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Mystery Ranch Terraframe 50 External Frame Backpack Review

Mystery Ranch Terraframe 50 Backpack Review

Mystery Ranch 3-Zip Terraframe 50 Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Beefy External Frame Backpack

The 3-Zip Terraframe 50 is a external frame backpack with a load-sling capable of carrying heavy or awkwardly-shaped gear. Weighing 5 lbs the Terraframe 50 is heavy for a backpack with only 50L of capacity.

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The Mystery Ranch 3-Zip Terraframe 50 is an external frame backpack with a load sling that’s good for hauling awkwardly shaped and heavy loads that won’t fit into a normal top loader or roll top pack. Load sling packs (also called breakaway packs), like the Terraframe 50 and its big brother the Terraframe 80, are popular with hunters because they make it easy to haul heavy meat, packed in game bags, after it’s been field dressed and de-boned. Mystery Ranch is probably the best known company to sell load sling packs into the general outdoor recreation market, but they’re also available from Seek Outside, Kifaru, and Kuiu.

Specs at a Glance

  • Type: External frame w/ load sling
  • Adjustable Torso length: Yes
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Weight: 5 lbs
    • Frame w/ hip belt: 3 lbs 2.5 oz
    • Pack bag: 1 lb 13.5 oz
  • Pockets: 4
  • Materials: 330 Cordura Lite Plus Pack Bag, Carbon Fiber Frame
  • Max recommended load: 150 pounds (that’s not a typo)

Load Sling Capability

With a maximum recommended load of 150 pounds, I tend to think of the Terraframe 50 as a working “persons” pack because it can carry an axe, trail maintenance tools, or even a chain saw, between the frame and pack bag. But it could just as easily be used to carry a pelican case, soft cooler, rope bag, base camp tent, or packraft for more recreational pursuits. That’s in addition you anything you can fit inside the pack bag or strap to its exterior.

Breakaway backpacks are external frame packs with a load sling or shelf (center) that you can rest more gear on, slotting it between the frame and the pack bag.
Load sling backpacks are external frame packs with a shelf (center) that you can rest more gear on, slotting it between the frame and the pack bag.

The pack bag is connected to the frame with thick webbing straps at the top, bottom, and along the sides when the load sling capability is not in use. The base of the pack is connected to the frame with an extended piece of fabric, forming a sling or shelf, that can be used to carry additional tools, gear, or stuff sacks.

Breakaway backpacks are good for carrying heavy or awkwardly sized loads. This chain saw is fairly comfortable to carry, for instance.
Load sling backpacks are good for carrying heavy or awkwardly sized loads. This chain saw is fairly comfortable to carry, for instance.

For instance, if you were a trail maintainer and wanted to carry a chainsaw to remove blowdowns from a trail, you could position your saw between the pack and frame to carry it (as shown above). Next, you’d sandwich the saw between the frame and the pack bag (as shown below) by attaching its webbing straps to the frame. This makes it possible to carry quite heavy objects or stuff sacks to a base camp, for instance, but still have a regular backpack that you can use during the day for side trips.

The pack bag is connected to the frame with webbing straps, securing the item between the frame and the bag
The pack bag is connected to the frame with webbing straps, securing the item between the frame and the bag.

If don’t need the load sling capability, you can use the Terraframe 50 just like you would any backpack. In fact, it feels more like an internal frame pack when worn than an external frame pack, because its center of gravity is close to your hips. This is very different from old-school external frame backpacks like the Kelty Trekker 65 (see review), where the center of gravity is higher up and closer to your mid-back.

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Terraframe 50 consists of an external frame and a pack bag. The pack bag has three zippers, one vertical and two diagonal so you can open up the entire bag or just access stuff in the upper part. There’s a hydration pocket inside and a single hydration port that comes out between the shoulder pads. The pack back also has two top lid pockets that close with zippers and two open side water bottle pockets. The top lid pockets are on the small side, but convenient.

The Terraframe 50 pack bag has three zippers which open to provide full access inside.
The Terraframe 50 pack bag has three zippers which open to provide full access inside.

However, the side water bottle pockets can only fit a single Nalgene and rather snugly at that. The pockets are not reachable while wearing the pack and while they do have cutouts to drain wet gear, like a dripping water filter, their small size makes them difficult to store multiple items.

When I open the central zipper my gear spills out willy nilly
When I open the central zipper my gear spills out willy nilly.

I don’t particularly like the central zipper on the Terraframe 50, because I find my gear spills out of the pack willy nilly when I open it. It’d be far more useful if the pack could rest flush with the ground, but the pack has a very robust hip belt which prevents it from lying flat. The Terraframe 80 has a more conventional design with many more pockets and compartments for gear organization. I wish it was available in a 50L or 60L size instead of just 80L.

