Rock Climbing Crag Pack
Mystery Ranch Tower 47
$325, 47L/2,870 c.i., 4 lbs., 7 oz./2 kg
When it comes time to huck a heavy rack of gear to the crag, most climbers I know conscript a hiking or backpacking pack to the task. Invariably, their gear ends up in a massive, twisted pile of cooked spaghetti in that pack’s main compartment, and these climbers must then dump everything out to find what they need and repack each time they move to another route. With the Tower 47, Mystery Ranch solved this problem by designing a pack for cragging from the ground-up. With a high capacity, the comfort for carrying your most heinous load, a mission-specific design, and durable construction, Mystery Ranch has created a pack that I have no complaints about after two years of frequent use.
The most important purpose of any crag pack is to comfortably carry a lot of heavy stuff, and the Tower 47 can swallow much more than its volume suggests. At a minimum, I usually crag with a triple rack of cams to no. 3, 24 draws, three liters of water, two pairs of shoes, a chalk bag and bucket, extra layers, a helmet, harness, and another 10 to 20 pounds of miscellaneous lockers, slings, and specialized equipment.
The Tower 47 fits all this easily, sometimes with space for the helmet inside–a feat that makes me wonder whether Mystery Ranch had a Hogwarts graduate make the pack’s interior larger. Seriously, even though Mystery Ranch claims it has a capacity of 47 liters/2,870 cubic inches, it feels like this pack can fit twice as much as my 42-liter backcountry ski pack.
The Futura Alpine yoke and hipbelt plus a framesheet with fiberglass stays provide a stiff and snug fit that distributes heavy loads well, and the adjustable yoke makes dialing in the fit to a range of torso sizes a snap. MR gives the torso size fit range as 15 to 20 inches/38 to 51 centimeters in the S/M and 17 to 24 inches/43 to 61 centimeters in the L/XL; with a 19-inch torso, I achieved a very good fit and found the Tower 47 carried quite comfortably with up to about 50 pounds inside on a variety of trails and hiking/scrambling steep off-trail terrain in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, Idaho’s City of Rocks, and elsewhere.
The 2:1 pulley hipbelt straps make it easy to tighten the belt with a lot of weight inside, and the rest of the harness comes with all the adjustment straps you’d expect from a high-capacity backpack. When I also have to carry a rope or large cams (no. 4-6), the adjustable top buckle strap and dual adjustable compression straps on each side give me plenty of options for attaching a rope, and I can clip big cams to the two front daisy chain loops.
I’ll note that the adjustable side compression straps are a bit of a pain with a lot of slack dangling, but they’re removable and have hook-and-loop straps for rolling up slack, as do all the straps on the pack. I had a minor problem with the hook-and-loop pieces on the hipbelt not being large enough to contain the entire rolled-up hipbelt strap (I have a very small waist and usually bottom out hipbelt adjustment straps, even in the S/M pack), so I had to knot one of these straps to avoid too much slack dangling.
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The pack’s overall design also lends itself perfectly to a day of cragging. The main compartment opens on the top via a big zippered mouth like a haul bag, at the bottom, and in a duffel-style flap across the pack’s entire front. While I never use the bottom zipper and only occasionally use the top to quickly access items stored there, I find the duffel-style front opening provides perfect access for cragging: I can drop my pack on its back and immediately access its entire contents through that big mouth. It’s also the most convenient way to load and organize the pack before heading to the crag.
Moreover, grab handles on either side of the front opening make it easy to simply pile the gear in, grab the handles, and carry the pack short distances between routes at a crag–organizing and zipping not required! Mystery Ranch also added grab handles on either side of the vertical portion of the front zipper: by grabbing both in one hand, I can carry the pack around suitcase-style without zipping up the front.
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When relocating requires a bit more walking, it’s still easy to pile gear in and zip up the front pocket to throw the bag on my back, and when I get to the next climb, I drop the bag on its back, unzip the front, and find my gear pile as I left it. For people like me who don’t want to reorganize their rack between every climb, but can never find gear when it’s piled into a top-loading pack, the Tower 47 provides an ingenious way to make the ground gear pile that accumulates between climbs portable.
