These two bags, the Mystery Ranch ASAP (my review) and GORUCK GR1 (my review), have been top of my list to put head to head for well over 5 years. Both are expensive, both are made to be used in actual combat (though you could argue that a little more in Mystery Ranch’s favor), both are USA made. I’ve now used the ASAP enough that I feel a head to head is warranted, as it’s pretty clear to me which is better for what.
With these two bags the question of which to pick simply comes down to whether or not you want/need to carry a laptop. If you need or want to carry a laptop, the GORUCK GR1 is hands down the better bag for you. For everything else, the ASAP is the better bag, and sometimes by a large margin.
Let’s dive into it…
The ASAP only comes in one size, which Mystery Ranch lists as 20L and it feels like 19-20L tops. The GR1 comes in two sizes: 21L and 26L and both feel true to size. Capacity is only one attribute, but generally either GR1 is going to hold a lot more gear than the ASAP. If you want a lot of gear hauling capacity either GR1 is a better pick.
Black is GR1, Green-Gray is ASAP in all pics.
Here are the specs for each of the bags:
- 21L GR1: 18” x 11.5” x 5.5”
- 20L ASAP: 21” x 12” x 8”
- 26L GR1: 20” x 12” x 6.75”
Here’s the weird thing about those measurements though: they lie. The flat bottom of the ASAP measures in at 4.5” in depth, not the 8” you might assume based on the measurements listed. For it’s part, GORUCK adjusts the size of the GR1 to your body by modifying the height and then adjusting the other two dimensions ever so slightly so that it scales correctly. I don’t think GORUCK executes this well on the GR1 as the 26L is a vastly better scaled bag, whereas the 21L just feels slightly off no matter how you look at it.
Mystery Ranch doesn’t adjust the bag size at all, but offers an adjustable yoke on the ASAP, as well as sizing for that yoke. What that does is allows the straps to perfectly adjust to your body, while keeping the bag scaled correctly and sitting exactly where Mystery Ranch designed all the parts of the bag to sit (men or women). This is clearly a huge benefit.
Both methods are effective and better than a one-size-fits-all approach. But there are trade offs to each. The system on the ASAPs though are vastly superior to GORUCK’s approach. That said, it can push the bag into a lower spot for taller people, whereas the GR1 21L is pushed into a much higher spot for taller people. A trade off for sure. And I should note that a good fit makes or breaks the ASAP in comfort, whereas there’s a lot more forgiveness with the GR1 setup as it’s a flat back, mostly straight straps and thus much more forgiving with the placement (assuming you are not rucking).
Some general thoughts on the sizing/capacity:
- The ASAP can more easily be stuffed with gear from the top, and is better for non-square stuff. While the dimensions would look like it is the larger of the bags, it’s not remotely square and thus it holds far less while having a similar footprint.
- The depth of the ASAP is no where close to what I would call 8”. But again it does go from thin at the bottom to a bit thicker towards the top 1/3 (about where the zippers all meet) and then back down as you travel up the bag. This means that the bulk by design gets distributed to better/optimal spots on your back.
- The GR1s are rectangles, and thus you can rely on the measurements when trying to figure out if it will hold something rigid you have. And know that that stuff will fit if the measurements show it — this can make figuring out how to pack these bags substantially easier.
- The GR1s both hold more gear than you suspect, because you can sit on the lid and zip them closed, thus compressing things into the bag. The ASAP can do this to a degree as the vertical zipper naturally compresses stuff into the center of the bag and the top lid pushes gear back down into the bag, but not with nearly the same level of compression as the GR1.
The biggest difference is the contours of the packs. The ASAP feels like a 15L bag on your back, where as the GR1 feels like a 25-27L on your back. The GR1 is a box on your back, it has edges, and depending on your size might be slightly wider than your frame in spots. The ASAP feels contoured to your body, and thus rounded off and even though it is as wide, it doesn’t remotely feel like it is (or look like it is).
So, in practice, when wearing these bags, the ASAP will feel svelte and nimble — there’s no better bag I have used that is 20-ish liters for moving through narrow/tight/crowded areas. The GR1, if it fits your frame, will offer you the slimmest profile you can get for the amount of gear you can haul in them.
