The GR1 is like one of those mythical objects that people on the internet talk about, but nobody you know actually has. To be fair, paying nearly $300 for a backpack that, from a distance, is nearly indistinguishable from a Jansport might be considered…excessive. 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.
The company was founded by Jason McCarthy, a veteran of the Army 10th SFG. 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 various rucks and packs that he carried and roll them into one exceptionally well-designed pack that would stand up to the abuse of combat. Sales were slow, but Jason slowly built a reputation by partnering with Tough Mudder and using his packs during their races. At the conclusion of each race, he sold his packs off the back of a truck. This partnership eventually led to the creation of the GORUCK challenges that the company has become known for (the above link is actually quite a good read about the origin of the challenges).
GORUCK also makes a variety of packs in different sizes ranging from the 10L bullet to the 40L GR2. All of them are built to the same “bombproof” standards, but the GR1 remains the flagship of the brand.
I picked up a Ranger Green GR1 several months ago in preparation for the GORUCK Tough (GRT) challenge in Santa Barbara on August 5th. Unfortunately, due to a back injury flaring up, I had to move my registration to a different GRT event in December. I did still use the GR1 in a GORUCK “light” event. I was holding off on finishing the review until I completed at least one GORUCK and traveled a bit with the bag.
The GR1 comes in two different sizes: 26L and 21L. Pictured at the top is my Ranger Green 26L GR1. I also purchased a black 21L GR1 for my wife (it has the curved straps to accomodate different anatomy, but it is not a necessity, by any means). The pack is relatively nondescript from the outside, save for three rows of MOLLE on the front and sides, a front slash pocket, and a 2″ x 3″ hook and loop panel on the front. 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 has fallen out of favor as a gear material due to its relative weight compared to 500D, there is no denying that the pack feels tough. As one individual I work with put it when he handled 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 to be 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 helps cut 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 a sleeve that works well for laptops, hydration bladders, notebooks, rucking weights, or really any laptop-sized item. This pouch would also make a great host for a mobile transceiver like the Yaesu 817ND or other similar sized module. MOLLE is sewn into the top of the pack for attaching admin pouches, carabiners, or really anything you can tie down.
One of my favorite features is actually pouches sewn into the inside of the pack front. There are two pouches here: one at the top, and a mesh one taking up the rest of the space. The location of these make for easy access to items (cell phones, keys, headphones, whatever). I usually keep a folded up poncho in the mesh pocket, which has been great for impromptu picnics with the family and unexpectedly rainy ruck workouts.
The GR1 also has a zippered sleeve between the main compartment and the back padding. GORUCK calls this the “bombproof laptop compartment.” The 26L can hold a 17″ Macbook Pro, and the 21L holds a 15″ Macbook Pro nicely. Alternatively, I put my 30 lb ruck plate in this spot, or a water bladder. There is a removable polymer frame sheet located inside a discreet sleeve on the padded portion. It feels as though this frame sheet has molded to my back a bit over time, making it very comfortable and distributing loads well. The bottom of the ruck has extra padding to help protect the contents of the pack. 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, likely 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. There is a single row of vertically stitched MOLLE running the length of each strap. This works for lashing items, or even attaching accessories. In my case, I simply put an ITW web dominator for controlling the loose end of a hydration tube. The straps are designed to be quickly cinched and carry the load high on the back, which works well for weighted rucking workouts.
Lacking from the package is a sternum or waist strap. Both are available as accessories for relatively low cost. The ones designed by GORUCK weave into the available MOLLE located on the sides of the pack or on the shoulder straps. 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 recently). For the amount of money that these packs cost, I would like to have seen the sternum and waist belts included in the package and leave it up to the user to decide if they want to use them or not.
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, laptop bags, a gym bag, a business trip, and a GORUCK event. It has performed flawlessly in every circumstance. I think the real benefit of the GR1 is that it is so generically designed. A lot of “tactical” packs have multiple compartments and sleeves 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. If I load up my SOC Three Day Pass for the range, it is one thing- but using it as a daily pack really doesn’t work well because of all the things I don’t need and the space I then have to do without.
The genericness of the GR1 means that it is not specialized for anything, which makes it pretty useful for just about everything (up to a point, which I’ll get to). The main compartment can be configured and organized as I see fit, rather than being forced into what someone else envisions me using it for. With the MOLLE on the outside, I can choose to 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 once the pack has some bulk. I really only use it for some patches, reflective bands, and maybe a thin Rite in the Rain notebook. If you are going to 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 (as seen below).
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 for a variety of circumstances, 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. It’s one thing to carry 30-40 lbs in it for a workout, which it does well it. I would NOT want to use it if there was more weight or distance involved. The shoulder straps are good, but the truth is that putting large amounts of weight on your shoulders for extended periods is going to 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, which is mainly designed to help stabilize the pack during movement. I’m talking serious hip belts that transfer weight to your hips/legs, as you see on large hiking packs.
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.
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 perceived as 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, Camelbak, 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 more built-in organization or the ability to carry heavier loads for long distances, then something else might work better.