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The Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45 is a load-hauling hunting backpack. It’s big enough to carry plenty of day-hunting gear, as well as versatile enough to handle overnighters.
To get us a closer look, Mystery Ranch sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. To field-test the Sawtooth 45, we took the pack archery elk and deer hunting in Idaho as well as on a Nevada elk hunt. This is what we learned:
Sawtooth 45 Backpack Review: ‘Near Perfect’
For the kinds of hunting I do, I need a hunting day pack with a load-hauler option. I want to carry all the hunting gear I need in order to cover many miles and long days . . . and then be able to haul out at least a first load of elk or deer meat from wherever I end up. The Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45 does exactly what I need it to — in fact, it’s near perfect.
The hunting pack I used prior to the Sawtooth 45 was the now discontinued Mystery Ranch Mule — but you can still order the Mule bag. I liked it a lot and hauled some heavy loads with it (read my Mule review). The only downside was that the daypack portion was a bit too small. I could fit most everything I needed for 12-mile archery elk days, but it was stuffed. I wanted a bit more room.
At 2,745 cubic inches of volume — which is 45 liters — the Sawtooth 45 has nearly twice the pack capacity of the Mule. It’s even a bit larger than the 41-liter Mystery Ranch Pintler (I’ll compare the Pintler to the Sawtooth 45 below).
The Sawtooth 45 will easily carry my full kill kit, a first-aid/survival kit, food, clothing layers, an elk decoy, hydration reservoir, spotting scope, and whatever other hunting gear I want along (or am busy testing for Man Makes Fire).
Better yet, the Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45 is comfortable, compressible, expandable, and rugged. If I or my buddy shoots an elk in the bottom of a canyon, I know the Sawtooth 45 can handle the trip out.
Key Features: Rugged Zipper?
The first thing you likely want to know is if the Sawtooth 45 is rugged, and in particular, how good is the massive u-shaped zipper?
If you don’t know Mystery Ranch as a company, rest assured, Mystery Ranch has a long history of making bomb-proof backpacks that can haul heavy loads. Mystery Ranch also makes well-regarded packs for military use as well as for wildfire firefighters. It’s unlikely that Mystery Ranch will sell a product that will fail.
Even so, I’m sometimes hard on my gear from necessity — and sometimes hard while testing gear, just to see how it holds up. With the Sawtooth 45, I liked how the primary zipper could make it easy to get at the contents of my pack, but I also was concerned that it could split or burst. We have all ran into bad zippers, so what if the zipper broke while on a backcountry hunt?
Well, I overstuffed the Sawtooth 45, sat on it, dropped it, and generally made zero attempts to baby it for well over 120 miles last season. It’s a burly zipper and I’m not worried about it at all now.
Aside from choosing a load-hauling backpack with the right size of daypack for you, the Sawtooth 45 has a lot of organizational pockets. Better yet, these pockets are easy to get to because of the u-shaped zipper that lets you spread the pack out. You get a hydration bladder pocket, of course, as well as two vertical interior pockets that are sized large enough to fit a spotting scope.
The main flap has three zippered mesh pockets that work great for organization.
The outside of the pack has two side pockets that are suitable for water bottles, trekking poles, or your rifle. The top of the bag has a pocket for odds and ends that you want quick access to.
You also get lots of compression straps to suck up any extra space if you’re heading in light.
The load-hauling shelf, which Mystery Ranch calls the ‘Overload System,’ will let you add some very large chunks of meat. You can easily pack an elk quarter or game bag full of boned-out meat. How much can the Overload System hold without failure? Far more than I want to carry. Depending on the situation, I could see going as high as a 100 pounds for a relatively simple haul, but I very much prefer 75-85 pound loads.
What’s great about the Overload system is that you get the heavy meat positioned very close to your back. The straps then let you secure the load for very little motion.
Mystery Ranch has a handy video embedded on its Sawtooth 45 page, but basically all you do is undo a few buckles, pull the pack down from the frame and fold it over. Place your elk quarter or extra bag on the Mystery Ranch Guide Light MT Frame, then flop the Sawtooth 45 bag over the top of the meat. Buckle it to the frame with the stout compression straps and cinch it tight. It’s that easy.
