It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for: American-made ruggedness and jack-of-all-trades capacity ensure that the GoRuck GR1 will be your EDC/carry-on/minimalist travel pack for years to come.
Pros & Cons
- As rugged as they come; these bags routinely last over a decade under heavy use
- Perfect size for everyday carry/carry-on/long-term minimalist travel pack
- Carries weight very well despite not having a waist belt
- “Bombproof” laptop compartment plus false bottom
- Interior and exterior MOLLE attachments
- Lifetime warranty
- Very expensive
- A little heavier than similarly sized packs
- Water bottle holder and sternum strap must be purchased separately
- Packing the main compartment full severely limits the front pocket
This Pack is Best for...
Minimalist packers who want a do-it-all backpack that will last a lifetime.
The GoRuck GR1 26L is my new personal travel backpack, after deciding to downsize from the Cotopaxi Allpa 42.
While the price may be prohibitive for some, you do get what you pay for. This American-made backpack is crafted out of 1000D Cordura, making it capable of withstanding anything you can throw at it. While you’ll have to perfect your minimalist packing game if you want to travel long-term out of this bad boy, it’s totally doable.
The GoRuck GR1, like the rest of the standard GoRuck packs, has a very military look to it. “Tacticool” describes these packs well. They were developed by former special forces operators, but toned down and sleekened to make them a little more subtle for civilian life.
The pack is made of 1000D Cordura, which is about as sturdy as it gets. You’ll find three rows of MOLLE webbing near the bottom of either side of the pack, as well as the front. There is a large front slash pocket, as well as a 3×5″ velcro patch to which you can add the morale patch of your choice. THe top grab handle is well-padded and the zippers are YKK.
Flipping over the straps, you have access to a zippered backpanel that conceals a “bombproof” laptop compartment. The term “bombproof” gets brought up just about every time you hear about the GR1’s laptop compartment, except in this case it’s kind of true. The padding is exceptional, and I even traveled through Peru for 2 weeks without my typical soft case for my laptop, with absolutely no problem. If you still want to travel with a thin case on top of the well-padded laptop compartment, probably not a bad idea, but you may not need it. On top of the excellent padding, there’s about a one-inch false bottom that provides extra cushion from the bottom, as well.
I got my GR1 in Coyote Brown – which I don’t believe is available anymore – and the lighter tan does get stains a little more easily, but you can clean those off easily enough. The American-made version of the pack is currently available only in Black, but I suspect more colors will be available soon.
PRO TIP: Get a Kydex frame sheet.
On the inside of the laptop compartment, you’ll find a velcro enclosure at the top. If you pry off the velcro, you’ll see a thin, white plastic sheet; this is the frame sheet, which gives the GR1 its rigidity. The more rigid the frame sheet is, the better it will carry weight. There are places that sell custom-cut Kydex frame sheets for the GR1, which are more rigid than the standard plastic ones. Not a necessity, but many travelers swear by them.
I only really have two quibbles:
1. When the main compartment is packed full, the front pocket becomes almost useless, and
2. There is no external water bottle holder.
The GR1 is a pretty simple pack that does one job and does it very well: carry heavy stuff. The downside of this design is that packing the interior full (which you’ll need to do for a trip of any length) eats into the front slash pocket. Getting even a normal-size novel in or out of the front pocket ends up being a pain, and forget a water bottle. You may want to keep the front pocket for only a few small, flat objects, like your passport, an ereader, or maybe a very slim book or notebook.
GoRuck, in an effort to give the GR1 a nice clean profile, eschewed water bottle holders or side pockets of any kind. GoRuck does provide both water bottle holders or external pouches that you can purchase and attach to the MOLLE webbing on the outside of the pack, although you’re already spending enough on the pack itself. Doesn’t do much for its sleek look, but it will increase its utility.
OR, there’s another way to carry a water bottle, while still keeping the GR1’s streamlined look…
PRO TIP: Get a flat water bottle.
MemoBottle pioneered the perfectly flat water bottle, but they’re a little expensive for what they are. I personally went for a more reasonably-priced alternative like this one on eBay. I recommend the “A5” size 750ml bottle, although you can also opt for the 450ml “Slim” version. At less than an inch-and-a-quarter thick and made of rigid plastic, they will slip perfectly into that front pocket, even when the pack is crammed full.
