Yes I like backpacks. My wife often says, and is totally correct, that I have more bags than she does. I guess it’s my quest for the ‘perfect’ bag. The one that easily transitions from a work commuting pack to a weekend dad bag then with a quick repack can handle a 24 hour trail push.
All without to many compromises. Yes I realize that this quest is likely in vain and that the bag probably doesn’t exist, but I enjoy new gear and looking so I buy more bags.
Today we’re going to look at more than a year of use with the GoRuck GR1.
Here is a quick bullet point set of my regular uses over the last few years.
I've put the bag through it's paces.
When you get a GoRuck bag one of the first things you confirm is that what everyone says about the construction being solid is very true. I’ve had bags from almost every outdoor manufacturer out there (Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Osprey…to name a few) and while they are all built well, the build quality of a GoRuck bag seems to be on a different level.
I’ve even taken it in to the local tactical shop and looked at the GoRuck against bags from 5.11 and there is little comparison. The GoRuck is just built so much tougher.
Now for the extra few hundred dollars, will you really notice that you get an extra 10 years from a GoRuck bag? Likely not, but it’s nice to know that in a pinch you could likely get away with a short rappel using the GoRuck as a chest harness with a small cord joining the straps.
After that you’ll often notice people complaining about the straps being super stiff at first. I really didn’t find it to be a problem, but I did find that after a month or so they kept getting more comfortable. The biggest change in the feel of the straps came one day when the GR1 got a good soaking. The shoulder straps got soft immediately and stayed much softer after that.
Being a daily bike or run commuting outside Vancouver BC I have to deal with rain and I’m carrying expensive electronics. I’ve come from bags like the Mission Workshop Shed and Timbuktu Cuatro which are specifically waterproof. While the GoRuck isn’t specifically designed to be waterproof I’ve had it out in some pretty substantial downpours and my stuff has always been safe and dry inside.
I do notice that the face fabric is wet and takes a while to dry, but my stuff inside has been safe. The only time that the bag didn’t keep my stuff 100% dry was in an hour long walk in Seattle where it poured rain. The outer layers of stuff were noticeably damp, but nothing was soaked except the exterior of the bag. Since then I’ve added a small rain cover to my regular carry when big rain is expected or I’m travelling.
Now lets address some of the complaints I heard as I was researching the GR1 before my purchase.
Many people complained about the front slash pocket not being accessible when you stuff the bag full. I can confirm that it’s hard to get in to the front pocket when you’ve jammed the bag full. I can also say that across my many use cases I’ve been able to pull extra gear out and leave things at home I didn’t really need and … the front pocket was useful again.
I find this to be a feature because it forces you to make good decisions about what you take and what you don’t take. Pack smart and this is a non-issue.
Second, many people complained about the fact that you have to lay the GoRuck packs flat to pack them. I really don’t get this as a complaint though and I’ve had to lay it flat, or flatish in the pouring rain and mud on a hike or while bike commuting. Often just propping it up against my leg with the bottom resting on my foot provides enough of a ‘lean’ to make packing it easy again.
The ease of emptying and repacking flat on my floor as I change around my loads is far outweighed by any minimal issue with laying it flat in other circumstances.
One of the final complaints I saw in a few spots was that the GoRuck GR1 didn’t stand up on it’s own. I really have no idea what people were talking about here. I often have my iPad in the back of it with a bunch of weight like first aid kit, charging bricks, wireless keyboards all packed in the front flap interior pockets and it stands up as well as any pack I’ve owned. I think that anyone who knocks the bag on this point is really just being a whiny snowflake.
My big complaint about the function of the bag has to do with the zippers and opening it flat to pack it. When you do this the zippers sit right in the bottom of the bag which makes them a bit hard to start. This is especially noticeable when the bag is near the top of it's capacity. I've never been worried that I'm pulling to hard on the zippers and I'm going to damage them. It is a bit annoying though to have to wiggle the zippers a bit to get them to zip.
Now lets dig in to some specifics around my load out for various activities.
If you compare the GR1 to comparable offerings from Tom Bihn, one of the big differences you'll notice is that the GR1 has almost no pockets. Most Tom Bihn bags have lots of pockets to organize whatever stuff you need to carry. All that means is that you need to plan how you pack the bag to make sure you know where anything you want to access while travelling is located.
For me that means I put my Kindle on one side of the bag right up against the zipper and when I want to grab it I simply unzip that side of the bag and grab it out. With a packing plan I've never had issues finding what I want.
My standard trip load has been:
Recently I even went to Seattle for four days to speak at a conference and ended up with:
I was pleasantly surprised with how well the GoRuck carried all of that. I was concerned at first that I’d have to take a bigger bag, but it swallowed everything with relative ease.
My standard load has let me travel for a few weeks easily as I wash my clothes from the day in the sink and hang them to dry overnight and the next day while I wear the other set of clothes.
Once or twice I've added my 13" MacBook Air to the mix and it fits with my iPad Pro without issues in the laptop sleeve right up against your back. Even with both of them in there I can grab my iPad out on a flight with minimal contortions.
Yes the GR1 makes a great single bag for travelling light for business. It still looks smart and will handle anything you throw at it.
Since we're a single car family, I end up riding my bike to work and back a few days a week and run the other days. For that I end up carrying:
As I said earlier, my commute is between 20 minutes and 40 minutes depending on which route I take. Never in any weather have I had an issue with my stuff getting wet inside. The GR1 is as waterproof as most commuters will need from a bag.
What many bike specific bags have, that the GR1 lacks, is a specific place designed to hold your U-Lock. What the GR1 does have is Molle webbing which is spaced almost perfectly to slide my lock through and hold it securly. It remains easy access and out of my way. The Molle webbing can also hold any flashing light you'd like to put on the bag.
