If I Was Starting Over


I’ve read a recent spate of forum posts about people’s homes being broken into and their firearm collections stolen. Obviously, that is a terrible event and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But it made me think.

If I was starting over with my collection knowing everything that I know now, what would I focus on? I thought this question tied nicely with my AR-15 guide posts, since those are where I dumped my current understanding of the platform (and continue to be the most popular posts on the blog).

If I was Buying My First AR-15

If I had to start over from scratch, or I was just getting started in the AR world, my first rifle would be a Colt Combat Unit Carbine. It represents nearly everything I recommend for first time buyers, and I would expect it to perform admirably in nearly any role it is pushed to do.


  • Barrel: 16.1″
  • Capacity: 30+1
  • Finish: Matte Black
  • Receiver: Matte Black
  • Safety: Ambidextrous Safety Selector
  • Stock: Magpul MOE SL Buttstock Collapsible / Folding Stock
  • Magazine: 1 / 30 rd. Magpul PMAG
  • Weight: 6.47 lbs.
  • Rate of Twist: 1-in-7″
  • Sights: No Sights
  • Barrel Length: 16.1
  • Overall Length: 33 to 36.5
  • Features: Mid-Length Gas System/ Lightweight Profile Barrel
  • Handguard: Centurion Arms M-LOK CMR

Sure, I could always build a more specialized rifle with this barrel or that trigger, but this package represents an excellent “do-all” carbine.

If I Was Buying My First Rifle Optic

The first optic I ever purchased was a Trijicon TR24G, one of the better early examples of the 1-4x variable market. It still works well, though I don’t have it sitting on top of anything at the moment.

Having now experimented with red dots, low power variables, and fixed low magnification optics, I definitely have a preference for the fixed low power varieties. That said, if it is a first optic, and one that I’m going to presumably use for a while in a variety of roles, then I’m going to take a variable.

My choice would be the Vortex Razor Gen II-E 1-6x with VMR-2 MRAD reticle.

The illumination is bright enough, the magnification range is good, the optical clarity is fantastic, and it’s proven to be durable. I prefer the MRAD reticle because I can always move the optic to other rifles/platforms and figure out my drop points rather than having to improvise on a preset BDC.

If I Was Buying My First Handgun

The first pistol I ever purchased was a 1911. Specifically, it was a Springfield Black Stainless Loaded model, which was set up more for competition than anything else. I didn’t really know what I was looking for at the time, and 1911s were all the rage on the internet. Technically, I also had a HK USP-9c on loan from my father, which was a much more practical self-defense pistol, but I returned it to him after buying my own pistol. After that was my Beretta 92A1, then FNS-9, and then the CZ P-07.

I prefer hammer fired pistols over striker (call it a safety thing, I like the reassurance that the hammer is not cocked during holstering). I don’t care for cocked and locked carry, or single action only pistols that would otherwise require me to cock the hammer before firing the first shot.

I’m a big fan of my CZ, but I feel like it wouldn’t be a first pistol.

If I was starting over, I would pick up an HK P30L LE model (included night sights) and go master it.

If you just cannot stand DA/SA pistols, then I would pick a Sig P320 Compact. I know it’s not popular right now because of bad press, but the same happened to the Beretta 92 when it was first adopted by the military as the M9. But that’s the bottom line for me, the P320 series is the new official handgun of the US military, which means it is going to have ample aftermarket support and accessories- something nearly everything in my collection lacks.

I’m sure someone will argue that I should recommend a Glock 19, and it’s a fair recommendation. It is a well known quantity, reliable, and has ample support as well. I’ve just never liked shooting Glocks, and this post is about what would pick.

If I Was Buying My First 30 Cal

My first rifle was an M1A, which was awesome for showing off at the range. Then I picked up an M1 Garand from the CMP. Then I got into ARs, then a bolt action, and then I started a 308 AR that I never finished.

If I was doing it all over again, I would get a SCAR 17s and be done with it.

