Mystery Ranch NICE 6500 Review
Now that I’ve put around 100 training miles, along with a backpack sheep hunt in with my Mystery Ranch NICE 6500 I figure I’ve put it through enough trials to be able to weigh in a fair and honest assessment of the pack, the craftsmanship and if it lives up to it’s claims.
First off… Mystery Ranch boasts some of the finest customer service out of any hunting gear suppliers I’ve dealt with. From the initial phone call, right through to product support (and I needed it) they were a class act. I’d chosen the wrong waist belt size, and was having some issues with the yoke pressing into my neck. The MR staff quickly sent me out a medium waist belt and then helped me sort out my problem with my yoke. They even went so far as to suggest they would make a custom yoke (cutting a larger one down to my height) if we couldn’t get the problem fixed by simply adjusting what I had. The back of the yoke around my neck was rubbing uncomfortably when the pack was loaded. We fixed the issue with proper fit and adjustment of the pack.
When I talk about “testing” this pack, my training hikes, involve a 3 mile hike with about a 600′ elevation gain around a local trail. The pack was loaded with everything in my Sheep Hunting Backpack List aside from my rifle and weighed in about 60lbs. I did this 4 days a week for 3 months building up to my sheep hunt. These loaded hikes were to work out any adjustments in the pack and to figure out exactly what all the buckles, straps and tie downs do (there are lots)…. Oh yeah and also to work off a few pounds for our upcoming Stone Sheep hunt 😉
This years sheep hunt consisted of several miles of steep hiking to get up onto a high ridge we planned on hunting. It was a 2 day hike to get into our spot, delayed somewhat by the brutal weather one grows to expect in the mountains. The Mystery Ranch was fully loaded with 8 days worth of hunting gear and including my rifle weighed in at roughly 65 pounds (My old pack weight 58-60). The ridge wasn’t much higher than 7000′ and we spent most our time hiking around the 5000-6800′ level. Needless to say I definitely hiked my ass off with this pack on under moderately heavy loads and in some really rough country.
What Do I Think?
I think the pack is everything Mystery Ranch (and their legions of followers) claim it to be. A tough durable backpack that can haul really heavy loads and is designed with features that have a hunters best interest in mind.
Is it the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever worn? Yes, I could say that. But to be fair, I haven’t tried a Barneys or a Kifaru and I am limited to only experiencing a few different internal framed packs, which the MR is definitely light years ahead. One of the items that stood out right away was how snug the hip belts fit and when the pack is loaded they keep sufficient hold and they do not slip down . For long and heavy treks the NICE Frame/Yoke has enough padding in all the right places and kept my back/shoulders from getting sore on our hunt (as in no sore spots/rubbing).
Don’t kid yourself though, when your pack weighs 60lbs it weighs 60lbs. The pack you choose doesn’t make it any lighter… Think about 100lbs+ coming out with a caped, boned out Ram? The right pack can make that load fit better, carry better and offer more usability for your journey. The bottom line is that you’re more comfortable. I think the crew over at Mystery Ranch can make their claims and I’ll just be one more user out in the field backing them up.
The pack itself, is made out of a very durable water repellency treated cordura. When you pick this pack up it feels heavy (and it is @9lbs 8oz). The stitching is super clean, and visibly overkill in all the right places. All of the straps, clips and buckles are also of a heavy duty construction. I’ve hauled this fully loaded Mystery Ranch pack through miles of nasty buck brush, miles of rock and scree and still nothing has ripped or torn.
The NICE frame is solid and you’d have a hard time bending or breaking the “backbone” of this frame. At first glance though, you’d never peg this to be a framed pack, that’s for sure. I am sure the MR guys could explain much more technically the details of this packs construction, for the sake of this review, I will not. Just know, it’s made from heavy duty materials, and was built to last a very long time under strenuous conditions. The fact that Mystery Ranch is willing to put their ass on the line with a lifetime warranty on an item like a heavy hauling hunting pack is a testament to their build quality.
There are several features of the Mystery Ranch NICE 6500 that made it stand out for me.
- NICE Frame. (rock solid – ain’t gonna break on a sheep hunt)
- 6500 Cubic Inches of space. (106.5L) more than enough room for my gear and a ram.
- Color Choices (Foliage, Coyote or Multicam)
- Heavy Duty Material, Zippers and Buckles.
- More straps and tie down points then you’ll know what to do with. (seriously)
- You can access the main compartment from the top, side and bottom. (handy for quickly accessing items buried deep in your pack)
- The pocketed hip belts are awesome, I can’t believe I went for so long without them. (fits camera, video camera, SPOT, sunglasses, sunscreen, binos, knife etc…)
- The two tube pockets on the outside of the pack are perfect for a spotter (Zeiss 85mm) and a tripod.
- The two top pockets that make up the daypack are big enough to fit my binos, socks, first aid kit, knife, snacks, rain gear, pack cover, and several other small but often used items.
- The sleeping bag compartment, has a unique way of opening, that gives you more room, and is easier to zip closed. (my sleeping bag & thermarest fit with room to spare)
If you’re worried about having tie down points for extra gear, or strapping on horns, antlers, meat, capes, tents, sleeping bags, etc… You will not have a problem. There are more straps, buckles and tie down points then you’ll know what to do with, In fact there are some I have no idea what they are even for. (a manual from MR with descriptions of all the pack features would be cool) because there literally are several features of the pack that they don’t detail on their website, and you have no idea what the features are for.
Oh yeah… And if you’re worried about storing your gun or bow on this pack, you should be okay. I usually just strap my rifle (.270) to the side with the butt of the stock inside one of the external “water bottle” pockets on the outside of the pack. I then wrap the 3 buckled side straps around my rifle and then cinch it down. It’s not the fastest method if you want to retrieve your gun quickly though, as you’ll have to take the pack off to get your gun off. I have heard that the Kifaru Gun Bearer goes well with the pack. If you are trying to pack a bow I haven’t tried to pack mine with it yet.
Surely I Don’t Love Everything About The Pack?
No, I don’t… There are a few minor issues I’ve discovered after quite a bit of use with the pack. They are minor though and not deal breakers if you’re considering a Mystery Ranch pack.
1. Many of the buckles have a simple “locking” mechanism against loosening them once you’ve cinched them tight… These can be a royal pain in the ass when you’re at 7000′ feet and have really cold hands!
2. “The Daypack”… While I understand that some people may take off and hunt with only the small daypack (included in the top pack of the MR 6500) there is no way that I would venture away from a high mountain camp without something sufficient enough in size to bring my trophy and the meat back with me and the daypack MR provides is obviously too small. Because of that, I’ve always just taken the entire pack, leaving all my heavy gear back at camp. To save on weight I cut the daypack harness right off the pack.
3. There are a lot of pack features, that you will not see on the website. Such as webbing in particular places, pockets (on inside), straps, anchors and other clips and buckles that were designed with a purpose and likely a specific use in mind but their is no explanation included when you buy the pack. Maybe they just want to spur the backcountry ingenuity in all of us…
In closing, the MR NICE 6500 combo would make any mountain hunter a happy camper. The pack’s certainly not cheap and you’ll probably never get to try one on before hand unless you know somebody with one, visit their booth at a show, or go to their retail outlet in Bozeman Montana. It was through reading some of many forum postings, and online reviews regarding MR packs that I was able to make my decision to purchase their product. One of the most important aspects of researching any major hunting gear purchases is to get feedback from the guys who are actually using the products in the same fashion you in fact intend to use them… On that note, I hope you found this review helpful.