Mystery Ranch Market Pack Review
The Mystery Ranch Market Pack nails the basics of a tote and then some, but the thin straps and handles are less than ideal for long-term carrying.
- Dual-style carry for versatility
- Simple, roomy interior with built-in bottle pocket
- Tote-style carry aided by snap fasteners
- Tote and shoulder straps lack long-term comfort
- Interior bottle pocket takes away space from the main compartment
- Snap fasteners can be undone with enough jostling
1.1 lb (0.5 kg)
14.25 in x 10.5 in x 7 in (36.2 x 26.7 x 17.8 cm)
Polyester, Nylon, YKK Zippers, Duraflex Hardware
Tote bags are incredible workhorses if you just need something to put bulky items in and carry around. It certainly beats using single-use plastic bags, and it’s a lot more comfortable than handle-less paper bags. Once you’ve nailed the few basic ingredients for making a good tote, the next logical step is to improve comfort. One of the many ways to do this is to introduce even more versatility into the mix.
A good option would be to introduce an alternative style of carrying a tote. For example, Mystery Ranch’s Market Pack adds a pair of backpack-style shoulder straps for when things get heavy. This certainly isn’t the first tote to have a secondary means of carrying, though. Bags like the Osprey Arcane Tote Pack and Timbuk2 Tech Tote can be carried as backpacks and messenger bags. The question for the Market Pack is how well does it carry in both backpack and tote bag modes?
Materials & Aesthetic
Tote packs always strike us as simple, utilitarian, do-it-all bags that don’t need a ton of bells and whistles to prove their worth. We never really feel that a flashy aesthetic is a must on bags like this, and to a certain extent, Mystery Ranch seems to concur. The Market Pack dons the simple profile of a tote bag; tall, trapezoidal, with those easily recognizable twin top handles. The only un-tote-like characteristic of the Market Pack is the pair of shoulder straps just behind it.
Other than that, though, the Mystery Ranch kept the Market Pack relatively simple in terms of looks. The outer shell is a singular color that leans toward a subdued hue. The punchiest among the colorways seems to be the Garnet one, with the Indigo (the one we have) being a close second in our eyes. At the time of writing, other colorways available include Black, Forest, Hummus, and Shadow Moon. That latter colorway actually looks pretty sharp because the logo and paracord zipper pull come in a light blue that sharply accents the gray fabric.
Everything about the Market Pack feels above board as well. The main fabric isn’t ballistic nylon or anything too over-the-top. Instead, it’s a thick 100% textured polyester shell that feels smoother than nylon while giving it that softness you might associate with tote bags. That said, it’s not a weak fabric by any means. We’ve been daily driving the Market Pack and we haven’t spotted a single loose thread anywhere.
The YKK zippers, too, are just as reliable as we’ve come to know them; that is to say, very reliable. The paracord pulls are thin and simple, but they feel as robust as the metal pulls they’re anchored to. Lastly, the 210D high-tenacity nylon liner also holds up pretty well against daily wear and tear.
The Market Pack looks and feels good for a tote and backpack combo. The aesthetics somewhat reminds us of Topo Designs’ colorful design language, which we really like since they’re always pleasant to look at even on a gloomy day. At the same time, the Market Pack hasn’t lost the can-do personality of a tote bag without feeling like a basic dump sack.
Whenever we take a look at bags with multiple options for carrying, the first worry we have is there may be a substantial compromise in one of them. After all, the more features you add to something, the more points of failure you have. In the Market Pack’s case, there are two ways to carry the bag: tote-style or backpack-style, and unfortunately, the carry can be summed up as pretty basic.
The shoulder straps on the Market Pack are fairly simple and barebones. Don’t get us wrong; it’s not like Mystery Ranch just threw in a pair of shoestrings, called it a day, then went home. But at a glance, the width of the straps doesn’t inspire too much confidence. However, since the Market Pack stands at a relatively light capacity of 17.7 liters, the shoulder straps are just wide enough for a comfortable carrying experience.
Padding-wise, there isn’t much here, nor is there any mesh for breathability. As we said, these are pretty plain shoulder straps, with only some bartack stitching and a lone Mystery Ranch logo adorning the left strap. Interestingly, the length adjustment for the straps is rather long, longer than we’d ever need on a backpack of this size. They adjust via a simple plastic adjuster, which works without a hitch. Sadly, there isn’t a strap keeper to tie them down, so the extra slack kinda just dangles around freely.
Next up are the tote handles. Like the shoulder straps, we can’t help but feel that these are a bit too thin for their job. These nylon handles are folded in to make them thicker in a sense. But the overall carrying experience with them is still quite fatiguing after a long period. The good news is that these tote handles have a complement of snap fasteners located along the bag’s opening to help keep things together.
