The GR1 is like one of those mythical objects that people on the internet talk about, but nobody you know actually has.
As the saying goes, though, you get what you pay for. In this price range, there is a lot of competition from other gear makers like Kifaru, Mystery Ranch, Crye Precision, London Bridge Trading, and more. All of these are considered top notch. Yet, when you search around the web, the GR1 consistently has loyal advocates.
Origin of the GoRuck GR1
Jason McCarthy, a veteran of the Army 10th SFG, founded the company.
The story goes that he wanted to start a company to be a voice for good and take care of fellow veterans. Furthermore, he wanted to take the best elements from rucks and packs that he used and roll them into one exceptionally well-designed bag.
Sales were slow, but Jason slowly built a reputation by partnering with Tough Mudder. He wore the GR1 during races to show off their toughness. After each event, he sold inventory off the back of a truck in the parking lot after.
This partnership eventually led to the creation of the GORUCK challengesthe company is known for today.
The GR1 is the flagship of the brand. They make them in 26L and 21L sizes. I happen to have one of each, with the smaller one used by my wife. I picked both of them up before they raised the prices to the current level, I also had a military discount. GoRuck also makes a variety of packs in different sizes ranging from the 10L bullet to the 45L GR3. All of them are built to the same “bombproof” standards.
I picked up a Ranger Green GR1 in 2016 while preparing for the GoRuck Tough (GRT) challenge in Santa Barbara, CA. In the time I’ve owned the GR1, it’s been been through GoRuck challenges and served for countless hours of rucking miles. It’s my go-to day hiking bag and even minimalist overnights. It’s been a travel bag, a photography bag, workout ruck, and just about anything else I can think of.
The pack is relatively nondescript from the outside. The only “tactical” thing about it is MOLLE on the front and sides and a 2″ x 3″ hook and loop panel on the front. If you know your bags, I think it draws a lot of inspiration from the LBT 1476A 3-Day Assault Pack.
There is no branding on the outside, which helps it comply with Army uniform regulation 670-1. That regulation forbids corporate logos from the exterior of backpacks. From a distance, you are hard pressed to tell the difference between the GR1 and any other simple school backpack. When you pick it up, however, it becomes a very different story.
The GR1 is made entirely out of 1000D Cordura. While 1000D fell favor as a gear material due to its relative weight compared to 500D, there is no denying that the pack feels tough.
As one friend of mine put it, “This thing feels like it is going to last forever.”
The stitching is top notch and overbuilt. The YKK zippers are beefy and appear easy to maintain.
A nice touch is the removal of metal pull tabs from the zippers and replacing them with heat shrunk 550 paracord pulls. This cuts down on noise as you are moving with the pack and provides a unique look.
The zippers run the length of the pack, allowing the front flap to clamshell completely open. The GR1 has one main compartment. Once open, there is an inner sleeve that works well for laptops, hydration bladders, notebooks,
This pouch would also make a great host for a mobile transceiver like the Yaesu 817ND or another similar sized module.
There is MOLLE sewn into the top of the pack for attaching admin pouches, carabiners, or really anything you can tie down. A lot of companies out there make metal molle frames sized to fit in the bag and organize gear.
One of my favorite features is actually the two pouches sewn into the inside front.
The one at the top is mid-sized and enclosed. It’s easy to get access to for quick items. It’s a pretty common technique in the challenges to flip the pack around and wear it on your front to get at things, and that pocket is perfect.
Below that is a large mesh pocket. I’ve kept everything in there from computer charging cables, first aid kits, to a folded up poncho and shelter kit.
The GR1 also has a zippered sleeve between the main compartment and the back padding. GoRuck calls this the “bombproof laptop compartment.” The 26L holds a 17″
Alternatively, I sometimes put my 30 lb ruck plate or a water bladder in the sleeve. Most of the time, I put the weight inside the main compartment and tie it down to the molle to keep it stable.
Support and Padding
There is a removable polymer frame sheet inside a discreet sleeve on the padded portion. It feels like this sheet has molded to my back a bit over time, making it very comfortable and distributing loads well. However, I did eventually replace it with a stiffer
The bottom of the ruck has extra padding to help protect the contents. Both the main compartment and laptop compartment connect to a hydration tube port at the top of the pack, right under the carry handle.
Speaking of which, the top carry handle is extremely strong. Clearly designed for those moments in the challenges where you lose strap privileges and must carry the weighted pack by that handle for a few miles.