Yes, it costs more. But when I factor in all the money I spent on the M1A ($1700ish to buy it, then nearly another $1000 for the stock it sits in), and then the bolt action, and what it would cost to build a reliable 308 AR- we are in the same price range as the SCAR. It’s already a proven platform, and doesn’t require a lot of tinkering.

If I Was Buying My First Set of Load Bearing Gear

This is an odd one. I’m still working on it myself, and I think I’m up to four different platforms myself that are nearly fully equipped. If I was totally starting over, I would make the choice between belt-oriented (old school) and chest rig (new school).

If going with a more traditional belt-oriented method, then I would look at the First-Spear Joker Rig. Again, yes, it is expensive. But it will last you forever, and offers a lot of flexibility. This would be a great “one and done” solution (after you get the pouches, of course).

If I was going more in the direction of chest rigs, I’m a big fan of my MVT Rig, but he doesn’t make them anymore (or really any gear, for that matter). The next best thing is the Mayflower UW Gen IV Rig. Pair that with a decent duty belt with some extra mags and such, and you have a very capable system.




The Battle Belt, Mod 1

Late in 2015, I completed my first iteration of a battle belt. I admitted at the time that the configuration was mostly based on research and theory rather than practice. Since then, I’ve had a few more months to work on the practice portion and some changes have been made- albeit relatively minor ones. I’ve continued to apply the principles of METT-T and changed my approach a bit. Keep in mind, this is all just based on my own observation and experimentation. I’m not some door kicking meat eater with decades of light infantry experience backing me up. What I have seen, though, is that even the guys with the credentials don’t have a common way of running gear. It is very much a personal thing, so long as it works.

The New Hotness


The addition of a the MVT Chest Rig, as well as a more fully featured H-Harness from First Spear, drove the changes here. I will talk more about those as well.

The fundamental purpose of this belt is to carry a minimum effective fighting kit. I still want this belt to support all of my magazine fed weapons (both 5.56/308 and pistol). I reduced the amount of survival and comfort items. Those things will either be carried in pockets or in a pack. This is more than the pure minimalist belts out there that have just a few items on it, but it also is much more stripped down that the British PLCE style belt I was pursuing before. I place it in more of a mid-weight category.

Here is the newest iteration of the system.

Pouches from left to right:

  • TT Magna double pistol magazine pouch
  • HSGI Taco (holds one 5.56 or .308 magazine)
  • HSGI Taco (holds one 5.56 or .308 magazine)
  • HSGI Bleeder Pouch
  • BAE Systems Eclipse Canteen/General Purpose Pouch
  • Grizzly Outdoors kydex knife sheath for BK-10 knife
  • Safariland 3280 holster for Beretta 92A1 with or without attached light

When I put the original belt out there in the public eye with a request for feedback, I received a lot of good input. The biggest thing to look out for was bulk, particularly on the sides. My original concept had two triple mag pouches set on the outside of HSGI tacos. When filled, this created 4+ magazines worth of horizontal bulk. I found that it tended to snag on things, particularly door frames and furniture. It didn’t really work the way I originally intended.

P1010690.jpgI dropped the external TT pouches in favor of just the two tacos. This reduced the ammunition capacity from 8+1 to 2+1. Alternatively, it went from eight pounds of ammunition on the left side of the belt to two. My logic is that this is a minimum fighting capability, good for generally bumming around and enough to get out of most sticky situations. Extra magazines can always be carried in pockets, especially if I’m wearing a smock. 

I scaled back the trauma kit back a bit. The HSGI Bleeder just doesn’t hold all that much. This kit represents a bare minimum capability for stopping bleeding, and should be supplemented by a larger first aid kit carried in a pack or pocket.

  • 1 pair nitrile gloves
  • 1 pair HyFin vented compact chest seals
  • 1 NAR S-Folded gauze
  • OLAES 4″ Compression Bandage
  • CAT Tourniquet
  • Flat roll of 100 mph tape
  • Benchmade Rescue Hook 8

I searched for a tear away method of mounting the Bleeder pouch so that I could rip it off with either hand when I need it, but no avail. Instead, I attached the bleeder pouch with two MOLLE Stix. This lets me give a firm yank to a lanyard and unlock the mount. From there, I simply give an upward pull and the pouch falls free. I much prefer this method because removing the kit and putting it next to whatever I’m trying to do is much more desirable than twisting around and fishing through a very crowded pouch on the belt. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works. I also experimented with a Chinook Med TMK pouch, but I didn’t like the way it sat on the belt. Another option I’m looking at is SO Tech’s Flat Viper kit.

