Upon its founding back in 2008, GORUCK was little more than a passion project started by Special Forces soldier Jason McCarthy — an effort to reassimilate into civilian life after returning from service. Since that time, however, it’s grown into a worldwide phenomenon, with bags like the GR1 now commanding quite the cult following amongst the rucking community.
For this reason, GORUCK has quickly become one of the most respected brands in the EDC space, and many consider the GR1 to be the pinnacle of simple, no-frills day bags. The question is though: while it remains a popular bag for tactical gear aficionados and fitness fanatics, is it still a pack that lives up to the hype? In this review, we get hands-on with GORUCK’s 21L model to find out once and for all.
Twenty-First Century Tactical
Make no mistake: one look at the bag tells you that it’s built for the long haul. The GR1 is incredibly utilitarian, with no visible branding to be found, and a construction that’s 100% committed to completing the mission. There are three rows of MOLLE webbing for attaching accessories, and there’s a customizable velcro patch on the front panel; otherwise, it’s little more than a rugged black rectangle attached to a pair of shoulder straps.
As a result, the GR1 is almost intimidatingly spartan. Sure, this is partly because of the bag’s coarse Cordura fabric; however, a lot of it comes from the minimalist form factor. Because the GR1 does away with anything excess or unnecessary, the bag has to be ready for whatever you have to throw at it — as is. That being said, this also means the 21L model measures a TSA-compliant 11.5” wide by 18” tall by 5.5” deep, making it the perfect option for one-bag travel.
Materials & Hardware
Given its military origins, it should come as no surprise that the GR1 is made right here in the USA. Being a pseudo-active backpack, the body of the bag is crafted from 1000D Cordura — a textile that’s proven its worth time and time again in tactical applications. GORUCK is so confident in this stuff, in fact, that each pack is sold with the brand’s Scars Lifetime Guarantee.
Now, we should point out that the chances of you needing to use this service are, in reality, pretty slim. That’s because, everywhere on the GR1, GORUCK has reinforced the bag with bartacks and box stitching for unfailing dependability. Throughout our testing period, the most we’ve had is a couple of loose threads here and there, so we’re confident that the bag could provide us with years of reliable service.
Of course, a bag’s fasteners had better be just as tough as its materials, so GORUCK has spared no expense when it comes to the GR1’s hardware. For instance, closures are a pretty common weak point on most backpacks, so the GR1 features ultra-beefy YKK zippers that have been reversed such that the most durable part faces out. What’s more, the pulls are made from tough 550 paracord, and they’ve been shrink-wrapped to prevent jangling around when you’re on the move. In practice, this means that they’re super easy to use when wearing gloves, or in those times when your fingers are cold and stiff.
Simple But Versatile
Because the GR1 is as much a rugged rucking bag as it is an everyday carry companion, GORUCK built the bag with a couple of work and workout-ready additions. Just take the laptop pocket, for example. Tucked away behind the shoulder straps, it’s spacious enough for up to a 16” MacBook Pro, and it’s heavily padded to protect your device from drops and bumps. Assuming you’d like to use your GR1 for exercise, this pocket will also hold a rucking plate secure against your torso.
And that’s not all; inside, GORUCK has fitted the bag with an expandable pouch for packing your notebooks, magazines, and other slimmer carry. However, come time to work out, this pocket doubles as a handy water supply holster. Simply drop the bladder inside, feed the bite valve through the MOLLE loops, and pass the hose through the velcro opening under the top grab handle.
Organization-wise, the GR1 is — admittedly — pretty spartan. At the base of the lid, there’s a spacious mesh pocket that’s large enough to hold a pair of full-size over-ear headphones – case and all. Above, there’s also a zippered pouch positioned at the top of the lid. Because it spans the width of the bag, we found it plenty roomy for stowing things like a MacBook charger and its accompanying cable along with a portable power bank. There are three further rows of MOLLE webbing; otherwise, though, it’s up to you to decide how best to pack your GR1.
Out front, there’s a single external slant pocket that stretches the height of the bag. GORUCK claims it’s for quick access, but we found that it’s really best as a catchall for things like small notebooks, hand sanitizer, and wireless earbuds. While we can appreciate what the added depth does for the pocket’s storage capacity, it also means that it can become something of a bottomless black hole.
Whether it’s because of its tactical roots or active aspirations, the GR1 boasts some of the beefiest straps you’ll find on a backpack. Made from two layers of dense foam — one to provide structure, and the other to add a bit of comfort — they’re super overbuilt and can easily handle the heaviest of loads. Though the straps are pretty stiff when you first get the bag, they break in more and more with continued use.
In order to ensure absolute toughness and unwavering support, GORUCK has designed the back padding such that it’s absent of any spacer mesh. Instead, it’s built with seven segmented panels and some shallow channels for ventilation. Granted, it’s not quite as breathable as most other bags (your back will likely get sweaty); however, it’s considerably better fitting — especially when combined with the interior frame sheet. On-body, it’s completely absent of any hot spots, no matter how much weight you’re carrying.
Buy It For Life
If you’re even passingly familiar with the backpack space, chances are pretty good that you’ll have heard of the GR1’s renown. And it’s not without good reason; between its overbuilt Cordura construction, versatile MOLLE attachment points, and rugged shoulder straps, the GR1 is about as mission-ready as civilian bags come. However, it’s important to keep your expectations realistic. The bag isn’t abounding with organizational provisions, and it won’t wow you with a bunch of fancy bells and whistles. There’s no doubt about it, though – the GR1 is as tough as nails. Whether you’re after a daily carry companion or you’re simply searching for a new workout partner, this is one pack that’s sure to do you right.
The Absolute Best Backpacks For EDC
While we’re big fans of the GR1, we understand that the bag’s tactical aesthetic can be a bit divisive. So, if GORUCK isn’t really your speed, head on over to our guide to the best everyday carry backpacks, where something else is sure to do just the ticket.