The Mystery Ranch Coulee 40 is a wonderfully versatile, comfortable, and bombproof backpack suitable for extended day hikes or 1-2 night backpacking trips with a streamlined gear list. If you’re unfamiliar with Mystery Ranch’s backpacks, let me preface this review by saying that their backpacks are primarily designed for wilderness hiking and backpacking with a heavy emphasis on multi-sport extensibility, fit, and durability. It’s a very different aesthetic than what you’ll find on minimalist packs designed for ultralight backpackers and thru-hikes who stick to well-manicured trail systems.
While you could certainly use a Coulee 40 for a thru-hike, Mystery Ranch’s packs are more geared toward people who carry heavy loads off-trail like hunters, backcountry fishermen, rock climbers, and search and rescue teams. They’re really innovative though and well worth careful examination if you plan on leaving the crowds behind.
Specs at a glance
- Weight: 3.8 lbs | 60.8 oz | 1764g
- Volume: 40L (also available in 20L, 30L, and 50L volumes)
- Gender: Unisex (Women’s model also available)
- Type: Adjustable torso length
- Pockets: 8 (4 open, 4 closed)
- Hydration compatible: Yes (internal pocket and hose port)
- Frame: 2 Frame Stays
- Removable hipbelt: Yes
- Load lifters: Yes
- Sleeping bag access: Yes
- Rain cover: No
- Bear canister compatibility: All BearVault canisters fit into the main compartment.
- Materials: 100% recycled nylon 210D Robic dobby w/ doubled bottom for extra durability
Backpack Storage and Organization
The Mystery Ranch Coulee 40 has a large main compartment that is accessible with a three-way zipper. The great thing about this access method is that unzipping all three zippers opens the main compartment up wide, a lot like a duffle bag, so you don’t have to pull everything out of the backpack to find something.
With a rolltop or a top lid pack, you often have to unload at least half of it to find something and then repack everything all over again. That gets old fast.
You can also only open the top two horizontal zippers only if you want to use the Coulee as a top lid pack. In addition to the three zipper access, there’s a U-shaped sleeping bag hatch at the bottom of the pack if you just want to access something from the bottom of the backpack.
The top lid is sewn to the frame side of the pack above the shoulder straps. It has two zippered pockets, a large mesh-backed one that’s good for gloves or hats, and a smaller one that is well-sized for a GPS unit.
The Coolee 40 has six more pockets:
- Two really big zippered pockets on the hip belt that can hold all the food you can eat in one day and I mean all of it, not just snacks.
- Two stretchy side water bottle pockets
- Two open front pockets, located on the two sides of the front zipper. The pair form a sort of spilt-shovel pocket, which can be quite useful for segregating dry gear on one side and wet on the other.
While it’s not a pocket per se, the Coulee 40 has a bottom-zippered sleeping bag hatch that lets you access the main compartment from the base of the pack as well. There’s no internal shelf, optional or not, though to create a sleeping bag pocket and it really is just another access method.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Coulee 40 has an adjustable torso length, which is a very handy feature if you have problems getting a good fit. Mystery Ranch uses a lightweight version of the adjustment system on this pack to keep the weight down, but it’s rock solid like on their much higher volume packs.
You can adjust the torso length by moving the shoulder strap yoke up (to lengthen) or down (to shorten) using a simple velcro adjustment system. Fine-tuning torso length becomes increasingly important the more weight you carry because you want the weight to rest mainly on your hips and not your shoulder pads.
The Coulee’s shoulder straps are S-shaped making them male and female-friendly, and they have daisy chains sewn on the front so you can easily attach 3rd party pockets to them. Load-lifters are also provided and connect to the pack above the frame stays so you can adjust the angle at which they sit on your hips.
The frame consists of two metal rods that are tightly fitted into sleeves inside the main compartment. They are not removable but they have some spring to them that make the pack fairly lively and responsive to carry. The bottom of the stays slot into the lumbar pad which is sewn to the pack body, providing superb load transfer to the hip cradle (iliac crest).
The wings of the hipbelt are actually NOT sewn into the lumbar pad and they’re optionally removable, for example, if you need to wear a climbing harness. The hipbelt closes with a single beefy front buckle, which we particularly like because it doesn’t fill with snow and refuse to close. The hipbelt is tightened with a pull-forward scherer-cinch, so you can get a tight fit when required.
External Attachments and Compression
The Coulee 40 is quite flexible when it comes to attaching bulky gear to its exterior, a trait shared by most Mystery Ranch backpacks. It has two tiers of side compression straps made with actual webbing, which is our preference for off-trail travel. Both of the side compression straps open and close with glove-friendly buckles so they can be used in the cold and the straps are long enough that you can secure snowshoes to the sides of the pack.
There are also webbing straps at the bottom of the pack that can be used to attach a foam pad or tent body to the pack base. These webbing straps are permanently attached to the pack and are non-removable. They’re also just long enough to wrap around a NEMO Switchback foam pad so keep that in mind if you use a thicker pad like a Therm-a-rest Zlite or a bulky tent body.
The pack also comes with a pair of ice axe loops with shaft holders, which can serve double duty for securing trekking poles when not in use.
The Mystery Ranch Coulee 40 Backpack is a “multi-mission” backpack that can be used year-round for day hiking and backpacking, both on-trail and off. Its three-way zipper system and strong external attachment features make it much more convenient to use than a roll-top or a conventional top-lid backpack while its many large pockets are ideal to stay organized and keep important items easily accessible.
The thing I like the best about this backpack is its slim profile, even when loaded with heavy gear. Once you dial in the torso length to your liking, the weight rides close to your hips and core so the pack feels like it’s part of your torso and not a separate appendage. This makes the Coulee 40 an ideal companion for bushwhacking off the beaten path to a spring creek or scrambling up an avalanche slide to an elusive view. On-trail or off, the Mystery Ranch Coulee 40 Backpack is an innovative backpack that stands out from the pack.
Disclosure: Mystery Ranch donated a pack for review.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.