The Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 is Everything You Need in Day Pack

One of the great skills every adventurer needs to hone is packing. It sounds trivial—just throw some stuff in a bag, right? No. Adventures go awry because of poor packing. The ice ax needs to be where the ice ax needs to be. Learning where the ice ax needs to be is part of the adventure, but once you know, you know. This is true for everything you bring, no matter where you go, whether you’re backpacking the PCT, climbing crags in the Wind River range, or sailing for Tahiti.

To pack like a master you must study how the masters pack. For me, this has meant years of hanging out with river guides, trail crews, forest service employees, and sailors. This is how I’ve come to find things like NRS straps, Helly Hanson foulies, and Mystery Ranch packs. Almost everyone I know who works in the backcountry relies on a Mystery Ranch pack. I’ve yet to try one of the company’s larger packs, but the Coulee 30, which Mystery Ranch launched last year, is one of the best day packs I’ve ever used.

The Coulee 30 strikes the right balance between weight, comfort, organization, and capacity to make an excellent day pack that’s capable of overnight trips if you have lightweight gear.

Design and Fit

The Coulee 30 is not the kind of ultralight day pack that trail runners will stop and ask about (which has happened with my Mountainsmith waist pack). At 2.7 pounds for the men’s L/XL I tested, this is definitely on the heavy side for a day pack, but that weight translates to a solid pack with an incredibly comfortable suspension system. I’ve carried as much 28 pounds in this pack, and it was still comfortable.

A partially opened black backpack with padded waist straps and a thick reusable water bottle in a side pocket leaning...

Photograph: Scott Gilbertson

The suspension is adjustable, allowing you to customize the fit (something of a rarity at this pack capacity). There’s a hook-and-loop fastener that moves the shoulder yoke up and down to wherever is best for your body. It’s not the easiest thing to adjust, which is good, I suppose, since it means it won’t move around, but it is something of a pain to get adjusted. Luckily you should have to do this only a few times to get the fit dialed in. If you’re between sizes (I’m between the S/M and L/XL), I suggest sizing up. It’s easier to make the larger pack fit a slightly smaller torso than it is to upsize the S/M size.

Both the back panel and S-shaped shoulder straps are nicely padded, and once you have the fit dialed in, the Coulee 30 is incredibly comfortable, even with heavy loads. There are adjustment straps at the shoulders to transfer weight forward and back as needed, and while there aren’t true straps like that on the waist belt, the way the belt is constructed makes it easy to transfer most of the weight to it by loosening and tightening the main buckle. The sternum strap is a little smaller than I’d like, but it does the job.

Top Back of a backpack with padded waist straps and pockets leaning against a tree. Bottom Front of a backpack with...

Photograph: Scott Gilbertson

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