Veteran backpack designer Dana Gleason launched his latest company, Bozeman, Montana-based Mystery Ranch, to make packs for skiers and mountaineers.

But his most fiercely loyal customers have a more serious purpose in mind. Gleason found his company's niche after an encounter with a Navy SEAL, a fan who persuaded Gleason to design a backpack for the military.

That first prototype led to a contract with the SEALs, followed by a host of other Pentagon contracts.

The packs are designed to help a person (a soldier, hunter, firefighter, etc.) carry heavy loads with as little strain on the body as possible. To that end, an external frame was designed to support unusually shaped and unbalanced loads, like large weapons, firefighting gear, or elk carcasses. 

"The idea was to do something that matters," says Mystery Ranch CEO Dana Gleason. "Not just to build some great stuff but to build it in a way that made a difference."

Because its packs are popular with soldiers and hunters alike, Mystery Ranch takes care to make the gear stealthy. Zippers, for instance, are wrapped in nylon cord to prevent clinking.