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Mystery Ranch Scree 32 Backpack Review

The Mystery Ranch Scree is a rugged technical backpack than can be used for dayhikes or fast and light overnight trips
The Mystery Ranch Scree 32 is a rugged technical backpack than can be used for day hikes or fast and light overnight trips

Mystery Ranch Scree 32 Backpack


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The Scree 32 is a bomber technical day pack good for rugged trips and heavy loads. It has a unique vertical zipper that provides panel style access and numerous external attachment options.

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The Mystery Ranch Scree is a 3.1 pound daypack with an adjustable length torso that’s designed for carrying heavy loads in rugged terrain. It’s made with burly fabrics to withstand serious abuse, with a unique frame system that won’t buckle if you have to haul heavy gear. External daisy chains, a wrap-around compression system and panel loading access make the Scree convenient to use year-round for technical trips, climbing, snowshoeing, and off-trail bushwhacking.

Specs at a Glance

  • Volume: 1953 cu-in (32 L)
  • Weight: 3.1 lbs (1.4 kg)
  • Dimensions: 26″ x 14.5″ x 11″ (66 x 37 x 28 cm)
  • Torso length: Adjustable (Size S, M, L) fits 16″-21″
  • Hip belt length: Fixed (S, M, L) fits 29″-39″
  • Fabric: 420D Robic nylon fabric and YKK zippers
  • Max recommended load: 45-50 pounds

Backpack Storage

The Scree has a unique three zip panel loading design than makes it easy to find gear deep in your backpack. Unzip the diagonal zippers and you have a top loading backpack or pull down the center zipper and you have a classic panel loader that’s ideal for hauling climbing gear or heavy photographic equipment.  Two zippered top pockets on the lid provide additional organization for smaller items, hats, or gloves.

Unzip the diagonal zips to access the top of the pack or pull down the center zipper to gain full access to the pack's contents
Unzip the diagonal zips to access the top of the main compartment or pull down the center zipper to gain full access to the pack’s contents

There a deep hydration pocket inside the main compartment along with a wooden toggle to keep a hydration bladder upright. Side hydration ports outside the shoulder pads provide hydration hose access.

The Scree also has two side water bottle pockets that are deep enough to store 1 liter bottles. The mesh on the outside of the pockets is heavy duty and tear resistant, while the base of each pocket is covered with hard-wearing 420d nylon Robic fabric. Full water bottles are held in place by gravity, but have a tendency to pop out of the pockets when drained. I lost several empty 1L water bottles over a period of two weeks and think the pockets should have a tighter top elastic band and a deeper base to keep bottles from slipping out. If you use a hydration reservoir, then this is probably not an issue.

Side hip belt pockets round out the Scree’s storage system. While zippered with sold outer fabric panels, both pockets are on the small size and only capable of holding food bars or a small point and shoot camera.

Two tiers of compression straps let you lash gear to the side or rear of the pack
Two tiers of compression straps let you lash gear to the side or rear of the pack.

Compression and External Attachment System

The Scree has two tiers of side compression straps that are anchored to the frame and the outside of the side bottle pockets. The top strap wraps around the sides and back of the pack allowing you to lash long skinny gear like a fishing rod, tripod, or tent poles to the side of the pack, when used in conjunction with a side pocket. While shorter, the bottom strap makes it possible to lash a pair of snowshoes to the rear of the pack, in between the daisy chains.

While the Screen doesn’t have any tool holders, there’s nothing preventing you from rigging up some with elastic cord and a few cordlocks. Gear loops on the top of the lid make it possible to carry gear on top of the pack or in whatever combinations you can dream up, from skis to snowboards, to tents and sleeping pads.

The Scree has an adjustable length backpack
The Scree has an adjustable length torso.

