My Sweet Pack of Doom!

Post by blogger | July 1, 2009      

Mystery Ranch Sweet Pea Review

Mystery Ranch Sweet Pea Review

Last summer I visited Mystery Ranch HQ in Bozeman, MT (read report here) and picked up a Sweet Pea Backpack to review. After a fall, winter and spring of use and abuse, here are my thoughts.

Despite a good first impression, I didn’t expect the Sweet Pea to become my go-to backcountry skiing pack last winter. Initially, it seemed lacking in certain features I wanted. Like small, organizational pockets – this pack had none. I’ve always had a separate shovel pocket, this was also missing. Plus, the Sweet Pea is heavy for the amount of volume.

But looking back on my season, I can think of at least three treasured packs that saw not a day on my back. They missed a season of gentle flakes falling upon them. I never gazed upon them longingly, awaiting the moment we would venture into the backcountry together. No, three different packs were treated as lepers, heaped into a corner while another stole my heart.

Testing the Sweet Pea in Marble. Photo by Nick Thompson.

Testing the Sweet Pea in Marble.

I kept going back to the Sweet Pea because after a few test days, it made a “sweet” second impression. Initially, I did a few summer and fall hikes before a backcountry skiing trip to Montezuma Basin in October. Immediately I was sold on the perceived size of the pack. It felt larger than it’s claimed 2000 cu. in. (33 L). This is largely due to its unique, Y-shaped 3Zip design which allows for both top loading and semi-front loading of the pack, depending on need and preference.

An external compression panel (the Stick-it Pocket) was the second feature to get my attention. One of my goals this past winter was to take a helmet into the BC more often than not. A big hindrance to this was my dislike of having a helmet swing around while loosely strapped to my pack as I climbed. The Sweet Pea held my hardhat solidly in place, fully cradling my huge army helmet (aka: Smith Hustle), so I didn’t notice it while climbing. The advantage of the Sweet Pea design over many other packs with compression panels is the ability to “accordion” open into a semi-dome shape around a helmet, climbing rope or extra shoes.

On the descent, I never felt unnecessary swing weight in the Sweet Pea. It hugged my back and was out of mind when skiing.

Mystery Ranch Sweet Pea with the large Smith Hustle helmet tucked nicely away.

Mystery Ranch Sweet Pea with the "large" Smith Hustle helmet tucked nicely away.

View of the Sweet Peas 3Zip fully opened up.

View of the Sweet Pea's 3Zip fully opened up. The daisy chain in the back of the pack can accommodate a Flip Top Box sold by Mystery Ranch if you'd like more cargo division. Or just cut a few stitches like I did to keep your probe and shovel handle in place.

While not immediately obvious, the Sweet Pea has no problem carrying skis diagonally.

While not immediately obvious, the Sweet Pea has no problem carrying skis diagonally.

A feature that I haven’t searched out in a pack since the 90’s that came to use regularly was the external water bottle pockets. This was a huge plus as my current bladder developed a leak, and I was too cheap to replace it, so I defaulted back to bottles. The pockets have ski slots for your boards to slide in behind for an A-frame carry system, while keeping water available while boot packing. A hydration bladder sleeve is also available inside the pack, though I found it made a great extra pocket for gloves and radios.

When backcountry skiing on Independence Pass this spring, I ran into Bozeman native, Kate Howe, who lovingly referred to my Mystery Ranch pack as a “Pack of Doom.” I thought perhaps she was implying the pack would self destruct. But no, quite the opposite. Her take was pure praise. This burly pack is made of 500 Denier Cordura with a DWR treatment and Teflon coating in high wear areas that will not wear out anytime soon. It’s more likely to send you a postcard from Armageddon than see an early retirement. That being the case, I wish my old packs the best of luck in the future, and hope they can find someone else to make them happy.

Mystery ranch Sweet Peak backpack.

Like all Mystery Ranch packs, the Sweat Pea has a removable yoke that can be shared with their other packs. This can make for some interesting "yo-yoing" options on hut trips and other adventures. See the Mystery Ranch Saddle Peak "side-country" pack latched onto the Sweet Pea sans-yoke.

Find Mystery Ranch backpacks here.

(Guest blogger profile: Dave Downing and his wife Jessica live in Carbondale, Colorado, where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab. Dave continues to hold the household Wii Ski Jump record.)


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13 Responses to “My Sweet Pack of Doom!”

  1. Shane July 1st, 2009 8:45 am

    Too bad it doesn’t appear to hold a snowboard, or am I missing something?

