GORUCK is an infamous name in the bag community. Bring it up and you’ll have flocks of enthusiasts at your door to sing the good word of GORUCK. You’ll see this with some other makers, enthusiasts and critics included, but it’s few and far in between. It’s rare to see this kind of emotion behind a bag maker, and when you do, you usually have something special.
Now, what’s special to someone might not be special to everyone, but if you’ve never held a GORUCK bag in your hands, it might be difficult to “get” the cult following behind them. We’re here to get into some of those reasons, and what makes the GR1 one of the most popular backpacks in the world.
|Capacity||21L||1282 cu. in.|
Measurements are for the 21L GR1
|Primary Materials||1000D Cordura, YKK Zippers|
Quality and Comfort
Quality is not something that is often argued over when it comes to the GR1. Some people have reported cosmetic stitching issues on US produced models, but they seem uncommon and are always covered by the bomb-proof Scars Lifetime Guarantee.
This specific GR1 is something a bit different for GORUCK – it’s produced in Saigon. While we won’t get into any of the politics around this decision (you can read about what founder Jason McCarthy has to say), we can say that Saigon has some of the best soft-goods factories in the world, and it really comes through in this bag. It’s built to the exact same specification as any other GORUCK bag. Same materials. Same stitching. Same patterns. Et cetera. The build is impeccable, not a stitch out of place, and I felt confident throwing the bag around even with 30-40 pounds of iron weights stuffed inside.
Speaking of throwing around weights, the first way you’ll probably do that is by lifting up on the top grab handle. The handle is lightly padded, comfortable enough, and gives a feeling of confidence when using it. Underneath the handle is a hook-and-loop closure flap that acts as a hydration port if you run a bladder. Unlike some other GORUCK bags, this is the only grab handle on the bag. More recent additions in the bag world have made me appreciate side-handles on almost anything though. It’s not necessary on the GR1, but would be a nice upgrade in the future.
The shoulder straps on GORUCK bags are usually a hot-button topic when it comes to our community. On one hand, they eventually work their way into some of the most comfortable straps on the market. On the other hand, they’re hard as a rock out of the box. I’ve been taking mine on dog walks loaded up with 10-20lbs of weight, and it’s definitely not comfortable at first. However, I can attest that they do break in over time, and mine are on the verge of being there. If you planned on taking this for a trip or anything out of the box, I’d recommend attempting to break them in first.
GORUCK and their fans know to do this, but the more casual buyer may not. It might be beneficial for them to include some light literature with the bag so new buyers aren’t potentially put off from the bag’s first impression.
The backpanel itself is well padded, like the straps, and made from the same 1000D material as the rest of the bag. It’s slightly molded to allow some breathability, but in reality if you often get a sweaty back this won’t really help. Otherwise, it’s comfortable.
Something to note is that users have complained about the harshness of the 1000D material on certain items of clothing. I haven’t experienced this myself, but it’s worth considering what you wear with this pack. Also, this is a small nitpick, but the GRI doesn’t come with a sternum strap. For a bag that retails for $265 (more for the US version), I would really prefer for it to be included instead of sold for an extra $10. I used a spare I had on hand during testing, and found it much more comfortable with than without, especially during the break-in period.
GORUCK also sells a padded hip belt that attaches via the webbing on the side of the bag, but I didn’t find it necessary.
While you’re not going to find a pocket for every small cable in your arsenal, the GR1 has more going on here than you’d be lead to believe, and it’s pretty easy to add more org if you need it.
The front slash pocket is the most accessible area on the pack, but it doesn’t really have its own volume. If the bag is packed out, you’re not getting anything in here that isn’t already flat, like plane tickets or other paper items. It’s also not quite large enough to fit the GORUCK Wire Dopp, which is what I naturally wanted to keep here, but something like a small Magpul DAKA works nicely.
Both the main compartment and this pocket have what are often seen as the best zipper pulls on the market – just some paracord and heat-shrink tubing. It’s simple, works well, and is easily repaired. The zipper channels also have a full double-layer rain flap that I tend to have a love-hate relationship with. While they do a decent job at keeping the muck out of your bag, they also make zipper manipulation, especially around the corners, a bit of a pain. I imagine these will ease up over time.
Below the slash pocket is a row of PALS that you can use to add some extra organization, or as is popular with the rucking community, some hi-viz strips.
On the backside of the bag, under the shoulder straps, is a bombproof laptop compartment. It’s raised and well padded, and I never once felt like my laptop needed extra protection while it was in there, no matter how I handled the bag. My only complaint about this area is that the fact that it exists behind the shoulder straps makes it a bit of a pain to access. I don’t think GORUCK would be compromising anything by moving access to the side or in front of the straps.
Worth noting is that some users have been known to place their ruck plates in this compartment.
Inside the main compartment, on the front panel, you have two zippered pockets. One, at the top, is a solid 1/3 pocket, while the lower is a 2/3 mesh pocket. The lower fits the Wire Dopp perfectly, and the upper pocket is great for those smaller quick-grab items. The zippers are also color coordinated with paracord, which is a nice touch.
The back side of the main compartment has two things going on. The first is a section of PALS webbing along the top which you can use for extended organization. I’ve chosen to use a GR1 Field Pocket here, attaching it only at the top, like a hinge, so I can access the lower section. This gives me more than enough organization for the entire bag without really having to bring any of my own. Sidenote – the Field Pocket is now one of my absolutely favorite pouches.
The lower section is a sleeve with some light side compression. You can fit a ruck plate here, another laptop, or something like the Wire Dopp.
- The build quality is impeccable and the whole bag feels bomb proof.
- The Vietnam made version brings the price down a bit without sacrificing any quality.
- The zippers are buttery smooth, and the pulls are simple and easy to use.
- Just enough organization built in, and plenty of ways to expand that.
- Laptop compartment is well protected.
- At home walking down the tarmac or rucking through the mud.
- The straps and suspension are rock hard during the break-in period.
- Laptop compartment is secure but annoying to access behind the straps.
- Rain flap on the zippers can get in the way, especially around the corners.
- Front slash pocket becomes borderline unusable when the main compartment is packed out.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when getting into the GR1. I’m not big on overbuilt military style bags. But, the second I had it in my hand I knew I was going to love it. While overbuilt to a fault, the bag still looks slick, and doesn’t look out of place in public like some other PALS covered bags. It also has enough consideration for the every day users, with pockets and extendability where you need it, and of course, one of the best laptop compartments on the market.
The break-in period isn’t overhyped. It exists, and it might be uncomfortable while you do that. But, throw some weight in there, put a thick shirt on, and get to rucking. I took a little more time to publish this review just to see if the break-in period really came to an end, and I’m happy to say that the straps are now some of my favorite.
Editor’s Note: the GORUCK GR1 was provided as a sample for this review. The content of the review was not shared with GORUCK prior to publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never edited to keep brands happy.