First Look: Mystery Ranch 3 Way Expandable Briefcase

This has the potential to be the best work shoulder bag I have tested.

Unusual Note: When I wrote about ‘Get Home Bags’ I mentioned some bag options for those who take public transportation. Specifically, I mentioned the Mystery Ranch 3 Way Briefcase as a likely good hybrid bag. It seemed like a good option, and I decided to get one to try — but COVID is lasting longer than anticipated so here is a First Look at the bag.

The Mystery Ranch 3 Way Expandable Briefcase is the first bag which has actually threatened my Filson Original Briefcase for a place in my daily carry — and may overtake it. I feared this bag would be too large at first, but in the testing I have managed with it, it’s been really nicely sized, while not being overly organized it has still fantastic organization if you want/need it.

In short: this bag is probably going to be the one I carry to work most days, but see my next note on that.

Notes on Testing

So far, I have only tested this bag around my home, as I have not yet been back to the office. So I am not ready to claim any winners on this, but I do suspect not much will change.

I’ve done three main types of tests:

  1. Carry the bag around in the mornings while I head into my home office. (I put on the bag in shoulder strap mode, and go get my coffee and snacks. Walk into my office and close the doors, turn on the lights. It’s a stupid and shitty test.)
  2. I rucked the bag in backpack mode with 20lbs in it. I did this once, I felt super silly doing it, but you are welcome.
  3. I keep all my stuff for work in the bag, and every morning I pull it out and set it up, and every evening I stow it back in the bag. This simulates what I would do if I were headed to the office, and is really the best testing I can do right now.

Where I am not sure I feel confident in:

  • How well do things stay protected?
  • Does it allow me to squeeze through tight areas?
  • How does it handle dirt?
  • Can it handle unexpected things well?


I am going to start with use, since this is a first look, I will bullet point it:

  • The FidLock closure on the front of the bag is amazing. Just grab that tab and you can pull open the entire section, but it also stays securely closed. And if you drop the flap back down, it tends to latch itself nine times out of ten — and that’s pretty great.
  • The bag stands up on it’s own, even in compressed state. It has been a while since I had a briefcase that did this well, and it is fantastic.
  • I cut off all the zipper pulls that came on it (the metal tabs) and used the same rope which came with the bag so that there is no jingles. This is much better. In a couple places I did slightly different pulls. The ones that come on the bag are too noisy and just no.
  • The front of the bag is the most distinctive place and you may love or hate the look of it. But you will for sure love the way it works. It is fast to get at your stuff.
  • The handles are not good. They are not padded and are a little too far apart. I can’t imagine how much worse they are when the bag is expanded and stuffed with gear. If you like to carry by handles, these are low ranked ones.
  • The laptop compartment is one of my favorites. Not only is it well padded, but it can hold more than just a laptop. It has a couple of nice pockets in addition to the laptop sleeve. I can easily store my MacBook Pro 13” and iPad Pro in the Smart Keyboard Folio in the pocket without issue.
  • The backpack straps actually work decently well. They are easy enough to deploy, and the bags wears decently comfortably when in backpack mode. I wouldn’t want to carry a bunch of weight this way for long periods of time, but I also wouldn’t look at this mode as a mode of last resort. I would use it whenever I thought I might need both hands. It only takes under a minute to setup.

Overall: this bag is fantastic to use.

Size and Layout

Make no mistake, this is a large bag for a shoulder bag to carry everywhere. That it expands, means it can get very big.

The front section is an admin area with an open top pouch, pen slots, and a zippered mesh pouch. Generally basic stuff. But the zipped pouch is turned so that if you are wearing the bag like a backpack, it is oriented as you expect it to be. But if you are using it while sitting it on a desk, that pocket is oddly oriented to get at. Lastly, this area of the bag has plenty of extra room for quickly stashing stuff. I imagine that is great when you travel and you need a place to stash the stuff in your pockets.

Moving back one section is what I would call the extras area. This is the weirdest spot of the entire bag. This part has generally three areas. The panel against the laptop compartment has three open top pockets, and a large velcro loop area (which I couldn’t figure out what to do with, so I bought and elastic loop pen holder on Amazon, and put my flashlight and chapstick there). The open top pockets are fine, nothing great. Would have been nice if they had some type of elastic to hold stuff more firmly.

Then there is just an open crumb collector area which holds folders and notebooks fine. Next is a divider/large single pouch. This has decent room on it, but also is the part of the bag that expands. So it can go from good room, or comical room. The expansion adds about 1.5”-2” of space here and can easily make this a spot for extended stay items like a change of clothes. It’s interesting, but also not in the way if you never want to use it.

The last part is the laptop compartment, which I mentioned above. This entire compartment is padded except for the top closure — which should be fine but does add risk when in backpack mode. The laptop sleeve inside the padded section is also padded and suspended. There’s two unpadded but large open top pockets as well. This means that if you carry more than one device, like a laptop and iPad, you are good to go without needing the squeeze them in one too small area. I love this section.

Not So Great

There are three things I don’t love about this bag:

  1. The shoulder strap kind of sucks. It’s not smooth, it has no shoulder pad and it just feels like an after thought. Luckily this is easily replaced, and likely something I will replace.
  2. This bag comes in different materials, and you might not notice that right off the bat. Because the color choice you make is what determines the material. The base, classic, material is 500D Cordura, which is excellent when Mystery Ranch does it. They also shipped Waxed Canvas, I would avoid that as it takes away on all areas for this bag. Then there is the model I got, the grey. It looks amazing, but it is 1000D Cordura, aka GORUCK Cordura, and it is very abrasive. So while I love the color, I would not get this color again strictly because of the material used for it. Stick with the 500D, black or coyote.
  3. The back panel is a full panel of whatever material your bag is made out of. I would have loved for Mystery Ranch to use their classic mesh here. This bag won’t be passing itself off as something fancy anywhere, so at least make that panel better. Mesh would have made it sit nice against your body and clothes, especially in backpack mode.

Those are the only gotchas I am seeing.


Generally: way better than I thought it would be. I wish I would have went with black so I could get that 500D material instead, but the grey does look nice and the zippers blend nicely. The entire bag is low key and highly functional. It will probably be a part of my rotation for years to come.

So yes, recommended.

Get one from Mystery Ranch.

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