    I really enjoy the pack reviews on this site but just a sentence or two about whether they are set up from the factory to carry a snowboard would be much appreciated.


  2. dave downing July 1st, 2009 8:58 am

    Shane, it can definitely carry a snowboard, just not while carrying a helmet. The compression straps have “opposing” buckle ends, and can wrap around the board, bypassing the Stick-It Pocket. There is a second compression strap behind the Stick-It Pocket (hidden in the photos) that would stay below the bottom binding of the board. Sorry I didn’t mention this…

  3. FuzzyBear July 1st, 2009 12:01 pm

    Helmet and snowboard? Slide the board between the pack and your back ala
    Buzz Lightyear. Check to see if there is abrasion where the shoulder straps meet the lower attachment points on the pack. If you have clearance…viola.

  4. BigD July 1st, 2009 11:20 pm


    OK – I’m old school. Probably way closer to Lou than you as the world turns. Nowadays, when time comes a grab a pack from the rack, (8 to choose from – I’m a recovering gear addict.) no mater the endeavor, it’s almost always the old Arc Teryc Khamsin. From extended trips into Grand Canyon, to Rainier summits, to BC turns in the Tushars, and many, many more, it has worked quite nicely.

    No, it doesn’t have a slot specific to the shovel handle or probe, at times it’s probably bigger than I need, and my helmet does flop loosely outside the bag, but for almost 8 years it has been a solid all-around performer. Not that the Mystery isn’t a quality product – but do all of us really need all that “treasured gear… heaped into a corner”? Sorry, but I just can’t justify laying down the bucks for the “latest and greatest” any more when the gear I have does the job.

    Also, on the subject of quickly accessing your gear in the backcountry, do you encounter any problems with those huge pants? (grin)

    On a less personal note – after checking out your website, as a graphic designer myself, I have to say that skiing isn’t the only talent you posses. Very nice work.


  5. Jon O. July 2nd, 2009 12:38 am

    Could you post more closeup pics of the suspension and hipbelt? i’ve always been confused as to how the part of the pack is designed. Thanks,

  6. dave downing July 2nd, 2009 8:12 am

    I totally agree, if you have a pack that’s working for you, run with it. However, if the time comes to replace a pack lost to spontaneous combustion, I’m offering up legitimate replacement ideas 🙂

    Regarding “quickly accessing” my gear in the BC, the pants pose no problem. Don’t you realize that’s why I often carry a smaller pack? The rest is in my pants, skins in 1 cargo pocket, snow saw in the other. extra gloves in a back pocket etc. Super quick access!

    Thanks for the compliments on the site, have a great day.

  7. dave downing July 2nd, 2009 8:14 am

    Jon 0.
    I can definitely take some pics of the suspension/yoke system. what do you want to see with the hip belt exactly? I try and get a link to some extra pics soon…

  8. Jon O. July 2nd, 2009 10:05 am

    Wanted to see how the ‘wings’ work and fold back. It looks like there’s a lot of layers around the side pockets, is that a sleeve? Also a little confused about the shoulder harness and how it all fits together. Thanks!

  9. Dave July 2nd, 2009 11:19 am

    @Jon O.
    pic of the waist belt partially hidden, with side pocket AND ski slot visible…

  10. Dave July 2nd, 2009 11:20 am

    here the waist belt is fully hidden and buckled shut —

  11. Dave July 2nd, 2009 11:31 am

    and finally, a pick of the shoulder straps and yoke pulled out of the pack (from the Saddle Peak in the picture). The framesheet hides inside the yoke. It is removable and used to slide the yoke into the pack without the velcro (black panel) sticking prematurely.


  12. Shane July 7th, 2009 3:34 pm

    Fuzzybear said “Helmet and snowboard? Slide the board between the pack and your back ala
    Buzz Lightyear. …viola.”

    Yeah, I’ve done that too. I have slices across the back of my jacket to prove it. Also not fun on windy ridges with most of the length of your board sticking out to torque you around. Hiking through tight trees or along side rock? – No dice.

  13. Scott August 17th, 2009 12:58 pm

    Great pack review. I am thinking of getting one of these packs myself. I had one question for you…the hydration sleeve appears to be a bit short. Have you tried to put a bladder in it? I have left bladders exposed in packs before and the condensation from the bladders soaks anything you have next to the bladder. From the pictures you posted it seems like a tall camelbak bladder would be mostly exposed to whatever was inside the pack. Just curious what your experience was.

    Thanks for the review.

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