Sunday, August 2, 2015

Backpacks or Obsession?: Dana Design and Mystery Ranch Backpacks

 I saw a sales pitch on REI’s website “Every Pack Tells A Story.”  Then of course you select the link to find that pack to tell the story.  There is a little truth to this and it got me thinking of all of the packs that I have had over the years.  While there has been no single pack, there is a trend that is linked to a guy named Dana Gleason.  I have had an infatuation with his back pack designs over the years.  Lets start at the beginning.

I have always liked back packing, I am not sure why.  It has always been painful, full of discomfort, scary at times (not for me, but people who get scared); I have distinct memories of near starvation, and exhaustion.  All of that seems to be overshadowed by:

-The mornings when I awoke on top of a mountain to the sun rising on the horizon; sunsets are equally beautiful. 
-The joy that comes with catching (and eating) trout in high mountain lakes and streams.
-The feeling of relief when removing boots from tired swollen feet, after working hard to get to the top of a mountain. 
-The quite and serenity that comes at night in high mountain areas.

Bob Marshall Wilderness

As a younger man, I spent my summers at Philmont Scout Ranch in Northern New Mexico.  The first two years were as a participant, and the last two years were as an employee.  I had grandparents with a great outlook on life.  They believed there was nothing to be gained from working pointless jobs, (McDonalds…..) and that once out of high school I would work the rest of my life; my mother followed the same philosophy.  Their funding made Philmont possible.  The years I got paid would barely cover my transportation to get there.  The journey and experience were definitely worth the cost though (and lack of money at the end of the summer).

My grandmother took me to the Base Camp, a high end outdoor shop in Helena, MT and hooked me up with the finest of gear.  Previous attempts at backpacking were an epic failure, and I guess she thought that since we were going to the effort we might as well make it worth while.  That was my first encounter with Dana Designs and the running man logo.  I was smitten.  Deep smit.

I always took pride in the fact that these were made in my home state.

One year when we were going to a Montana State University game I saw the building where they were manufactured.  My grandmother and mother, both determined women, pulled in and we got a tour.  To this day I remember the rolls of nylon and sewing machines and think about how glorious it was.

 I am not sure how these manage to survive Emily's constant purging.  1992 is my favorite the, front flap closes and the buckle looks like it is connected.  It is in tact.

Over the years I have purchased 5 of Dana Gleason's backpacks and my wife has purchased two: the Yellowstone, the Clark, the Bangtail, Terraplane X, Mystery Ranch ? Tactical, the Bridger, and the Hoodoo Spire (I was envious of this bag when Emily bought it and somehow during a purge, Emily convinced me we should sell it)  Sad Face!

Obsession?

They do tell stories of peace and tranquility, as well as, hostility and war.

Anyway I will dispense with words and show some pictures. 

The Yellowstone:



 Senior pictures, I damaged my arm the day before.  My beloved Yellowstone from 1992.  

I used the Yellowstone for a solid 4 years.  Three of those were absolute abuse and it rarely showed signs though it did need repair once.  When touring the facility I mentioned that I appreciated how quickly they repaired and returned it.  The gentlemen said he remembered my pack, which stands as a testament of quality; you wouldn't remember it if it was one of thousands of repairs.  I gave it to a friend who was traveling Europe, I am sad it is gone as my boys get older. 

The Terraplane X:  


I still love the "Blurple" and yellow color of this bag.

This backpack has some great memories, especially with Emily.  Essentially the same style as the Yellowstone, but with a better frame design.  I had some great times with this backpack.  I still own it and it will have many years of use in the future.  I really wanted the 10th anniversary pack but I had no money that year; youth is wasted on the young who have energy but no cash.    

 1999 trip through Capital Reef National Park.  It is a rare picture in which I have hair.  

