GEAR REVIEW: the GORUCK GR1 rucksack

GR1 newSomewhere in between the Osprey’s and Gregory type packs meant for through hiking, and the Mystery Ranch/5.11/Condor packs that have a more “tactical” look & feel, there lies an area reserved for packs that don’t quite define one as a “hiker”, or as a “military” type, but appeals to both demographics. It’s an area for those that may identify with the term “grey man” in the sense that they’re about business, putting in work, and couldn’t care less about flashy attention. In my opinion there are not a lot of packs that genuinely fall into this category, which is sad because it’s a niche that really needed filling.

Enter the GR1, from GORUCK.

The GORUCK GR1 is damn near bulletproof, and really good looking. Yet, at the same time, it’s deliberately understated.  Make no mistake, however, when it’s time to do work this pack is ALL business.

The first thing you may notice about the GR1 is the price, $295 at the GORUCK website (WAY more on EBay or other venues when inventory gets low, and it does). I know what you’re going to say, “$300 for a plain looking cordura backpack?? GTFOH!”. Believe me, before I got one, I would have joined you in scoffing at them for this duality; how can something so simple looking, so plain in many ways, be so expensive? The devil is in the details, my friends. Read on.

GORUCK ABSOCI’ve used my GR1 at several grueling GORUCK events. I’ve submersed it in lake water, in salty sea water, in mud, in sand. I’ve slammed it down (loaded with 35lbs of bricks) in the Galveston surf at the command of cadre, slung it around and dragged it. Hell, I’ve BEEN dragged by it. I’ve rafted with it, hiked with it, loaded it with a steel plate and trained with it. I’ve not been kind to my GR1, but you know what, it likes it. It’s kinky like that.

The GR1 is probably the best made pack I’ve ever come across in my life. GORUCK went well out of their way to procure the best materials for this rucksack meant for Special Forces use. The owner/CEO is former Army Special Forces, as are some of the people who work at “HQ”, and of course all of the cadre who lead their legendary events are all Special Operations or Special Forces, former or current.

Spec Ops, Special Forces. You don’t build a bag for this demographic and half-ass anything. The fabric is 1000 denier Cordura®, chosen for it’s strength to weight ratio, while it’s YKK zippers are widely known as the gold standard, operating in just about any condition, middle east sandstorms included. Stress points are rated to 400+ lbs, which makes the hard plastic frame sheet in the laptop compartment that much more crucial, as without it, the bag would curl on itself when you cinch it tight on your back.

2 Liter hydration bladder by Source. ©2015
2 Liter hydration bladder by Source. ©2015

What? Backup? Oh,…the laptop compartment! You caught that. Yes, this meticulously crafted piece of gear designed to be carried into battle has a laptop compartment big enough to protect a 15″ Macbook Pro. How else do you think operators operate? Intel is digital now, bubba! If you spend $2000 on a laptop, you don’t spend $30 on a JanSport at Target. FYI, the laptop compartment also doubles nicely as a space for your hydration bladder (I use a 3.0 Liter Source bladder, also available on the GORUCK website). This was deliberate on the part of GR. There is an opening at the top of the ruck that allows the hydration tube to exit.

GORUCK urbanThe stitching on the GR1 can almost be described as redundant, but that’s a good thing! If you’re buying this bag, you’re probably not the type to toss a pair of Birkenstocks in it along with a bottle of kamboucha and copy of Esquire. No, if you buy a GR1 it’s probably because you need that well stitched 1000D Cordura to haul gear/stuff we don’t need to discuss here, right? You’re the kind of person who if you say you have a brick in your rucksack to other GR1 owners, they might ask “masonry, or ammo?” with a straight face.

The bag opens up flat when unzipped all the way, and has 2 inner pockets that zip, but no substantial compartmentalization (GORUCK sells zippered molle compatible bags that will secure inside the GR1 via a MOLLE system). You either like this or you don’t. I like it, especially for an urban setting, for a day hike (which I do frequently use it for), or as a small “Go bag”. It makes getting to gear very quick and easy, if you’re traveling “lite”, no digging through top layers of stuff to get to gear you need at the bottom. There is also a pocket inside the main compartment that you can put a hydration bladder in. You can either let that hydration tube dangle from the hole at the aforementioned hole on top, or you can get clips that fasten to the shoulder strap that will keep the hydration tube secure and not flopping around like a “gypsy camp”. That’s another thing I love about the GR1, and all GORUCK bags, actually; They can be customized very, very easily. There are facebook pages dedicated to “pimping your ruck”. One of the most common customizations is a chest strap. GORUCK does sell them, but for $300 I do wish they would just allow you to pick a color and throw one in, since it’s almost a necessary mod anyhow.

My GR1 usedSo what is the GR1 good for? Almost everything. Pack it as a reliable (understatement) Go-bag. Take it fishing. Take it day hiking. Take it to work (it looks grown-up enough to carry in the office). Take it to the fire station (I do). Take it in your patrol car. Take it hunting. Take it to the gun range. Take it running with some weight in it. Take it to a mud run, a GORUCK Challenge or a Spartan Race! Beat it up. Work it. Get it dirty. Hell, take it to Afghanistan. The SCARS warranty covers all of this. Where and how you could use a GR1 is totally up to you, I’ve used mine for just about everything. It’s NEVER let me down, never ripped a strap, broke a zipper, or left me disappointed in any way. It does not come with a waist belt, but GORUCK offers one separately in their online gear store. I made my own, but this was before they offered the current accessory. Point is, if it holds what you need it to hold, there really isn’t a wrong time or place for the GR1.

So, where and how would I NOT use the GR1? Having other quality options, I do not use this bag as an extended wilderness survival bag. I mean, you certainly COULD, it would very easily take the abuse, but don’t expect to pack this ruck full of gear for a 3 day (or longer) back-country hiking or survival excursion. It just doesn’t have the capacity.  To be honest, I doubt GORUCK ever intended it to be used this way. They make a GR2 that has about double the capacity and opens into 2 distinct compartments. I have not yet acquired a GR2, I’m still using my 8 year old Condor pack for extended trips into the wilderness. I would love to give the GR2 a go, I like having my gear divided into pockets based on their use, one pocket for medical, one for fire, one for navigation/comms, etc. (note: GRHQ is currently working on a bag that is geared more towards camping and through hiking, but still maintains it’s overall GORUCK aesthetics).

All this said, you’re going to ask me if it’s comfortable. Yes. It’s more comfortable than I ever expected it would be. I have several friends that have Gr1’s that kept pushing me to get one. But I’m stubborn, so I resisted. $300 for a cordura backpack? Please. But I finally gave in after doing my first GORUCK Challenge with a smaller “tactical” pack that wasn’t the most comfortable thing ever.  Long story short, I got one, and will never look back, except to reflect on the fact that I wish I had got one sooner.

Good LivinSo get yourself one. I frequently throw a 30 lb steel plate in mine and 3 liters of ice cold water and go run or ruck a few miles. Never a problem, never any damage. While you’re on the GORUCK site, get yourself a GR1, and sign up for an event so you can break it in and baptize it properly. Actually, their events teach and preach and exemplify the ethos that we live by at S.P.E.A.R. Survival. I won’t say any more than that.  If you do an event, you’ll be glad I didn’t, it would spoil the fun!

Overall rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 (Needs to come with an attachable waist-belt standard, and handles on the side wouldn’t hurt)

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