P1010691.jpgI wavered back and forth regarding water carriage. I considered removing the canteen carriers all together. I carry a 3L water bladder in my pack, so losing the canteens off the belt wouldn’t represent a great loss. However, I kept one with the reasoning that I can always remove the canteens and continue using the covers as general purpose pouches. Furthermore, hard bottles do still have their perks over bladders (thats a discussion for another day).  

I wanted something that was a bit less bulky than the MOLLE II covers I had. I picked up two of the BAE Eclipse pouches as well as an SO Tech Canteen pouch during my experimentation. The BAE pouches are much lower profile, and present a nice tight fit for my Nalgene canteens, but can also hold other items (including 4 more magazines). It will not hold the canteen nested with cup and stove, though. Since this belt is intended to be used with a backpack, I decided those items could be carried elsewhere. The SO Tech carrier is perfect, and is my favorite carrier by far- but I thought it was better utilized on my larger H-Harness.

The other major addition is a new fixed blade knife. On my first revision, I mounted a Spartan Blades Breed Fighter Dagger. While a fighting knife is cool, it honestly isn’t as useful as a general purpose utility knife.

The Becker BK-10 is my camping knife. It is Ethan Becker’s version of the classic Air Crew Survival Knife, and is designed as a type of “do all” outdoors knife. It is fairly large and wide, which makes it useful for many outdoor tasks, but also makes carry options a little more challenging. The kydex sheath came from Grizzly Outdoors, and is very nice. I have it mounted with zip ties for the moment, bt am looking into other mounting methods.

Other Changes


A side effect of this project is a strong reconsideration of what kind of pack I want to use.I’ve been running a SOC Three Day Pass as a “do all.” The reality is that there are different packs for different purposes, and “do all” doesn’t really work well for any of them. My GoRuck GR1 now serves as a general purpose 24 hour “assault” pack and is considered an integral part of the fighting kit. The next step up would be something like the Karrimor SF Predator 45 for a few days worth of patrolling, and then a full on large TT MALICE pack for extended periods. That is a long term project, of course, as none of that gear comes cheaply. 

The MVT Chest Rig I picked up last year has become the “plus up” for this fighting kit. It adds an additional four magazines in the main pouches, and the ability to stuff an additional four in the radio pockets (two magazines will fit on each side). The chest rig is light enough and low profile enough that it doesn’t get in the way or add undue weight or bulk. When I bought it, I also picked up a few small pouches, but those have been migrated elsewhere in an effort to keep the chest rig low profile.


The combination of the medium belt, the chest rig, and the backpack provide an effective layering system. At the lowest end, I could carry a concealed pistol on a standard belt. Add the chest rig to that and I have a basic pistol/rifle combo. The next level would be wearing the medium battle belt by itself, which provides pistol, rifle, and basic survival needs. Add the chest rig to that and it increases the rifle capability (as well as some other “nice to haves”). Add the pack to any of it, and there is essentially no limit to flexibility (so long as weight is kept reasonable). The combination provides a selection between 3, 5, or 7 magazines (including one in the rifle).

The H-Harness

I mentioned that I also picked up a more traditional H-Harness. I managed to get a pretty screaming deal on a First Spear 6/12 Tactical Patrolling Harness. I’ll do a more thorough overview of it later, but it is being pressed to fill that traditional dismounted patrol niche. The harness is equipped to carry six magazines, two canteens, a utility pouch, knife, medical, and other misc items. It has a much wider belt, and sturdier shoulder straps.


