Admittedly it took a few tours for me to warm up to the Blackjack from Mystery Ranch and even then I wasn’t completely convinced until I happened to share a ride up the Jerome chairlift at Sugar Bowl with a ski patroller who also happened to be wearing the Blackjack on his back. He pointed out the antidote for the packs too many straps.
Actually, there aren’t too many, but there are so many that the tails of all of them make the Blackjack feel like a spaghetti factory sometimes. But, the cure is embedded with a set of velcro straps at the end of most to be able to roll ‘em up and keep ‘em that way.
With that bit of advice the Blackjack transformed from just another airbag pack to one that had all the features a backcountry skier would want for a big day, or a light weekend, plus an airbag for safety.
The cost, of course, is weight. Almost 8 pounds worth. Ugh. As with most other airbag packs though, it feels heavier lifting it to your back, but once on, the additional 4 pounds from the canister, plumbing and airbag is easy to bear. At least for a day trip it is.
The benefit is utilitarian versatility in a single pack. There’s very little you would want in a ski pack that is missing with the Blackjack. For starters the main, top-loading compartment is huge, with an expanding sleeve on top. I’m not too fond of top loading packs anymore. No matter how carefully you try to anticipate what you need next, inevitably you need something packed at the bottom. Mystery Ranch solves that dilema with a full length zip on one side, making it easy to get to just about any item in the main compartment quickly. It’s a solid, waterproof zipper to boot.
Compression straps on the side allow the pack to squish down nicely for out-of-bounds tours, or for carrying skis A-frame style. There is also a huge loop at the bottom for carrying skis diagonally, with a cinch strap kiddy-corner on the topside.As you would expect, there are waist belt pockets and all manner of adjustment straps for the belt and padded shoulder straps. Where much of the Blackjack’s additional weight comes from, compared to similarly sized airbag packs, is the harness that can be micro-adjusted to your back size, plus the usual assortment of adjustment straps for the padded shoulder straps and the waist belt. At odds with every other airbag pack manufacturer is the non-metallic waist buckle. It passed muster with the drop test, so it doesn’t need to be metal.
Besides the main compartment, there is a zippered compartment on the outer panel with more than enough room for a shovel blade, handle, probe, and other items like skins, a shell or mid-layer, maybe even lunch. For stuff like goggles, there is a zippered panel on the lid.
You don’t need a repetition of how the airbag pack works do you? Whew. Mystery Ranch has licensed the WARI airbag components that use compressed air to inflate the airbag with. In theory this is the system that is easier to fly with, because you can deflate the canister for when you’re flying anywhere within the Terrorist Skies of Amerika.
What matters most, is how easy and reliable the trigger is. Can’t tell you a thing about reliability over time, it simply hasn’t stood the test of it yet. As for how easy it is, it required a firm tug that you certainly wouldn’t do accidentally with your hand, nor couldn’t do in an avalanche. Cross your fingers you never need to know except with an occasional “test run.”
If you need an airbag pack to do more than haul a days worth of gear, but can also be a pack you can rely on for short and long tours, especially an overnight hut trip, you’ll find the Blackjack from Mystery Ranch to be pretty much everything you’re looking for. When you’re confident the avy danger is zilch, drop the airbag components and you’ll trained and ready to carry four more pounds of luxury items for a spring or summer trip.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Size zip access to main compartment.||Heavy ~ 8 lbs. empty|
|Removable airbag components||Top loading lid is floppy|
|Lots of adjustment straps||Lots of straps|
|WARI airbag components|
|Excellent suspension system|
Weight: 7.8 lbs. (17.16 kg)
Volume: 43 liters