Mystery Ranch 3-Way Expandable Briefcase Review

One of the best office bags I have tested, with a killer admin area, and really good backpack straps making the convertible nature useful.

When I first wrote about this bag back in November I wasn’t back in the office, and as such this briefcase was hard to test. Since that time I have been back in the office, and I have had plenty of time to test it out and put the 3-Way through its paces. And my initial impressions were correct, this is a very good bag for the office, but I don’t think it is the bag for me.

I never planned on this bag being something I used a ton myself, rather I bought it because I had mentioned it in my Get Home Bag post and thought I should put my hands on it, found a decent price on one and snagged it. After that first impression post, I found that I liked the bag, and was excited to give it a go back in the office.

Here’s how that has been working for me, and my updated thoughts on the bag…

In Office

This is a really great bag once you get into the office. It is not prone to tipping over, and the zippers are very easy to operate without needing both hands. All of that makes the bag really easy to work out of, to pack up, or to unload when you get to your office. Both the strap and the handles never get in your way.

You’d be right to say the handles could be longer, but then they would flop about and get in your way. As they are, they are just long enough, but short and structured enough that they don’t restrict access to the bag. And the big long floppy shoulder strap is a bonus when you want to remove it, stuff it in the bag, and switch to backpack mode. Add something with padding and you make that task harder for yourself.

And while this is not the classy looking leather bags some carry, it is by far better than what most people carry and looks nice no matter what your personal style seems to be. There’s nothing tactical about this, nothing hiking, nothing overtly tech-wear. It’s pretty simple and to the point.

Carrying Weight

One thing which concerned me was carrying this bag with a lot of weight, and on my first trip to the office with this the bag was stuffed and weighed a good amount. The shoulder strap wasn’t the most comfortable out there, but it was fine for the walk from my car to the office. I wouldn’t want to wear it standing and waiting for a bus, or walking 10+ blocks with a ton of weight.


The backpack straps were/are more comfortable than I think they will be every time I use them. Each time I worry they are going to suck, but every time I find myself thinking “that’s not too bad at all”. So if you are someone that prefers a shoulder bag most of the time, but wants backpack straps when stuff gets heavy or needs to move around longer distances — here you go, this is the bag.

Or to put it another way: this is first and foremost designed to be a shoulder bag or hand carried. But the backpack straps totally rock on this bag and you will never regret using them from a comfort perspective. The straps are fast to deploy, and decently quick to stow away. I would say it takes under 30 seconds to turn it into a backpack, and about 60 seconds to tuck the straps back away.

As I theorized in my Get Home Bag post, this bag is a stealth winner for something that you could take public transport with as a normal shoulder bag, and in the event of something crazier happening, easily have a solid backpack out of. There’s almost no convertible bags like this where I have found the backpack mode to be good (I cannot think of any off the top of my head) but this bag is good as a backpack. And that alone makes it worth consideration.


The capacity is actually the biggest issue I’ve found with this bag so far. The bag itself is too much in the middle ground. It’s big enough that it does not feel or look small to carry — when not expanded. When expanded it looks massive and a touch silly, but still is only barely large enough for what I needed on the days I needed to expand it.

Some quick stats:

  • Mystery Ranch pegs the bag at 14.5” long, 9” tall, and 7” in depth when collapsed, rough math puts that at 14L but it will carry less than that because of how divided up all the space is between the compartments and the thickness of the bag materials themselves. The bag then expands (according to Mystery Ranch) another 5” in depth. That means it goes to a rough math of 25L, but carries closer to the rated 22L.
  • Put another way, even at the smallest it is 7” deep which is deeper than a 26L GR1 and it carries less. Even when expanded, pushing the depth to a whopping 12”, it still carries less than a GR1.

So it is both too large, and not large enough. If it were just big, then great. If it were small, also great. But the in between makes it a tough sell. And I know, 22L is not small, but the layout of the bag works against it. I peg the collapsed mode carrying closer to 12-13L and the expanded at about 19L of useable space, all broken up.


While both the admin compartment at the front, and the laptop area have ample room. The center section where the bag expands has a semi-rigid divider running down the middle. At first glance the divider seems to offer a lot of usability when the bag is not expanded, but when the bag is expanded the divider saps the ability for there to be enough room in the bag. As all the expanded space goes to one side of the divider, thus making you wonder why Mystery Ranch foiled something sweet with this divider.


If this divider wasn’t there, this bag would have plenty of space, but with it there the expansion mode is best reserved for things like a bulky jacket, or something not too rigid in nature. As it was, a water bottle, lunch box, and travel mug struggled to fit in this area when expanded. I squeezed them in there, but the bag was visibly stuffed looking by the end of it. And then I had to deal with something 12” deep to carry around. Silly.

Materials and Layout

The gray model I got (Shadow) is one of the few (only?) models made from 1000D Cordura. The vast majority of the colors in this bag are made from Mystery Ranch’s excellent 500D Cordura with another model being a Waxed Canvas. I would avoid the ones that are not 500D. I find the 1000D unnecessary for this bag, and mostly too abrasive to be nice. I would much prefer to have a 500D model.

That said, the overall layout of this bag is stellar and well thought through. It’s very much oriented for shoulder/handle carry. As turning it 90° for backpack mode will almost certainly cause stuff to fall out of the many open top organization pockets. You can mitigate this with more clever packing, but it is a bummer and a natural trade off for any bag like this, luckily nothing falls out of the bag itself.

That issue aside, the front admin area is aces. I love it, and I love that it has extra volume to easily stash things into — I could see this being killer as you drop stuff from your pockets to go through a security line. The middle section, when collapsed has ok organization and I think it could be customized with great tools using the loop area. I wish the entire panel was velcro loop in the middle section instead of having small pockets, as it would add for some really nice customization and mitigate most of the issues I have with backpack carry mode.

Lastly, the laptop compartment has additional organization pockets in it, which are very nice for those who need to carry multiple devices, or things like trackpads with them. It’s well laid out.

Where it’s Best Used

There’s a few scenarios where this bag stands out to me as one of the best on the market:

  1. For those who can’t stand a backpack and commute by walking/public transit. I’ve done this on some express buses, and I could see this being a sweet bag for that. Giving you a shoulder bag that sits up well most of the time, and a backpack when duty calls.
  2. For someone who works out of their bag a lot throughout the day. This bag is very well designed to be easily accessed while sitting next to you, making it great for people who don’t fully unpack their bags during the day.
  3. For those who two-bag business travel. If you had a backpack, or checked bag, and you wanted to carry some snacks and your electronics on the plane — this is a fantastic bag for that. It would give you space to expand to toss in water. Easy and secure spot to stash your pocket items going through security. And quick backpack straps for a dash across a larger airport to catch another flight — or even just to relieve some pressure on your shoulders.

If you fall into any of those areas, you should probably get this bag.


This is a really good bag, and severely underrated for an office EDC bag. The use beyond the office is not as apparent to me, so I am being rather specific about it being for the office or business type travel. It’s also a bag I really want to use, and if it were a touch smaller, or a touch larger, I probably would use it, but I am not sure it fits how I currently work. So if I do keep it, I will swap out for the 500D model.

It’s pretty great and if you want what is one of the best (if not the best) office shoulder bags I have tested, then this is it. It’s also the best convertible shoulder-backpack I have ever used.

Buy here, for the shockingly low price of $150.

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