The Bridger:

Again the same classic design.  Emily is a good sport and we have had many adventures.  I always made sure I carried more weight to make it enjoyable.  Of note was a trip through Capital Reef National Park.  We were told that there would be easy access to water before we left for Utah.  Upon arrival the Ranger chuckled slightly as he said "who told you there would be water?"  That was on a 17 mile stretch through a canyon.  I packed several gallons of water and she got the tent!  Great times as I dug a hole near a damp spot in the creek bend to get enough to pool and filter.  

 I am not sure why we packed her bag that way.  It looks strange and probably had to do with the fact that there was no water (imagine that in a desert) and I had to empty my bag to carry the heavy stuff.  Over centuries water and wind carved this overhang.  

I would love to go back.

 2000ish.  Emily bushwhacking in the Mission Mountains in Montana.  I am not sure what we were thinking on this trip.  

Similar to the water situation in the desert we were told by the gentlemen leading this that it was great.  As we climbed up (photo above) to go through a pass the two men (in their early 60s) both agreed that in all of their years they had never seen so much snow.  It took great effort to climb a challenging mountain to the the left of the pass (probably should have turned around or used ropes) but we got over.  

This was the reward, a majestic view.  Oh yeah, and there was a severe electric storm in which the flash and bang was near simultaneous and we spent whole day climbing so we camped on the ridge.  It was mildly scary, for people who get scared, unlike me of course.  

For the record, I have never been "weary!"


Looking closely, you can see the bridge of snow above the waterfall.  On the other side is an amazing turquoise blue lake.  Well worth the hike.  This must have been 2004 or 05.  The Bob Marshall Wilderness is a true treasure.  It's harsh features are its greatest beauty.


Molly the Poodle has always loved to be outdoors.  Don't be fooled by her fluffy appearance.  She is a hunter and I almost lost her as she chased a mountain goat over the edge of a cliff.  



The Clark and Bangtail:

The Clark was a great bag for skiing, day trips, and travel.  It fit well in overhead compartments on planes.  I used it on a trip to Denmark.  The Bangtail was my bike everywhere bag.  Technically it could be called a fanny pack, but that would be an insult.  It has an amazing waist belt and fit adjustment, you could put a days worth of books and crap in it and ride with no efforts.  It was there before messenger bags.  Intact, I may pull it out and use it.  Both of these bags have had great adventures.





I was sad when Dana Design was sold, the designs harvested, and re-branded.  Then......

Mystery Ranch Tri-Zip:

Then we get to a less peaceful and serene time.  War.

I am not sure if the bag actually had a name at the time.  I found out that they had been doing some work for various special forces and I called and asked what I could get.  There was not a production line set up for commercial sale at the time and they said they would do a custom color, gray (or titanium) to go with the new ACU digital (the worst camo ever).  It set me back some coin but Dana had been on so many other adventures and journeys, I felt comfortable with it.  

They Y-zip is genius.

The 3-Zip design is amazing.  You can pack it and get to stuff at the bottom with ease.  

 You can't see the bag, but those are the straps.  Taken in Dohuk, Norther Iraq 2005/6 time frame.  We were able to drop our helmets and vests and walk around town for a couple of hours.  So odd that one minute your life is in danger, then you cross an imaginary line and you can walk freely.

Subsequently, I spent some time in Pakistan, where it was recommended that we didn't carry anything military looking since we traveled commercial and through areas that don't always appreciate U.S. Soldiers.  So I chose to leave it at home.  That was a big mistake as I traveled within Pakistan and it fits so well on small military aircraft, I took it on a couple of short trips to Afghanistan, again it is an indispensable bag.

Soon I am starting another great adventure and I am disappointed that this bag does not match the current uniform camouflage pattern and sadly it will be left home and I will embark without a Dana Gleason pack for the first time in many years.  It has been such a great bag to have over the years in both a civilian and military capacity.  It will be used for years to come as a do-it-all backpack.

At the end of the day, it is I that am telling the story.  The backpacks have been great companions and necessary tools to carry the objects necessary to have all of these adventures.

Out of all of the amazing experiences both in the wilderness and in war, there have been two constants; Me and Dana Gleason's back packs!