The small snap fasteners noticeably improve carrying comfort by hand. But, something worth mentioning is that these can suddenly snap open in backpack mode. One time while wearing the Market Pack backpack-style, a sudden jostle was enough to snap them open, causing us to believe the bag had suddenly unraveled behind us. Fortunately, it was just the snap fasteners while the zippers held firmly in place.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the overall carrying experience with the Market Pack is pretty basic. Our main gripe is that long-term carrying isn’t as comfortable as we’d hope, either in tote or backpack mode. The minimal padding and relatively slim shape of the straps and handles make the difference, and these are areas we wish to see more.
Inside The Market Pack
Far from being a basic tote bag, the Market Pack comes with the luxury of a front pocket. This isn’t unheard of for a daypack, but it’s a welcome feature if you’re looking for a tote bag to use comfortably for supermarket runs as well. Who else has had the less-than-desirable experience of putting their phone or wallet alongside groceries and losing it between produce?
None of that is an issue when it comes to the Market Pack. We don’t mean to overstate the capabilities of the front pocket, though; it’s still a fairly simple pocket. The opening is located near the top, almost on-level with the main compartment, and is guarded by a single zipper and a bit of fabric that shrouds it. It runs quite deep, but there isn’t much front-to-back depth, so bulky items like laptop chargers can still bulge out. But, because it’s deep, slim items like notebooks or small tablets fit inside perfectly. The 210D nylon liner covers the backside of the pocket, but it’s worth noting that the front side is bare polyester with some coating for reinforcement.
The main star of any tote-based bag is the main compartment, the flatbed of a truck if you will. First off, the opening is secured by dual zippers. The opening is surrounded by fabric that forms a lip, so accessibility isn’t as wide as more open tote designs. Fortunately, you can bypass using the zippers altogether for faster access and instead rely on the snap fasteners.
Second, we typically prefer main compartments that use bright, easily navigable liner fabric for reasons of convenience. However, because of the Market Pack’s multi-purpose role, it will probably find itself carrying groceries as likely as it will laptops and packing cubes. Therefore, we’re more than inclined to give the grey liner a solid pass since it will hide stains better than brighter fabrics.
The interior organization is actually not bad for a tote bag. For the most part, it’s still a bare catch-all bucket that can take in a lot of bulky items, such as packing cubes, tech pouches, and even a 16-inch MacBook Pro. There’s no built-in laptop sleeve inside, so we opted to use a Topo Designs Laptop Sleeve. As far as laptop sleeves come and go, that one is among the thickest we’ve ever tested, but it still fits inside the Market Pack, albeit just barely. That said, we’d be much more comfortable pairing the Market Pack with smaller laptops or large tablets around the 13-inch range.
There’s also a built-in water bottle inside. There are pros and cons to having a water bottle pocket either inside or outside a bag, but we agree with the interior placement of this one. This way, drinks you buy at the store have a solid place to stay instead of swaying around freely. Plus, having it on the outside will surely affect the balance of carrying the bag. 32-ounce bottles don’t quite fit inside while 21-ounce bottles do, but it all still depends on how wide the bottle is.
Keep in mind that using the water bottle pocket affects what you can fit inside the Market pack; that’s just one drawback of an interior water bottle pocket. For example, we had trouble fitting our 13-inch tablet inside when we had a 21-ounce Hydro Flask Bottle. Some maneuvering is required once a big bottle like that is inside.
Lastly, small items like tech accessories aren’t forgotten with the Market Pack. There’s a small pouch-style zippered pocket near the opening of the main compartment. Aside from small accessories, though, this is also a nice little place for spare change when you’re checking out at the grocery store. It’s not very spacious, but definitely enough for something as big as a smartphone adapter and the likes.
The Market Pack is a bit of a hit-and-miss for us because of the shoulder straps and tote handles. It carries well enough in most cases, but the carrying comfort does suffer over time, making it less ideal for day-long trips. Still, we can’t take away from the fact that the convenience of having a front pocket, snap fasteners, and interior pocket is still a significant quality-of-life step-up from your basic tote bag. Furthermore, just having the option to carry a tote backpack-style is a welcome addition, whether you’re out shopping for groceries or hauling gear when you’re working remotely.
- Can be comfortably carried as a tote or backpack
- Main compartment closes with a zipper and metal snaps
- Interior water bottle sleeve holds bottles upright
- Main compartment is simple but fits a lot with minimal but good organization options
- Metal snaps come undone in backpack mode but stay together in tote mode
- Fits a 16″ Laptop, the but lack of a proper sleeve means you’ll have to use a separate one
- Thin shoulder straps are comfortable but start to get uncomfortable without additional padding from clothes