When I reviewed the Mystery Ranch Front, I thought I was reviewing a bag that would be in their lineup for a while, not one slated to be discontinued. But it seems gone, at least for now.
So, I knew I needed to do my job and not just let everyone know that a really good bag is one that you cannot buy. Which left me two options: get the really sweet 1 Day Assault from Japan, where I learned there is an adjustable yoke model but will cost me over $500 to buy; or get the USA variant which is the ASAP. I got the ASAP in Foliage because when a color is perfected, you stick with that color.
The ASAP is not better than the Front out of the box, but it has the potential to be made better. Which is annoying. This will take some explaining…
Compared to the Front
The natural question is how it compares directly to the Front as far as differences. I have that covered in this article that you can go read now. But the long and short of this is that the Front is fantastic out of the box and I don’t have many complaints; whereas the ASAP needs a little tweaking out of the box to get it squared away.
If the Front was still sold, I think it represents the better buy, but given the second hand market prices for the Front, the ASAP is the better value now.
I think the biggest unmentioned difference between the two is that the ASAP has beefier straps and handles more weight with ease than the Front. Everything else is visibly different from pictures and I list it all out in the comparison post.
What About the Urban Assault?
Both the 18 and the 21 Urban Assaults are generally better for EDC. They offer solid laptop sleeves. However they sacrifice comfort as the yoke is not adjustable and the straps are not as beefy (they are thinner and the foam is softer, which is good for low weight and poor for a lot of weight). And the Urban Assaults don’t offer support for a hydration bladder pass through for hiking.
From left to right: Urban Assault 21, ASAP, 2 Day Assault, 3 Day Assault CL.
I think the Urban Assault is a great bag, but the comfort is night and day, and you can always add a laptop sleeve to the ASAP.
Carry and Use
Back to the ASAP…
The ASAP is silly good to carry. It’s one of the most comfortable strap setups you could get, and wearing it all day long would be easy. It is more comfortable than any other bag I have, to a point. If you keep it at or under 30lbs, it is amazing, over that it starts to dig a little.
Generally that means it will always be amazing to carry because rarely do people actually carry more weight than that in a 20L-ish bag. (If you think your setup weighs more than 20lbs, I encourage you to weigh it, you’ll be surprised.) Using this bag is a little tricky. There’s no pouch against the back, instead there is a 4×3 PALS grid of nylon webbing so you can attach things as you want. Then there’s two large internal open top pockets against the front of the bag, each with a webbing cinch strap in the middle of those pockets. These are for holding two water bladders if you wanted to.
And these pockets are a nightmare. Anything you try to slide into the bag from the top, catch on these. They are almost always in the way, and the biggest complaint people have about this bag. If you make it past the top of the pouch, then you’ll snag the strap.
Beyond those pockets this bag is just as good as the Front. It adds a small removeable waist strap which isn’t load bearing, only for stabilizing. The bag is very slim, tall, and doesn’t get in the way at all when you are wearing it. It’s my favorite bag to wear.
Note: I cut off the metal pull tabs which came on the bag, and reattached the same cord that came with the bag. This makes everything much better.
For hiking, outdoors, or as a small backpack for heading out with the family, it’s a near ideal bag for me. The exterior PALS can be a bit much. I rectified this with an aftermarket Beavertail/Stickit from eBay which hides a lot of the PALS with a rather clean look, and adds a little functionality to the bag. You can use it to mount a tripod to the bag, or to stash a jacket or small bag your kid got tired of carrying.
I only run this bag with that Beavertail on it, and I love it like that. Inside I keep a pouch on the MOLLE and work to keep the water bladder pockets tidy and out of the way. I will work on modifying the top of the water bladder pocket to secure closed so they further stay out of the way.
Note on EDC Use
You’ll need a laptop sleeve, but if you have one, this can work for EDC. It won’t be ideal for most office bound workers, but for those who carry a laptop for more just in case stuff, this could be good. Here’s how I approach it.