This one is a toss up, and completely depends on what you are doing with the bag as to which is better. Both are great.
Comfort of Hauling
We choose backpacks because they allow us to comfortably carry a lot of gear. These two bags are the pinnacle of comfort. Both of them are very comfortable and I cannot tell you which is better at all. The GR1 is comfortable to wear all the way up to about 50lbs of gear. I’ve only tested the ASAP up to 35lbs and it was comfortable at that weight as well.
A normal, very heavy, daily carry load out might put you at about 20lbs and both of these bags will feel great at the weight. Here’s the two main differences between the bags:
- The GR1 has very bulky straps with ample padding which require a lot of break in before they feel fantastic. They work out of the box, but only after broken in do most people report them feeling comfortable, as before that they can chaff and annoy.
- The ASAP feels great out of the box and doesn’t require break in. It does require a lot of care adjusting the pack until you get it dialed in. The straps are very contoured, and have multiple ways of adjusting them. You will not get it right the first time, but within 3-5 uses you’ll have it perfected if you make small adjustments each wear. Once dialed in, you can leave it there and not worry about it again.
Both of these bags are made to hold snug on your body. If you are someone who wears your straps long and lets the bags hang, neither of these are smart buys for you. But if you want something that hugs your body: ASAP. If you want something that pulls high and tight: GR1.
I find both exceedingly comfortable, I think most people will find the ASAP more comfortable if they are willing to spend the time adjusting it as you can push that bag past 25lbs and really it feels secure and comfortable.
For everyday carry, or going to an office, the GR1 is hands down the better bag once broken in. The only caveat is that the material is rough and if you wear suits or something delicate it might not be a great option. That said, it has one of the best laptop compartments out there, and more than enough space for everything else.
The ASAP is ok for this. It has no laptop compartment but the PALS grid inside the bag means you can attach a laptop sleeve, or just drop one in. Doing that, makes the bag very useable but without external access to the laptop.
The big difference is that the slim profile of the ASAP can make it hard to carry bulky travel mugs, water bottles, or lunches back and forth with you especially when you add a laptop sleeve to the mix. The GR1 has no such issues, and at times can feel like overkill for the office on the sizing. Since there’s no laptop sleeve, or even a padded bottom on the ASAP, the GR1 is the clear pick here.
This is the only category where the GR1 really is the clear winner. You can also find 500D and Waxed Canvas models of the GR1 to help with the abrasion from the ‘standard’ 1000D material. However the canvas models and even the “slick” models remove the hydration pass through and webbing on the straps for sternum/water bladder attachments — which really impacts the next category.
There’s no way around this: the ASAP is a substantially better outdoors daypack than the GR1. While both bags weigh the same, only the ASAP offers multiple means of adjusting the straps to better situate the load. The ASAP comes with a sternum strap, while it is an add on for the GR1. Similarly the ASAP has a hip belt to stabilize the pack (not for load) whereas the GR1 requires yet another purchase for that option, though it does have a semi-load bearing hip belt available (if you can get one in stock).
But the big difference is that the ASAP is designed to carry water and deliver it to you by hose. It can hold two 3L water bladders by design, and can easily route one or two hoses directly down the shoulder straps. It comes with a bit of velcro, and elastic loops, and keepers on the sternum strap to keep your bladder hose in place. While the GR1 does (on most models) have a water hose pass through, it is limited to a single hose and requires you to supply your own routing holders down the straps. It’s not that the GR1 can’t hold a water bladder, it can, it’s that the ASAP is very well designed for at least one water bladder.
And then you get to access. While neither bag has external water bottle pockets, both can have them added, and both have more than enough external MOLLE for whatever you need. But the ASAP starts to pull away when you look at getting fast access to essential items. Let’s say you want quick access to some bug spray or sunscreen. Here’s how you could set that up on either bag:
- GR1: you place it on the exterior front slant pocket, which is fine until it sinks to the bottom of that pocket and then it’s a hard to quickly get it out as you shove half your arm into a very narrow pocket. You could instead put it inside the bag in the top pocket, but that’s only if you don’t worry about stuff falling out when unzipping the main pocket, or need to stash your phone somewhere separate because that’s also the most ideal spot for a phone in the GR1. Oh some new GR1s have that “quick access pocket” which solves this, but then you lose the hydration pass through which is completely silly.
