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Make that backpack your own... and put it on a diet

Gutting backpack weight

Backcountry hunters seem to continuously tinker or tweak their various set ups. Creating a piece of gear that is unique to you instills a sense of pride whether it’s a set of custom colored bowstrings or arrow fletchings or a rifle that has been dipped to match your favorite camo—we all understand how the tiny details are incredibly satisfying. When it comes to backpack hunting, shaving off every ounce you can makes a major difference. Cutting edges of maps or the tops off of Mountain House meals might seem a little crazy to some hunters, but not to those who hunt the backcountry and live out of our backpacks. Your pack is no different; many of us have been tweaking our packs for years to fit exactly what we need without adding any extra weight. Some packs these modifications will do more for, others you can still modify to best suit your specific situation.

The most comfortable packs are typically the heaviest or so it can seem. This is why I am excited to run with a specific piece of gear this year: the Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack. Mystery Ranch is notorious for being both extremely comfortable and nearly indestructible. The Marshall has a layout that fits well with my style of hunting and, with a few tweaks, will fit it perfectly. In the following article, I’ll show you how I have made it “my Marshall” and, along the way, most likely illuminate a few of my own OCDs.

Changing zipper pulls

Stock p-cord pulls on Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack
Stock zipper pull cords.
Old zipper pull p-cord weight
Old zipper pull p-cord weight of 18.2 grains.

The first change that I made to the pack was to cut the zipper pulls off. They were a little long so I shortened them and made them out of 1.8mm cord.

New zipper pull p-cord weight
New zipper pull p-cord weight of 8.8 grains.

I used orange with a reflective thread in it, which has the little added bonus of being visual when you are looking for your pack in the dark after an evening stalk. Orange will also be my bowstring color this year—have to please those OCDs.

Drawcord change

Drawcord on Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack
New 1.8mm p-cord on the snowcollar drawcords.

I also switched out the drawcords at the top of the pack: one on the snow collar and one on the main pack closer. I did this mainly to make the pack unique to me, but it also cut some weight, albeit less than an ounce.

Removing the fanny pack belt

Removing fanny pack belt on Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack

The next modification that I made was cutting out the fanny pack belt from the lid. I can tell you that I have never used a pack lid in this function and they always seem to get cut from my packs. This might be a nice function for some, but it doesn’t work for me.

Cutting out the fanny pack belt

I used a Havalon Piranta Edge knife although scissors might have been better.

Burning the frayed ends of the straps

Use caution when you start cutting and burn the severed ends to keep them from fraying.

Removing fabric on top lid of Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack

There's also another section of fabric to remove on the top lid.

Continued below.

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Main compartment cutting

Removing sleeping bag divider in Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack

Moving on into the main compartment: There is a dividing shelf that separates the bottom compartment from the top.

Removing main backpack compartment buckles

It is sewn in on the one side and uses buckles to attach to the other side. Because I prefer one big compartment, I cut out this shelf.

Removing sleeping bag compression strap

In the same compartment there is also a compression strap that is used to hold items like a sleeping bag in place. I don’t plan to use it so I cut it out, too.

Additional areas to cut weight

Cutting backpack straps to lose weight

Cutting backpack straps to lose weight

Removing backpack daisy chain to save weight

There are several other areas in this pack where you could easily reduce weight. For instance, the daisy chain that runs down the back might get the knife along with the excess strapping on a few of the compression straps; however, for now, I’m happy with my current modifications that improve functionality and decrease weight. So, if you wanted to dive even further on modifying this pack, I could easily reduce the overall weight by at least a pound (which I might still do in the future).

Weight savings of a Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack

Item Old
Total weight
Zipper pulls 18.2 gr. 8.8 gr. 9.4 gr. per zipper 79.2 gr.
Snow collar cord 132.6 gr. 108.6 gr. 12 gr. per cord 24 gr.
Fanny pack 435.8 gr.
402.0 gr.
99.2 gr.
0 -- 937 gr.
Sleeping bag
513.8 gr.
245.8 gr.
239.8 gr.
223.6 gr.
0 -- 1,223 gr.
Total in ounces 5.17 oz

Cubic inches per ounce of pack weight

Right off the bat it might not seem like taking 5.17 ounces of weight off the Mystery Ranch Marshall backpack is that much. But, this turns a 6,408 ci pack that used to weigh 7 lb. 2 oz., into a 6 lb. 12 oz pack. To take it a step further the pack weighs 108 ounces and the amount of cubic inches per ounce is 59.33 or 0.0168 ounces per cubic inch. A quick look at a similar backpack, the Stone Glacier Sky 5900 weighs 5 lbs. 8 oz. and is 5,900 cubic inches. Or 88 ounces and the amount of cubic inches per ounce is 67.05 or 0.0149 ounces per cubic inch.

One word of caution: making modifications this extreme will definitely void most warranties for many pack manufacturers.

