If you can’t tell, I’ve recently become obsessed with finding the perfect travel bag for me. Something that fits my style — both visual style and my packing and traveling style. This search has brought me across a wide array of bags, the latest of which is the GORUCK GR2.
The GR2 comes in 34 and 40 liter variants and is meant for longer trips. It is essentially a larger version of the GR1. I picked up the 40L model — the latest model without the side compression straps (removal of which, actually bummed me out).
After taking it on a few trips now, I can confidentially say that the GR2 is a really good bag. Unlike with the GR1, I don’t have a polarizing opinion on it, but I am pretty sure it will be the bag I use going forward, because it makes my travel life a lot easier.
Packs Big, Carries Small-ish
While the GR2 looks a lot like the GR1 on the outside, it is a very different bag. It is quite a bit larger, but not obviously so. Close to the same width, a couple inches taller and a couple inches thicker. It doesn’t sound that much bigger, but in use it is actually quite a bit larger.
It’s not deceptively small, like some of the others bags, so when you see it on someone or when you look at it sitting there, it will always look large. However, it is a lot larger when you go to pack it, than you think it will be. The bag looks large, but it holds even more than those looks would have you believe.
I can travel for an overnight trip with just my GR1 — it’s a tight squeeze but I can do it. With the GR2 I could travel for a week, maybe more, if I packed it well. I just did 2 nights and took a bunch of the “extras” I don’t normally take and the bag was still 30% empty.1
The GR2 never looks like it is bulging. The way the bag is designed, it will hold it’s shape and not get uncomfortably bulgy as you jam more and more into. Something which can be quite rare for a soft sided bag like this.
One Bag, or Pack an Extra
The GR2 is essentially the same design as the GR1, which means you could use it as your only bag. However, it is still big. At 40 liters, it is much larger than what most people would consider a daypack. So yes, while it has a built in laptop compartment, I’ve never found it particularly useful as I rarely need to carry my GR2 as a bag I work out of.
I couldn’t see myself ever carrying this bag into a client office. While I take my GR1 in, the GR2 would just make people wonder what in the world I am carrying in such a huge bag.
The more interesting part of this bag is that it perfectly carries the Tom Bihn Daylight briefcase in the front portion of the bag. As I have mentioned before, one of the biggest hang ups I have with traveling in a “one bag” type of solution: when I get on the plane I often want a smaller bag for my in-flight goodies at my feet, but not the entire GR2. I’ve started to pack the Dyneema version of the Daylight Briefcase into the front of the GR2 with just my iPad Pro, headphones, and snacks in the bag. This fits well, is easy to get out (tougher to get back in) and allows me to travel with a small bag for taking around during the day.
It’s not ideal, but it works well. And that’s one of my favorite parts about the GR2, when I take it I have enough space to pack a bag that I otherwise wouldn’t have space to pack.
Lots of Packing Options
The GR2 isn’t originally designed to be used with packing cubes. It’s been made so that you can open the bag flat, neatly fold your clothes into it, and then compress everything down when you zip it closed. And it works really well for that. In fact the GR2 has a lot of internal pockets in the bag for good organization when you travel.
Despite the fact that I have drawers full of packing cubes, I’ve found that when traveling with the GR2, it is best to eschew the packing cubes in favor of loosely packing everything. That’s the way the bag was designed, and honestly it packs far better this way.
The added benefit is that the GR2 is heavy and so the less material you add by way of packing cubes, the better off you will be with the final weight of the bag. I still pack one or two things in packing cubes, or GORUCK Field Pockets, but it’s a far cry from how I might normally pack a bag.
As with most bags, there are some things I would love to see changed on the GR2.
- The bag is in need of a side handle. There is at least a few times each trip with the bag where I find myself looking for a handle on the side of the pack.
- I didn’t buy the bag before GORUCK removed the side compression straps, but I wish I had. While the bag packs fine, having those side compression straps would be really great. I hope they add them back.
- I forgot how much time it takes to break in the straps on a new GORUCK bag. The large padded GORUCK straps are among my favorite on any bag, however they do take several wears to break in. If you are buying the bag for a long trip, be sure to get it ahead of time to break those straps in.
It’s Still a Backpack
At the end of the day this is a large backpack. I know there are a lot of people who couldn’t be convinced to travel with a backpack instead of a rolling bag. But I’m a full convert for a lot of reasons. Here’s a few:
- The GR2 will fit in even some of the tightest carry-on restrictions and still hold more than any other roller bag. Most soft-sided bags will. There’s no wheels, or handles which take up room inside the bag, and the lack of a rigid structure makes for better fitted packing.
- When I go to the restroom at the airport, my bag never touches the ground. Think about how gross those roller bags are… You roll them through the countless germs on the bathroom floor, then pick them up and store them above everyones head, forget about the pool of piss you rolled them through — you pull them back out touching the bottom of the bag. And you wonder why you get sick when you travel?
- Backpacks are ideal in crowds. I can move very quickly through very crowded airports without my bag getting stuck as I drag it behind me. And when I get food, I have both hands free to carry it.
There are also downsides to a backpack, the biggest being: you have all the weight on your body. But that also works great to fill in the exercise goals on your watch…
How it Stacks Up
I expected to find a solid bag, but not something I would like using often. I was wrong. The GR2 is going to be my go to bag — it will be the bag I use every time the GR1 is too small. It’s not the best bag, the lightest bag, or the biggest. It is however perfect in all the same ways that the GR1 is perfect. It can go easily from a couple days, to a week or more. It could go from airports to the jungle.
I may never use it for any of that, but knowing that inspires a confidence in the bag that is hard to find in others. With many bags I use, I wonder at what point some element of the bag might break — a cheap buckle, a cheap attachment point, a small zipper. With the GR2 I have no concerns about that, I know my body will break well before the bag will.
Few Notes on Colors and Field Pockets
The GR2 comes in two colors: black and wolf grey. I ordered the black version, but do have a Field Pocket in wolf grey. All I can say about the grey is that it is much too light for my preference. If it was just a bit darker, it would be the color to get. As it is, be wary that the bag is more or less how it appears in the photos on the GORUCK site.
GORUCK sells a variety of Field Pockets, both padded and unpadded. These are small and should not be looked at in the same vein as you do most packing cubes. It’s best to think of these as organizers, so only buy them if you have a specific use in mind.
The GR1 Field Pocket makes for an excellent sized dopp kit. I do like to pack an empty Simple Field Pocket with me so that I can have extra storage for things I might want to bring back if needed.
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I had to pack some MartianCraft SWAG. ↩