Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 Review
After 20 months of hard use, the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 has certified itself as an excellent daypack that handles moderate loads (up to 15 kg) with relative comfort. Whether you’re going for a hike or heading off on an overseas adventure, the Coulee is a solid choice for reliable performance.
Weight: 1315 g
Main Material: 330D Robic Nylon
Hardware: YKK, Duraflex, Woojin
Frame Style: HDPE
Weather Resistance: DWR (exterior), polyurethane (interior)
Dimensions: 55.9 x 26.7 x 30.5 cm
Manufacturing Country: Vietnam
Length of Test: 20 months
Acquisition: Self Purchase
Countries: Bhutan, Ethiopia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Somalia, and Thailand.
Climate(s): Continental, Tropical Savanna, Tundra, Local Steppe, Desert, and Subtropical
Weather: Hot and Humid (highest temp 37 C), Cold and Dry (lowest temp -6 C), and Light Rain.
The Coulee 25 is designed for:
It’s not designed for:
Main Materials: when it comes to Mystery Ranch packs, their quality is second to none. From custom spec’d materials to a double-layered pack bottom, you can tell that every detail on the Coulee 25 was well-thought-out and built for the long-haul.
From our wide range of experiences (day hikes to multi-day expeditions), the Coulee 25’s 330D Robic nylon has earned its “robust” classification – thanks to its incredibly tight weave. Our pack has been battered, dropped, and dragged from the Himalayas to Somalia, and has so far proven to be nearly indestructible.
Hardware: the main pack features water repellent YKK AquaGuard Zippers (#10), which you can expect to reliably function for many years of service. The zippers themselves have paracord pull tabs attached, making them easy to operate in a variety of conditions or with gloves on.
On the hip belt, each pocket features smaller (but still burly) #8RC YKK Zippers.
As for the Coulee 25’s side-release buckles, webbing adjusters, and D-rings, they’re all heavy-duty plastic and manufactured by Duraflex – a brand known for reliability.
In addition, there are two Woojin cord locks that primarily function as trekking pole holders (when paired with the two ice axe loops at the bottom of the pack).
Adjustable Length: featuring a variation of Mystery Ranch’s famous Futura Yoke, the pack’s harness is a dual-component system that’s both micro-adjustable and available in two sizes (S/M and L/XL).
The Futura Yoke allows you to dial-in a precise fit via a form-fitting molded adjuster on the outer face of the shoulder straps. When the adjuster is removed, it’s used to detach the yoke (which is secured by Velcro) from the pack, so that it may be vertically adjusted for a perfect fit.
Once properly adjusted, you can expect the Coulee 25 to fit like a glove.
Back Panel: directly below the Futura Yoke lies an HPDE framesheet that’s non-removable. Since it doesn’t run the full-length of the pack, it provides a fair balance of flexibility and rigidity during movement. For additional comfort, there’s a thin layer of closed-cell foam lining the framesheet (along with the Futura Yoke).
In regards to ventilation, the entire back panel is covered with an aero-spacer mesh. Just be aware that the back panel is designed for maximum body contact, not foofy foofoo “airflow magic” – for good reason.
Lets be real, any weight you put on your back is going to cause perspiration due to increased energy expenditure. Swamp back is unavoidable and Mystery Ranch knows this, so they focused on what matters most… load distribution and comfort.
To round out the back panel, there’s a raised section of lumbar support at the very bottom. In our humble opinion, there’s a bit too much padding here… but for most people, it may be an ideal ergonomic shape.
Shoulder Straps: the Coulee 25’s wide and S-shaped shoulder straps are well-padded with a high-density closed-cell foam. While the foam isn’t as dense or thick as the padding on a GoRuck GR1, the density is sufficient relative to overall strap width and stability.
Unlike most packs that have independent shoulder straps sewn directly into the pack, the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 utilizes a wide one-piece harness for enhanced stability and load distribution. Additionally, where the straps press against your chest, there’s an outer plastic insert which mitigates hot spots or pressure points from forming.
As for the sternum strap, it’s adjustable to five different heights and secured via a ladder lock system (our favorite style). During intense use, the strap never came loose and does a good job at manipulating the contour of the shoulder straps, when needed.
At the top of the shoulder straps, you’ll find load lifters that you can adjust to bring the top part of the pack closer to your body – this, in conjunction with the rest of the harness system, helps align the pack’s center of gravity for better load distribution.
Removable Hip Belt: made of the same materials as the shoulder straps, the hip belt is fixated to the lumbar support via Velcro and two G-hooks… making it easy to detach.
The hip belt is reasonably padded for moderate loads and fits snug. Even without the presence of internal vertical stays, the hip belt has decent shoulder-to-hip load transference, since the Coulee 25 was cleverly designed as a lumbar pack.
As for quick-access storage, the hip belt has two small zippered pockets. We typically keep our Buffs, a folding knife, and lip balm in these pockets.
Main Compartment: accessed by Mystery Ranch’s signature 3-Zip design (which is arguably the holy-grail of pack access), the main compartment is a cavernous 23L and undeniably basic. No pockets, no interior liner… nada.
Its sole feature is an internal sleeve that can hold a 2-3L hydration bladder and a small sewn loop at the top for securing it. Left and right ports let you efficiently route the drinking hose over either shoulder. Unfortunately, this sleeve isn’t big enough to store a laptop, but can easily hold a small tablet.
As for organization, that’s it folks… this compartment is spartan by design, as the Coulee 25 is primarily designed to be a technical rucksack. If you want additional organization, you’ll need to utilize your own modular pouch system.
Quick-Access Pockets: at the top of the pack, there’s a zippered detail pocket with a mesh bottom lining. The pocket seems to be ~2L in capacity and easily holds a travel wallet, a headlamp, sunglasses, and a portable power bank, with some room to spare.