The shoulder straps are beefy, with a good 1/4 inch of padding. The combination of padding and 1000D Cordura is so sturdy, in fact, that it took a month of near-daily use with weight to break them in.
A single row of vertically stitched MOLLE runs the length of each strap. This works for lashing items, attaching chest straps, or even some photography gear. I keep it minimal an ITW web dominator for controlling the loose end of a hydration tube. The straps carry the load high on the back, which works well for weighted rucking workouts.
Missing from the package is a sternum or waist strap. Both are available as accessories for a relatively low cost. The waist strap is not very supportive like a hiking pack. It’s not designed to transfer the load to the waist. Rather it stabilizes the bottom of the bag during activity.,
GoRuck’s explanation for not including them is that they wanted to keep things simple and stripped down. Alternatively, I’ve also seen that they didn’t have a good final design for these items until several years after the bag was out.
For the amount of money that these packs cost, I would prefer the sternum and waist belts included in the package.
Getting Under the Ruck
That gets me to usage.
To date, I’ve used this pack for EDC at work, picnics, hikes, farmers markets, cycling around town, diaper bag, range bag, photography bag, laptop bags, a gym bag, business trips, small unit tactics training, and GoRuck events.
The real benefit of the GR1 is that it is so generically designed. A lot of “tactical” packs have multiple compartments and for things like knives, pens, multitools, flashlights, etc. While nifty, a lot of those features end up going unused on a day to day basis.
The genericness of the GR1 means that it’s pretty useful for just about everything. Up to a point, which I’ll get to.
I can organize the whole bag as I see fit, rather than being forced into what someone else envisions me using it for. With the three rows of MOLLE on the outside, I can add IFAKs, canteen pouches, ammo pouches, cell phone caddies, admin pouches, or leave it slick.
YouTube is full of “one baggers” who efficiently pack it for trips up to a week or longer.
The only real exception is the slash pocket on the front, which isn’t much good for anything other than flat items. As the bulk in the pack starts growing, the front slash pocket is just too tight to be useful. I really only use it for some patches, reflective bands, and maybe a thin Rite in the Rain notebook.
If you load up the bag with stuff, do try to keep it organized and compartmentalized. It’s one thing to lay out everything nice and pretty when the bag is laying flat, but unless you have actually organized properly, the contents will “tumble” to the bottom in a messy pile. Packing cubes are great for this.
Compared to the Competition
Now, here is where I’m going to deviate from a lot of what has been said about the pack.
As a daily use backpack, the GR1 is awesome. For “tactical” use, I think it makes a great 24-hour assault pack to compete with the likes of LBT, Eagle, and Mystery Ranch.
But I hesitate to call it a “Ruck” in the traditional sense.
While it works well for carrying 30-40 lbs in it for a workout, I would NOT want to use it if there was more weight or distance involved.
The shoulder straps are good, but putting large amounts of weight on only your shoulders for extended periods will mess with your back. If you plan on rucking with 60+ lbs, you need a sturdy waist belt.
I’m not talking about the GORUCK waist belt, either. I’m talking serious hip belts that transfer weight to your hips/legs
Realistically, those who have spent time doing serious hikes, backpacking trips, and ruck movements understand this and wouldn’t use the GR1 for that purpose. I’m sure there are some devotees out there who sincerely think that putting 60 lbs in the GR1 and moving long distances on a regular basis is a good idea, though. While it can be done, you really shouldn’t.
That said, I’ve experimented with some load bearing gear configurations that mitigate this somewhat. There’s an old British technique when wearing a lot of web gear around your belt line. If the harness fits correctly, rest the pack on the top of the rear pouches and let the weight transfer to the hips.
The Bottom Line
- Crazy tough construction to withstand nearly any abuse
- Generic design/size is both discrete and extremely versatile
- Comfortable for carrying loads (within reason)
- Just flat out good looking
- Very high quality
- Price is high for “just a backpack”
- Does not include relatively inexpensive sternum or waist straps
- Takes some time to break in
The Final Verdict, Who Should Buy This:
This is one of those “nice to have” items that probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
There are a lot of great packs on the market that fall into roughly the same category. If you were comparing the GR1 to offerings from Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, LBT, Camelbak, First Spear, Hill People Gear, and other quality manufacturers, I’m not sure there is anything here that definitely makes the GR1 better than all of the others.
They are all in roughly the same price point and share high levels of quality. If versatility without being overly tacticool is a priority for you, then the GR1 is a great pick. The GR1, to me, represents the absolute best version of the classic backpack. If you need additional organization built in or the ability to carry heavier loads for long distances, then something else might work better.