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Curtis J. - posted 2 years ago on 08-03-2017 01:41:38 pm

Not sure why all the negative comments. Thanks for taking a lot of time and effort to put this together. And for all of those telling people to just "lose some weight" your argument is flawed. First of all, weight doesn't only fall off of your back and shoulders when you lose it, thereby decreasing the load on your shoulders, back and hips. It falls off of various parts of your body therefore negating any benefits of losing weight. The benefits lie in getting into shape, not the actual losing of the weight and this is why: In all weightlifting competitions, whether it's Olympic lifting or Powerlifting, there are weight classes for a reason. Heavier people lift heavier things easier. That is because the weight lifted is a smaller percentage of total body weight as you get bigger. For example, 50lbs is 25% of a 200lb man's weight while it is 33% of 150lb man's weight. Put simply, the bigger you are the easier it is to carry and lift heavy things. So, please drop the uneducated "just lose some weight" argument. It holds zero water in real life or scientific validity. I'd much rather be my 200lbs carrying a 100lb pack than 150lbs any day of the week.
Chad D. - posted 2 years ago on 08-02-2017 05:15:05 pm
San Diego, CA

Yep, I'm on board with Dominic N. and Scott B. Buy gear that is lighter up front and get in shape!

Brandon E.
Brandon E. - posted 2 years ago on 07-26-2017 08:00:37 am
goHUNT Team

@ Anders C.

Thanks for reading the article, glad that you found it useful. I get mine from a local hardware store, but Amazon has the same thing. Just search 1.8mm paracord and there are quite a few on there. Best of luck this season!

Anders C. - posted 2 years ago on 07-25-2017 04:01:43 pm
Highlands Ranch, CO

I enjoyed reading this article and I will be doing this to my pack that I have from REI. Every ounce counts when you don't have a budget to go out and spend five hundred on a ULTRALIGHT pack system! I'm trying to find the same cord that you used... any recommendations on where I would find some?

Brandon E.
Brandon E. - posted 2 years ago on 07-24-2017 10:26:20 am
goHUNT Team

Thanks to all for reading the article.
I wrote the article to show what myself and a few of my hunting partners have been doing for years and not to be afraid of tweaking your gear, I realize this may not be for everyone. The items that I cut from the pack didn't affect the capabilities of it to haul heavy loads when loaded correctly, we tested that before it got the knife. 5 ounces may not seem like a lot, but pair that with the weight that I cut from my tent, tripod, and many other pieces of gear and it all adds up to pounds. No matter how good of physical shape you are in, anytime you can cut weight from something you don't use it's going to be to your advantage. As far as voiding the warranty, I guess it's worth the risk to me.

Todd H. - posted 2 years ago on 07-24-2017 06:58:50 am
Henrietta, Texas

I appreciate all that you have done. You are right that making "tweaks" here and there are great at giving personal satisfaction in making something your own. Great article. Ounces do add up, you are 100% correct.

Dominic N. - posted 2 years ago on 07-24-2017 02:47:12 am

Adam obviously youv never used ultra 6000. It will carry more weight than most will ever want to comfterbly.And I wasn,t BRAGGING just stating a FACT. Own a myster ranch pack that is 9lb 10 oz before you put enything in it.Its bomb proof but ILL take the light one every time its gathering dust Its all about personal prefrince. Sorry about the spelling IM not real smart but I can lift heavy fings.

Adam P. - posted 2 years ago on 07-23-2017 08:46:28 pm

This is a terrible article! The strap that is cut out that is "supposed to hold a sleeping bag in place" actually helps with the load bearing capabilities of that pack. Additionally those bragging an ultralight pack may want to consider that with ultra light you make some sacrifices. If you want a good load bearing pack that carries a load well, a good 6-7 lb pack will do it. The ultralights simply can't carry extremely heavy loads comfortably.

Scott B. - posted 2 years ago on 07-23-2017 06:43:53 pm

I'm in agreement with Dominic. Buy a quality lightweight pack (Kuiu is a good one). Spend time getting into the best physical shape possible. One pound of gear feels like 10 at the end of a long day when your physically not ready for the challenge.

Dominic N. - posted 2 years ago on 07-23-2017 05:12:14 pm

Why not just buy a pack like my kuiu ultra light 6000 weighs 3lb 9 oz problem more than solved. Then you can carry more mountain house and stay in the bush longer.Or loose 5 oz of body fat.

Neil J. - posted 2 years ago on 07-23-2017 05:11:09 pm

These "weight" cutting segments for backpacks, tents, etc are just ridiculous. All that...and to void your warranty...for 5 ounces? Sure, getting rid of 2 lbs would seem worthwhile...but 5 oz...??!!?? I am rolling around laughing. This article should read..."What to do and write about when you are tremendously bored..."

Erik S. - posted 2 years ago on 07-19-2017 08:41:21 am

Well, at least you admit your OCD. : )