Mystery Ranch x Carryology Assault, aka ‘Unicorn’

A contender for the best EDC backpack on the market, except it really isn’t on the market at all.

I will start by telling you that you can’t buy this bag, at least not directly with any link I can give you. You can readily buy them from other people, and many are new-with-tags because people like to make money from bags like this. When this bag was released, it would set you back $350. Now days, most sell between $500-$750 depending on how many are for sale at that given time — eBay has a few every couple weeks.

The reason I picked up this bag is because it looked to have the key features I was/am looking for in a Mystery Ranch bag for the office:

  • Adjustable yoke
  • Laptop compartment
  • Tri-zip
  • Less/no MOLLE/PALS.
  • In the mid-20L range for size

And it has all of that, with caveats. It’s taken me longer than most bags to form my thoughts on this one, because it is really a good bag, but it has some really weird caveats with it.

What It Is

This is one of many collaboration bags that Carryology does and is itself based on the Mystery Ranch x Beams collaboration which I have never seen on the secondary market. Because of the collaboration nature of this bag, it was limited to two production runs, both of which sold out quickly. I bought during neither runs because I didn’t think I needed or wanted this bag. That’s my bad.

The bag itself is a Futura yoke bag (yay!) in all black with orange accents. What’s a little unique (besides the layout) is that it mixes 500D with VX42 — a key trait of the design on this bag. (Carryology announcement post is here.) So you get core Mystery Ranch design features and then someone on a blog mucked about with add on stuff — some if it worked, some of it didn’t, read on to learn more.

Office & EDC

Forget what anyone tries to tell you about this bag, it’s first and foremost designed to be used as a city bag for carrying into the office or what have you. It’s made to carry pens and laptops.

And it serves this role extremely well — one of the best bags I own for this use.

The laptop sleeve has tons of space — I’ve held a 13” MacBook Pro and two 12.9” iPad Pros with covers on inside the laptop compartment at once — it worked. The sleeve itself is a little on the narrow side so the Magic Keyboard on my 12.9” iPad Pro doesn’t just drop into the slot, but it does fit.

For the office this bag holds everything and then some. It’s rated at 24L but I think it is closer to a 27L feeling bag, but packs like a 21L bag. I’ll explain that more later. One great addition on the inside of the pack is the PALS across the face of the laptop sleeve. This adds a lot of versatility for loading out the bag, and every bag should do this — really nice add.

Like all Mystery Ranch tri-zips, this one is excellent. I love the tri-zip as it gives you a ton of versatility and control over how much the bag opens. The top lid itself has a clamshell style opening with an inner small mesh pocket — this is my preferred setup on the Mystery Ranch top lids, as the single zip open on the Urban Assault, 2 Day Assault, and 3 Day Assaults are good, but not great.

What really sets this bag apart for the office is the two side pockets, or wing pockets. Both of which serve two purposes: to add admin organization for small quick access items, and also add hidden water bottle pockets. They work surprisingly well for each use as the water bottle sits behind the orange admin sections on each side.

The admin bits on these side pockets are outstanding both for organizing, and for working out of the bag. There’s not really any other bag I own that works as well as this one — only the 3-Way Breifcase would come close — as a bag you could take and work out of from place to place.

Two water bottles in the bag.

Interestingly the water bottle storage is almost completely hidden from the outside of the bag, as it eats space from the inside of the bag. In practice this means if you have a coffee travel mug in one side and a water bottle in the other — your space inside the bag might make it a squeeze for your lunch. That’s certainly what experience has taught me. Best to only use one of those pockets if you need space in the bag. (Also the storage for the hip belt eats into the bottom of the interior space on the bag.) If you combine all those, you can start to get a sense for why the bag feels much smaller to pack in than it looks on the outside.

There’s only one single downside to this bag for the office: it looks big. It doesn’t feel big on my body, but it looks very large. And it sits very proper on your body because of the frame and the VX42 pushing the 500D into place. Even empty, the bag looks like it’s not empty.

Travel and Outdoors

The bag isn’t great for either travel or outdoors, so I am putting them here together. There’s not a ton of useable volume in this bag for travel, which means if you can’t already pack in a 20L bag, then you need to look somewhere else, but more than that the height at 22” will make it a tough sell for a personal item on a plane (at your feet) because it would stick out a lot. And if you can’t place it there, might as well put a larger bag in the overhead compartment.

And then you might think it would be a great day hike bag, but that too is kind of meh. While it does have a really good hip belt on it (even if the clasp is a little “get over yourself” in design) — the bag has no support for hydration bladders (no way to route the hose, and no place to hang the bladder) and the lack of exterior water bottle pockets or even a place to add one, means to drink some water you stop and take off the bag and unzip a side area to get a water bottle you then open — not great. The only workaround to that would be to hook a hose to a Nalgene and route the hose through the top of that side pocket — that would work but isn’t ideal.

For any use, this bag is extremely comfortable to carry. But the odd choice of a hiking grade hip belt, but not hiking water features — that’s odd. And also note that the 500D on this bag tends to dirty up very quickly. I am constantly cleaning mine. For travel the bag looks big, but doesn’t carry enough gear to warrant the looks — odd.

Could you travel with it? Yes. Could you day hike with it? Yes. But I wouldn’t really want to. It’s not well setup for either.

