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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 (retired and replaced by the Mystery Ranch Wing Man Pocket) are a backpack accessory pocket that connects to your pack’s 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 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, so you’re in luck.

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 pinheads 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, the 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: The author purchased this product with his own funds. 

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  1. 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.

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

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