Mystery Ranch Kodiak Review
By Jesse Ables
Written 27 November 2013
The Kodiak is one of the largest internal frame bags made by Mystery Ranch and one of only two packs to use their Overkill Guide Frame. An evolution of the BDSB pack developed for Navy SEALs around 2003, the Kodiak features an improved frame system and a layout virtually identical to its SEAL-used counterpart.
Manufacturer: Mystery Ranch
Manufacturer rating: 7000 cu-in / 114.7 L
Body: 500 denier CORDURA nylon, 500 denier DIMENSION-POLYANT X-Pac
Storm collar: 200 denier oxford nylon
Manufacturer rating: 9 lbs 3 oz / 4167.4 g
Hardware: National Molding Duraflex buckles, YKK zippers
Country of manufacture: U.S.A.
This pack has a layout similar to the NICE 6500. For the sake of comparison, it's reasonable to consider the NICE 6500 an improved, hybrid frame variant of the Kodiak. Both packs feature two vertical long pockets on the back, the signature Speed Zip sleeping bag compartment, an optional main compartment divider with buckles for compressing the sleeping bag area when not in use, side zipper access, external water bottle pockets and an internal radio/hydration bladder pocket. Other features, such as external compression straps, PALS grids and the Daypack Lid, vary only slightly between the two packs.
Mystery Ranch Kodiak next to a NICE 6500
The main body is largely constructed of a 500 denier X-Pac fabric (VX51 or similar) made by DIMENSION-POLYANT. This material features a 500 denier Cordura face with a laminate of thick strands of polyester and a thin PET film. Mystery Ranch states this material is used to give the bag "additional structure and load control properties." How effective it is at providing load control is debatable, but the material certainly affords a level of durability and waterproofness unparalleled by most other pack fabrics.
Looking into the main compartment with the divider unengaged
The Daypack Lid is of a slightly different design than that made for the NICE Frame, featuring a different taper and a lightweight, elastic-trimmed skirt on each side between the two zippered pockets. Capacity and function are the same between the two models.
The Kodiak's side compression straps are two in number on each side, versus the three found on the NICE 6500. They're of a different configuration as well, being routed through a plastic loop to produce a "V" shape. This means there will always be a strap in front of the side zippers, but this never proved to be an issue during use.
Perhaps the most aggravating difference between the Kodiak and NICE 6500 is the lack of lift handles on the side of the Kodiak. The upper carry handle on the Kodiak is positioned so high as to be useless for donning, and the instability of the yoke against the frame (discussed in detail below) makes putting on the pack with the shoulder straps alone a frustrating process. In my case, this issue was finally solved by the addition of custom side carry handles, but they should be a standard feature as they are on the NICE 6500 and Tactiplane packs.
Custom lift handles. Sewing machines are useful
The Kodiak's Overkill Guide Frame is unique among MR's pack lineup (though it was used on the now discontinued Grizzly pack). Whereas the BDSB pack used the then-standard Outamatic X Frame, the Kodiak's frame is an overbuilt version of the modern Guide Frame used on the G7000 and similar packs, which features two full-length fiberglass rods coupled with a HDPE framesheet and a removable, contoured aluminum stay behind the lumbar pad. The "Overkill" element comes from the dual aluminum stay reinforced Overkill Futura Yoke, which is two inches wider than the standard Futura Yoke found on most other MR packs and designed to provide greater stability. The frame utilizes the Five Segmented Lumbar Wrap, a hipbelt system similar to the Contour Lumbar Wrap found on the NICE Frame but with a more pronounced and shaped lumbar region. A different shell is used to back the hip pads as well, and this backing clearly draws inspiration from the older Dana Design ArcFlex packs. (It's worth noting that the hip pads are not designed to be interchangeable with those used with the Contour Lumbar Wrap.)
Kodiak left, BDSB right (photo courtesy of Tier One Gear)
Most Mystery Ranch packs I've used are subject to a higher degree of instability when heavily loaded compared to other framed packs by nature of the Futura Yoke. Whereas the shoulder straps on, say, a Kifaru Duplex Frame are attached directly to the frame (as is the case with most packs), the Futura Yoke is a separate element that links to a main frame. A carbon fiber stiffener in the yoke provides some stability between it and the main framing components, but movement between the yoke and the frame is largely limited only by how tight the load lifter straps are cinched.
I've used the Kodiak with loads ranging from about 40 pounds to over 100 pounds. Even with the beefy Overkill Futura Yoke, the pack was downright wobbly compared to an equally loaded NICE 6500. Movement between the yoke and frame could only be significantly limited by tightening the load lifter straps well beyond the recommended range, to a point where the shoulder straps were several inches off my shoulders. The Kodiak has two sets of ladderlock buckles at different heights for routing the load lifter straps; but because of the length of the frame and the stability issues with the yoke, it would be a huge improvement to provide height-adjustable load lifter strap attachment points (à la Kifaru) or simply several more sets of ladderlock buckles at varying heights. Such a change may allow the yoke to be cinched tight to the frame without lifting the shoulder straps excessively.
The ladderlock buckles nearest the yoke provide a load lifter strap angle much steeper than the commonly recommended 45 degrees (for reference, the yoke is adjusted for a user 5'9" with an 18" torso)
As mentioned above, I carried this pack with a host of different loads over various terrain. The lumbar pad and shaped aluminum stay provide a better fit for my lower back versus the Contour Lumbar Wrap, but the pack did have a tendency to sag some despite the hipbelt being cinched tightly. (I'm 5'9" and 130 pounds though, so that might have something to do with the lumbar pad slipping.) I'm a fan of the numerous lashing points, external water bottle pockets (great for holding a rifle) and side zippers. The Kodiak is heavy, especially compared to many modern packs that are being built of 500 denier Cordura and similar fabrics, but the weight is a difficult-to-avoid result of building a highly functional, durable pack. And, like all MR products, the build quality is top-notch and the pack can be expected to last years.
Because of the stability issues and extensive similarities with the NICE 6500, I'd recommend purchasing the NICE 6500 over the Kodiak. The NICE 6500 is built around a more versatile and stable platform, has several features the Kodiak lacks and, as of this writing, is actually a few bucks cheaper. But those who are looking to save a few ounces, don't like the NICE Frame's lumbar wrap or want a taller, dedicated expedition ruck may find the Kodiak fits the bill perfectly.
- Convenient access to packbag (top, both sides and lower).
- Numerous attachment points (daisy chain, PALS webbing) and lashing and compression straps.
- Comfortable hipbelt and a prominent, contoured lumbar pad.
- Extremely well constructed with exceptionally durable materials.
- Notably less stable than the nearest equivalent NICE Frame pack due to frame design.
- Heavy compared to many modern internal frame packs of similar capacity.
- Difficult to don when heavily loaded due to placement of upper carry handle and lack of side handles.
Mystery Ranch® and NICE® are registered trademarks of Mystery Ranch, Ltd.