If Rambo Had A Backpack..It Would Be A GORUCK GR1

The GORUCK GR1 is easily the toughest tactical backpack on earth. It has spawned and entire cult-following of rambo-like fitness enthusiasts who mercilessly flog this packpack through 100’s of gruelling military inspired rucking competitions each year. Beyond being tough, the GR1’s design is simple, practical and purposefully understated to avoid attracting attention.  It is made in America from rugged, weather-resistant 1000D Cordura nylon and comes with GORUCK’s famous unconditional SCARS lifetime warranty.  

(See the Complete List of Durable Backpacks)

The GR1’s success is largely responsible for launching GORUCK as a successful brand.  Jason and Emily Mcarthy(Special forces and CIA veterans) actually founded GORUCK while deployed in West Africa.  From the very start GORUCK’s DNA has been laser focused on ultra-durable and highly functional tactical gear. GORUCK bags are purposefully low profile, they have no prominent brand markings.

At a cost of around $325, GORUCK GR1 commands a premium price that certainly isn’t for everyone.   However, for many folks, having an American-made professional-level backpack that will shrug off a lifetime of hard use is worth it. 

The GR1 makes a great gift for life’s major milestones like graduations or for a service member’s first deployment. 

Military personnel, special ops and rucking enthusiasts use the GR1 to train with or take on deployments.  In fact, GORUCK has spawned a huge community of Rucking fitness clubs with hundreds of organized events all over the US every year.  

The minimalist design makes the GR1 an excellent everyday backpack, for traveling, or for campus life.  

Check Out The GR1 Here.

First Impression

This backpack looks and feels tough. The clean minimalist design follows the KISS rule(Keep It Simple Stupid) I like the looks of front flat pocket with angled zipper. The absence of bulky external pockets give the GR1 a clean, sleek look.  

The  3” x 2” velcro pad near the top is a nice feature for personalizing the backpack. I could see it being useful for frequent travellers.   You could proudly put your country patch or other identifier.  The GR1 has reflective hits to keep you safe on the streets at night.  Optionally, you can also purchase reflective patch to further increase your visibility at night too. 

The GR1 feels very comfortable. The heavy-duty Cordura fabric does add weight, but it still didn’t feel too heavy, even with items packed in it.  

The smaller 21L version sits higher up just above the lower back, while the 26L reaches further down to the lower back.   

Overall, I found that the weight distributes evenly across the shoulders and back.  I had no issues with pressure points as I’ve experienced with other generic rucksacks. The shoulder straps are well-padded and well suited for those longer treks.

Walk Around

Covert Design External Molle webbing
Internal Molle webbing & hydration port
Dedicated Laptop sleeve
Heavy Duty 1000D Cordura fabric
Heavy Duty Box Stitched shoulder anchors
External Slant Pocket
Hydration Port under top-handle

Sizes Compared

21 Liter GR1
26 Liter GR1

The GR1 comes in either a 21L or a 26L size and a variety of colors. (I personally own the black color). 

If you are less than 6’ tall GORUCK recommends the 21L, which is 18” in length. For those and if 6’ tall or above the 26L would be a better fit.  It measures 20” in length. 

I am 5’10” and I found the 21L was a good comfortable fit for me.

However, even if you are shorter than 6 ft the 26L won’t make your life miserable. It mainly depends on how much capacity you need.


The GR1 is manufactured primarily out of 1000 Denier coated Cordura. This is a very heavy duty ballistic nylon. By comparison, most other “tough backpacks” are constructed from 600D Cordura or less. Cordura is a 100% nylon industrial-level material that is water, mildew, fade and abrasion resistant. When it does get wet it dries quickly. In the world of luggage fabrics, 1000D Cordura is the gold standard of durability.

Basic Design

Being a low-profile, minimalist backpack, the GR1 only has one main compartments and a few pockets. Mainly this will be where you either store your books for class, your clothing for travel, or your equipment needed for the mission. With only a few pockets inside and out, I find that having less makes this backpack more efficient when using it in the day-to-day. I’ll go more in-depth about each pocket and what I find it best used for.