Fit & Comfort
The Mystery Ranch Guide Light MT Frame has a bit different sizing than previous generation Mystery Ranch packs. Be sure to check out the new Mystery Ranch sizing and fitting guidelines for Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45 for details, but basically the Small and Medium packs will fit torsos 15-20 inches while the L and XL packs will fit torsos 17-24 inches high. These big torso length adjustment options make it easy to dial in your fit.
To adjust the torso length, a plastic support adjuster tool sits in a pocket behind the yoke. You pull this adjuster tool out and slide it between the yoke and the bag to break free a large patch of Velcro. That allows your straps to slide up and down the frame to give you the right fit. The system works very well and doesn’t slip, even under heavy loads. What’s great about it is that it’s very easy to adjust in the field. If, for instance, a similarly-sized buddy needs to use your pack, you can quickly make a torso adjustment and let him use your pack.
For most of the elk and deer hunting I do, I hunt from a base camp and only occasionally set up a spike camp far off the beaten path. So I don’t typically need a large-volume hunting pack like the popular Mystery Ranch Metcalf or Beartooth 80 with the big zipper. I prefer to go with a more streamlined pack.
If you do want to hike in and setup camp, you can still do that with the Sawtooth 45. The simplest way is to put all your camping gear — your tent, food, sleeping bag — into a dry bag and strap it into the Overload System. Once you find a place to camp, you can simply drop the dry bag at your chosen campsite and go scouting or hunting. Mystery Ranch even makes a dry bag for this purpose — the Roll-Top Hauler. It’s lightweight, tough, and fits great.
Mystery Ranch Pintler vs Sawtooth 45
Before the Sawtooth 45, the Mystery Ranch Pintler was the go-to backpack for overnight hunters and daypack load-haulers. When the Sawtooth 45 first came out, the Pintler used the previous generation frame and hip belts, but now Mystery Ranch has updated the Pintler with the latest Guide Light MT Frame and hip belt.
So which is better, the Pintler or the Sawtooth 45?
That’s a tough question. I’m confident I would be just as happy with the Pintler as I am with the Sawtooth 45. The Pintler has 41 liters of volume, so it’s very close to the Sawtooth in bag capacity. There are some minor differences in internal pocket organization. The main difference between the Mystery Ranch Pintler and the Sawtooth 45 is the zipper configuration.
You get a Y-shaped zipper in the Pintler, which offers great access, and a U-shaped zipper in the Sawtooth 45, which also offers great access. On the Pintler, you can rip open the top, which I like. For the Sawtooth 45, I use the zipper in two different ways. In one way, I’ll have the two-way zipper zipped up at the very top of the bag. When I want to get in, I’ll unbuckle the top compression straps and unzip the zippers to get into the bag from above. But the Sawtooth 45 has another zipper option: I can also move the two-way zipper around to the side. This lets me keep all the straps buckled and get side access into the main bag. In addition, this also means that a buddy can access the bag when I’m wearing the pack. This is a minor difference, but one I appreciate.
While the Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45 is water-resistant, it is not waterproof. I previously didn’t think this was that big of a deal for generally dry September elk hunts, but I learned my lesson while testing the Sawtooth 45 in rainy and wet conditions. My hunting buddy and I started closing in on a vocal bull elk. Just when we thought he was coming in hot, it started raining. We didn’t get the elk that day, but we did get thoroughly soaked. Back at base camp, that led to some challenges with drying out our packs and gear for the next day.
Mystery Ranch offers a waterproof pack cover, and I now recommend that you nab one. You may never need it, but on the one day you do, you’ll appreciate it.
The Verdict: Truly Excellent
There are a lot of great hunting packs available these days, and it’s hard to go wrong. Still, every hunter who is making this kind of investment wants to get it 100% right. Mystery Ranch has put together a series of hunting packs based on its Guide Light MT Frame, which is lightweight and strong — and I’m a fan. The articulated hip belt is comfortable without being freakishly padded, and you can add pouches or holsters to it as needed. All of the Mystery Ranch load-hauling hunting packs can carry heavy loads. What this means is this: You can choose whichever Mystery Ranch load-hauling pack you want and end up with a meat-ready system. For me, the medium volume Sawtooth 45 does exactly what I want it to. Very highly recommended.