Behold! One of the greatest illusionists to ever grace the universe. Hailing from a small town in the depths of the dangerous Montana wilderness, surrounded by sharp mountain peaks, grizzly bears the size of 3-story buildings, and boiling rivers which can melt the flesh clean off a human bone.
In this birthplace town called Bozeman, he was born. But not like normal people like you and I… No. He was built from small pieces in a laboratory, like Frankenstein himself! Ladies and gentlemen, do not blink as he will vanish before your eyes just as quickly as he appears!
I present to you… the elusive and mysterious… Mystery Ranch Scape Artist!
Ok, a bit over the top for an introduction to a backpack article, maybe? I disagree. Let’s see what all this hype is about, and why purchasing tickets for this rare vanishing Scape Artist backpack cost more than a used car.
Mystery Ranch may just hold the title for the most collectible bags by any one brand. In my personal and professional opinion, this was never some goal of theirs. Particularly now that we are working on so many collaboration projects of our own which suddenly sell out and go for quadruple their price on the secondary market… this was also never our intention either. But it gives some insight into this whole “thing”. Ultimately, to oversimplify it, just like with our collabs, Mystery Ranch likes to have fun and experiment with new products. That’s really it. There’s no illuminati plot to NOT sell bags to people who want them. They WANT to sell bags… they’re a bag brand after all.
Working with their friends around the world, the Ranchers will make 10-100 units of something… not because they think it’s going to become some rare expensive thing (remember, brands don’t see one single penny of secondary prices), but because it is fun. Yes, because it’s FUN. A little side project to make the 9-5 a bit more interesting. And well, those folks like to have a LOT of fun… as the initiated will understand based on the dozens of grail Mystery Ranch bag models out there.
The Scape Artist is another one of these unobtanium packs from the Mystery Ranch portfolio of awesomeness that was unexpected. But why?
What’s with this pack? Why do you know it’s name but can’t purchase one?
How did we end up here?
It all starts with the Mystery Ranch’s Hunting collection of outdoor packs, an unlikely and crooked road to end up as an ultra-desirable EDC pack for the urban streets of Tokyo. Mystery Ranch has been making a variety of hunting packs and products for years such as the Dragonslayer, Metcalf, Beartooth, and of course… the Scapegoat. The Scapegoat (now discontinued and replaced/updated) was a made in USA pack with features built specifically to accomodate a modern hunter. It was a big, tall, behemoth. Great for hunting.
Things really began to evolve when there was a birthday celebration being planned across the world, in Japan. We’re talking about our friends, A & F Corporation and their 40th anniversary. These folks have been bringing the world’s best outdoor products to Japan (and reimagining them) for decades (since 1977). One of these brands that A & F Corp had been importing for the Japanese market, was Mystery Ranch, an instant hit with their outdoor-savvy customers.
For A & F’s 40th anniversary celebration, they wanted to do something special… and they reached out to their friend Dana Gleason in Montana. Being the visionaries they are, they worked together with the Mystery Ranch team to take an unlikely pack from their Hunting Collection, and modify it to meet the needs of their smaller-framed and more urban-focused customer. A & F Corp placed a purchase order of these custom modified packs, 100% of which would be shipped to them in Japan and 100% of which would then be sold by them within Japan. A play on words, they took inspiration from the original product the “Scapegoat” and massaged it into the “Scape Artist”.
So where does that leave us today? Of course, it leaves us mortals without a Scape Artist of our own. It was never intended to be mass produced, it was only a one time celebratory custom order, created from shared creative minds from two hemispheres. Me personally? One to never back down from a challenge, I have been hunting (hey, pun… since the Scapegoat was a hunting pack… ok, I’ll see myself out) for a Scape Artist for several years.
There are 3 major hurdles to overcome in regards to finding one:
First, as mentioned above, they were all sold to customers in Japan. This adds difficulty as, only until very recently, buying used products from Japan to be shipped to the USA wasn’t easy (due to language barriers and/or websites just not allowing it).
