Getting a new piece of hunting gear can be exciting. A new rifle or pair of binoculars can drastically improve your hunt and be a lot of fun to test out. On the less thrilling side of gear purchases, backpacks are the unsung heroes of hunting. So much of spending time outdoors involves getting gear into the woods or backcountry. Carrying this gear in can either be effortless or a major annoyance. It all depends on the quality and fit of your pack. For a thorough look at the different types of whitetail hunting packs, read this article we wrote.
Typically when I head into the backcountry for a hunt, I am gone for 3-7 days. I have used a Mystery Ranch Metcalf for years as my multi-day backpack. It is a bombproof frame pack and performs well, but when my trips go for more than 5 days it can start to feel a bit cramped. At 71L, it is not small by any means but lacks space and organization for longer trips. With a 10+ day expedition coming up in the mountains of Arizona, I knew I needed a larger pack. I checked out options from Kifaru, Stone Glacier, Mystery Ranch, and Eberlestock. They all make phenomenal packs and should be on the top of your list. In fact, at that point, your decision should come down to specific features and fit rather than any perceived brand differences. They all make professional-level packs that will hold up for years. Ultimately, I ended up going with the Mystery Ranch Marshall. At $575, it is a lot of pack for the money, and a bit cheaper than the comparable packs from other brands that trend around $700. A bonus for me was my familiarity with fitting the pack and using the frame overload system.
The Mystery Ranch Marshall is on the company’s updated Guide Light MT frame. The frame updates their previous Guide Light frame. Differences include a thicker and more padded waist belt with 5 distinct sections. This allows the belt to better conform to your waist which makes carrying heavy loads easier. There are also now Molle attachment points on the outside of the waist belt which makes it easy to attach extra pockets, bear spray, or other gear. The thin but durable external frame includes heavy-duty locking compression buckles and a load sling which allows the bag to pull off the frame creating an overload shelf between the bag and frame. This is perfect for hauling extra gear, meat, or anything else heavy. The Guide Light MT frame
The Marshall bag is the largest in the Mystery Ranch hunting line. At 105L, it is well suited for 10-day expeditions in the backcountry. The extra space does come at a price and the bag/frame combo weighs in at 7.1 pounds. While this may seem a bit heavier than comparable bags that come in under 6 pounds, the extra pound doesn’t equal any noticeable difference if the pack is properly fitted and adjusted. Mystery ranch sells several different sizes of bags, and it is imperative you check their sizing guide and get the right one.
My favorite feature of the Marshall bag is the vast amount of organization. There are two large external pockets on the front of the bag that easily fit a spotting scope or small tripod. Between the two vertical pockets is a strap that is designed to hold trekking poles. The lid on top of the pack features two compartments for storing anything you need quick access to. Also, an added bonus is that the lid can double as a daypack with its own straps. This is a great feature if you need to ditch your main pack and move in quietly for your final stalk. The main compartment of the pack is one large open area with side zips on each side. Inside the large main compartment, a “zoid bag” can be quickly detached. This works well for a kill kit or toiletry bag. Finally, the bottom of the pack has an internal divider and is large enough to accommodate a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, small backpacking stove, and shelter. It has its own zipper on the bottom and a few straps to secure it as well. This is a great feature and allows you to quickly get your gear out to set up camp without having to empty the entire bag.
My Thoughts On The Marshall
The Mystery Ranch Marshall is like the freight ship of their pack fleet. It is large and stores a ton of gear, but it carries like a lighter pack. I have been doing pack workouts and hikes with it the past few weeks with the bag and its contents weighing 52 pounds. It carries well, stays in place, and is comfortable. The 500D Cordura fabric is tough and will hold up to anything you can throw at it. The vast amount of different pockets and organizing features make it easy to live out of this backpack for weeks at a time. While a new backcountry pack may not seem like the most exciting piece of gear, it is worth its weight in gold when you are rapidly hiking up a 3000-foot elevation gain in an afternoon. The Marshall feels like an extension of yourself while hauling gear and is a well-thought-out piece of technical gear. The size and weight may not be for everyone, but if you need the extra space and organization, this is your pack. I look forward to many backcountry treks to come while wearing it.