The GR1 26L is a jack-of-all-trades of a backpack: it’s a sturdy everyday carry (EDC); it’s small enough to bring onboard a plane as a personal item (looking at you, Spirit Airlines); and it’s just large enough to use as a travel backpack! It pretty much does it all.
Having said that, a jack-of-all-trades is often a master of none, and the GR1 is basically a large bucket with a clamshell opening. You won’t find the kind of interior organization that you would on, say, the Cotopaxi Allpa 42. However, it does offer three zippered compartments on the backside of the front panel, as well as a stretchy pouch and three more strips of MOLLE on the inside of the back panel. The stretchy pouch is perfect for holding books, journals, or ereaders. The interior MOLLE strips are great for attaching dop kits or the 3L field pockets that GoRuck sells.
One thing a lot of people say about the straps is that they require a break-in period. I would agree with that statement, but it’s not as long as you think. If you go rucking with a little bit of weight in the pack, it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to break them in.
One thing to be aware of is that new GoRuck GR1’s (post-2023) have slightly different straps: the underside, the part that goes against your body, have been switched from 1000D Cordura to 500D Cordura. This keeps the same overall strength but makes it a little softer on the skin. Earlier packs, like the one I got in 2022, retain the 1000D Cordura underside, which might be abrasive to softer fabrics like merino wool. I myself haven’t noticed any abrasion whatsoever on my cotton clothing.
The pack does NOT come with a waist belt, but at 26L it doesn’t really need it. I’ve packed this thing out to 22 lbs for long-term overseas travel and it felt perfectly fine. I do feel like GoRuck should have included a built-in sternum strength for heavier loads, but overall the harness is just like the rest of the pack: simple, but effective.
PRO TIP: Get a sternum strap.
Next to a hip belt, the next best thing you can get to ease the load on your shoulders is a sternum strap. This strap connects the shoulder straps and should clip together about 2 inches below your collarbone for maximum effectiveness. GoRuck sells them for $10.
About the Company
GoRuck was founded in Jacksonville, FL in 2010 by former special forces operators. Their goal was to create a pack that would be equally at home on a street in New York City as on a battlefield in Baghdad. Their military background ensures that the packs are built to the highest specifications; indeed, there are people who have some of the GR1’s and 21L “GR0s” that came out at the beginning, over a decade ago, and are still going strong with them. Almost all of their bags are made in the USA in their Jacksonville factory.
GoRuck’s SCARS Lifetime Guarantee is highly lauded as being one of the best lifetime guarantees in the industry.
I have noticed that GoRuck seems to be branching out into more “niche” markets by partnering with outfitters like Huckberry. What you get is an even more expensive version of an already expensive backpack, made with shinier materials or featuring ornate interior designs. While these bags do look cool, I feel like they’re ridiculously overpriced and just aren’t going to give you the utility that their standard GR1s, GR2s, and GR3s will.
I’ve also noticed that they are starting to offer certain packs made in Vietnam, instead of the US. I find this unfortunate, but if made in the USA is important to you (like it is to me), don’t worry; the majority of their bags are still made in Jacksonville, and are labeled as such on their website.
Notes from the Road - 6 Months
I’ve been using the hell out of this bag, and it’s performing beautifully!
I’ve used the GR1 as my EDC on the bus to and from work, on long-distance train trips back home and up and down the East Coast, and most recently on my two-week trip to Peru. This bag has been in night buses and colectivos bumping over rough terrain, and done it all without so much as a scratch. It’s protected my drone, my laptop, and the rest of my equipment perfectly. In the spirit of one bag travel, it’s even saved me several hundred dollars: it was accepted onto four different Spirit Airlines flights as a personal item without a second glance – despite being over the limits.
The Coyote Brown color does tend to stain more easily than the Black, but a damp rag cleans those marks up without much fuss. Overall, I’m very pleased with my GR1, and plan on using it for years to come.
I will say that packing for longer trips plus my drone has been a bit of a challenge to fit into 26 liters, but nothing that good minimalist packing practices can’t handle. Read my article The One Bag Nomad’s Guide to Minimalist Travel Packing for tips!