Mystery Ranch Blackjack Airbag Pack – First Look

Post by blogger | January 4, 2011      

We recently got our hands on a pre-production Blackjack, the new airbag pack from Mystery Ranch. We haven’t got out to use it yet, but at first glance it looks like a winner.

Mystery Ranch Blackjack airbag pack. You can see the pocket containing the airbag on top, the side access zipper, and the shovel pocket on back.

Blackjack is a traditional top loader (a plus in my book, but that’s personal preference), with a side zip on one side that accesses the main compartment and a shovel pocket on the back. The airbag is located in the “brain,” which also has a small pocket. The entire airbag system, which is manufactured by Avi Vest, can be removed, which lightens the pack substantially. You can also attach the pull cord to either pack strap, as it is contained in a separate removable sleeve. Like most Mystery Ranch packs, this sack is burly, with a strong suspensions system, tough fabric, and huge zippers.

The airbag components look good, it has a nifty zipper that is designed to blow open when the airbag deploys, which you can also use as a pocket if you remove the airbag. The cylinder is about 1.25 times the size of the cylinder that came with our BCA Float 30.

The pack is speced at having a volume of 2,600 cubic inches (43 liters), but like other airbag packs, has less usable space than that. The volume feels slightly larger than my 35 liter BD Alias, which is also a top loader with a shovel pocket on back. The pack weighs 8.8 lbs with the airbag components, and 5.4 lbs with out them.

Mystery Ranch had to ship the pack with the compressed air cylinder empty to comply with postal regulations. When we received it I called around the Roaring Fork valley in an attempt to get it filled. For some reason I couldn’t find anyone who would fill it, but now that I’m in Bellingham, it’s easy enough to find a dive shop to get a refill.

I’m impressed by the Blackjack, and I’m excited to get out and test it (as in “test” not “real”).

The Blackjack has a spacious shovel pocket, with zipper closure. It fit my BCA companion shovel, which has a fairly big blade nicely.

This cool fabric protects from abrasion on the back of the pack. It has thousands of little hard plastic dots laminated to it, looks like it should work well.

This cool fabric protects from abrasion on the back of the pack. It has thousands of little hard plastic dots laminated to it, looks like it should work well.

The airbag pull cord.

This cool zipper rips open when the airbag deploys, and can be zipped closed when you pack it back up.


24 Responses to “Mystery Ranch Blackjack Airbag Pack – First Look”

  1. Justin January 4th, 2011 4:53 pm

    So how much does that sucker weigh?

  2. Louie January 4th, 2011 6:29 pm

    I was going to weigh the pack with the cylinder filled, but I haven’t been able to get it filled yet, so I weighed it empty. It weighs 8.8 lbs with the airbag components, and 5.4 without them. The full cylinder should weigh 2.8 oz more than the empty one. I updated the review.

  3. David S January 4th, 2011 11:50 pm

    Louie, what’s the deal with Baker this weekend? Forecast models show this system moving in super warm with a ton of precip, but then cooling down Friday with snow. Do you think it looks worth it to try and beeline from Hood River, OR to try and snag Baker that Saturday or will it be skied out and not worth it?

  4. NT January 5th, 2011 9:20 am

    Louie- did you try the Cdale firestation? Sorry I was away, could have lent you my adaptor.
    To clarify on the weight- the 8.8lbs is with a filled or unfilled cylinder?
    Breakaway zipper looks like the same design as snowpulse. Cool that you can remove the airbag and use it as storage. In the second photo, above the shovel compartment, it looks like mesh with the airbag workings inside. Is that where the cylinder lives? Ditto on prefering the top loader. Many of the airbag packs are panel zips, harder to pack full with already reduced space.

  5. Griff January 5th, 2011 9:56 am


    I was thinking about a SnowPulse and explored refilling at the Carbondale Fire Station. Spoke to Rob Goodwin there. He seemed amenable to refilling with the proper adapter but also wanted paperwork on the cylinder to make sure that everything was properly done. NT, sounds like you have done this before with them?

  6. Profreshional77 January 5th, 2011 10:20 am

    The great thing is that Dana G. and crew at Mystery Ranch are making a lot of their products in Bozeman MT, not offshore in a sweatshop. You will not find a better manufactured product when it comes to backpacks and while not the lightest gear out there, will definitely last as long as the user needs it to.

  7. NT January 5th, 2011 10:26 am

    I’ve recently done a snowpulse refill there. I brought the adaptor and hazmat spec sheet, they didn’t ask to see the sheet though. They were a little confused about it at first but were friendly and willing to give it a try. Might depend on who you ask. I worked with Ray. Also, if more and more people start doing this, we’d better keep them happy- I suggest giving a donation to the volunteer department. The Aspen Fire Dept filled mine last year, but this year they informed me that they will not be offering the service any more. Still worth asking though, so that they can recognize the demand. Talk to Brian (deputy fire marshall) there. Sadly no dive shops that I could get a hold of out here. I think there are some paintball shops further down valley, but haven’t tried those.

  8. Louie January 5th, 2011 10:39 am

    I did try the Carbondale Fire Station, as well as all the other ones in the valley. I must not have been talking to the right people. 8.8 lbs is with the empty cylinder. That mesh is the bottom of the compartment with the breakaway zipper. The airbag and venturi mechanism live in there, the cylinder is in a sleeve inside the water bladder compartment.

