Sometimes you have a week for a big game hunt. And sometimes your schedule only allows for a quick overnight hunt. If you’re heading out on Saturday morning with the intention of returning home Sunday afternoon you really don’t want to be carrying a humongous backpack. So what to do?
An increasingly popular choice for hit and run excursions is the Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45. The S45 was introduced recently and has become something of a go-to pack for short-term outings. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? That’s what we’re here to find out.
About the Sawtooth 45
The Sawtooth 45 was introduced a couple of years back and essentially replaced the now discontinued Mystery Ranch Mule. The Sawtooth 45 is designed for outings lasting anywhere from 1-3 days, although if you’re particularly frugal with your supplies you might get another day out of it.
The Sawtooth 45 continues the Mystery Ranch tradition of low-profile packs that can be effectively expanded or contracted to ensure your load is always cinched down tight so that you’re not giving your position away. There are no gimmicks here, no acre-and-a-half of molle webbing intended to distract from a lack of genuine features. The pack is truly feature rich with every component serving a logical purpose, and in some cases, multiple purposes.
One thing that will likely jump out at you is that, unlike a hiking backpack, the Sawtooth has an old fashioned external frame. That may seem curious at first, but it’s necessary in order to enable the overload shelf, which we’ll get to shortly. That said the Guide Light MT Frame here is an upgrade of the company’s much heralded Guide Light Frame.
This time Mystery Ranch uses state-of-the-art SJ Autolock buckles and a lightweight but highly tear-resistant 500D fabric. Add it all up and you have a tough, light and versatile hunting frame that will bear the weight of your gear, and perhaps your deer or your bear, with aplomb.
The Overload Shelf
The Overload Shelf is a patented feature available only on Mystery Ranch backpacks. It’s easy to access by releasing a clip located near the top of the frame, and 4 side compression clips (2 on each side). Once all 5 clips are released the Sawtooth 45 opens up, increasing your effective storage space by about 50%. But it’s not standard storage space.
The Overload Shelf enables you to store heavy objects close in to your back, with the result being you have better control over your center of gravity and you don’t (in theory) tire so easily since the load is more stable than it would be with a standard hiking pack. The Overload Shelf is also commonly used as a meat shelf to conveniently store the product of your hunt so you can hike it out safely and effectively.
Materials and Waterproofing
The Sawtooth 45 boasts first-rate materials throughout. Once you start inspecting this puppy it doesn’t take you long to figure out what all the fuss is about and how this pack became a hunting staple in just a few short years. The shell is fashioned from lightweight but durable 330D Cordura and employs stout YKK zippers that will stand up to whatever the conditions throw at you, and just about anything you throw at your zippers. Not that you should abuse your zippers, but these will definitely stand up to the occasional fit of frustration.
About the only downside worth mentioning when it comes to materials is that the 330D Cordura is not waterproof. It is highly water-resistant, so your supplies won’t be the worse for wear if it snows. But it’s not waterproof, so in the event that you get caught in a downpour woe unto your previously dry extra clothes and any tech that’s not in a ziplock bag inside the pack. The wise hunter will spring for one of Mystery Ranch’s waterproof pack covers.
Comfort and Fit
The Mystery Ranch Guide Light MT Frame enables you to adjust the length in a fairly crude but very effective way. Essentially the shoulder straps are attached to the frame via a large patch of Velcro. In order to adjust them to match your torso length there’s an adjuster tool stored away in a pocket behind the yoke. Pull it out, and shove it down into the Velcro patch to free the straps. You can then adjust the straps to the proper height before reattaching the Velcro patch and locking the straps in place. It’s not a glamorous way to go about adjusting the frame length but it is effective and it only takes a minute or two.
Access and Storage
One of the distinguishing features of the Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45 is how you access the interior. Unlike a standard pack that will typically provide access through the top, with perhaps access to a bottom chamber as well, the MR Sawtooth 45 gives you the choice of only opening the top to reach in, or opening it like a duffle bag with one continuous 270 degree YKK zipper that run across the top, down one side, and then across the bottom.
When you don’t have the time or inclination to dig down through your pack from the top, this duffle-like opening feature can be a life-saver. Once inside you’re going to find numerous zippered pockets and plenty of space for everything from a water bladder to extra clothing, raincoat, headlamp, stove, food, first aid and more. Because the pockets are mesh on the inside you don’t have to open them up to see what’s in them. A real time saver that. There’s also a zippered pocket at the top which is an ideal place to store your ammo.
- A truly comfortable 5-point waist band that distributes even the heaviest loads evenly.
- Side sleeves and compression straps for rifle or bow carry.
- Optional Quick Attach straps for carrying antlers.
- Lightweight but very durable SJ Autolock buckles throughout.
- Compression loops to enable trekking pole carry.
The Bottom Line
We had the opportunity of putting this pack to the test this year with multiple trips including packing out 2 mule deer bucks and 1 bull elk. This pack held up remarkably well and handled the weight like a champ.
The quality of hunting packs has increased significantly over the past 20 years. There are now a lot of outstanding packs to choose from. In our estimation, however, if you are heading out for a weekend run and gun you can’t go wrong with the Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45, provided you shell out a few extra bucks and pick up the waterproof pack cover as well.