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Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21L Review

Excellent rain protection coupled with a unique look weren't enough for us to fall for this pack
Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21L
Photo: Mystery Ranch
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Price:  $125 List | $87.46 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Very water resistant, cool and sleek design, easy top pack access
Cons:  Lacks value, not comfortable, zipper design gets annoying
Manufacturer:   Mystery Ranch
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 30, 2019
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55
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 10
  • Laptop Protection - 25% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 3
  • Storage - 15% 6
  • Ease of Use - 15% 3
  • Water Resistance - 15% 9
  • Style - 10% 7

Our Verdict

Built to take on city streets and in weather of the mountains, the Mystery Ranch Urban Assult 21 is a basic and overpriced laptop backpack. We were first drawn to its interesting three-zipper design and unique look, inspired by military rucksacks. While the 500-denier Cordura fabric and waterproof zippers do wonders when combatting the rain, it lacks performance in most other categories. The most stand-out is its lack of comfort on the straps of the backpack. The materials are scratchy while the sternum strap adjustor digs into our testers' chests. The zippers make access to the interior of the backpack contrived and annoying. While we want to like this bag and say more positive things, we aren't sure it's worth its higher price tag.

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Price $87.46 at Backcountry
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Star Rating
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Pros Very water resistant, cool and sleek design, easy top pack accessFunctional, plentiful storage, water-resistant fabric, inexpensive, versatileGood price, holds lots of books and binders, easy to useCollapsible, unique design, three ways to carry, functional storage, lightweightInexpensive, great organization, professional profile and style, easy to use
Cons Lacks value, not comfortable, zipper design gets annoyingNot super stylishUncomfortable when weighted down, poor protection, questionable craftsmanshipLacks protection, water resistance is lacking, not good for heavy loadsPoor water bottle holder, no battery pack with charging station, questionable quality
Bottom Line Excellent rain protection coupled with a unique look weren't enough for us to fall for this packThis spacious backpack offers functionality and value that is unmatchedA classic model built for students who carry a lot of booksA collapsible and unique option with ideal features to accommodate wanderlustA feature-laden option that does the trick for a super low price
Rating Categories Urban Assault 21L The North Face Bore... Jansport Right Pack Cotopaxi Tasra 16L Tzowla Travel
Laptop Protection (25%)
6.0
7.0
3.0
3.0
4.0
Comfort (20%)
3.0
8.0
5.0
7.0
7.0
Storage (15%)
6.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
Ease Of Use (15%)
3.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
Water Resistance (15%)
9.0
7.0
6.0
3.0
3.0
Style (10%)
7.0
6.0
5.0
9.0
6.0
Specs Urban Assault 21L The North Face Bore... Jansport Right Pack Cotopaxi Tasra 16L Tzowla Travel
Volume (L) 21 L 28 L 31 L 16 L n/a
Weight 2.0 lbs 2.7 lbs 1.3 lbs 1.0 lb 1.8 lbs
Number of Compartments 3 2 3 4 2
Dimensions 20.25 x10 x8.75 in. 19.75 x 13.5 x 8.5 in. 18 x 13 x 8.5 in. 17 x 10.5 x 5.5 in. 19.29 x11.8 x 5.43 in.
Number of Large Pockets 2 2 1 2 1
Number of Small Pockets 3 9 2 2 5
Key Clip? Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Reflective Material? No Yes No No No
External Side Pocket(s) No Yes No No No
External Water Bottle Holder? No Yes No No No
Fits Laptop 15" 15" 17" 15" 15"
Hip belt No Yes No Yes No
Sternum Strap Yes Yes No Yes No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Urban Assault 21 is a basic laptop backpack with O.K. performance and a high price. It stands out for its great water protection, but its lack of performance in other categories makes it a lower value option. If you still want to try it, know that it works well for most backpack related activities — the daily commute, hiking, school, and more.