    I’m trying to figure out where the skiing is going to be good this weekend as well, don’t quite know yet.

  9. Patrick Odenbeck January 5th, 2011 12:13 pm

    For another quick look and more info check out this little vid.

  10. Nick January 5th, 2011 12:43 pm

    ^^^^ Thanks for positng that. Cool video.

  11. Scottcha January 5th, 2011 12:46 pm

    “Forecast models show this system moving in super warm with a ton of precip, but then cooling down Friday with snow.”

    10am surface chart from cliff mass’ blog shows the front just coming onshore at 10am friday. I would guess this should leave enough precip after close to make saturday good.

  12. Brian January 5th, 2011 1:25 pm

    Nice of them to show it being deployed in the video. Gives a good sense of how fast it inflates.

  13. Patrick Odenbeck January 5th, 2011 2:04 pm

    It was super chilly up there too a couple degrees below zero and obviously some wind.

  14. Griff January 5th, 2011 2:32 pm


    Yeah, I think the donation to the fire station is key to opening doors and keeping the relationship going. Case of Fatties wouldn’t hurt either. 😉

  15. Lou January 5th, 2011 3:23 pm

    Griff. these guys are very well funded with our own money. Via plenty of taxation. But beer is always a good bribe…

  16. Griff January 5th, 2011 3:28 pm

    Who said anything about beer? Aren’t Fatties the official monetary unit of Colorado? 😉

    Enjoy Europe!

  17. afox January 6th, 2011 12:51 pm

    5.4 pounds without the airbag system seems like a heavy pack for 2,600 Cubic Inches. I have’nt seen an airbag pack in person but are there critical components of the airbag system in the pack that make it so heavy? I currently ski with a 4,000 cubic inch pack that weighs about 3.5 pounds.

  18. Louie January 6th, 2011 2:45 pm

    The only thing that I left on the pack was the sleeve that holds the pull cord, with out the pull-cord in it. It’s definitely a little on the heavy side, part of that is the suspension system, which is burlier than the one on my 70 liter pack. It also has big zippers, and fairly tough fabric. I think that parts of it are made super strong so it doesn’t fall apart and get ripped off you in an avalanche.

  19. Jim January 11th, 2011 5:37 am

    Report of avalanche fatality while using airbag. These are not a cure all.

  20. aviator January 11th, 2011 6:20 am

    This is one case and there is NO real information in the report you linked.
    “It appears an airbag was deployed. Details about how/when are not known for certain as the avalanche was unwitnessed.”
    And then you have statistics with several 100s of documented success stories with airbags.
    Unlike the avalung, for airbags the numbers are very clear. These things work.

  21. WARI Avalanche Research January 19th, 2011 10:35 am

    The weight of the avalanche system is a problem we are working on. We make the AviVest, and the inflatable bladder, the gas bottle, the cylinder head and firing mechanism, the air hoses and the venturi valve all top out at about 3 pounds or 1.36 Kg.

    The bottle alone weighs about a pound because it contains thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch. The same goes for the cylinder head and trigger mechanism. They must contain immense pressures so they are highly machined pieces of metal weighing a quarter pound (we are working on reducing the size and weight of the head and trigger).

    The air hose from the bottle to the air bag is high pressure as well, and as such weighs a bit. Same for the rip cord system, it is heavy duty and built to withstand great force. There is also the weight of the connection point from the system to the harness.

    When we do our avalanche testing of our device we record 25, 50 and even 75 Gs of force hitting our life sized test dummies. The forces inside the gas bottle combined with the forces the device must withstand inside of an avalanche lead to a heavy duty system that unfortunately has some weight attributed to it.

  22. mc April 7th, 2011 6:31 pm

    Just looked at the Snowpulse 45- $1200 Canadian. I don’t know the success rate of these devices, but as a parent and knowing full well that a lot more snow savy guys than me have been killed in avalanches, that price tag all of a sudden seems “reasonable”. Anybody have any stats on the effectiveness of these packs?

  23. Lou April 7th, 2011 7:28 pm

    Stats here and there, tough to get super accurate, but what sells me is the tests they do when they stick a crash dummy in a big slide, with an airbag. They tend to end up unburied in most cases. Personally, I’m convinced airbags might actually be more important than beacons (otherwise known as body finders) in terms of avy survival. Price seems reasonable, but they need to be lighter weight. Future is bright.

    Look for big war between airbag makers over the next few years, with associated burst in improvements. What’s cool is there is a viable used market for these things, so upgrades are not to bad a financial burden.

    As for buying for kid, make sure they’re really going to use it before you pop for it. They really are quite heavy, in many cases because little to no effort is made to make the backpack lighter weight. It’s like the manufacturers figure, hey, it’s an airbag, so lets make a backpack for it that can stand up to and IED attack. Much overkill from what I’ve seen

  24. mc April 7th, 2011 7:52 pm

    What I meant by ”as a parent” was that I’ve got a lot more to live for than just myself and the increased consequences of dying and having a five year old. Thus $1200 being reasonable. The Snowpulse 45 is only a couple of pounds heavier than my Arcteryx Borea.

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