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in: Gear, Lifestyle

The Best Backpack

From grade school through law school, I used a backpack to carry my books and notes.

Post college, I mainly use a backpack for day hikes and traveling.

Over the course of these three decades of backpack-carrying, I’ve tried a lot of different packs, and yet until recently, hadn’t found one I really loved for all-around, all-purpose use.

For a lot of that time, I used a GoRuck GR1 as my go-to backpack. And while I still love that pack for rucking (I’m going on 10+ years with mine, and it’s still holding up), I didn’t find it to be a great option for taking on trips, nor for regular old hiking.

My biggest beef with most backpacks (including the GR1) is that they’re designed in a way that makes getting to your stuff a real pain in the butt. Most backpacks have one main compartment, one deep well, where you put the bulk of your stuff. If you want to get to that stuff, you have to put your entire arm in the backpack and dig around for whatever it is you’re looking for. 

Also, while most backpacks do have a smaller outside pocket where you can store things you need easy access to, it has the same problem as the main compartment: you usually have to stick your entire arm into it and rummage around to find what you need. 

Thankfully, I recently found a sturdy, well-made backpack with a much more effective and intuitive design. I’ve been field-testing it for a while now, taking it on trips across the country and hikes around Vermont. And I can confidently say that the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 24 is the best all-around backpack I’ve ever used. 

Note: While this article contains affiliate links to Huckberry, this endorsement was neither paid for nor solicited, and I have no relationship, financial or otherwise, with Mystery Ranch. This is genuinely the backpack that I personally use and recommend.

Mystery Ranch: Backpacks for Outdoorsmen and Special Operators

The founders of Mystery Ranch — Dana Gleason and Renee Sippel-Bake — have been making backpacks for outdoor enthusiasts since 1978. After experiencing great success with their first backpack company, Gleason and Sippel-Bake retired early to spend their days skiing and backpacking. But then they got the itch to make packs again and founded Mystery Ranch in 2000. 

With Mystery Ranch, they went back to their roots in making backpacks for outdoor enthusiasts, but in 2004 they were approached by U.S. Navy SEALs to build backpacks for them, too. The SEALs needed backpacks that were rugged, carried well, and made accessing their gear as easy as possible. Mystery Ranch delivered and thus began a relationship that would influence the outfit’s future offerings, including the Urban Assault.

Why The Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 24 Is My Favorite Backpack

Here’s what makes the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 24 the perfect daypack for work, travel, hiking, and more:

The 3-ZIP closure. This feature has a ton to do with what makes the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 24 my favorite backpack. The 3-Zip closure makes getting to your gear in the main compartment incredibly easy. You can unzip the two horizontal zippers and rummage through your backpack from the top like a traditional backpack, and/or you can unzip the third vertical zipper along the front of the backpack to get even easier access to your stuff in the main compartment — even if it’s all the way down at the bottom. That third zipper is a game-changer. It makes finding your gear so much easier. 

Sleek design, but ample capacity. The 24 in this pack’s name refers to its 24-liter capacity; that’s plenty of room for your gear. At the same time, the pack’s been designed to have a sleek profile, which makes it easy to stick under an airplane seat and to maneuver around with in general. 

Lid pocket. Similar to a feature you’ll find on backpacking backpacks, the Urban Assault 24 has a handy top lid pocket with a mesh compartment. This is where I keep small items that I need quick access to like keys, chargers, headphones, and snacks. The lid pocket is shallow (making it easier to find your stuff) but wide enough that you can keep plenty of things in there. Unlike the vertically-oriented accessory pocket that most backpacks sport, which makes you blindly dig around for your stuff, this top pocket is horizontal and at eye-level, making it easy to grab what you need. 

Easy access laptop sleeve. The Urban Assault 24 makes traveling with your laptop a breeze. A separate, dedicated padded laptop sleeve on the outside of the main compartment makes removing your laptop when you’re passing through airport security so stinking easy.

Lots of internal pockets. This backpack has plenty of interior pockets and compartments to stash small objects. And they’re laid out in a way that keeps your gear well-organized. 

Two easy-to-access water bottle pockets on the outside. Really handy for hiking and traveling. Instead of having to rummage in the main compartment for my water bottle, I just pull it out of one of the big pockets on the outside. 

Fixed-harness frame system. The fixed-harness frame system makes carrying the Urban Assault 24 super comfortable, whether you’re hiking the Nevada Falls Trail in Yosemite or strolling to your next gate at Chicago O’Hare.

I think the one downside of this pack is that it doesn’t stand up straight when you put it down; you’ll want to put it on a hook, if one is available.

But other than that, if you’re looking for the best all-around backpack, I highly recommend Mystery Ranch’s Urban Assault 24. Happy venturing. 

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