One of my issues with the Timbukto Cuatro was that it was so wide it got in the way of shoulder checks. Happily, the GR1 does not have this problem at all. It's design keeps it tucked in tight to your back and as you shoulder check it leaves your vision clear to see the traffic behind you.
While I’ve typically been a cyclist, I started training for an ultramarathon in 2017. I even finished the Frosty Mountain 50k, so I’m officially an ultramarathoner.
Part of my training was running back and forth to my office, or Starbucks with the GoRuck on my back. Coming from a Nathan VaporCloud, my biggest concern with the GoRuck was that it would bounce around a bunch and annoy me.
Ultimately, with the right load, it hasn’t been an issue. The biggest change in how I pack my GR1 has been to make sure that the rear laptop sleeve is empty. In the first few months of owning the bag I was working towards being iPad first so I wrote in the mornings and didn’t have much need for my laptop. Today, I use my iPad Pro 12.9” for pretty much everything and I couldn’t tell you the last time my MacBook Air was off it’s shelf. That means I can put the 12.9” in the interior slot in the bag and leave the real laptop sleeve empty.
The interior sleeve easily holds my iPad Pro, my Moleskin Bullet Journal, and my Kindle. Then I toss a warm layer on top of that1 so that I don’t freeze in the coffee shop and my load is complete.
By cinching the straps on the GoRuck as tight as I can get them, the bag sits comfortably in place with little load shifting or bounce.
If I have to take my 13” MacBook Air and have to pack it in the rear laptop compartment, it’s still serviceable as a run commuting bag. The rigidity of my MacBook means that the bag doesn’t conform to my back and thus it does bounce a more. That means I end up pulling the back of my shirt/coat down a bunch since it continually creeps up. Still it’s serviceable for the usual 5km runs I’m doing with the bag on my back.
One thing that you have to figure out is how to handle larger loads you need to ride home. Where I could stick an entire box of diapers in the Cuatro and ride home, the GR1 won't handle that load. At least it won't handle it being loaded inside the bag.
I've resorted to keeping 4 carabiners on the Molle webbing of the pack. To these I attach some cord and then secure big loads to the bag with the cord. If it's a large enough load I'll tie it down from the lower Molle straps to the shoulder straps.
Since there is no flap on the GR1 like you'll find on most messenger bags, you do need to carry something to keep your big box dry. I have ended up putting my pack cover over the box and that also keeps my bag dry on the commute home.
I’ve also had this bag out on many hikes with the kids and friends. There are a few issues here, all of which can be rectified but still issues.
First off, for an expensive bag why not include a strap in the back to secure a hydration bladder so it doesn’t creep down? Yes I can go purchase some cord, but seriously it’s a few cents to add something inside the bag standard and it’s not provided.
The second bigger issue is that adding hiking poles or an ice axe to the pack is hard. You can mount the hiking poles length wise across the Molle and while this is serviceable, it ‘s less than ideal. Something as simple as a single loop of Molle on the top of the pack sides would solve this problem.
Now, I have loaded my snowshoes without much difficulty by mounting them vertically and then wrapping my standard carry cord around the bottom up to the top. This does mean I can’t open my bag without removing the snowshoes though which seems like it would be a big issue, but I’ve never needed to do this when I’m out so...I guess it’s not an issue.
When I started using the GoRuck GR1, we had kids in diapers which meant on the weekend I needed to change over from tech in my pack to diapers and wipes and spare clothes. Using some of the packing cubes (which they call field pockets) made this change over easy. I used a large one to hold diapers and a set of wipes so on the weekend I could pull out any books and drop in the diaper field pocket and be ready for whatever was thrown at me.
Occasionally I did hit the volume limits on my GR1 on the weekends when we tried to add swimsuits, towels, and other detritus for the pool or a beach trip. I have often ended up with extra bags clipped to the outside of my GR1 to handle it all in a single trip instead of walking back one forth multiple times.
The most recent change in my GR1 carry has been the addition of the camera gear I carry as I do more work with video for YouTube. The GR1 has no specific camera carry features and a field pocket will hold lenses, but you still need something to protect them from banging on each other.
Improving my camera carry started with a gift of a Peak Design Capture Clip. With this addition you’ll find me walking around with a camera attached to my shoulder strap just in case something interesting happens and I want to take a photograph. I’ve combined this with the Peak Designs shell for those days that are snowing or raining since it provides great protection for my camera from the elements. Even last week a car drove through a puddle and splashed me down, but my camera was fine thanks to the Peak Design shell.
Added to this is the Lowepro Viewpoint CS 80 which lets me carry the required camera equipment. So far that means:
I don’t carry a bunch of GoPro mounting options because I generally don’t need a bunch of them. My monopod works for most of what I need and if I’m going to need some extra mounting options I have a GoRuck Field Pocket with some clamps and various head/chest mounts.
The biggest issue I’ve found converting my GR1 into a decent photo bag is that it doesn’t mount a tripod well. Yes, I can use my cord to mount it horizontally on the pack, but this seems less than optimal. Just like with hiking poles, I’d love a single Molle loop at the top of the bag on the side to secure something long and tall like a tripod.
When I look around at people talking about using a GR1 as a photo bag most of them carry a tripod inside the bag with the top sticking out. Again, this seems less than optimal since it exposes your gear to the elements and makes it difficult to use a pack cover with your bag. Even mounting your tripod horizontally along the bottom of the pack makes the cover less than ideal.
Outside of a few specific issues, my GoRuck GR1 has been a great bag. I look around at other bags, but don’t see the versatility I have with the GR1. The small issues with carrying longer taller things like hiking poles and tripods have been far outweighed by the versatility of the bag across so much of what I do.
I don’t see another bag currently that can replace my GR1 so if you’re interested it’s a great bag to own and use hard.