Backpack Frame and Suspension System

The Mystery Ranch Scree can carry quite heavy loads, far more than you’d think for a 32 liter pack, because it uses the same adjustable yoke system used on the company’s larger multi-day and expedition backpacks. It’s an odd sensation, knowing that the Scree’s frame is capable of carrying far more gear and weight than you can fit inside its limited 32L capacity.

The Scree’s frame has three components: a plastic but flexible frame sheet sewn into the back of the pack, an adjustable shoulder strap yoke, and a modest lumbar pad on the back of the hip belt. Sounds simple, but the frame architecture of the Scree and Mystery Ranch’s other packs is quite different from what you’re probably used. Rather than concentrating the load on the shoulders and hips, the load is distributed across the carrier’s entire back with an arc that lifts the loads off your shoulders and allows the load to be more evenly distributed.

A pocket in the rear of the yoke holds a curved plastic sheet which helps lift the load off your shoulder and spread it across your back.
A pocket in the rear of the yoke holds a curved plastic sheet which helps lift the load off your shoulder and spread it across your back.

For example, on the Scree, the frame sheet is flat and flexible, not S-shaped or C-shaped like frames built with frame-stays.  The shoulder yoke is shaped in an arc and attached to the frame sheet below the shoulder blades and not the top of the  frame sheet or pack bag. As you can imagine, this takes a little getting used to because it feels so different than other backpacks. But the payoff is that you can carry quite heavy loads without hip and shoulder discomfort.

To fit the Scree, you release the velcro that holds the shoulder yoke to the frame sheet using a curved plastic sheet. Stored tightly in a thin pocket on the back of the yoke, it puts the curve in the yoke that lifts it off your shoulders, flattening the load so it’s transferred to your back and not your hips alone.

How high should you position the yoke? You know you have a good fit when the seam where the shoulder strap connects to the yoke (in back) is positioned just above your shoulder blades This video shows the fitting process on one of Mystery Ranch’s expedition packs, but it’s the identical technique you’d use to fit the Scree.

The result is quite impressive, making it possible to carry quite heavy loads with the Scree or any other backpack/pack bag combination using the same frame and suspension system. While I suppose you could use the Scree as a casual day pack, it’s really best suited for use as a climbing or technical backpack where you need to carry rope, climbing gear, search and rescue gear, or other heavy equipment with a max recommended load of 50 pounds. Heavy-duty fabrics and bomber components make the Mystery Ranch Scree a great workhorse, but are overkill if you only want to use it as a book bag.

Written 2017.

Disclosure: Mystery Ranch provided the author with a backpack for this review.
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  1. Hmm, comes in a women’s version that has a torso length of 14″-16″ size. This, plus the old “F-Stop” padded insert for cameras/lenses, might make a very good heavy camera kit pack.

    • Can definitely haul the weight!

    • Women’s version “Cairn” showed up in a local store, I bought it last Sunday PM, it fits my small torso height perfectly, it is an excellent pack for access to large padded camera insert, initial evaluation in-store is that it carries very well as judged by the traditional 45 minutes of wearing around the store with the 20+ pounds of camera gear inside.

      A fellow hiking photographer who has had the men’s version for several months says that it carries very well. The ample selection of daisy chains, loops, compression straps, etc provides a way to attach tripods.

      It is just a tad too big (tall) for regional aircraft use, though it might do for full-size commercial aircraft if the shoulder yoke stiffener is removed and stored in the pack body.

  2. Nice article, but I think it’s 38L rather than 32L, at least according to the link in your article.

  3. Philip, where did you find the max recommended loads? I went to the Mystery Ranch website and didn’t see any numbers on any of their packs. I’m not going to dispute it, I’m just curious and like to read all the specs so I have a working list of who makes what… (Speaking of which, how much have you carried in your test pack?)

    • They don’t provide a max recommended load, but I’ve owned several Mystery Ranch packs in the past with the identical frame system and know what it’s capable of. I put 45 pounds (mostly water) in this one and it didn’t flinch.

  4. What is the actual length of the framesheet, is that 26 inches?

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