In Texas heat, it feels near constant that my kids want a drink of water when we are out on walks — yet the kids won’t carry their own water. So my typical setup of a Bullet Ruck, or the Field Bag means I am constantly diving in and out of the bag to grab water for them. Fast forward to my testing of the Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault and I found the water bottle pockets on that bag made my life easier, even though I typically loathe such pockets during more general use. With the 2 Day Assault being too large, I looked at what else I might get which was smaller, but with water bottle pockets.
I narrowed it to one bag: the Mystery Ranch Front. As much as I want the Mystery Ranch ASAP, or the Mystery Ranch 1 Day Assault (Japan only). The Front, is significantly cheaper than the other two options while providing a better feature set, so I went with it in Foliage.
This bag is an amazing daypack.
If there is one thing Mystery Ranch consistently wows me with, it is the adjustable harness systems they fit many of their bags with. The 2 Day, and the Front both have a similar system. The way the harness works, the yoke, or how long the space is between the bottom of the bag and the cut around for your neck, can be adjusted to be taller or shorter.
The Front has no hip belt, and thus it is a one size bag. That size still has really flexible adjustments for it, as I am 6’-3” with most of my height in my torso — I found it to be plenty large for me. The goal with this harness is to get the bag to fall so that the extra padding hits in the nook of your lower back, while the harness is just below the neck line — about where your t-shirt neck line would fall. This causes the sculpted straps to fall nicely in place. You can wear the bag without doing this, but you will not find it nearly as comfortable.
I rucked this bag a few times with about 30lbs total wet weight in the bag and never once was it uncomfortable. It rides very nicely on your back. And is equally comfortable with less weight, though over 30lbs is where the straps show their limits.
For what most are going to use this bag for, with only one minor adjustment to fit your body — you’ll end up with a bag that carries stuff more comfortably than almost anything I have tested right out of the box — GR1 included.
Side note about the harnesses that Mystery Ranch uses, of the bags likely to appeal to most readers here:
- ASAP: Futura system. As far as harnesses go, Futura is the best one Mystery Ranch sells until you get to framed bags.
- 2 Day Assault: framed. I have no idea why Mystery Ranch labels this as framed, but they do. It does have a shorter frame sheet than the Front.
- Front: fixed. Which makes no sense, because it has a telescoping yoke on it. No clue.
- Urban Assault: Fixed. Like actually fixed, not adjustable.
Foliage green might be my new favorite bag color. It’s like a gray-green and just blends excellently with everything. It’s subtle, non-standard, and really something I love. I wrote a whole thing on bag colors here if you want more advice.
There are three misses on this bag:
- There is no laptop compartment. And the inner sleeve is too small to even fit my 12.9” iPad Pro in it. So this bag is firmly a daypack, not an everyday/work pack. That’s a huge bummer in the versatility of this bag.
- There was, out of the box, zero velcro to attach patches to. What a bummer. No worries, I sewed a huge area on the top lid.
- Like with the 2 Day Assault, this bag needed some serious strap management when I got it. I ordered Foliage Green elastic webbing keepers and that has worked quite well for me.
Velcro area I sewed on.
All three of these are minor, and are “you know what you are getting” type of things. I do wish there was a spot I could drop my iPad into easily.
Shortcomings aside, there are many things about this bag that are just fantastic. The top lid, like on the 2 Day Assault is stellar for keeping goods at hand. The top lid on the Front unzips more fully allowing you great access to the contents and has a small pocket inside the top of the lid to give you a secure spot for smaller items. I really love the top lid on this bag.
Daisy chains: I am so used to bags either having MOLLE or not having MOLLE, I completely forgot how nice things like daisy chain style webbing can be. I have not really lashed anything to these, but I constantly use them as grabs handles when picking up the bag. I also think they just look better than a bunch of MOLLE on the front, and since I am more interested in securing gear to something, than I am adding pockets, more useful too.