This follows the same pattern as my previous battle belt configuration, but with equipment that is actually designed for it. Here is a quick rundown of the H-Harness configuration:

  • MVT Medium Pouch
  • TT Universal Mag pouch
  • Chinook Med TMK IFAK
  • ATS medium utility pouch
  • Tactical Tailor canteen utility pouch
  • SO Tech canteen pouch
  • Knife sheath for the BK-10
  • TT Universal Mag Pouch
  • MVT Medium Pouch

You will probably notice that I left off a holster and pistol ammunition. I set this is up as a rifle-focused kit. If needed, I would carry a pistol in my HSGI holster, which is slightly dropped on my leg, and also has magazine carriers. I’ve left a small gap in the pouches on my rights side to help with that. If I wanted to, I can go back and mount a MOLLE holster into the space between the knife and magazine pouch, but I would honestly rather save the weight.

So far, all of the pouches mounted on the patrolling harness are “leftovers” from things I’ve experimented with in the past and didn’t keep. That’s not to say they are bad items, they just weren’t filling the need at the time. On this kit, they work very well as a way to comfortably carry more stuff on the belt, potentially eliminating the need for a separate pack. I plan on writing more about this kit in the future.


I first started this post almost a year ago. It has taken so long to finish because I am constantly tweaking and adjusting while trying to figure out what works best for me. The truth is that there really is no final answer for how to set up your gear, and everything comes down to personal preferences.



Overcoming Decision Anxiety


We’ve all ben there. You know you want to buy something. Assuming you’re financially responsible, you save your dollars and cents until you can afford it (or, alternatively, you run out of willpower and whip out the credit card). That’s when it happens…you suddenly freeze because you don’t want to make the wrong choice.

This can apply to complete rifles, individual components (particularly barrels), optics, accessories, gear, or really anything. It’s the reason that articles like my guide to barrels and purchasing your first AR15 are so popular. It is a documented phenomenon that when presented with many choices, people start to feel anxious about making the wrong choice, and are also more likely to feel dissatisfied with the one they chose. This is the feeling that causes us to obsessively research every aspect of our purchase, to maximize our decision making process until we are absolutely sure that we are making the “best” choice. The problem is, we will continue alternating between the various “best” options out there and never actually make a decision. This behavior is what I refer to as paralysis by analysis. This is a great TED talk on the subject (for the TL:DR crowd, the meat begins at around 8:00).

This is a natural result of human behavior. I believe it’s particularly difficult with the AR, since the market has absolutely exploded with choices. Other weapons are easy because there are typically only 2 to 3 choices, usually related to color and maybe barrel length. In the AR world, however, choices are nearly limitless due to the sheer number and variety of different components out there. It’s a perfect recipe for paralysis.

Overcoming Decision Paralysis

This is a tricky subject. On the one hand, it is easy for me to point out the objective facts about things like return on investment of barrel accuracy and tell someone that they don’t need to spend that extra $200 for a match barrel capable of .5 MOA, but it’s quite another to get people to believe it themselves. We gun owners are a funny bunch, and we tend to want things “just in case.” Often, wee ask questions like, “what is the best…” without accepting that it is a very subjective question.

So here is my advice, and it comes from the world of finance and retirement savings.

If you find yourself having to make a purchase, be it complete rifles, barrels, optics, or other stuff, break out a pen and paper. Don’t type it on your computer; actually physically write this down. Brainstorm all of the features that you want out of whatever widget you are purchasing. Just list them all. Make sure to be specific about your needs.

As an example, my barrel requirements for the last purchase might look like this:

  • 1.5 MOA accuracy or better
  • Rifle gas
  • Light weight
  • Nitride
  • Reputable company
  • Dimpled barrel
  • 11 degree target crown
  • Cool profile
  • 1/7 twist
  • Capable of shooting 77gr SMK
  • 5.56 Chamber

Now that we have a list, pick the top five requirements. This may be difficult, but it is important.

My narrowed down list would look like this:

  • Rifle gas
  • 1.5 MOA or better
  • Lightweight
  • Capable of shooting 77gr SMK
  • Reputable Company

Now that you have your priorities, set your budget. Be firm about this, since not sticking to a firm budget will mean you are constantly thinking about the other choices in price brackets above what you were able to spend.