Performance Comparison


A three-zipper designed backpack that offers great water protection...
A three-zipper designed backpack that offers great water protection and storage. Unfortunately, it's expensive and lacks comfort.
Photo: Amber King

Laptop Protection


This backpack provides an average amount of protection with strategic laptop sleeve placement and cushioning. The back panel offers thick cushioning that will keep laptops up to 15" safe and sound while being put down on the ground or even tossed into a corner. The sleeve itself is constructed of thinner materials with a lack of cushioning on the sides of the sleeve itself. The bottom of the sleeve is higher than the bottom of the pack to further protect from impact. In general, when using this backpack, we felt confident that our laptop would be safe and sound, even though it doesn't offer additional securities that you might find with a highly protective laptop backpack.

The laptop sleeve offers a normal level of protection, hovering over...
The laptop sleeve offers a normal level of protection, hovering over the bottom of the back. The security strap is bomber, keeping everything intact.
Photo: Amber King

Comfort


Even though the Urban Assault 21 features ample cushioning throughout the back and on the shoulder straps, the material is pretty scratchy. The panels aren't all that breathable either, making hot days on a bike commute sweaty. The straps of the backpack do offer a sternum strap, which aids in providing a better fit. However, the strap is outfitted with a thick piece of plastic that digs into armpits. We tried to take this off, and could not. As a result, we tried to avoid wearing this backpack simply because it felt quite uncomfortable to wear against the skin.

While the sleeves look comfortable, the material is scratchy against...
While the sleeves look comfortable, the material is scratchy against skin. The foam is super responsive and firm, but lacking comforts that you'd want in a good laptop backpack.
Photo: Amber King

When wearing a t-shirt or jacket, this was a non-issue. The backpack offers a great deal of structure, which makes it comfortable to use and wear when loading it down with heavy binders, textbooks, and more. Overall, this laptop backpack lacks the comforts that you should expect with one of the top performers out there. If Mystery Ranch worked on using a softer material and getting rid of the plastic sternum strap connector, this pack would be far more comfortable.

This sternum strap is horrible. While it seems functional at first...
This sternum strap is horrible. While it seems functional at first sight, the pokey part facing toward armpits is uncomfortable next to skin. When wearing with a jacket, this isn't a problem, but in the summer, it is.
Photo: Amber King

Storage


This backpack offers 21L of volume for storing all sorts of items. It even comes with nylon loops at the base of the backpack, if you want to clip items on with a small carabiner. That said, we're not a huge fan of having items swinging around our legs. The laptop sleeve can accommodate up to a 15" computer with a relatively thin profile. The sleeve itself doesn't offer a whole lot of room for thicker computers, sadly, so keep this in mind if you have an older or bulkier PC. On the main sleeve is another shorter sleeve where you can slide in a composition book, loose papers, a tablet, or a folder.

A look at the internal storage compartments. The sleeves easily...
A look at the internal storage compartments. The sleeves easily house a laptop, a composition book, folders, and more. The lateral mesh pockets are big enough to fit pens, pencils, chargers, and other smaller electronics you'd need daily. The internal compartment easily fits up to 21L of gear. We used it easily with a pair of shoes, jacket, waterbottle, and lunch.
Photo: Amber King

The interior compartment is quite big, making it perfect to stuff in a pair of shoes, jacket, lunch, and more. Within the interior compartment are two lateral mesh pockets that offer some storage for electronics, like a mouse, external battery, cords, and more.

A look at the lateral mesh pockets which make it easy to see all...
A look at the lateral mesh pockets which make it easy to see all your items.
Photo: Amber King

The only external pocket is found on the top of the bag, which is also a mesh pocket with a key cord connector. This pack doesn't offer any specified storage compartment like a pen holder or a specific place for a pair of sunglasses.

