The Choice: There is absolutely no question that the best zipper on any pack anywhere in the world is the Tri-Zip. It allows for both top-only access and splayed open packing. Everything else in the world is a compromise by comparison. But until very recently the only way to get this amazing feature was to buy one of Mystery Ranch’s hand built models. The cheapest pack, the ASAP, started north of $300. It was an amazing design but virtually inaccessible to most people.
But in 2017 Mystery Ranch released their overseas-made packs and among them was the Urban Assault. Loosely based on the ASAP, this pack is just the right size for a day hike or use as a carry-on when clothes are in checked luggage. Additionally, despite its reduced price and country of origin, it still gives you the two things that are most essential to the Mystery Ranch brand—great shoulder straps and the amazing Tri-Zip.
Running around with the Urban Assault is quite nice. On a recent trip out to the harbor islands in Boston, I was stunned by just how much stuff I could stuff into the pack. When we left, it was more than a bit wet and cold—hovering in the low 40s with a blanket of wet fog. By the time we came back the sun had burned everything away. This made our jackets totally unnecessary and I was able to stuff two adult and two kid jackets in the Urban Assault, no problem. The beauty of the Tri-Zip was on full display. When serious repacking was needed, I could open all three zippers and organize things efficiently. When someone merely needed a snack, I could open just the top compartment. It was wonderful.
The Pygmy Falcon II is not as pricey as the MR Urban Assault, and, of course, it lacks the Tri-Zip, but having carried and used one for the better part of a decade now I can say with confidence that this is one of the better pack designs out there for under $100. The straps are excellent, the layout is strong, the number of pockets and organizers is just right, and, still to this day, regardless of price, the PFII has the best water bottle holders on any pack.
If you have a bit more to spend you can opt for the boutique packs from Prometheus Design Werx or Triple Aught Design, both of which are nice. But if it were me and I wasn’t hauling a long gun around, I would go with the Bihn Synapse 19 in Dyneema. They have been making Dyneema packs long before most companies and the Synapse 19 is perfectly laid out and full of clever touches. It is a bit pricey, but its cheaper than the mainline packs from PDW or TAD.