Mystery Ranch has a reputation for making some of the best bags on market. Its founder, Dana Gleason, made a name for himself the three decades ago with his first backpack company, Dana Design, which set the bar for load-carriage technology and quality construction. Gleason sold the brand to K2 in ’95 and, five years later, founded Mystery Ranch. The brand’s innovations — a patented lumbar wrap, the NICE frame, the SOCOM Assault Top Loader (SATL) — caught the attention of numerous professional customers including the Navy SEALs, wildland firefighters and mountaineers.
While many of Mystery Ranch’s packs (including those in the Kletterwerks line) are made in Montana, the brand also produces a variety of bags, which retail for a lower price-point, overseas. One of these bags, the Stadt, is designed for urban use but utilizes many of the same components found in the American-made bags. To see if the bag stands up to the quality and functionality of Mystery Ranch’s other backpacks, I tested one for several weeks in New York City.
The Good: The durable Stadt has many of the features of other Mystery Ranch bags but in a smaller, more simple design. If you’re tired of bags with countless pockets, this bag is for you. It has a main compartment and two exterior vertical zip-pockets. The laptop sleeve is nicely padded and a small interior accessories pocket is enough to store small necessities. The robust zipper extends nearly to the bottom of the pack, making it easy to fully open the bag for quick access. For comfort, the bag has thick padded shoulder straps and a lightly padded back. The sub-$90 price is also a major plus for a bag of this quality.
Who It’s For: As the name implies, the Stadt is a bag aimed at city dwellers. It’s the perfect size for daily commuters to casual office environments, or it can be a nice bag for weekends around town. The simple design is very versatile and can tote camera gear or provisions for a light hike if needed. It’s a compact, no-nonsense design that’s built to last, and there are many applications for it.
Watch Out For: For those packing heavier daily loads, this bag has no chest strap or belt. If that’s an issue and you still like the bag, you can easily purchase a chest strap on Amazon for less than $10. Also, for those wanting to carry the backpack for longer periods, the back has little ventilation, but that is par for the course with this genre of packs. It doesn’t have pencil or pen organizers, and it lacks fancy ports for your headphone cables; on the flipside, that’s kind of the point. Another thing to consider if you’re a Made-in-America-or-Die type: this bag is designed in the USA, it is actually manufactured in Vietnam. That definitely helps the cut down on price but it may be a turn off for some consumers.
Alternatives: If you like Mystery Ranch’s quality and aesthetic, but you want a different design, try the Urban Assault 21L backpack or the Kletterwerks Summit 20L backpack — similar-size packs with different features. If you’d like to try another Cordura bag with a throwback design, you can try the Gregory Kletter 20L backpack (which is currently on sale for $55); it’s a fine daypack but lacks the external vertical pockets. There are a couple flap-top bags in this size including the brightly colored Topo Designs Mountain 21L backpack ($142) or the weatherproof, understated Sanction 20L backpack from Mission workshop ($205).
Review: Relatively new to Mystery Ranch’s lineup, the Stadt pack combines the convenience of a city pack with many of the features you’ve come to expect from the brand’s more technical bags. The biggest visual similarity is the addition of two vertical front pockets, which are a more subtle version of the torpedo pockets found on earlier Dana Design bags and current Mystery Ranch bags. While the OG torpedo pockets were ideal for storing waterproof shells or insulation layers, the more slimmed-down versions on the Stadt are more appropriate for slightly smaller items. I found they’re a great size for beverage containers — reusable water bottles, thermoses, cans of your favorite malt beverage, etc. They also work great for other essential items like a sunglasses case, sunscreen, a compact umbrella or, if you’re a gym rat, a fresh pair of socks and a clean tee.
The bag is cut from incredibly durable 1000D Cordura with a 1680D reinforced bottom. It features heavy-duty YKK zippers and metal hardware. That said, it will stand up to years of daily use just fine. The interior laptop sleeve and accessories pouch are a nice touch, and the main compartment is ample for a commuter. One of the more thoughtful details is the length of the zipper: it extends almost to the base of the bag, guaranteeing easy access when you need it. If you’ve tried top-entry bags and hat reaching down into your bag to fish thing things out, you’ll love this design.
For a daily-carry bag, the comfort of the Stadt pack is hard to beat. The shoulder straps have an abundance of padding and the back features a light layer of cushion to separate laptop and spine. While the lack of chest strap and belt may bother some, I found it a welcome exclusion for use in the city. I rarely use those straps while commuting, preferring them for heavier loads or day hikes. For me, the bag is on and off my shoulders constantly — out of the house, onto the subway, into a cab — so the pared-down design is quite welcome. Not to miss, the tonal olive colorway with leather zipper pulls proved versatile for everyday use. It didn’t broadcast the company’s technical prowess, yet it retained a throwback vibe similar to Kletterwerks packs.
Verdict: If you’re looking for an everyday backpack with top-quality materials and straightforward design, you should seriously consider the Mystery Ranch Stadt pack. What makes this bag great are the frills it omits: It doesn’t have a flip-top or dangling straps. It doesn’t have personal organizer pockets with electronics ports. It doesn’t have oddly divided main compartments with variable entries. But it does have just what you need, and that’s why it’s so versatile. Top that with some very comfortable straps, and it’s an easy sell for any commuter.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The Stadt 21L pack from Mystery Ranch is a great everyday pack and can be used on the trail as well. It has a simple design with plenty of storage for a laptop, daily essentials and two front pockets that will fit a 16oz Hydroflask easily. On dry days this pack makes a solid daypack for hiking if you need to store a little extra. ” — Chasen Fairfield, Backcountry
• “In addition to being a bit hot on the back, daily commuting is a bit more comfortable. So this package is still a good commuter backpack… I feel that the mysterious ranch Stadt commuter backpack can be called an American backpack.” — smzdm.com
• “Loving this pack. The computer sleeve is a perfect size for my 13-inch laptop. The front 2 pockets are good stash pockets for smaller items.” — Eric Watford, Backcountry
Weight: 1.9 pounds
Volume: 1282 cubic inches
Dimensions: 18.5 inches x 13 inches x 10.5 inches
Materials: 1000D Cordura fabric and 1680D fabric bottom
Hardware: YKK zippers
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