Even if you’re new on the pack scene, you’ll know that there are few things that will evoke such visceral responses among pack junkies as uttering the word GORUCK… well, maybe TAD fits into that group too, but with last year’s announcement to move some production overseas, the Florida-based bag and apparel company has forced the conversation around making high-quality gear in a way that is both affordable (ish) and sustainable from a business perspective.
Previously, The Perfect Pack has felt that the market was saturated with GORUCK reviews and felt we had nothing to add. However, with the now split-production between the US and Vietnam, we’ve decided to bring our own spin to the game, comparing bags across the GR lineup. Brandon took a look at the new GR1, PK Shiu has put the GR2 and GR3 head to head, and Tom Wahlin of PackHacker even contributed a GR2 review in our early days. Today, I’ll take a deeper dive into the GR3, which is still manufactured in the USA.
|Height||22 in||56 cm|
|Length||14 in||35.6 cm|
|Depth||9 in||23 cm|
|Weight||5.15 lbs||2.3 kg|
|Capacity||2746 cu in||45 L|
Quality and Comfort
As much as I love to stir up controversy, it’s hard to throw much shade on the quality of this bag. Although I’ve never done a rucking event, my experience as a thru-hiker, mountain biker, and paragliding pilot has given me a set of “ruggedness benchmarks” to judge how much I trust a bag to a) hold my lunch for a tough day on the bike, b) hold my gear for 5 days on the trail, and c) hold my ass (and life) when I’m 2000 meters above the ground in rough air. There aren’t many bags that can live up to the third benchmark but if it’s gonna be one, it’s gonna the this one. People throw around the term “bomb-proof” a lot, but even just getting your hands on the GR3, you’ll feel confident that every stitch is impeccable, every stress point is reinforced, and every piece of hardware (including YKK zippers and custom 550 zipper pulls) sourced from high-quality vendors. Remember that GORUCK was founded by a former Green Beret so it’s probably as close to “battle-tested” as your carry-on is going to get.
In the event of a water landing, or more likely a TSA-related incident, the SCARS repair and customization program is reportedly fantastic, although I haven’t had the bag for long enough to need it.
While the ability for a bag to take a beating is important, that doesn’t mean much if your shoulders ache after carrying the bag between terminals 1 and 3. Many GORUCK community members have commented that for the smaller packs like GR1, the straps are heavenly, but take some time to break in. This hasn’t been the case for me as the straps have all been pillowy-soft and quite comfortable, even when hauling heavy or awkward loads. The back panel is well-padded and the removable hip-belt sits well on my hips without being restrictive or overbuilt for how much padding is included.
This bag came into my life at an opportune time, as I had several trips planned that required multi-modal travel with a heavy pack including a Bike-Train-Bike transfer and an extended stay in a converted camper-van with an airline trip thrown in-between. One thing that kept coming in handy were the padded side and top grab-handles. While you can find these on many travel-specific bags, the GORUCK padded webbing feels solid and comfortable in your hand. Even though the top handle has a hidden hook-and-loop tearaway spot for routing a hydration system, I never had any qualms about throwing around a 40 lb bag from the top.
Another pleasant surprise was how well this bag functions as an actual backpack. Often “one-bag” carry-ons are just duffels with some straps slapped on as an afterthought, but I was able to ride from the train at Union Station in Los Angeles to my house, 24 miles away without feeling like I was carrying one of those giant novelty Jansport packs.
My biggest criticism in the comfort/carry department is the lack of included sternum strap. Yes, I know it’s available from their website for $10, but with an almost $400 bag that’s specifically spec’d to carry heavy or bulky items, there’s really never a time I wouldn’t want this at least as an option.
Overall, this is probably one of the most comfortable large bags that I’ve tried. That being said, I’m a skinny 6″2 (188 cm) and this bag looks MASSIVE. My partner is 5″6 (170 cm) and feels that this bag doesn’t quite fit her frame as well, and basically makes it look like she’s wearing an old external frame hiking pack, so your mileage may vary.
In the past, my go-to travel packs included the Evergoods CTB40 and the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel (40L), both of which I love, but neither of which are as easy to carry as this bag.