Mystery Ranch has built a variety of useful pockets into the Tower 47. A small zippered lid pocket provides a convenient place to store my phone, keys, and other things that I need to access when the pack is closed. On the inside of the back panel, a mesh pocket–which can be used for a water bladder, though I use it to store webbing and free slings–takes up the top half of the panel, while a zippered pocket covers the bottom half; I use this pocket for small items that live in the pack, like sunscreen, tape, electrolyte tablets, and snacks. These two pockets can be difficult to access when I’ve piled gear all over them, but that’s easy to solve by shoveling gear out of the way.
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Additionally, three large zippered pockets line the inside of the front-opening panel, one of which can be accessed from the outside. I’ve found these to be the most useful pockets on the pack. I use the outside-accessible one, located on the wearer’s right side of the pack, for two one-liter Nalgene-style bottles; it could also hold a harness and shoes, or any medium-size items that you want accessible without opening the whole pack. I use the mesh middle pocket on the inside of the front panel for climbing shoes: it can hold 2-3 pairs. The third pocket–long and somewhat narrow, on the wearer’s left side of the inside of the front panel–can hold a smaller-diameter water bottle (I often put a 0.8-liter one here), a harness, or one or two compressible layers.
Finally, two gear loops at the top of the back panel inside the pack provide a super convenient place to clip frequently-used gear–belay devices, lockers, and anchor setups–and can be accessed from the top opening.
A crag pack should also have the durability to survive rough handling and approaches while carrying lots of metal, some of it pointy. The Tower 47 definitely lives up to this requirement: This is the most durable pack I own. Made of 1,000-denier Cordura fabric, the exterior of the pack could stop all but bullets; I’ve never noticed a single tear or even frayed thread in this material. Mystery Ranch uses beefy YKK zippers for all the pockets and compartments, and I have had no durability issues with these: they’re all oversized, making it easy to force compartments closed when I’ve overstuffed the pack with gear.
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The frame and back panel are made of sturdy nylon and hard plastic, respectively; both seem well-constructed and I’ve seen no durability issues with these. I’ve literally thrown this pack off small cliffs while fully loaded with climbing gear (to avoid downclimbing while wearing it, of course; this is an obvious decision when you’re 23 and haven’t fully suppressed the childlike urge to watch heavy things hit the ground) and it’s none the worse for wear–I’d worry more about damaging the gear in the pack if the landing was hard.
So have we found the Holy Grail? The pack to end all packs? Well, no: While I’ve found the Tower 47 to be the perfect sack for cragging, I wouldn’t use it for anything else–and it is clearly intended as strictly a crag pack. While the hipbelt could be removed for multi-pitch use, I wouldn’t take such a bulky pack on a multi-pitch climb, anyway. Mystery Ranch calls the pack hydration-compatible, but I’ve never put a bladder in it: the mesh pocket on the inside of the back panel is too small for a 2.5-liter bladder, and there’s nowhere to route a hose other than through the top zipper.
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Plus, it lacks hipbelt pockets and only has a single exterior-accessible pocket (besides the lid, which is much smaller than on comparably sized, hiking-specific packs). And I could create a list of reasons it’s obviously not ideal for dayhiking or backpacking (though certainly doable for someone desperate enough). You can find vastly better backpacking-specific designs and even comparable durability out there. Similarly, I wouldn’t recommend it as a haul bag, despite its durability and multiple beefy handles, because I expect the exterior is more susceptible to damage than purpose-built haul bag packs, and I doubt the handles are rated to support its carrying capacity for days of hanging.
I can see this being a great single pack for someone who crags the vast majority of the time, but takes the occasional hike. I wouldn’t recommend this pack to anyone who won’t use it for cragging most of the time.
Mystery Ranch clearly set out to design the best single-purpose cragging pack on the market, and they nailed it with the Tower 47: It’s comfortable with a lot of weight, easily accessible and easy to move around while open, and has great organization and stellar durability. I haven’t seen a better pack for this purpose, and I don’t know how I’d improve on it. If you’re a climber who crags often and wants easy gear organization, look no further than the Mystery Ranch Tower 47.
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Note from Michael Lanza: Nate Lanza has been backpacking, dayhiking, rock climbing, and skiing since he was a preschooler, and as my son, he has experience beyond his years on wilderness adventures.
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