Second, it also didn’t help that there were limited edition, with only less than 1,000 of these made (from D3 himself: “330 Black, 200 Coyote, 200 Olive”).
Third, being that they were an exclusive product which was already priced high, the owners who considered selling their Scape Artists were well aware of the value. If, and that’s a BIG IF, you could find one… be prepared to spend between $750-$1,000 USD to purchase one. Yes, they are that expensive.
But… is it just this elusive exclusivity that makes the Scape Artist such a “great” bag? I wholeheartedly don’t think so. The pack is actually amazing. The first time I saw a photo of the Scape Artist, there wasn’t any pricing information available to me, so that didn’t influence me at all. In fact, I didn’t even know I was looking at a rare Japanese exclusive. I figured it was just a pack that was new and coming to the US market sometime soon. I’d wait for more intel when it came. But I knew when I saw it, that I had to have one. Why? Well, it’s a Mystery Ranch backpack after all. Just that alone puts it on a level of quality that I’ve come to know and expect.
Beyond that, the list of features make it impressive. Being that it was built upon a hunting pack made to haul dozens of pounds of weight across many miles on treacherous terrain, the pack sits on the incredible Futura harness, which one of the most comfortable suspensions in the world. The widemouth front panel-loading access is a wild departure from Mystery Ranch’s iconic Tri-Zip access, which I also love. But this panel-loader access makes it all the more interesting and useful, for different purposes.
A & F’s input was to shrink it down (in height and literage), so it actually became useful for both EDC and light travel. There’s zippered mesh pocketing throughout the interior of the bag for small accessories. It has the ability to carry a laptop in the rear pocket, which can also be used for a hydration bladder (with toggle to hang it from, plus hose pass through).
Water bottle pockets on the side, while not for me personally, add some extra storage options for those cylindrical vessels people seem to love. It has a large Velcro field up on the top storage zippered access brain for tossing on a morale patch. And lastly, it has that iconic and beautiful Mystery Ranch woven black and orange label (even if it is off-center, which tweaks with my design OCD).
I had been searching for my own Scape Artist for quite some time. Sure, I found a few here and there, with months in between each “successful find” during my searching. But I was in no financial place to drop $750-$1,000… for a 3-4 year old used backpack made of Cordura nylon, plus shipping from Japan. So it wasn’t even a catch and release, more like just a spotting… with no net. Loandbehold, my Hongkonger friend, Greg Li of Suburban, reached out to tell me that he was sending me a small gift in the mail. Greg has sent me all kinds of thoughtful gifts since we’ve first met, including the Beams Day Assault I wrote about. Well, the package arrived to Austin, Texas all the way from Hong Kong. And it was my very own Scape Artist, in black (#AllBlackEverythingForever). I loaded it up that very day and started using it. Where the Beams Day Assault was my “unicorn”, the Scape Artist was my “dragon” (both being mythological creatures one sets out to find, but in all reality, will never come across).
The Scape Artist has traveled thousands of miles with me already, across the state of Texas, across the United States, and even internationally. And sure, being that it is 4 years old, it has its tiny issues that I wish could be improved upon or refined. Cordura is one of my favorite fabrics on earth, but it could use some updates to make it a touch more interesting and provide additional water resistance. The laptop compartment, while obviously necessary, could have better access. Maybe from the exterior? Reduction of webbing would be nice to clean it up the overall aesthetic. Some additional storage for accessories would make it scream. I’d love a secret pocket or two. And finally, if it were available somewhere below half its current cost on the secondary market. A guy can dream, I guess.
Well, despite that tiny list of dream improvements, I still absolutely love this bag. Easily one of my top 10 favorite bags of all time. Yep, that good. Dear reader, perhaps you will come across a dragon of your own someday. There is No Escape of its siren song once it has you under its spell. Happy hunting, my fellow dragonslayers.