Let’s cut to the chase here; unlike it’s smaller cousin the GR2, this bag is basically just an empty clamshell expanse of possibility when it comes to organization. Do you like packing cubes? Chuck ’em in! Velcro-backed pouches? The main compartment is lined with tons of loop. MOLLE/PALS aficionado? Obviously it’s covered. Tightly rolling all of your clothes to fit into Pringles cans? Whatever floats your boat, friend.
In other words, GORUCK has basically given you a blank canvas in which to port your favorite method of packing. Strangely enough, I felt that even at 45L, I had trouble fitting everything I normally easily squeeze into a 40L duffel for a business trip. It might be that my packing style just leans towards a more cylindrical medium, but the actual backpack shape of this bag felt strangely limiting to me.
Additionally, the 4 compression straps that are integrated into the side panels do a great job a strap management with the integrated elastic strap-keepers, but I felt that the locations they actually apply compression don’t do much with a fully-loaded pack and tend to make it bulge in weird places–It might have been better to use internal compression instead of external, but this might be reflective of my packing style, or the weirdly large amount of footwear I usually carry with me on trips, so you can take this with a grain of salt.
One neat little additional feature are the two straps of elastic on the inside bottom. These are meant to securely stow the removable hip belt when not in use, but I found them handy for everything from tucking a pair of trainers to securing some climbing camalots so they didn’t jingle around.
There are three zippered compartments inside the bag, each approximately 5.5 inches tall by 13 inches wide (14 cm by 33 cm). The top compartment is solid 1000D Cordura while the bottom two are mesh-paneled. I found them all surprisingly spacious–definitely big enough to the point where you want a separate dopp kit or pouch if you plan on using it for toiletries or miscellaneous cables.
Externally, there is the classic external horizontal, slightly diagonal zip seen on all GORUCK packs, which I just learned is referred to by many as a “slash pocket”. I was expecting a compartment of similar size to the internal ones, but this pocket runs all the way down to the bottom of the bag. This 15.5 inch (39.3 cm) pocket is almost too massive to easily stash anything, and can get a bit over-crowded if the inside of the bag is stuffed with bulky items. I ended up stashing a variety of electronics inside a large DAKA pouch, which worked relatively well.
The bottom of the bag includes two rows of 2″ webbing with a PALS-like pattern that can apparently be used to secure a GORUCK compression sack, but with the overall size of the bag, I could see this being at perfect height to hit your butt with every step. It was hard for me to find a use for this, but it’s not like it impeded the function of the bag in any way.
The back panel of the bag is also home to the hidden laptop compartment. You might’ve noticed a pattern with the GR3 and that pattern is that things are HUGE. This well-padded compartment swallowed up by 17-inch Macbook no problem, but it definitely felt overkill for my Microsoft Surface or an iPad. Granted, GORUCK does claim that the pocket is designed to “take a laptop into combat” and I don’t doubt that.
Another small criticism I had is something I share with Brandon on his review of the GR1 which is that having the zippered compartment behind the straps makes it somewhat difficult to access on occasion. Although I am a big fan of dedicated laptop compartments, I think a side entry, akin to the Evergoods CTB40 is a better solution.
- Build quality is excellent and close to unmatched when paired with the SCARS Lifetime Guarantee
- Laptop compartment can withstand baggage handlers and possibly even an IED
- Handles are well placed for airline and public transit travel
- Incredibly comfortable straps and hip-belt right out of the box
- Just the right amount of organization if you prefer to BYO packing system
- Laptop compartment can be difficult to access
- Bag feels weirdly small on volume for how large it is
- Compression straps don’t quite have the right placement for my packing style
- External slash pouch can be difficult to use due to volume or when pack is fully loaded
- Doesn’t come with sternum strap
- Might make you look like a toddler if you’re less than 6 feet tall.
No matter if you’re a GORUCK fanboy or a first time user (like me) you have to appreciate the quality and attention to detail that went into making a bag like this. While it doesn’t work for every application, the GR3 is a solid bag if you’re looking for the biggest possible carry-on, or maybe a solid pack to hold gear in the back of your pickup truck. At almost $400, it’s probably not an impulse purchase, but you can be sure that if it works for you, it’ll keep working for many years to come.
Personally, this bag is a bit too tactical for my tastes and doesn’t quite fit my style of travel so it will probably end up on someone else’s back before too long. That being said, if GORUCK is your aesthetic and you tend to put bags through their paces, the GR3 should be on your short list for sure.
Editor’s Note: The GR3 was 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.