Review: Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 Daypack

Daypack
Mystery Ranch Coulee 25
$175, 25L/1,525 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz. (men’s S/M)
Sizes: men’s S/M and L/XL, women’s XS/X and M/L
backcountry.com

The long arc toward lighter gear in the outdoor industry has undeniably brought many benefits to those of us who love going into the backcountry. But the flip side of that trend sometimes manifests in compromises in comfort, features, and durability. The Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 represents a very impressive balance between achieving all of those laudable traits while keeping the weight modest—making it one of the best daypacks on the market today.

I used the Coulee 25 on steep dayhikes of up to 10 miles and 4,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss in Idaho’s Boulder Mountains and Boise Mountains, including going up and down one steep trail with nearly 1,000 feet of vertical per mile.


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The Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 daypack.
The Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 daypack.

The Coulee’s most unique feature is its three-zipper system accessing the main compartment: Instead of a traditional, separate lid, the Coulee has a cover that flips open more like a clamshell-style opening. Two zippers open each side of the top of the main compartment and meet at the lid’s front side, overlapping a vertical front zipper that completely fillets the main compartment open. The system provides both rapid and easy access to everything inside and eliminates the extra steps inherent to a lid that closes with two buckles and a cord cinch.

The 25 liters/1,525 cubic inches of capacity provide ample space for dayhikes at any time of year, including when carrying layers for cold weather or extra gear, food, and water. Even with a DSLR camera and two lenses, I did not fill the Coulee 25 on my dayhikes with it.

Part of the reason the Coulee weighs a bit more than some packs of comparable capacity is the very comfortable, well-padded harness—the pre-curved waist belt, shoulder straps, and back padding, which enable the Coulee 25 to carry 20 pounds or more comfortably for hours in rugged terrain. The removable Redirect waist belt adjusts easily with a belt that pulls forward to tighten.

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The Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 harness.
The Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 harness.

The Future Yoke adjusts to fit a range of torso lengths by separating the substantial hook-and-loop patch behind the shoulder straps. That takes a bit of work, and I found it much easier to do by first pulling up on the yoke separator strap behind the shoulders and removing the HDPE framesheet, giving your hand more space to work back there. Then it’s easy to reinsert the framesheet (while the pack is empty).

Besides the three-zipper design to enter the main compartment, the Coulee’s access is among the best for daypacks. Two deep, stretch-woven, front pockets each hold a lightweight shell or other layer and smaller items like gloves and even climbing skins for backcountry skiing. Stretch-woven pockets on each side hold a water bottle. The flip-top main compartment cover has a small pocket with a urethane-coated zipper for smaller items.

Dual quick-release side compression straps shrink the pack down for stability when under-filled and allow you to easily attach trekking poles or other things. The 330-denier Robic nylon fabric withstands a lot of hard use and is more durable than you’ll find in many lighter daypacks.

 

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That durability and the pack’s multiple features, including ways to attach climbing gear and skis, make it more versatile for a variety of activities beyond dayhiking—and that’s especially true of the larger version, the Mystery Ranch Coulee 40 ($229, 3 lbs. 13 oz.), which is large enough for gear-intensive dayhikes in any season, ultralight backpacking, or backcountry skiing.

Lastly, while some of the best daypacks available today weigh in a pound or more less, the Coulee 25’s weight is still modest at barely north of two-and-a-half pounds.

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The Verdict

With superior comfort, access, and durability, good capacity, and multiple features that expand its versatility, the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 is a very good choice for dayhikers and others who want more carrying capacity and will accept a small weight penalty for those benefits.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase the men’s or women’s Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 or Coulee 40 at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

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See my “Review: The Best Hiking Daypacks” and my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack” (which includes daypacks) and all of my reviews of hiking gear.

You may also be interested in my “8 Pro Tips for Preventing Blisters When Hiking,”

my picks for “The Best Trekking Poles,” and my story “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be,” which you can read in its entirety with a paid subscription to The Big Outside or click here to purchase separately.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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