Ok, you have your top five features and you have a budget. Now go make a list of items that meets all of your features and budget requirements. If you find that there aren’t any options on the market that can meet your requirements while staying in budget, then you either need to compromise your requirements or raise your budget.

Last step: pick the least expensive. The finance guys would say “outsource” the decision. But we all know that the gun crowd is very brand loyal and you are likely to get told to buy whatever they did. Shortcut that process and buy the least expensive model that meets your requirements. That’s the free market at work.

That sounds like odd advice from me, since I always advocate “buy once, cry once” or “buy nice or buy twice.” That remains true for me, since one of my top priorities will almost all be something that requires “nice.” But that will be different for others. The honest truth is that once a certain level of quality is reached, there is very little difference between most options on the market. Buy agonizing over our decisions, we are robbing ourselves of the ability to enjoy shooting the gun.


Your Gear Buying Philosophy is Probably Wrong, Here’s Why


As a community, we often lose sight of the important stuff. One of the reasons I started this blog was the realization that I was spending far more time purchasing gear than I was actually working on becoming a better marksman. Since then, I’ve slightly returned to more gear buying than practicing, but for an entirely different purpose and under a very different philosophy. I’ll get to that later.

John Buol Jr. recently put up an article about the Lie Against Competition shooting. He relays a story from a police department that I found illuminating:

Not long ago, I supervised a standoff situation where our officers were placed in positions to engage a dangerous suspect. Several officers were armed with M4s. Bystanders were thickly mixed-in! Range to suspect was between 10 and 30m. Happily, our situation was resolved without our officers having to shoot.

As a precaution, I asked all officers to report, with their red-dot-equipped M4s, to the range the following week. I set-up a situation with paper targets that exactly duplicated the situation with which were confronted a week earlier.

Given generous time, stable, braced firing positions, and stationary targets, not one of our officers was able to deliver required shots, even after several attempts! When asked about sight settings and zeros, most officers were not prepared to answer definitively. Some didn’t even understand the question! An examination of the M4s present revealed that, in most cases, the red dot and the back-up iron sights did not agree. Some were not even close!

Similarly, Ned Christensen of Michiguns posted a thread on whereby he shows some of the “Sub Awesome” sling setups that he comes across while training law enforcement. The point of the thread is not to make fun of anyone, but to show that even the “pros” are not necessarily doing things right, either. John Buol Jr. shares that he has seen this repeatedly in the military as well, as have I. The underlying message of these articles is that competition has a valuable place in training, since you will simply not see these kinds of issues concerning zero distances and equipment configuration among competitive shooters. It’s a valid point, but not what I’m driving at.


Identifying the Problem

All the Gucci gear in the world will not amount to a hill of beans if the person wielding it is not competent in the fundamentals. I sincerely believe that 95% of gun owners are better served by purchasing a basic (but quality) weapon and investing the rest of their time and money into training and focused practice. Hardware is not a substitute for software, even if the gun-owning community tries to prove otherwise every day.

Consider my thoughts on barrel selection as an example of how this gets out of hand. It’s probably the most popular post on this blog, which means there are a lot of people searching for information about what the “best” barrel is. In the real world, barrel configuration just isn’t that important. I was recently in a discussion with someone who absolutely believed that they needed a heavier SOCOM profile barrel for their first AR because it was the most “combat ready” of all the configurations out there. This individual could not speak to why the SOCOM profile was developed, and what made it particularly more worthy than any of the other profiles that have existed in the last 50 years (hint: it’s not), but he just knew it was what he needed.

Different types of barrel profiles and materials only matter when comparing two equally skilled shooters doing the same activity. It’s one thing to take two career door-kickers from an elite military unit and compare who performs at clearing a building using a 10.5″ barrel versus a 20″ barrel. But simply owning the “high speed” configuration doesn’t automatically make Average Joe perform like a career door-kicker. In fact, Average Joe may actually be hindering his growth as a shooter by limiting his future potential.

In the firearms community, we have developed this obsession with weapon capability. Instead, we should be focused on our own personal capabilities.

