GORUCK GR2 and GR3: One-Bag Rundown

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GORUCK among the best known companies in the bag world. Their founder, Jason McCarthy, formed the idea of the original GORUCK bag while he was a Green Beret, making bags for those that put themselves in harm’s way. He took that original work and built a successful business with a modern-iconic line of bags and more. Their gear is known for for its toughness, and their ‘Scars’ Lifetime Guarantee.

GORUCK’s largest offerings are the GR2 and the GR3: both bags are well suited for travel. But, how do they compare?

Tech Specs

GR2 ImperialGR2 MetricGR3 ImperialGR3 Metric
Height22 in56 cm22 in56 cm
Width12.5 in32 cm14 in35.6 cm
Depth9 in23 cm9 in23 cm
Weight4.75 lbs2.2 kg5.15 lbs2.3 kg
Capacity2241 cu in40 L2746 cu in45 L

A full comparison of all GORUCK packs can be found on their website here.

The Packing List

I travel mostly for work on an average of at least once per month, flying domestically, staying anywhere from 2 to 4 nights. I try to pack as light as possible and carry everything I need with me in one bag. For short trips, if my stuff got lost, it would kill all productivity. This is what I carry:

  • Clothing items go into a folder and a small packing cube
  • Gym shoes go into a shoe bag
  • Main electronics go into a medium size pouch
  • Small charger and cables for my phone that I may need to travel go into a small pouch
  • Miscellaneous items, from tea bags to pens and medication go into another medium size “portable office drawer” pouch
  • Small dopp kit
  • 13 inch laptop, 11 inch iPad Pro, Airpods
  • A5 notebook and pens in a pouch
  • Water bottle

If I am traveling for a week with family on vacation, I usually add another medium size cube that contains vacation clothing items like swimming gear and maybe a dedicated camera.

My above gear fits into the GR2 40L, the smaller of these two bags, with room to spare. Initially I had difficulty finding space for my shoes, until I realized I can just let the bag compress around them. Not an elegant arrangement but it works. I just threw my shoes in above the layer of organized items, and closed the bag. GORUCK sells a slightly smaller version of the GR2, at 34L. which basically loses 2 inches depth. I am quite sure everything would fit into that bag as well.

The same gear fits into the GR3 with ease of course, and with a lot of room to spare. I tried adding another medium size packing cube with all my vacation travel items to both bags. It was tight, but went into the GR2 without problem, and the GR3 still has plenty of room to spare.

With the GR2 being 40L and the GR3 being 45L, I managed to pack all of my gear inside the GR2 and then put the GR2 inside the GR3. You can see in the photographs below:

How It Packs

The primary difference between the two bags is that the the GR2 is the only bag in the GORUCK line that has two main compartments. The GR3 is just one large container, with 3 zipper pockets at the inside front. It packs like a suitcase or a duffel bag.

There are compression straps on the GR3 to cinch the bag a bit tighter around its contents if the bag is not full. Otherwise all my stuff falls to the bottom when the bag is on my back. If there are items in the GR3 that need to be absolutely kept separate from the rest of the contents, I would use the mesh pockets in the front flap. The GR3 also comes with a very beefy removable waist belt. If the GR3 is really loaded up, the waist belt will help distribute the weight.

The GR2 generally has fewer problems with stuff moving around during travel, as the main compartment is 5 inches deep compared with the 7 inches in the GR3.

This is all my gear from both compartments in the GR2 fitting easily inside the GR3.

The GR2 has 7 internal compartments total – 6 zipper compartments, and a sewn in admin pouch at the top of the front compartment. I find that an interesting choice. They could have put MOLLE and fastened a standard pouch there to make it removable, but they did not. With that design, it reinforces how that front compartment should be used. You can either fill the rest of that space out with items in pouches, or use the zippered pockets to split your items into multiple pockets. Either way, that compartment does have some dedicated volume because of the built in pouch. I would prefer it if I could replace the fixed pouch with a different one – one that better serves my organization style.

Depending on your packing style, you may pick the GR3 or the GR2. I do wish the GR3 had straps on the inside to help hold items in place when it is not full.

In Use: The Airport

Going through the airport security line, I need somewhere to stash my phone, wallet, and small items. I would never put them in those plastic dishes. Neither bags have a padded stash pocket. On the GR2, I have two choices, the front non mesh zip pocket inside the front flap, or the top sewn in pouch in the back of the front compartment. On the GR3 I have to use the top non mesh zip pocket. Another signature GORUCK design — those top zip pockets have a brown color zipper pull instead of black which helped me find them quickly.

The GR3 has built in side handles. I find them extremely useful both in manipulating the bag in overhead bins, or in and out of cars. I put a climbing carabiner on the side MOLLE on the GR2 as a makeshift handle.

While I am waiting at the airport lounge, I like to get to some of my travel gear like headphones, iPad and chargers. If I am carrying an additional small carry on, I put them in there. But if I am absolutely one-bagging, I prefer the GR2 style where I can put those items in the front compartment. With the GR3 I have to open the only compartment and take them out from the top.

What They Share

Both bags have a built-in frame sheet. This makes a huge difference in carry comfort. Both bags have a 1000D Codura back panel without any sort of mesh material. This means the back panel is a bit abrasive. If worn for a long time with the same shirt, a little wear on the back of any clothing is inevitable.

Another common complaint is with the stiffness of the shoulder straps. I do find them stiff, but otherwise very comfortable in distributing the bag’s weight on my shoulders. They need some time to break in.

Both bags also have a large, extremely padded laptop compartment in the back. The zipper for that compartment opens in a L pattern from the top to the side, another GORUCK signature design. However, this means the shoulder strap is in the way when getting the laptop out.

On Body Comparison

The GR3 is massive, while the 40L GR2 is only 1.5 inches narrower. On the GORUCK website they do not recommend using the GR2 40L if one is shorter than 5 foot 8 inches. I am 5’7″. Both bags look massive on me, especially from the back. The GR3 compression straps help tighten the bag down when it is not full.

While both bag’s measurements are within range of US domestic airline limits of 9 x 14 x 22, it may raise attention, and filling the bags raises the risk of them going over the 15-to-22 pounds weight limit.

A Note: Zippers

The GORUCK zippers are beefy YKKs. They are protected by a small rain flap all the way. On the GR2, the rain flap material is double-thick. As a result, they are so inflexible that it can prevent the zipper head from moving past the corners. I have to flip the rain flap out of the way to open the compartments. The GR3 does not have this issue because the rain flaps are not as thick.

Another GORUCK signature design are those silent zipper pulls. The heat shrink wrapped zipper pulls look great, and they are easy to grab because of their length. Blame it on the dry winter weather perhaps, but I find them slightly slippery.

Wrap Up

Both the GR2 and the GR3 are great bags – They are more than meets the eyes. If you have to carry a large amount of items, the GR3 is the perfect choice. The side handle makes it easier to get in and out of planes, trains and automobiles. Given the ruggedness of this bag, you can travel the world a month or more at a time with only the GR3, especially if you use the waist belt to ease your carry.

For shorter trips and the more organized packer, the GR2 is a better choice. I like the separate compartments. With a good system of pouches, everything will have its place in this bag. If you are shorter like me, you may want to drop to the 34L version of GR2.

The GR2 and GR3 are available directly from GORUCK for $395 and $445 respectively. The GR2 is also available in an identical, Saigon-made variant for $355.

Editor’s Note: The GR2 and GR3 were provided by GORUCK as a sample for review purposes. The content of this review was not shared with GORUCK before publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never modified to keep a brand happy.

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