Its easy to attach gear to the outside of the pack with the compression straps, even when the breakaway capability is used.
It’s easy to attach gear to the outside of the pack with the compression straps, even when the load sling capability is used.

External Attachment and Compression System

There are numerous external compression straps on the Terraframe 50 pack bag, which serve the dual purpose at attaching the pack bag to the frame in load sling mode or as regular compression/attachment points when it is used like a regular backpack. They make it very easy to carry a foam sleeping pad or tent body underneath the bottom of the pack or attached to its front.

These include:

  • two tiers of side compression straps
  • two tiers of straps that loop around the front of the pack over the center zipper
  • two straps that connect the top of the pack bag to the external frame
  • two straps that connect the bottom of the pack bag to the external frame

Unfortunately, the small size of the side bottle pockets makes it difficult to terminate long objects like tent poles, paddle shafts, or axes in the side pockets and store a water bottle in them at the same time. These are best stowed using the load sling capability, between the frame and pack bag.

Long objects are best carried between the frame and the pack bag.
Long objects are best carried between the frame and the pack bag.

The compression straps are on the Terraframe 50 are quite long in order to serve their dual function. Mystery Ranch provides velcro cord keepers to wrap up any excess webbing that is not needed and keep it out-of-the-way. However, these cord keepers are not sewn to the ends of the webbing, making them very easy to lose. Other pack makers, like Exped, sew them to the ends of their webbing straps and it’d be nice if Mystery Ranch did the same.

The Terraframe 50 also has numerous webbing loops that can serve as attachment points, to lash additional gear to the pack bag. There are four such loops on the top lid and three at the end of each zipper. The latter let you tension the zipper for smother operation. There is also a short run of MOLLE loops at the base of the bag.

The frame can be completely separated from the pack bag
The frame can be completely separated from the pack bag.

Backpack Frame and Suspension

Mystery Ranch has a adjustable-length frame system called the Futura Yoke that they use across many of their backpacks. The Futura Yoke lets you adjust the height of the shoulder pads so that they correspond to your torso length. This is done using a velcro-backed yoke that slides up and down along the frame and is pretty standard across adjustable-length pack makers.

What’s different about the Terraframe’s external frame, is its flex and shape. It has a flat frame, rather than being curved at the top and bottom, and flexes dynamically with you as you move. This is achieved by using a carbon fiber frame with two vertical stays and three cross braces. The Terraframe has a wide and stiff hip belt that locks over your hip bones and won’t slip when worn. It also has wings which are tightly coupled to the base of the carbon fiber frame, rather than floating free. This is very different from most internal and external frame packs where the pack bag and the frame are detached move independently from one another.

The Terraframe 50 frame is flat and rigid
The Terraframe 50 frame is flat and rigid

The result is an external frame that fits close to your body, making it good for scrambling like an internal frame pack, but with the load carrying capacity of an external frame pack. It’s rather clever, but better suited for military and hunting use where regularly people carry 100+ pound loads, rather than the outdoor recreation market, where maximum load weights are considerably less.

Assessment

The Mystery Ranch Terraframe 50 is an external frame backpack that can carry very heavy loads, with a load sling capability that lets you carry large or awkwardly shaped gear between the frame and the pack bag. While the load sling is useful for hauling a big tent or stove for base camping, I question the Terraframe 50’s utility for weekend or general purpose backpacking since a 5 pound backpack with a small 50L capacity isn’t that attractive when compared with similar volume backpacks that weigh considerably less.

While I didn’t have a chance to review the 6.1 lb Mystery Ranch Terraframe 80, that’s a more reasonable base weight for a high-capacity expedition backpack that’s comparable to a Gregory Baltoro 75 or Osprey Xenith 88 in terms of volume and functionality. The Terraframe load sling capability also makes a lot more sense in an expedition context, where you’d be more likely to haul extra food or technical climbing gear.

What I also find surprising about the Terraframe 50 is that it’s not available with interchangeable pack bags, so that you could use different volume pack bags with the same frame. While that would make the Terraframe system harder to sell through retail outlets like REI, it would certainly provide a lot more value for consumers that fall in love with the Terraframe and want to use it across different sports and functions. The use of lighter weight and waterproof fabrics like XPac (which Mystery Ranch has used in the past) would also increase the attractiveness of its pack bags.

Mystery Ranch provided the author with a backpack for this review.

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3 comments

  1. In other words, it’s a great frame architecture for high volume packs but overkill and too heavy for smaller recreational volumes. I think you nailed it Philip.

  2. I bet Mystery Ranch could make a killing if they sold soft bear bags or bear proof hard cases that would fit between the pack and frame. That’d be far more efficient that carrying a bear barrel.

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