The Good Ideas

Ok, so if it is good for the office, but not for adventure, then what does this all mean. Well it means that there’s some really good ideas on this bag, ideas I don’t see in a lot of other bags:

  • The PALS grid on face of the laptop sleeve is top notch and something every bag should have. You can do nothing with it, and you lose nothing. Or you can add small pouches to help keep some more gear from getting lost at the bottom of the bag.
  • Futura yoke, and tri-zip are always a winning comfort combination. And even the hip belt is really good, if a little overkill.
  • The admin wings on each side are perfection. Really cool way to get into them, easy access, well thought out layouts. Even hiding water bottle storage behind them is clever — you lose nothing if you don’t use the water bottle area, and only lost the space inside which you would if you put the bottle inside the bag to begin with. That works well for everyday carry and I love how discrete it is.
  • Also the depth and width of this bag works really well. At 10.5” wide it sits nicely for most people, and while 10” is a lot more than I typically want for depth, it works here as we aren’t dealing with a box shaped bag and it’s rounded enough that you don’t really feel like it is 10” in depth.

Some really good ideas which come together for a base design that looks stellar. Not officey, not hiking, not tactical — just unique.

The Poor Choices

That said, there’s some really absurd/silly stuff going on with this bag:

  • 22” tall is silly. I am 6’-3” and the bag is borderline too tall for me. Then factor in the capacity, which is stated to be 24L and the height becomes stupid. Stupidly tall. Needs to be 2” shorter.
  • The hip belt, while comfortable, is unnecessary. There’s zero need for it and I would have cut it off by now, but folding it away actually gives a little added lumbar cushion which I think feels nice. I still may cut that thing off if I keep the bag.
  • The logos on this are terrible. I don’t want to walk around with a billboard for a backpack news blog. That’s crazy.
  • The zipper pulls are a miss. They feel executed as if you described what a GORUCK style paracord zipper pull was in English to a non-English speaker who has never used a zipper before — this is what you get. There’s no need for whatever the cordage is, with the core strands in them, and heat shrink. They look silly, big, and get in the way.
  • The VX42 is a bad choice on this bag. It adds no value and not enough contrast to improve the looks. On top of that, it adds too much structure to the bag, if it was all 500D it would be a better bag to wear.

That seems like a lot, I know, but in aggregate there are a lot of silly choices made just to be ‘different’ on this bag, which are a net loss for the bag, not a gain. But they are all small losses not major ones.

Do I Like It

Ok, but that said, I do like it — a lot.

Versus GR1

Alright, we are deep into this review but we need to talk about the elephant in the room: how does it stack up to the reigning champ, the GR1. It’s really a toss up for me for EDC, but for versatility the GR1 still reigns king.

The GR1 looks smaller, but carries bigger. Most people will find the Unicorn carries gear much more comfortably (up to about 25lbs, before the GR1 starts to carry it better) because of the Futura yoke system. The Unicorn is a better looking bag to take to the office, but it looks bigger, so it’s a wash between the GR1 tactical look and the Unicorn’s giant-ness.

The GR1 is better for travel, better for hiking, and better for a lot of weight. But the Unicorn handles my office gear better as it requires less thought on where and how things are packed, because everything has spots, without it being a bulky organized padded mess.

If someone said the Unicorn is way better than the GR1 for them, I wouldn’t bat an eye. But I also wouldn’t if someone said the same about the GR1 compared to the Unicorn. For office/edc these bags are tied in my book. For anything else the GR1 is better.

Overall, Then

I have a lot of bags on hand, and I don’t need the Unicorn at all. But I also don’t have any other bag like the Unicorn — and I can’t find any other bag like the Unicorn on the market, which is why I bought it. One way I judge bags is by the reactions I get from other people when they see me with it, and the Unicorn has garnered more comments than any other bag I have carried into the office this year:

  • “Is that like a hiking backpack or something?”
  • “Are there mini-golf clubs in there?”

It took me a while to figure out, but I think it’s because there’s just nothing out there that sits this stout looking, with these overall looks and which is frankly as tall as this bag is. It doesn’t fit the mental picture people have of any backpacks. And I dig that to a degree.

So is this bag good? Hell yes, this is a fantastic backpack. But it’s not worth the secondary market price — $350 was the right price for it. If you can find one for that, it’s a great buy for a really good bag. If not, save yourself some money and get a GR1 — I honestly have no clue if I will keep this bag or not, only time will tell.

If you want something like this, but for a good price, consider the Urban Assault 21, ASAP, or 2 Day Assault. And if not for the office the 3 Day would even be cheaper to buy.

Fixing the Dumb Parts of the Bag

Blacking out the backpack blog logo.

I made three quick modifications to this bag, which make it substantially better:

  1. The Logo: I used a fabric pen (not Sharpie) and blacked out everything except the Mystery Ranch on the logo. This turned out great, and looks better.
  2. I removed the zipper pulls that came with the bag, and replaced them with black paracord loops, no heat shrink. That’s a standard look for Mystery Ranch bags, and I think it works well on this bag, the stock ones were neither Mystery Ranch or GORUCK — which is weird and silly. They had to go.
  3. This bag has tons of orange accents, but oddly the zipper pulls were not accented. So on the two interior pockets, and the interior lid pocket I used orange paracord for the pulls — that ties the bag together much better if you ask me.

And because of that, I am sure my bag is worth less money on the used market now, but it’s better than any of the ones on the used market because of those changes.

Will I keep it, I have no idea. I’ll have to decide soon though.

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