- ASAP: you put it in the top pocket, which has tons of space, is easy to get to, and won’t disturb anything else in the bag. You can still stash a wallet/keys/phone in there as there’s also a smaller zippered pocket you can use too. This is your only option, but it works much better than any option on the GR1.
The thing is, the ASAP is designed for the outdoors and nothing else. The GR1 is designed for the city. It shows here. That’s not to say you can’t use the GR1 for the outdoors, I have dozens of times and others do all the time, but it’s simply not as good as the ASAP when comparing the two head to head. (Likewise the ASAP is fine for cities, but not as good as the GR1.)
I can’t see a scenario where I would grab the GR1 over the ASAP for outdoor hiking.
I love the design of both of these bags. They look amazing, and even though they both have MOLLE all over (ASAP especially) I think they both are all around great looking bags. But the ASAP overall is a better designed bag than the GR1 once you put aside looks, because:
- The Futura Yoke system allows very finite adjustments to get a perfect fit for pretty much anyone over 5 feet 3 inches tall and well on up (Mystery Ranch will even work with you if you are unsure, but their fit guides are bag specific and great). The GR1 can’t compete on this — the yoke really is that good.
- The 3-zip design, classic Mystery Ranch, is far more versatile than the GR1. While you can position the GR1 zippers so that you can open just the top of the bag, you’re still restricted by the side panels of the bag for getting top access to the MOLLE inside. You have to lay the GR1 flat and open it to get to that stuff if the bag is decently full. The ASAP’s 3-Zip allows you to flip the top of the bag open and get right at the top section of your gear. While also allowing you to splay the bag open enough that nothing is lost at the bottom, you can always get to it.
- The top pocket on the ASAP gives you a real compartment for quick access stuff. This is the biggest issue with the GR1 and each time GORUCK offers a place (front slant pocket, or ‘new’ quick access pocket) they do so by taking away space from inside the bag and that’s a net loss. The ASAP’s top pocket is additional, dedicated, space which is easy to access and utilize no matter how loaded the rest of the bag is.
- The ASAP doesn’t feel giant on your back no matter how full it is. It feels like it is glued to you. That’s intentionally designed this way.
- The GR1 does excel in its design on one specific point: ease of use. There’s nothing to figure out with the GR1, you don’t need to watch a video to get it fit correctly. You don’t need to worry about weird straps or anything like that. It’s as easy to use as it is indestructible. Two straps to adjust the length of each shoulder strap and you are good to go.
- If you extend the yoke on the ASAP to say, the height I need it at, it does impede with how far the top lid will flip open — I wish that were the case, but it would be hard to work around this. The GR1 is never similarly impacted by the height (or lack there of) of the user when it comes to getting into it — tall or short, the front slant pocket is still a royal pain in the ass.
- To get at anything in the GR1, it’s best to lay it flat on the back side of the bag, which means that surface that touches your body is often touching the ground. With the ASAP the top lid is more easily accessed with the face of the bag down, or the bag standing up. And when the ASAP is standing up you can “rip” open the top lid to get at your gear too — but it won’t stand on it’s own. Either this matters to you, or it doesn’t, but the GR1 always wants to be laid on it’s back.
There’s nothing wrong with the GR1’s design, and as I said above the laptop compartment on it is exceptional. But overall, the ASAP offers a better design when you get down to using the bag day in and day out.
Which One to Buy?
Buy the GR1 if:
- You are going to haul more than 40lbs on a regular basis.
- You are carrying bulky or boxy shaped gear.
- You need to carry a laptop all the time, or have access to it readily on the occasions you do carry one.
- You are a heavy packer and need all liters of capacity available to you.
Buy the ASAP if:
- You want something softer on your back.
- You want the best harness system in the backpack world.
- You spend more time not carrying a laptop than you do carrying one.
- You need something that hugs your body close to keep from bumping into things as you move about.
Simply put: it’s hard to go wrong with either. I prefer the GR1 for the office, but for almost everything else I prefer the ASAP. Pretty close to even, I’d take the GR1 if I could only have one of these though simply for the laptop compartment — but I would be sad I had to make that choice.