How the MYSTERY RANCH OVERLOAD® feature helps you haul more and hurt less.
Load Carriage™ is the cornerstone of the MYSTERY RANCH
design philosophy; it’s at the core of what makes our packs different.
We specialize in building packs that adapt to awkward and changeable
Origins: OVERLOAD® is the
conception story of the patented OVERLOAD® feature – explaining how it
started in our Military line and is now a prevalent feature on products
throughout the entirety of MYSTERY RANCH offerings.
By: Mike England
For as long as humans have walked the earth, we’ve hauled stuff
around with us—heavy stuff, like weapons, food, building supplies and
other humans. And despite the hardworking horses, mules and other
animals conscripted to the cause, our own bipedal backs have borne much
of that weight—and still do, to this day. Which makes the story of
humanity a tale of struggle against the inexorable effects of gravity
and our own attachments to a variety of large and weighty objects.
Interwoven within that epic is a supporting cast of characters, not
least of which are the pack-makers. Their mission has always been to
increase the load—bigger capacity meant a better pack. The problem, of
course, was that each pound of weight heaped a commensurate amount of
pain upon the bearer. And so explains the ongoing push-pull of
traditional pack design: weight and speed, pain and productivity,
material volume and human vexation. And all too often, this tension has
tilted toward suffering.
Until recently, that is, when modern ideas finally overtook the old.
When creativity replaced convention. When design and engineering evolved
to give comfort and capacity equal consideration. A key point in this
transformation involved a revelation, a moment of clarity when MYSTERY
RANCH co-founder Dana Gleason devised what is now known as the OVERLOAD®
feature. It’s arguably the most impactful innovation in human
load-hauling since the Himalayan head strap—without the ensuing
The old way to increase weight was to just pile it on.
Loops, hooks and other attachment points allowed weight-bearers to bloat
their burdens, often to absurd extremes. The result was more weight,
more stuff carried—but also more pain and suffering. One striking
example: a piteous picture of an exhausted soldier, stooped under the
weight of an enormous pack, with his heaviest item—a 60-pound mortar
baseplate—strapped to the back of the pack. The burly baseplate served
as a lever, the backpack a fulcrum, pressing the soldier to the point of
When that photo came across Dana’s desk, he was appalled. He’d been
improving backpack design his entire adult life, and he knew that
load-hauling didn’t have to be a Sisyphean slog, a debilitating
suffer-fest, with weight carried and pain felt increasing in direct,
miserable proportion. Sure, huge loads are gonna hurt. We can’t beat
gravity, but we can work with it. We can fight it less. We can feel its
effects and suffer from them less.
Dana also knew that the simplest solution was usually the best—and
thus, guided by Occam’s razor, his design instincts drove a quantum
leap: separation of bag and frame, the bulk of the weight in between.
Build a flexible shelf, elongate the straps and voila: the heaviest part
of the load sits against your back, aligned with your center of
gravity. Simple as that: carry the same load, just carry it properly.
The OVERLOAD was born.
And there it was: out with the old, in with the new. The idea soon
took on a life of its own, a veritable chain reaction of new uses: from
the mortarman’s baseplate to water cans and ammunition boxes, sniper
rifles and rocket launchers, surveillance drones and communications
equipment. If it was big and heavy, it went on the OVERLOAD—because so
configured, soldiers could go farther and move faster, with less pain
and discomfort along the way. In short: they could haul more and hurt
Hunters soon saw the light and began snatching up every available
OVERLOAD pack—they could get half an elk or an entire deer out in a
single trip, reducing both time and fatigue. They knew that as important
as the feature itself was the brand that bore it: MYSTERY RANCH,
renowned among operators everywhere for being the toughest, most durable
packs on the planet. Packs that stood up to abuse, with super-strong
fabric, water-repellent zippers and auto-locking buckles that held fast
no matter how much pressure was applied. What this meant for both
soldiers and hunters was that now, finally, the only limit was their
endurance—the pack could hold as much as they could carry, for as long
as they could carry it.
Less pain under load is a beautiful thing, no doubt, but so is
comfort’s twin sister: convenience. Easy-open compartments, quick
buckling and compression, and ample pockets for organization all saved
time. Throw in a quick loading system—snap, cinch & go—and the
scales were officially tipped. The OVERLOAD became a new standard in the
field and on the battlefield.
Like all great ideas, word of the OVERLOAD’s virtues soon spread—and
as the number and variety of pack models equipped with the new feature
increased, so did the stories surrounding its use. A wilderness
packrafter takes his BEARTOOTH 80
on a two-month trip in the Alaskan wilderness, complete with half-day
portages from one water body to the next. A backcountry angler packs her
paddleboard over 10 miles in a PINTLER to fish a remote alpine lake. Two Utah desert rats load up their METCALF packs with haul bags and bundles of firewood, which they carry to their Redrock climbing camp.
Halfway around the world, a backpacker hauls hefty cast-iron cookware to the top of a mountain in his TERRAFRAME 65
to prepare a traditional Japanese meal: a treasured ritual binding
himself and his family to their shared past. In the valley below, a
traveling musician packs his guitar case snugly against his back in a TERRAFRAME 80 as he walks from one village to the next.
Others have gotten both creative and utilitarian: in the off-season, a hunter uses her POP-UP to transport lichen-covered landscaping rocks down a steep mountainside. An avid backpacker carries a crosscut saw in his MARSHALL, clearing trail and loading up logs for winter firewood. Backcountry skiers use their SAWTOOTH 45
packs to haul the group kit, self-contained and segregated from their
personal gear. Once at the hut, the bins drop and everyone’s off for a
quick lap before supper.
And of course, soldiers around the world continue using their original CREWCAB, plus the new OVERLOAD and JUMP OVERLOAD packs to help them complete their missions—with as much weight and as little pain as possible.
Seeing a pattern here? With the OVERLOAD, carry
options are endless, the only constraints being one’s gear and
imagination. Ideas are elastic, and the OVERLOAD outstripped its
original application because it’s based not on a product, but a
principle: that vertical alignment of weight and bulk, held tight to
your back, is best. That tenet stands up to the scrutiny of physics and
has borne itself out in the field time and again. It holds true whether
you’re hauling a baseplate or a bull elk, a Pelican case or a packraft, a
pile of logs or the kitchen sink.
Fact is, until we’re replaced by weight-bearing robots, humans will keep
hauling gear. And from soldier to skier, hunter to hiker, world
traveler to weekend warrior, proper load bearing makes life better. It
makes the bearer stronger, faster, more nimble, more mobile—and in less
pain and discomfort. The story of struggle goes on, our affinity for
heavy stuff unaltered, but in this chapter, the long haul just got a