An uncomfortable backpack can be a serious detriment while traveling for days on end in the mountains–it’s hard to climb your best if you’re already feeling destroyed from carrying a heavy load with an inferior suspension system.
Mystery Ranch, which originated as Dana Designs, is known for its attention to detail when it comes to backpack design. The Scepter 50 backpack, which debuted earlier this year, is definitely comfortable for carrying a 50-liter load. It has a burly frame and a supportive hip belt, and it gets the job done. I had to use the pack a couple of times before it started to break in. Once I became familiar with all the bells and whistles, schlepping in and out of the Torre Valley in Patagonia felt like a walk in the park.
A key part of the design that allows the pack to be so comfortable is the telescoping yoke, which enables a custom fit. It’s also made with a compression-molded back panel and stretch-woven material that repels snow. The body of the pack is made with a 330-denier Robic fabric, so it’s durable. The fabric showed little wear despite my repeated use in various granite locales around the globe.
This pack comes with many adaptable features that can be modified based on your specific requirements. I was able to manipulate the various straps and buckles with gloves on. For alpine climbers, that’s important because it means your fingers stay warm, and you’re less likely to lose a loose a glove to the wind.
The removable compression straps are attached with aluminum G-hooks, which I found to be useful in adjusting the load and tightening down the profile of the pack. When full, the pack was a bit cumbersome and seemed to grow wide rather than tall, and the straps were extremely useful in slimming the design down. Other removable components include a bungee cord, a tool-carry system, waist belt and even the frame stays. I wouldn’t normally take a hip belt or frame stays off a 50-liter pack, as usually I need the support with that kind of weight, but taking the hip belt off can be nice if you’re wearing a harness or need to haul or stow the pack.
The Scepter has a large expandable pocket located on the outside of the pack for last-minute additions or layers you want easy access to. For ski-mountaineers, Mystery Ranch’s website reports that this pocket can fit a shovel, probe and saw. The pack also has an interior zippered pocket for storing smaller items like a headlamp, bars or any other necessary items you need on the fly. It doesn’t have a detachable brain, so these two storage compartments are really all you get. The pack is also compatible with a hydration system, however.
One of the issues I had with the Scepter 50 is the double-hook closure system of the lid. Mystery Ranch designed this feature to aid in carrying a rope or helmet. The idea is that, with the pack laying on its back and frame facing up, you can easily access the large external pocket without the rope falling out of place. This concept works great if the Scepter is packed full and rope is attached to the outside. If the backpack is not completely full, it does not close well and cannot cinch down tight.
I would have liked there to be additional straps for when your load isn’t quite 50 liters to avoid extra fabric bunching around the top. The main pack closes with a drawstring but blowing snow could pretty easily get under the top and into the pack. The lid is just an extension of the front fabric so it cannot be adjusted to be longer or shorter. If the pack is really full, the lid barely covers the top and if the pack is less full, you have extra fabric that can be difficult to tighten down. There are two secondary closure tabs on top of the lid that are set about 2 inches farther back from the primary tabs where the G-hooks latch. They help snug up the top closure but the problem isn’t solved. A third set of closure tabs would have been nice for a pack that big. I think that the Scepter 50 does really well if you have just the perfect amount of gear, but it does not adjust well to smaller or bigger loads.
Overall, I think the Sceptor 50 functions best as a load hauling bag, rather than a climbing pack, as it is a bit bulky. It carries 50 liters really well and is the great choice for carrying heavy loads in and out of the mountains. Mystery Ranch also makes the Scepter in a 35-liter size, which I assume would do better as a climbing pack in the mountains or on a multipitch outing.
Whitney Clark is frequently traveling the globe in search of first ascents. Last year she received a Grit & Rock First Ascent Award and an American Alpine Club Cutting Edge Grant to attempt a new route on the west face or Arjuna (6230m) in India.
Adjustable and removable features allow the pack to be lightened and compressed
Compatible with hydration system
Doesn’t adjust to different size loads well