On the front of the pack, there are two vertical face pockets that are a mixture of Robic nylon and a durable stretch-woven material. These pockets lack a gusseted construction, but are still volume independent from the main compartment. So anything you stuff inside (~2L per pocket) won’t cannibalize the pack’s interior capacity.
In practice, the face pockets are a great place to store low-profile items like a lightweight rain jacket, gloves, or even a 4 oz gas canister.
External Components: in total, there are four side compression straps (two on each side) that are useful for reining in and stabilizing smaller loads. As a thoughtful gesture, each strap comes with a removable web keeper to help manage excess dangle.
Last but certainly not least, there are two elasticized water bottle pockets that’ll easily swallow a wide-mouth 1L HydroFlask. Given their stretch and retention, they can also fit larger items like a camera tripod as well.
Carry Comfort: ergonomic comfort and load-hauling ability are where the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 truly shines, and surpasses most of the competition.
Whether hiking the snow-capped mountains of Nepal or exploring the ancient forts of Oman, long days of carry never resulted in sore shoulders. Even when rucking with 22 kg of gear, we never experienced any pressure or stress points. Thanks to the Coulee 25’s overbuilt harness and suspension system, the weight felt evenly distributed from our shoulders, across our backs, and down to our hips.
When carrying our average load-out of 5-7 kg, the weight seemed to almost disappear on our backs. And while this type of carry comfort makes Mystery Ranch the defacto ‘Bentley’ of the backpack world… there’s one drawback to the Coulee 25. Its removable hip belt is prone to slipping (especially if you have a small waist). However, this shouldn’t be considered a deal-breaker and is to be expected for a hip belt of this nature – carry comfort was still phenomenal.
Versatility: while the Coulee 25 was designed with day hikes in mind, its minimalist organization makes it a modular pack for a variety of backcountry adventures.
For photography, we’d convert the Coulee into an adventure-ready camera pack with ease. We would carry a 13″ laptop in a protective sleeve, our mirrorless camera and a zoom lens in a Tenba BYOB insert, plus our GoPro and other electronics in a couple lightweight pouches.
In the video below, you can see the pack in action when we were documenting the Hamar tribe’s Bull Jumping Ceremony in the Omo Valley:
Our Criticism: as high quality as the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 is, its grab handle just doesn’t reflect the confidence-inspiring ethos of the rest of the pack. It’s a disappointingly thin (single-layer) nylon webbing… ’nuff said.
While the grab handle is well-reinforced and has never felt like it was going to pop-off under repeated heavy loads, we wish that it was folded over and stitched together – like on Mystery Ranch’s Rip Ruck 32.
Secondly, we wish the hip belt was stowable (see the 3DAP as an example) rather than removable, as it would make the pack more streamlined for travel and other use cases. In reality, a fairly robust hip belt isn’t necessary on a pack of this size. For most purposes, a less beefy hip belt would make the Coulee 25 much more versatile and agile.
Other than these fussy lil’ nitpicks, our minds draw a blank when it comes to any full-blown negatives… the Coulee is a solid pack, through and through.
The Coulee 25 was meant to be a workhorse and therefore has utilitarian design – it’s straightforward, user-friendly, and versatile… but not particularly fashionable.
From an aesthetics perspective, the pack looks at home when used in the mountains… although it can still be used on city streets (w/o the hip belt), unless your a devout fashionista (we won’t judge). At its core, the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 is a technical rucksack that can easily adapt to a variety of environments and use-cases for pragmatic individuals.
At the time of writing, the Coulee 25 comes in four colorways: black, blue, red, and light brown.
The competitive landscape for the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 is highly fragmented, as mid-sized daypacks are one of the most popular backpack segments. With that being said, the Coulee 25 is one of the most comfortable 25L packs on the market.
However, if you’re looking for a more streamlined daypack, then the Thule Alltrail 25 another top pick of ours… and the Osprey Stratos 24 is also worth considering.
As our top fast and light (UL) choice, the Ultimate Direction Scram is another strong contender and clocks in at just 445 g.
For the most wallet-friendly option, the Gregory Miwok 24 has the best price-to-value ratio and still offers solid carry performance.
Did you know that… when you purchase something through one of our links, we earn a small fee. However, you still pay the exact same amount. It’s a win-win that keeps our lights on.
When you purchase a Mystery Ranch pack, you’re buying into their load-hauling and thou-shall-not-fail heritage. The carry comfort and longevity of their packs are stuff of legends – it’s the reason the company has developed a cult-like following over the years. For us, the Coulee 25 was our first sip of the Mystery Ranch Kool-Aid, and damn-sure not the last…
In our view, Mystery Ranch hit it out of the park with the Coulee 25. Developing a pack for technical outdoors performance and inadvertently, adventure travel is no easy feat. Yet the Coulee happens to be that rare pack, a mountain-capable load-hauler that works well around town or as a camera pack, without compromising utility.
Overall, we’ve absolutely loved using the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 over the past 20 months. It’s truly a hidden gem that’s ideal for most day hikers or travelers that need a high level of adaptability and comfort, based on context.
There’s not much that we dislike about the Coulee 25 but we’d like an updated version that:
Impeccable build quality and good old-fashioned comfort and durability – solid construction as expected from Mystery Ranch.
Definitely one of the most comfortable packs on the market for day hiking. The Coulee 25 has earned its stripes in: Oman, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Laos, Ethiopia, and northern Thailand.
Fjallraven Abisko Midsummer Trousers (M)
Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights (W)
Buff Pack Trek Cap
Joby GorillaPod 3K Pro
Zojirushi Cool Bottle 1L