Carry Conversations

Carry Conversation :: GORUCK

by , January 18, 2013


In our latest Carry Conversation we chatted with GORUCK, and yes, it was every bit as awesome as you can imagine. Check out our conversation below and be inspired…
GORUCK is a brand that prides itself on passion and determination – passion for people and top-quality bags combined with a determination to honor people’s support of GORUCK through durable bags that will go the distance and then some. The legendary GR1 rucksack and GORUCK Challenge are just some of the amazing things to have stemmed from GORUCK since it was founded in 2008. We chatted with founders Jason McCarthy and Jack Barley to get more insight on this impressive brand…

I’ll say it again for your interview. Less is more, and more is lazy. It still holds true, it will always hold true!

Carryology: Can you give me any key insights that guide your products? What do you know that most others haven’t realized?Jason: To be honest, I don’t know. We’re just doing our own things and leveraging heavily off the military gear that I had when I was in Special Forces and how to sort of transition that to a broader base. That goes to the roots of GORUCK which are I was a Green Beret and Jack was in fashion in New York. You put those two together and what you end up with is GORUCK.Jack: (Laughs) That’s for sure.Are there any common mistakes you see in other brands that are driving you crazy? Things that are missing the mark?Jason: To say that I and we never look at other peoples’ stuff would be incorrect – of course we do – but other brands’ stuff doesn’t guide us at all. It’s more that what I see with other people’s brands is “too much”. I see them telling people what to do with the gear and what we like to do is give people options that are very simple. Let them make it theirs and let them use the gear as they see fit. It’s really the struggle we have is – and Jack can really attest to it – is that my tendency is always to slash and burn everything that’s not completely necessary. What guides our design process is our collaboration between me and Jack. His background is more aesthetic and mine is more functional but both of us are into simplicity.
Jack: I’ll also talk about – in terms of how we do what we want, we don’t tell our consumer what to do. I mean initially – essentially, we just wanted to make a simple black backpack. We wanted to make a simple black backpack that met certain criteria that we had in mind that we wanted. We kinda let that stay at the core of what we do, and obviously over time that will shift as you see other opportunities.You at one time said in an interview: Less is more, and more is lazy…Jason: Oh yeah! I’ll say it again for your interview. Less is more, and more is lazy. It still holds true, it will always hold true!That’s perfect. I’ve got the sound byte now!Jack: When we were designing the GR1, we got it about 95% there, and it would have been a good product, but it was getting that last 5%. I’ll never forget Jason came up with that, remember? The last 5%. That’s where all the real focus and attention to detail really came out. We were able to get through the first 95% without too much trouble.Jason: That was the first year…Jack: The second year, year and a half was getting it the last 5%. Really sticking to our guns about where we saw it going and getting to that.

Jack cutting materials for GORUCK in Bozeman

“We’re just doing our own things and leveraging heavily off the military gear that I had when I was in Special Forces…”

