There’s a saying in the outdoor retail world: light, durable, cheap–you can only pick two. If it’s as light as can be and durable, it probably isn’t cheap. If it’s durable and cheap, it probably isn’t light. If it’s cheap and light, well, you get what you pay for.
When I got the chance to test out the new Mystery Ranch Tower 47 crag pack, I was excited to bring it on my planned spring trip to the desert. I cannot even remember how many of my minimalist, lightweight backpacks have been shredded while butt scooting down coarse Joshua Tree slabs, squeezing past narrow Moab passages and bushwhacking through prickly Red Rock brush.
The Tower 47 is like a trad climber’s briefcase–it keeps gear nice and tidy. Open it up and all protection, harnesses, shoes, ropes and anything else can be meticulously stored via a series of gear loops and five large zippered pockets with room to spare. Two openings (one on top and one that rolls open) make getting to any piece of gear incredibly easy. I’ve even used the roll-open feature as an impromptu rope bag. Five compression straps on the outside carry a rope and minimize the volume of the pack. Two full-strength handles on top can also act as tie-in loops, should you choose to use it as a haulbag.
The Mystery Ranch Tower 47 is obviously designed as a rock climbing pack. Since I live in Alaska, however, I used it quite a bit this winter as my go-to ice climbing pack and even as my backcountry ski pack. Although it doesn’t have ice axe loops or an exterior crampon pouch, I was always able to carry my sharp items inside without fear of puncturing or tearing the ultra-durable 1000D Cordura fabric. This probably wouldn’t be my first choice as a backpack to use for every type of climbing–it’s definitely not for alpine climbing–but it is an exceptional design for a general crag pack.
At an advertised weight of 4.4lbs (1996g), the Tower 47 is not an ultralight pack. For those days where I’m just schlepping my load to the crag, I place a higher emphasis on ease of use, comfort and organization over weight. This is the type of bag you would have to work hard to destroy and, for someone like me, that’s a good thing. Everything about this pack is burly, from the fabric to the zippers and carrying system. Look in my shed at home and you’ll see the sad, tattered remnants of countless ultralight alpine packs that were shredded like cheese after a single desert trip.
Other aspects of the pack that impressed me were the hip belt and Futura yoke (suspension system). The Futura yoke can be adjusted to fit a wide range of torso lengths, which is a good thing since the pack only comes in one size. The hip belt can be removed, if desired, to save weight. Internal fiberglass stays and a frame sheet can also be taken out for further weight savings. Both suspension systems are extremely comfortable, with thick foam padding for carrying heavy loads on longer approaches. An internal pocket against the back fits a hydration bag.
As someone who spends a lot of time trad climbing in the Sierra and southwestern deserts, this will definitely become my go-to pack. No longer will I have to empty everything out into the dirt every time I need to get something out of the bottom of my pack. It’s hard enough to organize gear and this pack makes it inherently easy and convenient. I look forward to pitting this pack against the gauntlet of abrasive conditions that my favorite desert crags offer. I anticipate the Mystery Ranch Tower 47 outlasting years of abuse. I just wish I could say the same about myself.
Clint Helander made the first ascent of Mt. Huntington’s South Ridge (aka “Gauntlet Ridge“) with Jess Roskelley in 2017. Their ascent is featured on the cover of Alpinist 59. You can find more of Helander’s writing and photography at ClintHelander.com as well as Alpinist.com.
Built for organization and ease of use when looking for key pieces of gear
Comfortable with heavy loads and long approaches
Adjusts easily for custom fit
Plenty of features but not over-designed
Works well for other applications, including ice climbing and as a travel case
Big and bulky, not the lightest backpack