Last, but not least: the 3-zip from Mystery Ranch remains the gold standard. It’s one of the best. I can’t decide if I like clamshells or the 3-zip better. Both are good and I constantly oscillate between the two.
Use & Size
The Front comes in at a stated 19L (unless they change the sizing when I publish again) and I think that’s probably wrong. The Front feels more like a 22L bag to me, but I really don’t have any other 19L bags to compare it to. So I am fine rolling with the 19L rating, but advise you it is a large 19L.
Hydration ports on either side of the bag.
Overall, the size and shape of the bag is fantastic. It is trim in the width, enough depth to be useful without cumbersome, and plenty of height. There are no compression straps, but also there is no need for them. A win on both fronts.
The bag itself is super nice to use when out on walks through the woods. It has ports for water hydration tubes on either side, and the main pouch inside the bag holds a 3L bladder nicely. Even without the bladder, it securely holds two Nalgenes on either side with one handed removal and stowage. This allows me to hydrate the kids while on the go as easy as it can be.
The bag never looks too plump, so you never look like you are going on a trek — rather it stays small, looks empty and generally feels great. In my use, it’s been one of the most comfortable bags I have used for this task, and leaves me not wanting for much.
Inside the bag it is sparse. Two zipper pockets at the top, and one pouch. I would love there to be some lash points to secure things closer to the back of the bag, but that’s a quibble at this point in the scheme of things. If what you are mostly tossing in is layers or food, you’ll find the pack works well for that. If you are an organization lover, this bag will frustrate you.
What really matters is how much you like using your bag. And while I never really consider my other bags as great daypacks, this one is — and it isn’t even close. If I am headed out without electronics, this is the bag I want to have with me. If I still got to hike around mountains, this would be the bag I choose for day hikes.
The entire bag makes sense. The entire bag works well. The bag has yet to prove uncomfortable. It is great. Near perfect.
What About the ASAP, or that 1 Day Assault, or the Urban Assault?
The next question is: why buy this over the other Mystery Ranch options?
- ASAP $275: you get the velcro, the ‘better’ harness, a lot more MOLLE (including inside the bag), and a slim hip belt. But you pay much more money for the bag. And you lose the external water bottle pockets. A bigger deal for me is that I prefer the Front’s look. But if you are a water bladder fan there is an interesting difference. The Front is made to carry one bladder, against your back. The ASAP is made to carry 1 or 2, but on the pockets which are attached to the outer side of the bag. Which means it will pull the weight away from your body. I don’t see a reason to get the ASAP unless attaching via MOLLE is a must for you. The Front only has two small areas of MOLLE on the top sides of the bag.
- 1 Day Assault $425+: basically you should not buy this. It does have velcro, but it has a fixed harness (I don’t think even adjustable). But more than that, it costs a ton and is only available on EBay, or from Japan. It will cost you $$$ to get it. It does do a hybrid of the ASAP and Front. You get the exterior of the Front, but the velcro like the ASAP. Inside you get a better mesh pocket which I wish either had. See details here. I think the main reason to get this is if you are like: I love the Front, but not the water bottle pockets and I would love to have a pouch which can fit a laptop. The trade offs and price make it not worth it for most people.
- Urban Assault $125: a lot of people are going to wonder about this. I had an older model of this, and I found it to be fine, but I never found it comfortable. It gets you the look, but more toned down and you get the laptop compartment and low price. But it’s not worth the trade off in comfort at all and if you can get a Front for $149 you are better off even if you want to carry a laptop.
If the Front had a laptop compartment, then it’d be what I hoped the 2 Day Assault was. I was worried this would leave me wanting the ASAP, but it doesn’t at all. This is my favorite Mystery Ranch bag I have tried and I think that says a lot.
It’s staying in my rotation. I recommend this bag strongly for anyone who doesn’t need a bag to carry a laptop or iPad — or who prefers carrying those in a padded sleeve already. It won’t be a travel bag. It’s my hiking/walking bag.
It’s my exploration bag.
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