Note: this item was provided free of charge for review.
Mystery Ranch’s Coulee lineup has always been one that I waffled on — the past version sizing was always a little larger than I wanted for a day hike at 25L being the smallest. For 2023, Mystery Ranch revamped the lineup and released the Coulee 20. A 20L variant with a robust (but removable) hip belt and everything you could want from a day hiking pack.
It’s a winner for me…
Build Quality and Size
The materials on this bag are best described as ‘light’ — the bag itself is really lightweight at about 2.6lbs (which when you consider an adjustable yoke and load bearing/padded hipbelt — impressive). This is mostly achieved by the use of ‘100% recycled nylon 210D Robic dobby’. Mystery Ranch notes a double layer bottom for additional abrasion resistance — and there’s stretchy material on some areas too.
I really like this Robic line that Mystery Ranch has been using as it has generally light, but rugged properties. Here the bag feels like something made for lightweight, not for a war zone — which is exactly what you want when you are taking a stroll up, say, Enchanted Rock.
The bag comes out to 20″x10″x8.25″, and has two yoke sizes, so that almost everyone will find the perfect fit. This is also one of the first tri-zips I’ve used without aquaguard, and the zippers glide quickly and easily, big fan.
All in all, nothing to see here in the best way possible. Good stuff.
A day hiking pack is, in a lot of ways, a different beast than the everyday backpacks I talk about here. Your office load out is typically heavy, and carried for short periods. Your travel loadout is rarely super light, and can be carried for longer periods of intermittent use. Whereas your hiking load out is generally as light as possible, with water being the heaviest component, carried over longer stretches (continuously often) and on uneven terrain. Thus you need a bag which can handle a load, but can also keep the load stable.
That’s where Mystery Ranch’s adjustable yoke really comes into play, and it’s no slouch here. The bag was easy for me to setup, and wore securely on my back, even when I was not using the hip belt with it.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was how easy it was to expand the payload out on this bag. With the four external pockets, and multiple lash points, I was able to accommodate random booklets the kids received from the Park Ranger, and my vest when the rest of the pack was filled with the family’s layers already.
The hard thing about adjustable yoke bags like this from Mystery Ranch is that they are instantly comfortable. So I could write a lot of the same words I have written in the past about the comfort, but they will be the same words. The bag is extremely comfortable.
Instead, I want to talk about how you carry water in this bag. It is hydration compatible, it has two water bottle pockets on the outside, and a large bladder pouch on the inside. The rear facing stash pockets, also hold water bottles. This is the least opinionated bag about how you should carry water I have ever used.
I found this bag to be a little tight of a fit for my gear, plus kids gear, on a day when the weather was transitional enough that layers were worn, shedded, and worn again. Yet, the bag worked and held everything I asked it to. To so while it was small, it was all I needed — some will feel that I needed a larger bag, while others will see that as perfect.
The 20L sizing is ideal for a single hiker, or someone hiking with a partner to share. I wore the bag without the beefy hip belt, and it wore just as comfortably as my more expensive Mystery Ranch bags. The padding is a little softer, but that rarely makes a difference with loads under 20lbs — if anything the bags wears more comfortably under lighter loads with softer foam.
The external stash pockets were the big winner, as well as the compression straps. I carried two water bottles for my kids on the side pockets — they could easily grab the bottles and put them back. And on the larger stash pocket, I kept the park trail map, which my kids also pulled out and stashed back at will.
The compression straps help in holding my vest for the last 45 min of hiking when I was over heating and carrying layers for both kids, as well as my rain jacket. The bag may have been small, but it was never out of tricks to make things work without issue. The top lid pocket is a tweak on other Mystery Ranch designs, and held my monoculars and other smaller items well — even when accessing them on a slope, in the wind, nothing felt like it was about to spill out.
There was a short section where we were climbing over boulders and weaving through tight brush — the bag emerged with not a wear mark anywhere to be seen. It’s not 500D, but it’s no slouch by any means.
I’m a very big fan of this bag. It feels more like an evolution of the Mystery Ranch Front to me, than it does of the Coulee line. Offering an excellent feature set, and comfort for a really compelling price point.
It’s my favorite day hiking bag, and I highly recommend it.