We all know about Mystery Ranch; they make some of the best packs available for civilian and military use. But what happens when they try their hand at a mass market civilian day pack? We’re given the Prizefighter: a 21 liter, 2.1lb, 500 denier Cordura nylon minimalist backpack, built for the civilian market and most suitable for EDC use.
As this is a multirole EDC bag, it will fit right in to any environment from a high school bookbag to professional use at a white-collar job. For an EDC bag, its actually quite stylish. Personally, I used it almost daily as a gym bag holding towels, bands, Olympic collars, my gym notebook, and other items that I bring on my workouts (to include CCW). Let’s explore some of the positive elements and see what Mystery Ranch did right with this daypack.
I love the minimalist look, and the Prizefighter really pulls this off. Clean lines, strategically placed zippers, and an absence of gaudy colors make this bag a chameleon in any environment. Comfort is off the charts as well; padded shoulder straps and back slab padding make the 2.1lbs of the pack feel like thin air. Internally, the floating padded sleeves add extra protection for your carry-on items and are a really nice design feature.
Durability is where things start to slip. I appreciate and trust the brand name of Mystery Ranch, but the fabric and stitching feel a little thin for my tastes, almost slipping in to the realm of flimsy. Not to say it is, and I didn’t experience any failures while I was using it, but it does feel that way at times.
Unfortunately, that’s all the praise I have for the Prizefighter as it suffers from a chronic case of poor and downright lazy design.
Let’s start with CCW. We know Mystery Ranch caters to the Military and outdoors oriented community. So why wouldn’t they include a capability to securely carry a concealed weapon in this bag? Now maybe I’ve got you thinking, “CCW at the gym is a bit excessive…” To that I would say, there was a time not a few years past when CCW at a movie theater would have been considered excessive. Not the case today unfortunately. So, something as simple as an internal pistol sized pouch with a cover would have sufficed; even better, some internal webbing or other equipment attachment points. But you won’t find anything like that on the Prizefighter.
Next up is a superfluous feature that I find gimmicky and downright annoying… load lifters. Why, dear god why, would you put load lifters on a daypack? On a pack that should only be expected to support 25lbs max, load lifters are a completely useless feature, doubly so without the aid of a supporting belt. To me this comes off as a name brand pandering unnecessary features to customers who don’t actually know what they’re for. I expected better than this.
To round out the major issues with this pack, we have an annoying amount of excess shoulder strap material. When adjusted properly, the excess just dangles down by your elbows. A simple fifty cent elastic stow tab could easily prevent this. As such, these straps hang everywhere, are easy to step on, and are messy in general.
Of particular note, the shoulder strap buckles are manufactured in such a way that half the time you put the bag on, they loosen uncontrollably and completely, as if on a trigger release. It’s a matter of having cheap shoulder strap retention buckles. As it stands, you’ll be readjusting the shoulder straps half the time you put this pack on because they consistently come loose. I didn’t experience this once with the Kelty Geode 22, which comes in at a quarter of the cost of the Prizefighter. Annoying.
There were also a handful of minor issues. The sunglasses compartment was much too shallow. I’ve seen reviews on youtube extoling the glasses pouch, but in reality, they can barely fit a pair of Raybans. The zippers are sticky and impossible to operate with one hand. You may not find yourself in a situation requiring one handed operation of the zippered enclosures, but it’s definitely a friction point worth considering (especially if carrying a concealed firearm). Another issue of note is the drag handle and internal compartments both being uncomfortably flimsy. I expect better materials and construction from a bag costing more than $100.
Finally, I would like to have had at least one external pouch for a water bottle, or keys, or any kind of accessory. Most daypacks will have this feature and I think it just shows a sincere lack of thought put in to this bag.
So, is this bag worth buying? As of Fall 2020, MSRP for the Prizefighter on the Mystery Ranch website is $125. I compare it to the Kelty Geode 22, which I purchased the Prizefighter to replace. For a minimal functional improvement (at best) over the Geode, you’ll be paying four times the price. As such, I can’t possibly recommend anyone buy the Prizefighter. If value is important to you as an end user, you’ll be best served looking elsewhere.
The Final Word: Overall, Mystery Ranch really phoned it in on this one. While the company is known for cutting edge features and innovative design, the Prizefighter ends up leaving the ring as an amateur due to its poor design, materials, and lack of basic features.
Full Disclosure: I have no affiliation with Mystery Ranch. This bag was purchased with personal funds and the review was written without regard for any outside influence.