Back in 2017 I reviewed the first generation of the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21 — of course back then it was the only variant so no ‘21’ moniker was needed. At some point I sold that bag off to a friend, only to recently trade back for the very same bag. And then, in using the bag again, I went and bought a current generation Urban Assault 21 in Galaxy (dark blue).
And the reason I did this is because I might have underrated the Urban Assault 21 initially — this bag is stealthy good.
First Time Around
Here’s what my defining statement from that first review was:
It’s has just enough styling that it nods to a more tactical look, without shouting it. The bag is perfect for those who don’t like the heft of a GORUCK, but want something almost as versatile.
This is still true, but I could have taken it further. Because that undersells this bag.
What I Liked Second Time Around
I can’t even begin to count the amount of bags I have tested since 2017 — but it’s been a lot. In testing this bag again it’s only become more clear to me how well thought out the Urban Assault 21 is. It won’t work for everyone, but it will work for more people than the GR1.
I suspect I’ve convinced more people of late to buy the Urban Assault 21, than I have the GR1. The reasons being:
- This bag is a fantastic size and shape. It sits a little narrower on your back, while still being tall and deep enough to pack what you need.
- It looks fantastic, and has enough difference in the looks that it doesn’t feel generic, while still lacking enough cues from tactical or outdoors bags that it is hard to define.
- There is enough organization on this bag to be very useful, but not enough to make the bag overly structured or less versatile. Just right.
- The laptop area is improved on the latest models with a velcro strap to help keep the laptop in place when moving fast, or if the bag were to be tipped upside down. But overall the laptop area offers solid protection without being too bulky.
- The value on this bag is insane. It retails for $125, but I’ve had no issues finding it for $100 if you look around.
- It’s more comfortable than some of the other cheaper Mystery Ranch bags I have tried, and more comfortable than the Fixed 1 Day Assault I reviewed. It works well.
Generally: this bag does enough right to make it good, without going so far overboard that the bag forces itself to a niche user base.
What I Don’t Love
There are four areas this bag could make small tweaks to vastly improve it:
- The straps would be fantastic if they were a little wider at the top. As they are I find the lack of width to be the only true downside when the bag starts to get a little heavy.
- The top pocket could be the clamshell style, instead of the straight across zipper. The clamshell style is a better design overall, but it does have the trade off of not keeping small items in place as well as this straight across the back. I’d like the change, but can see why some wouldn’t.
- I would love for the laptop area to be accessible externally as it is on the 2 Day Assault. Not a huge deal, but would be nice, I am sure this would add to the cost.
- It would also be great to have a hydration hose pass through on this bag, making it even more versatile. The external laptop access, if done correctly, could double as this as well. But this wold then make the bag a gimme for EDC and Day Hikes.
Each of those are minor gripes about the bag, and I could see many people arguing that the bag is better because of how it is right now, I am sure adding any of these would increase costs. They would make for a nicer setup though.
Originally I modified the bag by adding “GORUCK Style” zipper pulls, but I now recommend that all you do is cut off the metal tabs and replace the cordage on the zipper pull. No heat shrink needed. This setup works better on Mystery Ranch bags and looks better on them as well.
Also: consider bright colored zipper pulls, they are fun and make spotting the pulls easy. (Orange pulls on Coyote, and Black bags look killer. I might do bright green on this navy colored bag.)
Overall, Years Later
This bag is an excellent value proposition and my new go to for recommending a good backpack to someone. It does almost everything well, and gives you the fantastic 3 Zip setup from Mystery Ranch.
I undervalued it before, but never again. This is an excellent bag, and if you are left wanting in other bags like the GR1, take a look at this one — it will likely fill the void for you. It’s finding its way to my office more and more these days.
Purchase from: Mystery Ranch or REI.