  • If you are unable to hold your rifle steady enough in field conditions to hit a target, is the solution for you to spend thousands of dollars on new gear to help you see the target better? No, it is not. You should be spending hundreds of dollars on some training and practice ammunition.
  • If you have never been trained to tactically clear a building, but think you might need to, then you are better spending money on seeking that training and putting in the practice with what you have. You are not well served by spending the money on NFA hardware when you don’t even really know how to use it right (or what its limitations are).
  • If you plan on getting involved in three gun, immediately purchasing $5K in “gaming hardware” is not in your interest. Instead, show up to a match with what you already own and learn how to push your current equipment to its limits. Burn out your barrel in the process and then figure out what will better serve your needs and techniques.

These things sound perfectly reasonable, but many of us don’t follow it. Our behavior as a shooting community still trends towards the things we shouldn’t be doing.

Why is this? My guess is that we inherently understand two things: First, it is difficult to admit where our skills are weak. Either because we lack enough experience to determine what we need to work on, or because we view admitting fault as weakness, we don’t talk about it. Secondly, we recognize that actually investing the time and money into improving ourselves is harder than buying “stuff.” It’s not as if the temptation isn’t always there. In the first hour after starting to write this post, I’ve received three emails from companies telling me that I need to purchase stuff from them to trick out my gear and “give me an edge.”


How do we fix it?

This is a difficult challenge to overcome. It goes back to the death of mastery in our culture. Collectively, we want the easy fix so that we can go on experiencing a continuous series of “climaxes” when it comes to shooting. We reject the idea of riding the plateau. We don’t want to put in the work, because have been led to believe that work is for suckers.

Suggesting that everyone get involved in training and competition is certainly one path, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a realistic one. Not everyone lives where it is easy for them to do. For instance, my living in California means that the opportunity to use my ARs in any real training is extraordinarily limited and there just isn’t much of a competition scene. Sure, I could compete/train in another state- but then I have to factor in not only the cost of traveling, but also the cost of a different set of equipment (non-neutered rifles, 30 rd magazines, etc.) I’m not saying this is insurmountable, but it reduces the likelihood of participation for much of the population.

If I had my way, we would be establishing a culture that puts more emphasis on simply being good marksmen. Our language would shift away from what kind of gear we own to how we practice with it and, more importantly, what we are capable of doing without it. We would spend more time teaching others how to perform well, rather than telling them what they should buy.

At some point, we all need to realize that the idea of the “best” gear is fleeting. For example, I’ve been following the military’s strategic pivot to the Pacific theater, and I’m seeing some pretty interesting trends. We, as well as the Brits, have been renewing our emphasis on jungle warfare and I’ve been reading training reports and looking at pictures of the guys who are doing this training. Many of the advancements in gear and optics we’ve seen over the last 15 years of desert warfare are being reversed. Chest rigs are getting ditched in favor of belt rigs. Optics are being removed in favor of irons because the environments simply aren’t conducive to magnification, electronics, or really anything that has lenses. All of the things we decided were “the way to do things now” aren’t necessarily true anymore.

Do you know what hasn’t changed? The importance of knowing your own capabilities, working within them, and working to improve them. The one constant in all this evolution is the importance of the user.

When I said in the beginning that my gear buying philosophy has changed, I wasn’t lying. Whereas I used to buy “stuff” because I thought that’s what I was supposed to want (and the internet told me so), I now buy things based upon my needs. I don’t look to expand a particular weapon’s capability, I look to support mine. I realize that this distinction may not look significant from the outside, but it is a distinction. It’s taken me a lot of time and potentially wasted money to get here, and I want to help prevent others from making the same mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want some things just because. There isn’t a practical need for the new rifle I’ve been working on, it’s just something I would like to have. But I’m not telling myself that if only I had a lightweight 18″ rifle-gassed iron sight rifle, I could finally be comfortable carrying a rifle in the field and still be able to land hits at targets past 300 yards.

Where are your priorities? Do you desire to “look the part” and buy things to make it happen? Or do you buy things based upon careful analysis of your capabilities and analyze the most appropriate way to fill any gaps?



Product Review: GORUCK GR1



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.

IMG_0916.JPGThe 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.