’ve been carrying my hybrid SLR camera for a while in a $5 Target fanny pack slung diagonally across my torso. It was a cheaper and better option than most camera packs I’ve seen. However, even during cold weather my hiking pace will cause sweat and condensation to build up and make the side of my camera on my chest kind of wet. I would think this style bag strapped by pack straps would reduce snugness against body and allow more airflow, but I’m not quite sure just by reading this review. Being in NC most of the year hiking is >40F and I sweat a lot. Even through a base layer and mid fleece in the winter I get condensation on my camera. Here’s a pic of how I have it. https://plus.google.com/photos/115273866116539742742/albums/5835991950681404161/5835992127454013698?banner=pwa&pid=5835992127454013698&oid=115273866116539742742

    • It sounds like you more of a sweat issue than a condensation issue. Try taking off more layers. I often hike in a base layer in winter to vent perspiration and only bundle up when I stop.

  12. I have the same pack and can’t get the clips to reopen for nothing. How are you doing that again?

    • Jam a wide screw driver head into the top of the clip under the lip and wiggle it. The pin should pop out eventually. Don’t be afraid to be forceful. And yes, MR sent me a bag of replacements.

  13. Sadly no longer available, again

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