The top pocket features a very long key attachment (which we love)...
The top pocket features a very long key attachment (which we love) and ample room to fit all the important items that you'd need to access quickly.
Photo: Amber King

It also lacks a place to keep a water bottle separate from the laptop compartment. While storage is decent, we really wish this pack had a place for a bottle. Overall, storage is pretty standard and doesn't feature any stand-out mentions.

A look at the top access pocket. It is mesh so you can easily see...
A look at the top access pocket. It is mesh so you can easily see what is inside.
Photo: Amber King

Ease of Use


Most backpacks that are super easy to access only require unzipping one zipper or opening up the drawstring of a compartment.

This backpack requires at least two zips before accessing your laptop.
This backpack requires at least two zips before accessing your laptop.
Photo: Amber King

To access the internal compartment of this pack, you need to open up at least two zippers, if not three! The zippers are along the lateral side of the top compartment with a top-down zipper dividing the left and right side of the main compartment.

A look at two zippers unzipped. This allows you to access your...
A look at two zippers unzipped. This allows you to access your laptop and internal items, but not the internal pockets.
Photo: Amber King

If you want to use the pockets inside the backpack, you need to unzip all three, which proves to be a pain in the butt. Even though the zippers are water-resistant, they aren't easy to open.

Here, we unzip the main pocket which allows you to easily get to...
Here, we unzip the main pocket which allows you to easily get to anything in your backpack.
Photo: Amber King

We typically found undulations in the zipper path, forcing us to use both hands to pull the zippers open or closed. To do this, nine times out of ten, we had to take the backpack off completely! As a result, this backpack is not super easy to use, but it's not impossible either.

Water Resistance


Wow! We were really impressed with this backpack's protection against water.

This backpack fabric crushed in our water tests!
This backpack fabric crushed in our water tests!
Photo: Amber King

The exterior fabric is constructed of 500-denier Cordura fabric that offers optimal water resistance. We put this pack in the shower for roughly three minutes, soaking it from top to bottom. We originally thought that water might leak in through the holes where all the zippers connect.

After a few minutes in the shower, we unzip the pack to learn that...
After a few minutes in the shower, we unzip the pack to learn that everything is done dry near the computer.
Photo: Amber King

However, despite drenching it completely, the zippers and fabric did an amazing job at keeping things dry. The only place the backpack got drenched was at the bottom. Luckily the laptop sleeve is built to hang over the top of the bottom of the bag. Overall, we are really impressed with how water resistant this pack is! We'd trust it even in downpours.

The waterproofing on the zippers is excellent, though they felt...
The waterproofing on the zippers is excellent, though they felt pretty stiff.
Photo: Amber King

Style


This laptop backpack comes with a few different color options that look great both in the mountains, on the trail, and in the city. It features a sleek look with great color contrasts. While we didn't receive too many compliments when wearing it around town, we certainly feel that it looks good, for both men and women.

Here we look at the general style of this backpack. Perfect for...
Here we look at the general style of this backpack. Perfect for rural or city use!
Photo: Amber King

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


The price tag seems a little high for its relative point score. There are other packs that are cheaper and offer much better performance with the exact same function. While we do appreciate its water-resistance capabilities, we don't think it's enough to warrant such a high price. Our verdict? Overpriced for its performance.

We prefer using this pack for the daily commute. It also has the...
We prefer using this pack for the daily commute. It also has the ability to easily function as a hiking or biking backpack. We'd avoid it for summer use simply because of the scratchy material that doesn't feel good on the skin.
Photo: Amber King

Conclusion


The Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21 is a funky pack with a unique three-zipper design, but it didn't win over our testers. Its stand-out feature is its great water resistance with reinforced zippers and army grade fabrics. Unfortunately, it's not the most comfortable and requires quite a bit of effort to get into. Even though it can easily be used as a daily commuter for students and office workers, there are many other packs out there that offer better performance for a lower price.

A burly laptop backpack that offers a unique way to access your...
A burly laptop backpack that offers a unique way to access your computer and all the goods you decide to take with you to work.
Photo: Amber King

Amber King