Tell me about the GORUCK Challenge. It seems like a big part of your brand. How does that change things, and is it shaping things for the brand because of its success?Jason: The challenge and the gear, it’s both GORUCK to me. I think ultimately what GORUCK succeeds at is we’re passionate people. We’re passionate about our gear and we’re passionate about people. That comes through with everything we make –the way we tell the story, the way we give people the “behind the scenes” whenever possible. The greatest extension of that passion and love for people comes through with the Challenge. I can promise you that if I were sitting, and not doing Challenges, GORUCK would not be what it is to me. The reason GORUCK means so much to me is the reaction people have to the message. It’s not just a message of gear because – gear is great, and good gear is great, and you need it. I’ve depended on good gear to save my life, so I understand it.On a personal level, the outreach that the Challenge gives us in such a positive way, it keeps me going and allows us to answer this call for a larger vision of GORUCK, which is to be one of the most respected brands in the world. To do that you have to have people who support you, who believe in you and who want to support the larger message. Part of that larger message is showing people what they can do, bridging the military and the civilian world, and inspiring people.
The Challenge does all of that, and it does it everywhere. It’s a really neat event where people learn about themselves, they learn about the military, they learn about why camaraderie in the military is so high.People have taken it, have driven and built the brand of GORUCK. We’ve given them a platform, our message and our values but they have built the brand of GORUCK with their own passion. So, that’s what happened and we are really trying to keep up at this point. That’s been really neat and it’s really encouraging.Jack: I would say to add to what Jason is saying, the Challenge is more his brainchild. I’m out here in Bozeman but I get back and forth and get to spend some time with the Challenge cadre –hundred and hundreds of people who have done the challenges. For me, when I started to see the engagement of the Challenge-takers with our brand, it almost raised the stakes and the responsibility of this message Jason’s speaking to – how hard we have to work now to continually maintain and earn their willingness to share themselves with us. That’s a huge responsibility that inspires me every day to stay on point for these people because we’ve earned that from them and we have to keep it and maintain that.


All of your bags are based on the GR1, how many versions did you go through before you settled on its current incarnation?Jack: A couple. One or two. (laughs)Jason: 143. (both laugh) It’s tough to answer that question. A series of line sketches became refined sketches, became Illustrator line drawings, became patterns, became prototypes – and this is months and months already at this point. It was back and forth and back and forth. We had a design team lined up, and we ran through our contract with them, and had to get it made to scale. Then we started altering the patterns further when it was made to scale because it wasn’t done. The design team was done, and had fulfilled their obligation to us, and was already working on new business. The place where we scaled it up was also making tinkerings, it was probably 10 prototypes. It’s not like a prototype where you get it and you look at it and it’s like “this needs to look prettier”. It was going through things like the Challenge, it was
going through massive stress testing, it was being scrutinized by Green Berets, and all of the above.Jack: I gave him a strap rip test when he first got here, where you stand on the bag and pull with all your might.Jason: Yeah. That’s a good one. He does that to brag about his muscle weight currently residing on his arms.He definitely made sure the biceps were in view of the camera!Jason: Imagine that.Okay, so you are focusing heavily on durability. what is the Achilles heel?Jason: The Achilles heel is that they are not made out of steel. At a certain point, Cordura – we use the best everything but it’s still something that is made by hand. It’s the best, but it’s not steel.

Strap rip pull test

Do you have relationships with other local brands, like Mystery Ranch? You are in the same town, what are your interactions with them?Jack: We know who Mystery Ranch is and we respect the brand tremendously. I mean it’s really an incredible story, it’s a Montana story – it’s an American story what Dana Gleason has done. I’ll be honest- from my civilian side, I didn’t really know much about them until I got involved with our company and I moved here. Everybody knows Mystery Ranch in Bozeman. We did reach out to him at a certain point because we are making bags. Our brands are very, very different but just to introduce ourselves and listen to him, and listen to his story. He was incredibly gracious and spent time with us and it was really inspiring.It seems that brands that want to deliver the next level of quality are going directly to consumers to afford it. Any thoughts on this?Jason: It was born of necessity, really. In 2010, I drove to 48 states trying to visit every retail shop in the country that I thought could support our price point. Keeping in mind, of course, that a single black bag made by a company with a not-established brand gets lost in a sea of other bags. It wasn’t viable in a big box. To be honest, we didn’t have the manufacturing to support that. We didn’t have infrastructure to that scale. Sure, we could have figured it out if we got a large order, but we went around to a lot of smaller shops and the price point was something that people always defaulted to and they just didn’t understand it.
They didn’t understand why something cost so much. Around the time the Challenge was born, “GR1 Explained” happened as well. Those were two important things in the history of GORUCK. The Challenge happened organically the same way the GR1 was built organically and was refined further beyond that.I’m sure the day will come where we go to more retail stores, but right now we don’t need to and, to be honest, we can’t make enough bags to fill our online stuff right now via Challenge growth. We don’t need to focus on retail yet.
Jack sewing

