As I mentioned earlier, one thing I like about the Blackjack is its functionality as a backpack as well as an airbag, and a big part of that is fit. While I’m not usually taking ski packs on big expeditions with heavy loads, I always wanted a ski pack that fits well. This makes heavier loads much more tolerable when I do carry them, makes the pack ride better, and, when things get fast and bumpy, makes you forget about it all together.
The Blackjack is available with various sizes of waist belts and shoulder yolks (both available in S, M, L), which offer a fair amount of adjustability. I’m 6 foot, 185 pounds, with a 32-inch waist, and the small waist belt (29–34-inch waist) and medium yolk (men 5’9” to 6’4”) fit perfectly. I have ski partners ranging from a 5’3”, 110-pound girl to a 6’4”, 180-pound guy who have both found great fits with proper sizes of belts and yolks. When we ordered, the guys at Mystery Ranch were super helpful over the phone or email with fitting questions and were right on with their suggestions.
Regardless of whether I have nothing but a shovel, probe, and few energy bars in the pack or it’s full of camping and skiing gear for a three-day solo winter mission, the Blackjack fits tight to my back, doesn’t wobble when things get crazy, and stays comfortable on long days.
This is one of the coolest things about this pack. The predecessor company to Mystery Ranch, Dana Designs (who had the same principle pack designer, Dana Gleason) used to make a pack called the Terraplane. I’ve owned one since I was 14 years old and have used it for everything from nine-day, self-support pack raft trips and months of touring around Chile with all of my WW kayak and camping gear, to hauling huge packs full of moose meat.
Similarly, a few years ago I bought a Mystery Ranch NICE frame as a designated hunting pack, and have hauled many hundreds of pounds of moose and caribou meat over rough terrain for hundreds of miles in total. Nothing I’ve ever used (Arc’teryx Bora, GoLite Odyssey, big Osprey packs, various external frame packs) come even close to being as comfortable.
So when I saw that the shoulder yolk on the Blackjack looks identical to the NICE frame, and knowing the history with Dana Designs, I was stoked. The waistbelt is much sleeker, and the suspension simpler and lighter, but it still shifts weight well to hips, if needed. I’m not hauling moose hind quarters in my ski pack, but three days of food, a stove, a tent, a sleeping bag, plus all ski gear and minimal climbing gear for solo trips fit nicely and carry as well as my NICE frame for long days of skinning.
Also, the extra long compression straps (with clever Velcro tabs to roll them up out of the way) carry Verts on the back of the pack even while carrying an axe and skis. (The first time I had to do that I was a little surprised it worked so well and bummed that I hadn’t planned better for my day!)
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