Main Compartment

The main compartment provides a ton of space for you to pack enough gear for a couple of days away without worrying about finding a washing machine, unless you’re extreme and wear the same clothing days on end, then there’s no limit! My wife and I have gone away for a day or two and had lots of room to store enough clothes for both of us!

On my own though, I can easily pack two days of t-shirts, pants, underwear, socks, and a light jacket. On top of that, I include my toiletry bag, laptop in the protective sleeve, some snacks, and water. I think it makes GR1 is a great travel backpack. This bag as caries enough for unpredictable layovers without being unweildy and bulky.

On the back wall of the main compartment is MOLLE webbing(Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment) which can be used to place pens, attach extra carabiners, store a whole bunch of parachute 550 cord, or insert a multi-tool.  

Internal Zip Pocket

The GR1’s upper internal pocket is a great place to store miscellaneous items that you don’t want to go digging for in the main compartment itself, but that you want quick and easy access to. Its a good spot for passports, wallets, phones, ear pods, keys and even deoderant for those long flights.

An interesting thing about this pocket is that GORUCK used a tan-colored parachute 550 cord for the zipper pull tab instead of black like the rest of them. At first, I thought this was just a manufacturing error, and maybe they ran out of black parachute 550 cord, but after looking at others GR1’s, they all seem to have this too. Not sure if there’s a reason behind it, but just something to note. Also, the sewn-on “GORUCK GR1 Built in the USA” is a pretty nice detail.

Internal Mesh Pocket

GORUCK GR1 mesh pocket

The internal mesh pocket is a great spot for storing items that you don’t want getting buried in the main compartment. I typically store are larger charging cables, snack bars, or a book. The mesh pocket is about twice as deep as the internatl zip pocket, so storing larger items securely won’t be an issue. I like how GORUCK put two different size pockets oppose to two pockets of the same depth, so that there’s that option of storing smaller items and larger items. Something that can easily be overlooked but is nonetheless a great feature.

Internal Elastic Pocket

Now I know what you’re thinking at first about an internal elastic pocket… “That’s where my laptop will go!” While that is an option, the GR1 is designed with a dedicated laptop compartment, which I’ll go into more detail about next and why you should use the external laptop compartment for your laptop.

If you’re planning on using this backpack at all for the role of rucking or simply going on long walks, then this pocket will be great for a couple of reasons.

External Slant Pocket

The external slant pocket is a great location to place any smaller items or documents that you would need quick and easy access to without opening the main compartment. Placing your wallet, passport, documentation that needs to be passed along, keys, or even a small book can all fit well here.

The outside material of the GR1 overlaps the zipper protecting contents from the elements, especially rain or snow that would be running down the front of the backpack. Now, this will keep rain or snow out, but if you’re going out on an extremely wet day or you decide to go swimming with this bag on your back, a good tip is to put anything you want protected inside a sealed plastic bag.

A simple thing like this can save the headache of having important documents getting damaged. This hasn’t been an issue at all for me, and the 1000D Cordura does a good job at keeping moisture out. GORUCK states that their rucks are highly water resistant aka rainproof.

Laptop Compartment

At first I thought having the laptop compartment on the back of the GR1 would be uncomfortable but that wasn’t the case at all. The laptop compartment has sufficient padding on the back of the GR1 that you don’t even notice there’s a laptop inside.

Usually, I would have placed my laptop in the main compartment of the backpack which is how backpacks are typically designed. Even though this is an option with the GR1, you should still use the external laptop sleeve because the laptop sleeve has a false bottom a couple of inches above the bottom of the bag to prevent your laptop impact when it is set down.

On the other hand, the internal elastic sleeve though does contact the bottom, so unless your laptop is protected in some other way, I would avoid using it for that. The laptop sleeve has nothing else is pressing against it. It’s a dedicated location that is highly protective and easily accessible without having to go through the main compartment.

A couple quibbles: to unzip the laptop compartment, you will have to flip over the shoulder strap, but that’s extremely simple to do. My main complaint is that the laptop sleeve zipper is relatively exposed to weather. If you are expecting bad weather make sure to put your laptop inside a weatherproof sleeve.

