Backpack
Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60
$269, 60L/3,662 c.i., 4 lbs. 14 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-L
Backcountry.com

Anyone shopping for a backpack designed for carrying loads of 40 pounds or more should be looking at a few specific qualities: an abundance of external pockets that provide a variety of organizational options; superior durability; and most of all, outstanding comfort and fit rooted in a sturdy frame, cushy padding, and a range of sizes. The Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60, which comes in men’s and women’s models, fills all those buckets, distinguishing itself as one of the very best big-load packs out there today.

Carrying about 45 pounds for the first couple of days of a six-day, roughly 58-mile hike through northeastern Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness felt right around the comfort limit of the Sphinx 60 (at least for me—that may vary between individuals). On a three-day hike on the Snake River National Recreation Trail no. 102, on the Idaho side of Hells Canyon, I carried about 35 pounds very comfortably in the Sphinx 60, and it was clearly well below its maximum comfort limit. I also carried over 40 pounds of climbing gear inside the pack for several miles of hiking around Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park on a weekend of cragging. I’d peg its comfortable carrying limit at 45 pounds for many backpackers, although I think stronger people accustomed to hauling heavier loads will find the Sphinx 60 suited to carrying over 50 pounds.


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The Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L backpack.
The Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L backpack.

The comfort and performance are rooted in Mystery Ranch’s Adventure Frame, comprised of two vertical composite rods, an upper horizontal composite bar, and an aluminum lumbar stay. The design allows some dynamic flex, enabling the pack to move in sync with your body, while an HDPE frame sheet delivers structure and stability—all of which effectively transfers much of the load weight onto the frame’s wings and ultimately your hips, performing exactly as a pack built for heavy loads should.

The easily removable, double-wrap, Redirect hipbelt has enough structure to support 40 to 50 pounds without collapsing, and the plush, breathable, perforated foam in the belt, nicely contoured shoulder straps, and back padding creates a level of comfort that eases the burden of a heavy pack on your torso.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not getting a good fit in the Sphinx 60, with an unusual four pack sizes in both the men’s and women’s models, fitting men with torsos ranging from 15 to 24 inches and waists 26 to over 40 inches, and women with torsos from 13 to 22 inches and waists 26 to over 39 inches.

On top of that, the Futura Yoke sports several inches of adjustability. (Tip: I found it much easier to adjust the yoke up and down by removing the HDPE frame sheet—which pops out of a sleeve behind the back panel—and reinserting the frame sheet once I’m done adjusting the length.) Although I typically wear a men’s medium pack from many brands, my 18-inch torso and 30-inch waist fell on the cusp between medium and small, and Mystery Ranch recommends sizing down in that situation; and the small fits me well.

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Access is excellent in the top-loading Sphinx 60, primarily thanks to a full-length center zipper that completely fillets the pack bag open. The spacious main compartment has an enormous mouth for visibility into the pack and easy loading and unloading. I fit a large portion of my family’s food, my clothing and share of team gear, personal gear that included a camp chair, and more than two liters of water in a bladder inside the Sphinx 60 without coming close to reaching its capacity. With the skirt extended, the pack looks like its capacity significantly exceeds 60 liters.

The seven external pockets provide a level of organization rivaled only by a few top-quality backpacking packs, including:

  • A very spacious, removable, floating lid (there’s also an eighth, smaller zippered pocket on the lid’s underside);
  • Two stretch-mesh side pockets large enough for a liter bottle, reinforced at their bottoms with more durable fabric;
  • Two hipbelt pockets made with more-durable fabric than used in these pockets on other packs, each fitting a large smartphone with room to spare for bars;
  • And one of the pack’s finest features: two deep, large front pockets with two-way zippers, each capable of swallowing a rainfly with room to spare—enormous, readily accessible capacity for items like a shell, water filter, trail food, etc.

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The pack’s excellent compression resizes it for smaller loads, with top, side, and bottom compression straps that will secure a sleeping pad or simply scrunch down the pack volume. Dual side compression straps can mate with buckles on the opposite side, wrapping completely around the pack for full compression or lashing large gear like snowshoes. There are also attachments for a single ice axe.

This is one of the toughest packs made primarily for backpacking, with 210-denier Robic fabric throughout much of the pack body (the shinier fabric) and 330-denier Robic fabric in high-abrasion areas like the pack bottom and front pockets. The YKK zippers are urethane coated and the buckles are sturdy Duraflex.

It’s honestly hard to find fault with the Sphinx 60. In every area, from price and weight to comfort and features, the Sphinx 60 compares favorably with two of the best big-load packs on the market: the Osprey Atmos/Aura AG 65 and the Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60—and the Sphinx 60’s design details distinguishes it from those packs.

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Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L backpack.
Testing the Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L backpack in the High Uintas Wilderness.

The Verdict

For any backpacker on an extended wilderness hike requiring a week or more of food, parents carrying extra food and gear for young kids, trip leaders—or anyone who simply carries more gear and typically shoulders a pack weighing 40 pounds or more—the Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60 stands out as one of the very best packs for comfort, access, and features.

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See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs” and “The Best Ultralight Backpacks,” my “Top 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack,” and all of my reviews of backpacks and backpacking gear at The Big Outside.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of both stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and the lightweight backpacking guide without having a paid membership.

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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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

 

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