Mystery Ranch District 18

This is a contender to unseat the Urban Assault as the best bag for people who don’t like to think about bags — it’s pretty clever too.

Note: Mystery Ranch provided this backpack for review.

Mystery Ranch has been turning out a ton of new bags this year, and the latest entry is specific to EDC/Office users — the District series. These come in two sizes: 24L and 18L. A couple of months back, Mystery Ranch sent me the District 18 in Hummus to check out and review.

This is a really great little bag, and a lot of people are going to like this. If you like the way something like the Urban Assault feels, but yearn for more organization in your bag, then this is something you should really look into.

Dimensions, Materials, and That

The pack is technically 18.9 liters according to Mystery Ranch and is packaged in a 17″ h x 11.25″ w x 8.5″ d shape. It’s slightly rounded so about a third of the way up the pack is the deepest point. This height is about the shortest I can wear comfortably on my abnormally long torso, so it should be good for most people up to about 6’-3” or so.

It is all packaged into a 2.6 lb bag made primarily from CORDURA® 420d re/cor™ RECYCLED NYLON FABRIC on the shell. The best description I have for this material is that it feels like a love-child of 500D Cordura and Ballistic Nylon — it has a slight sheen, is smooth, but still feels tough. I like it a lot.

The zippers are all reversed (as it damned well should be), and the pulls are wrapped in a nice bit of nylon webbing stitched to be held in place — this might be one of my favorite from-the-factory zipper pull setups. It looks very clean, eliminated noise from the metal pull tabs, and they function really well.

A stellar touch.

This is a very compact bag, it certianly seems to hold more, maybe up to about 20L of gear than you would assume. While still being compact enough that say a 4th or 5th grade kid could wear it without much issue. There’s two stretch tweave pockets on either side for water bottles, also very nice add. (They swallow up a 32oz Nalgene just fine, I’d say that’s the upper limit on the diameter.)

The only complaint I’ll offer is that the front pocket flap secures with velcro, so you must deal with that noise. Magnets would have been far cleaner, but I know some don’t like magnets on bags made to hold electronics — that said the velcro is not a big issue and I suspect most will know right away if it is a deal breaker or not. I didn’t have much trouble with it, but that’s down to how I used this particular bag and not the velcro itself.

In Use: Office and Travel

The best way I can describe this bag — be it for EDC, office, or travel — is that this bag is easy to use. There’s nothing about the bag which trips you up, or makes you stop and wonder how to use it. This bag is dead simple in the best possible way, and it is weirdly good.

I carry a lot of stuff day to day in the office — I nearly fill my ASAP each day. But with the District there always seems to be a little extra room, while everything is better organized. I can easily carry my two iPads, and just as easily access them from the top of the bag.

This bag has two primary sections. There’s the front admin area, which is massive. It is secured with a velcro flap, and a zipper down one side. You can pull the flap open and get at the gear in the top two pockets — which are oversized. Or you can lift open the top flap and “rip” open the zipper which allows access to the rest of the rather large section, and another pocket. The zipper itself, has a snap button at the top to help make sure it doesn’t come undone when it is needed to be secure. Opening this section is very fast, closing it takes a little more consideration with the snap button.

The main section is broken into three areas: Laptop sleeve, center section, and another divided section at the front with two very large pockets. This all accordions open, so if the bag is sitting upright, it won’t flop open and smack the desk when you unzip all the way. And the zippers do open to a near clamshell length.

Ok, but this is also a clamshell with some really clever design. The accordion sides are held in place with a bit of nylon secured via velcro with a snap button at the top, undoing this allows the bag to open full clamshell. You can then stick those two flaps to each other, and snap them to each other — you get a open-bottom sleeve inside the bag when you do this. It’s incredibly smart design.

Flaps undone, and snapped to each other.

I took this bag on a long trip with me, and it fit very well at my feet while being easy to travel with — all my gear was easy and quick to get to, and stow back away on the plane.

All in all, for travel, and exploration this is one really nice and easy bag to use. Of note there’s a quick stash pocket at the top, which is very generous in size, and two stretch water bottle pockets which don’t interfere with the zipper. I found that the top stash pocket is excellent for sunglasses, and AirPods, but swallowed up all the gear in the TSA line I was keeping in my pockets. The water bottle pockets can have things slip out of them when it is sitting flat on the ground — something to note for some bottles. On the plane a standard Evian water bottle stayed in just fine.

For carry comfort this bag is right on the edge of sizing for me. A little taller and it would fit my body better, thus being more comfortable. I suspect the District 24 might be great for my height.

That said, I’ve carried a good amount of weight in this bag and never found it uncomfortable. In a lot of ways the harness system feels identical to what is used on the Urban Assault series of bags. Soft, and easy to use and adjust.

Top: Urban Assault 18. Bottom: District 18.


I keep grabbing this bag when I want a small backpack for the office, or anything else. It’s hard to find this bag anything but nice to use.

The MSRP on the bag is $149 from Mystery Ranch and that feels like a really solid price for the bag. It holds far more than it lets on visually, and holds it all nicely organized. It’s a small and compact bag, but still useable for me without issue.

I’m a big fan of the main compartment design, but I do wish the front admin compartment had a zippered pocket in it — as I find that to be a bit of a miss on the section. Outside of that, this is a clean looking bag which will easily pass muster on a trail, or in an office.

If you want an Urban Assault which isn’t tri-zip, or has more organization, than this is exactly that. I’m a big fan of it. If you want something small with great organization, I’d suggest this be your first stop.

Find it here, $149.

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