Zippers YKK

The zippers run silent and are excellent quality and design. Attached to all six zippers are is a shrink wrapped 550 cord zipper pulls for quick and easy access. The heat-shrink material offers a good amount of grip and the knot at the end prevents slippage. The length of the zipper pull-tabs are roughly 2 inches long which makes them easy to find in the dark or with gloves on.

Of course genuine YKK zippers are a given for GORUCK. I would expect nothing else for a durable packpack like this.

You don’t need to baby this backpack. When I open my GR1 I usually lay the backpack on its back, grab the front portion and just pull to open the main compartment. I have zero concern of the zipper letting go anywhere.

The zipper on the laptops sleeve goes from the top left of the bag all the way around the bottom right side about 8 inches from the bottom. Where the zipper stops is a 1 inch wide angled piece of webbing which prolongs the life of the zipper. If you just had the zipper stop at a piece of folded over Cordura, then over time there’s a good chance it would have get loose and brake off. Details like this matter for longevity.

Shoulder Straps

The shoulder straps on the GR1 are 3” wide at the top and taper down to 2.5” at the bottom. The straps also begin to curve outward about halfway down which allows the straps to go under your armpit area more comfortably and reduces any chance of chafing as your arms are swinging along. At the bottom of the shoulder straps is a slide bar buckle attachment with 1” webbing attaching to the bottom of the pack itself. At the leading end of that webbing is a 1.5” loop so you can get a decent amount of leverage when pulling the backpack up nice and tight. 

Accessories Worth Considering

GORUCK offers a number of accessories at a decent price. Depending on what you plan on doing with your pack here are my top three recomendations to purchase along with the GORUCK GR1.

Ruck Plates

Fitness through rucking is a major part of GORUCK’s brand identity. There are GORUCK clubs all over the US and Canada along with major competive GORUCK Challenge events you can compete in. You can check out the GORUCK clubs here.

Ruck Plates are designed to fit inside GORUCK backpacks without taking up the majority of space inside. These weights come in 10, 20, 30, and 45-pound increments. Make sure to the GR1 Compatible ruck plates.

Hydration Bladder

If the trail is long and hot, the GR1 is compatible with a hydration bladder which fits into the main compartment with a weathproof hose port hidden just under the top grab handle of ruck.

Hip Belt

If you’re planning on using this backpack for any sort of rucking or lengthy hikes then acquiring the optional hip belt will be beneficial to you.

The hip belt attaches to MOLLE webbing on the side of the GR1 ruck. It offers a good amount of padding and helps to transfer a lot of the load off of your back and shoulders.

I found it it sits a little bit to high on the 21L. I’d recomend only recommend getting the hip belt with teh 26L version.

Sternum Strap

Get a sternum strap if you will be crawling, doing burpies aor running hard a sternum strap will prevent sway, or the backpack sliding up over your head during pushups etc. The sternum strap simple locks into the mole webbing on the shoulders straps.

SCARS Lifetime Warranty

GORUCK offers one of the most comprehensive lifetime warranties out there. Its for life, no reciepts needed and even covers wear and tear. They call it the SCARS Lifetime guarantee and it goes like this:

“All GORUCK built gear, apparel, and footwear — everything we manufacture — comes with our Scars Lifetime Guarantee. If there is a defect in workmanship or materials or if you actually manage to wear our stuff out, GORUCK will fix or replace (at our discretion) your item, free of charge. No receipt necessary — we can recognize our own stuff — and your date of purchase does not matter. Hence lifetime.

Their warranty alone is probably the most compelling reason to own a GORUCK. You’ll never have to replace the backpack for the rest or your life.


The GR1 is the most rugged backpack money can buy. It is a no-nonsence beast that eats “pain” for breakfast. Bottom line is, this ruck was designed to take a beating without flinching.

I’m convinced that if Rambo had a backpack…it woud definetly be the GR1.

Having a backpack that can be utilized by Armed Forces yet at the same time be used in urban scenarios without drawing attention is ingenious.

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Don Longworth

Don was born and raised in sub-saharan Africa. Now based in Canada, his extensive experience in non-profit work has served him well over multiple deployments in Africa. Don's experiences have made him a practical "to-the-point" type person. He is a no-frills, low-key guy who appreciates quality and simplicity.

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