The Pitch 40 has the beefiest suspension system I’ve ever seen on a climbing-specific pack. Users familiar with either Dana Design or Mystery Ranch packs will recognize the similarities between the “Adventure Frame” on the Pitch 40 and the “Guide Frame” on the larger Terraplane. The “Adventure Frame” is essentially a pared-down version of the Guide Frame.
Large amounts of foam wrap the waist belt, back panel, and shoulder straps. Inside the pack, a pair of stays run the length of the torso to provide rigidity and support. Unlike larger Mystery Ranch packs, there is no frame-sheet, only the two stays. The torso length is adjustable using a large sheet of velcro embedded in the back panel that the user can move vertically. The waist belt is secured as a single unit that runs through a velcro sleeve just above the hips. Unlike other climbing packs, the waist belt does not incorporate an underlying webbing belt, instead using two “wings” permanently attached to the body of the pack to secure the removable padding.
The suspension system is the burliest and best-carrying system I’ve seen on a climbing pack, closer in nature to a 70-liter expedition pack than anything else. Unlike most climbing packs that subject the user to a masochistic ordeal on approach trails, the Pitch 40 is actually quite comfortable to wear — I kind of worry that I’m getting soft as a result of the comfort of the suspension. The two stays provide enough stiffness even without a frame sheet that loads transfer smoothly onto my hips rather than my shoulders. I comfortably carried up to 30 pounds in the Pitch 40 on long approaches up to six miles in both Colorado and Washington.
Unfortunately, the comfort of the suspension system is also the Pitch 40’s greatest shortcoming once you’ve reached your climb.
On a pack designed for climbing, I prefer a lighter suspension system (remember the masochistic approach?) in exchange for a more streamlined pack on route. Packs like the Black Diamond Speed 30, HMG Ice Pack 3400, or Cilo Gear 30 L worksack, have a suspension system designed to carry just well enough to make the approach only mildly uncomfortable so that the climb doesn’t suck. As such, lightweight alpine packs often feature fully removable hip belts, minimalist frames or stays, and lightly padded (or unpadded) shoulder straps and back panels. The very comfort that makes the Pitch 40 a dream to carry on trail makes it frustrating to carry on an actual climb. I used the pack on a one-day ascent of the Complete North Ridge of Mt. Stuart in Washington, and multiple times cursed the suspension system, particularly the hip belt for getting in the way as I climbed.
Although Mystery Ranch states that the hipbelt on the Pitch 40 is removeable, that statement is only partly true. With the hip belt removed, the two foam wings stay in place on the pack without even a webbing belt to keep them cinched or stowed. Moreover, the wings have the cinch buckles from the normal hip belt sewn in place, so not only do they flap around, but they get caught on rocks and trees. It is possible to fold the wings into the gap left in the back panel by removing the hipbelt, but then they push uncomfortably against my lower back. Unfortunately I can’t find a good solution for removing the hipbelt short of completely cutting it off.
Put simply, the Pitch 40 is possibly the most durable climbing pack I’ve ever used. The workmanship is top-notch and the materials used are excellent. While on Mt Stuart, my partner and I hauled our packs up the two crux pitches (alpine 5.9 offwidth running with water). On the rough granite, my partner’s pack came out looking a year older, with multiple holes and frayed straps. The Pitch 40 has no apparent damage. Zero.
To put the durability of Mystery Ranch packs in perspective, I use an old, pre-owned Terraplane while working courses, and I work with several instructors at Outward Bound who still use the same pack that they started working courses with 10 years ago. In a profession which tears up gear faster than anything else, that’s a mark of a quality product.
The durability, comfort, and suspension of the Mystery Ranch Pitch 40 are as good as (and probably better than) any climbing pack I’ve used, and make it an excellent pack for approaching climbs. But the same features that make it excel at long approaches make it less well-suited for actual climbing, or use as a full-time climbing pack.
I’d say that the Pitch 40’s ideal terrain is a climb with a long approach and a descent route back to the base, allowing you to use the pack on the approach, leave it at the base, and return to it at the end of the day.