For my setup I have attached a Shaddox Tactical Plate Carrier (45lbs size) on to the PALS panel in the bag, with 4 long Malice clips — this is very much overkill, but I had been testing it with the plate in there first. The Shaddox pocket also has a PALS grid on the outside, which I then attached a small admin pocket too, and a velcro hook backed pen organizer I had behind that.
With this all in place I had an area that had mild padding for storing my electronics — of which it can hold a bunch. An admin area for accessing and storing my small items. And the entire bottom of the bag was left unused for water bottles/coffee in the side pockets or anything else at the bottom. The top lid was my go to area for first aid, my mask, and shemagh.
The downside is that with two iPads, my admin kit full, a 20oz insulated water bottle, and a 16oz insulated travel mug, there was not enough room to squeeze the rather large insulated lunch box inside the bag. However, as you can see above, the Beavertail came in very handing for carrying it in a secure enough manner. Not my ideal, but it worked.
The thing about this bag for the office is that is actually works fine. You have to roll your own laptop area, but that means you can customize it to what you want, and laptop sleeves are cheap. If there is any kind of straps on the sleeve, you can then attach them to the PALS inside the bag, or save that for all the admin pockets out there and let the sleeve sit in the bag.
This bag is insanely comfortable for EDC, making it easy to overload it without regrets later on. The downside is that it is a touch small. Pre-COVID I never carried a lunch or water bottle to the office, so I would say to you this is a great option. Post-COVID I carry both of those, and that makes this a tough for me.
I think there are better EDC bags, but if that’s a lesser concern and more of a nice to have for you, you can check that box and know this bag can handle it easily.
If I had to guess how I would have summed up this bag before I got it, it would have been a toss up between me ending up selling it to buy the Japan only 1 Day Assault, or lamenting that the Front is so much better. But that’s not where I am today.
I really like the ASAP and it is underrated.
The water bottle pockets inside suck, and I need to figure out something to do with those to keep them out of the way in a better manner, but aside from that one item — this is a supremely good bag. I think adding a ‘stick-it’ or Beavertail is a must to tone down some of the MOLLE, which means you can have a little fun with colors — as in my case with Desert Night Camo. No one will see that area of my backpack the next time I am in a desert, at night. No one.
This bag is highly modular — it’d probably be the best backpack I have ever used if it came with a laptop compartment. But it doesn’t and that makes it only above average for EDC — with most of that benefit coming from how well it carries and how slim the profile of this bag is. For any other use of a daypack sized bag, this is my favorite backpack now — for a hike or family outing I would, and will, grab the ASAP over a Bullet Ruck or GR1.
For the office, it probably won’t see many other trips there. But never say never. This would make a great option for a non-electronics EDC bag though, as it is very modular and slim. It is one of the best bags for moving through crowds (assuming those come back) or cramped spaces as it is thin and hugs your body. If I can figure out a better laptop sleeve and a way to secure the water bladder pockets, then it might work well as an office bag, but there are better options off the shelf. If office is a secondary use case for for you, then you should get this bag. If office is your first use case, you are better off with a bag that has a dedicated laptop compartment.
You can buy the bag here, I recommend it — just know what you are getting.
A Note On Adjusting a Mystery Ranch Yoke
One thing that makes Mystery Ranch stand out above other bag brands is the adjustable yoke, but I have heard from many people they struggle with perfecting this. So I have you covered, before you go out with your new Mystery Ranch bag, use these two videos to help you get your yoke setup: video 1, and video 2.
Now, after you have the bag all put back together and tightened up, what I recommend is going to find about 5-10lbs of weight — anything — and placing it in the bag. Then put the bag on and walk around for a little bit. Generally I find that after doing this and letting the bag and straps settle, that the bag will feel about 0.25-0.5” lower than where I actually want it. I make a mental note, and quickly adjust the yoke by shortening it the amount I want.
Once I do that I repeat the weighted test again. This is a lessoned learned by me after trying the follow the empty bag instructions and then hitting the trails with the bag. I had to adjust each bag on the trail because of this.
Lastly, over time the bag might need to be further adjusted, so don’t think of it as something you’ll never adjust again.