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Mystery Ranch | Badass backpacks from Bozeman
“The ranch”, as Mystery Ranch is often referred to, is headquartered in Montana. Founded nearly 20 years ago by Dana Gleason and Renee Sippel-Baker, Mystery Ranch is known around the world (except maybe for the Andaman Islands) for the quality of its rucks. In fact, though the term Mystery Ranch sounds like someplace George Smiley or Michael Westen1 should be chillin’, it’s a phrase that’s virtually synonymous with backpacks.
Gleason and Sippel-Baker have been working together since MCMLXXVIII2, which is the same year as the Camp David Accords, the release of Taito’s Space Invaders, and (maybe more importantly) the passage of H.R. 1337. They met at Gleason’s first business, Kletterworks, and went on to crush it with Dana Design. The latter business was recognized by the load-bearing cognoscenti as one that set the standard for load carriage technology. For instance, Dana Design was the first pack system that integrated multiple materials in the construction of its internal frame for better load transfer.
What’s the deal with load transfer, you ask? We’ll let this fella explain.
They eventually sold the company and considered a life of chillaxin’, but as Dana says,
“I retired once, but I just didn’t have the moral fiber to make it stick. I’ll probably be at it forever.”
They founded Mystery Ranch in 2000 with “renewed vigor” and have been driving their enemies before them (if not listening to the lamentations of their women) ever since. A request for packs from the NSW community in ’03 led to a significant amount of military business and a reputation for quality had them soon expanding.
Outside Bozeman explains,
Through building packs for the military, Dana and crew found other hardworking groups–wilderness fire fighters, medical workers, and hotshot crews–who needed quality above all else, and thus developed a deep reliance on Mystery Ranch products. “If our packs don’t work for these customers,” Dana notes, “the consequences could be severe. They need what we do.” Ultimately, the Mystery Ranch team adopted the working mantra of “creating tools, not sporting goods,” and production went beyond just creating a pack that carries well. Currently, the majority of packs built by Mystery Ranch are designated for military contracts–including foreign militaries as well. “It’s had a large impact on how we designed our gear,” Dana says.
Asked by Hayden Coplen, “What makes your packs so valued by elite military and firefighting personnel?” Gleason replies,
I didn’t start out making cool gear, I started out using the gear hard and repairing it. Back in the early 70s, I ended up getting an industrial sewing machine. I started taking in repairs and doing mods for people. Digging into the gear and figuring out how it was made, how it was built, what worked, what didn’t work, why things failed, and why I had to fix stuff. Three years of doing that, and even someone of my limited talents would think, “Hell, I can do better than that.”
And then we pay a lot of attention to how people actually use the gear. There’s a lot of equipment out there that works wonderfully when it’s properly used and works pretty crappy when it’s not properly used. Frankly speaking, that’s the fault of the people who did the design work. You have to realize that how you get the most out of your gear is not uppermost in people’s mind. They’re just out there using and hoping to have a good time. A huge amount of what’s gone into Mystery Ranch is building gear to work the way people actually use it everyday, instead of trying to get them to learn all the ins-and-outs of the right way to do things.
You can read the official version of the Mystery Ranch story online.
1People who don’t work for Mystery Ranch
We’re aware this is a complete non-sequitur, but it’s our blog so shut up.
George Smiley doesn’t work at Mystery Ranch. He’s not even a real person, but it’s a good movie and a better book, especially if you like Cold War-era stuff.
Michael Westen doesn’t work at Mystery Ranch either. That’s because he too is fictional. We like him, though, not least because his mom said, “What kind of sissy doesn’t sleep with a gun under the pillow?”
2 That’s 1978, you ignorant wretches.
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