HACK / MAKE

GORUCK GR1 Review

My trusty 5-year-old Crumpler messenger bag’s time had come. It served me well and is still in great condition but it was no longer suitable for my city-life needs. When I was introduced to the GORUCK GR1 it seemed to have everything I was looking for. It’s known for being well built. If it can stand up to the wear and tear of US Army Special Ops units, I probably wouldn’t have an issue with durability. It has enough room to be a high capacity daypack and would work for weekend adventures too. Well-placed pockets make for easy access and organization of my gear and sturdy outside straps allow even more stuff to be attached than the bag has room for. The specs matched up but only using it would I know if it fit well into my lifestyle.

GR1 For more photos, visit the GR1 Explained blog post.

Specs | Structure | Geometry | Fit

The GR1 is built out of Cordura which was initially developed for use in World War II. It’s a 26L ruck with a main compartment large enough for weekends away and a back compartment ideal for a MacBook or hydration bladder. All zippers are heavy duty and have pulls made out of 550 cord so they don’t make noise as you walk.

The Cordura material gives it insane durability (so much that there’s a lifetime guarantee with it) and also gives the bag added rigidity. I’ve used other backpacks like Jansports and daypacks like the MEC Alpinelite but found that even with cinch straps, they are floppy and saggy when not fully loaded. There is a plastic sheet fitted in the back compartment of the GR1 which acts as a frame to help hold its shape and sit well no matter the contents or weight.

The bag’s structure and geometry gives it a sturdy and ergonomic shape. It’s longer than most backpacks at 20” and has a shallow depth of 6.75” that keeps weight close to your back. The slightly curved geometry (as seen in this chart keeps the bag tight to your back during activity. The added length, in addition to the curvature, spreads weight across the entire back rather than staying higher on your shoulders like shorter, bulkier bags. Under heavy weight, like 35+ pounds, the curvature seems to help transfer weight into the lower back and hips just as an internally-framed hiking pack does. In this photo, I compare the bags position between what I comfortably wear daily and fully cinched (which is still pretty comfortable). The ruck is long enough to reach to my lower back even though I’m 6’5”. To get this ideal weight distribution, depending on your height, you’ll have to adjust the shoulder strap length slightly.

The sleek, black, low profile looks great but also helps in tight places like a packed rush-hour subway. Your gear stays out of the way of the sardine next to you.

Organization and Access

The GR1 has 5 pockets/compartments (not counting the Field Pocket, which I’ll talk about in a separate post):

The back-most compartment is for your MacBook (if you’re an urban survivalist) or a hydration bladder (if you’re an actual survivalist). The hard plastic sheet and firm padding on the back of the bag protects your machine and helps water bladders from bulging and being uncomfortable. The MacBook Air is so thin that I don’t even notice it when it’s stowed away and I’m sure a 13” or 15” MacBook Pro would be just as comfortable. The zipper for the laptop compartment zips across the top and halfway down the right side. It took some getting used to this system since you have to move the straps out of the way slightly to access the zipper but it’s not a problem. If you are constantly removing your laptop it might get annoying but it’s not an issue if you only need to access it a couple times a day.

There are two internal pockets and one ‘organizer’. The top inside pocket is a good size and perfectly positioned for easy accessibility. I use this pocket to keep my iPhone, Field Notes, and wallet whenever they aren’t in my jeans. The inside pocket makes me more confident that the contents are secure while maintaining just as easy access as an external pocket. The larger mesh pocket holds my geek gear like MacBook charger and spare cables, all neatly organized in a Grid-it, which I’ll save for another post. The last internal pocket/organizer (which is slightly different than pictured on the GR1 Explained blog post) would be great for holding file folders, an iPad if the laptop compartment is full, or as I use it, to organize some of the other gear I carry. I keep a small hand pump (in case of emergency since I bike most places), a small ultra-absorbent pack towel that I use to dry myself off after wet bike rides, and the MacBook charger extension cable to reach those awkwardly placed power outlets in coffee shops. The front-most zipper pocket I only use for my keys when I’m cycling since I don’t want to put them in the same pocket as my iPhone and scratch it up. The bag opens fully and lays flat, making organizing simple and packing efficient. It’s just as easy to get stuff out on the go as it is to pack. It would always be be frustrating (sometimes impossible) to get to items at the very bottom of a top-loading daypack without pulling everything out. The GR1 makes this a breeze. The bag’s design is incredibly functional and allows for ultimate accessibility.

The MOLLE (MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) straps on the inside and outside of the bag allow the addition of accessories (like the Field Pocket) or to easily attach webbing to tie gear down, or add carabiners.

Lifestyle Fit

The biggest reason I wanted to replace my old bag was that it couldn’t handle the change in daily use that came from moving to the city. Since biking is my main mode of transportation, I’m more likely to go longer days without returning home to pick things up or drop them off. I’ll often head to work in the morning, run errands at lunch, grab a coffee or food after work, then in the evening, go to the climbing gym without returning home. I need to be confident that my bag can handle everything I throw at it and stuff in it.

Urban cyclists often depend on their Timbuk2, panniers, or saddlebags to help with transporting items but the GR1 has worked well. I was worried about transitioning from a messenger bag to a backpack when cycling. I’ve been biking for years with a Crumpler messenger and thought the the weight distribution of a backpack would feel off. I actually like riding better with the GR1, even when fully loaded. Weight isn’t directly on a single hip and opposing shoulder like a messenger so (this is going to sound so hipster) when I skid-whip on my fixie (…told you) I feel I have way better mobility. Locking carabiners help to attach bags full of groceries to the GR1. When the weight on each side is balanced, grocery bags are easily transported with very little swaying or disruption, no matter the weight.

The GR1 is also a great companion for longer travels. I flew with it over the holidays and it was easy to stow and large enough to save my bacon. Many bags I’ve used don’t fit well under the seat in front of you making it necessary to stow the bag in the overhead compartments. If you’re stuck doing this, access to your stuff is a hassle mid-flight, especially if you’re in the window seat. The GR1 slides right under the seat and the handle makes it simple to retrieve, grab what you need, and slide it back under. When I was transporting 35 pounds of precious cargo—my vinyl records I was storing at my dad’s—the capacity and ability to pack efficiently helped me stay prepared. Most bags can’t even fit a few records without being crushed but the shape and form of the GR1 kept them safe and there was still enough room for me to pack a few necessities that I prefer to keep on my carry-on, just in case. It ended up my luggage didn’t arrive with my plane, so even though I was back home, I was living off the extra items I had packed in my backpack for a couple days until my bag was returned. These types of situations are when a great bag and being prepared really come through for you.

Is this bag worth the money?

Here’s the thing—this bag is not cheap. The GR1 is $295. Let me break down why this bag is worth the money for me and maybe a bit more generally, why I think spending good money on the right gear is worth it.

Versatility: To justify spending that much on a backpack, I need to know it’ll be able to go wherever I go. This bag is part of my daily life—it’s by my side all of the time. It has to have my back.1 For it to go everywhere with me it also needs to look good and fit in. Whether it’s working as a GHB or has clothes packed for a weekend getaway, this bag is going to fit acceptably in all but Black Tie occasions. 2 I’m confident that the GR1 will be able to handle its job gracefully and in style. That matters to me.

Dependability: The shoulder straps are rated for over 400 pounds and the bottom panel is made of 1050D Ballistic Cordura fabric which was created to stop bullets. The GR1 goes every where with me and whether or not I do, this bag is going to come out in one piece. My family or I haven’t always been in a position to buy “the best”. We are always appreciative and thankful for what we have but now that buying the best is an option (knowing that I’ll have to work hard to earn it), I’m able to understand the value in gear that will last and I can put my faith in. Buying quality rain gear has saved more than one adventure with my dad and brother from turning into a cold, wet, miserable time outdoors. Having faith in your gear means you can forget about it and free your mind to enjoy the ride.

Company Values: GORUCK as a company stands for things I believe in. Pushing people further than they believed was possible with the GORUCK Challenge, or standing behind “the highest standards of functionality, durability and style”, Jason and the GORUCK team understand honest hard work, adventure, and push people to seek that and appreciate it. I want to support them just as they’ve worked hard to build and support the gear that will help me on my adventures.

I highly recommend this bag based on those values and as I’ve mentioned before, if they match up with what matters to you, the GORUCK GR1 will be worth it for you too. Whether it’s a multi-tool, piece of software, or backpack, gear is meant to extend your own capabilities and when they are versatile, dependable, and look great like the GORUCK GR1, it becomes something more than just gear; it’s a tool that equips you to better drive adventure.


  1. Oh come on, that’s at least 30 bad-pun points. 

  2. If you have to wear a suit to work every day and anything less than a leather briefcase will get you laughed at, don’t buy this bag for a daily carry. 

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