GORUCK patterns

he thinks when he wears his GR1, he has superpowers
Where is most of your learning happening these days? On the business side? Development of new products? Marketing?Jason: We’re like Socrates, man, we learn every single day. (laughs) We are getting a lot smarter at operations and all those things because think about it – Jack didn’t know how to sew, he barely does and I don’t know how to sew at all except a ripped uniform or something. We came into this with a vision for a brand, not knowing how to sew. It’s easy for me to communicate the brand, to get out there and talk to people about the bags, my time in the Service and about why GORUCK does the things that it does from a branding perspective to try to bring people together, try to unite the military and the civilian worlds. We had at the time zero experience in operations or in any of those kinds of things so I am sure Robert there, he’s been an enormous asset on that front. On the marketing front, it is about being more than just promoters and becoming actual marketers. That’s happening as we speak. The Challenge started out as a marketing arm for GORUCK and it became its own thing. The marketing arm, in essence, separated from the bag company, at least from an operations standpoint. Putting on an event and making a piece of gear is completely different. That’s where the knowledge comes in; you have to figure out how to sew gear, how to sell events and communicate each of them.
John Franklin (Chief Marketing Officer): From a marketing perspective, a lot of what we are learning on how to get the word out there is, as the audience grows, we are starting to see trends in how our gear is used and why it’s unlike other bags they’ve had and that is kind of like a snowball. We take that and incorporate messages that people have latched onto and have taught us and use that in our own marketing. An example is with our GR2, which is our largest ruck. People love taking it on international trips, taking pictures of it like a travel companion, so that’s guided us a little bit in how we approach marketing that specific bag.Jack: J (John), remember we bumped into that gentleman on the beach, we bumped into a guy wearing a GORUCK Challenge t-shirt. An incredible guy who is a manager at a Target in Austin, Texas. I’ll never forget, we asked him how he’s doing and he’s like “I am a manager at Target, and I am so blessed to have my job and have my family”. He was chatting with Jason and his wife leaned in to me and said “He thinks when he wears his GR1, he has superpowers”. This is the quality of character who are blessing us with their interest in what we do; it’s pretty neat.Jason- The other interesting thing with that conversation is, we rolled up and he had our reverse flag zip-hoodie on John said “Hey man, nice sweatshirt”. He looked back and said “yeah, did you do it?” Then he saw we had GORUCK (written) on the truck, and hes like “oh, I see now”, but think about that man- to him GORUCK is synonymous with the Challenge. People want to talk about things that bring them together, and the challenge is such a personal experience that people still call (the event) “the GORUCK”.


What’s next? Duffle bags? Messengers? Outerwear? New Colors?Jack: To quote Jason, “More, better, faster, gooder”. We are busy doing all kinds of things. But the process where we conceptualize a future product through the design process to the testing, prototyping, using it in the Challenge, etc. etc., that’s given us a platform where using those guidelines the sky’s the limit for what we are able to make. We feel we can do anything we decide to do; it’s just a question of timing.Jason: The other thing I always tell Jack is “Hey dude, it’s cool if you just want to rest on your laurels and say GR1’s a great bag; that’s cool with me.” (both laugh)Jack: It is pretty cool, Jason.
I’ve got one last question, and I’m quoting Jason here: “We have the highest attention to detail in the world, and have the highest quality in the world”. As newcomers in the bag-making world, how have you attained such a high level of production?Jason: Unrelenting standards and a highly-tuned case of OCD trained by the US Military.Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!Jason: Thanks for stopping in! I’m usually the one doing the traveling to other people’s places, so it’s really cool you came to our place in Bozeman.

  • Dean Grove

    I totally read it wrong the first time, read left column top to bottom……

    Yeah…I’m not a smart man.

  • Edward

    If “LESS IS MORE, AND MORE IS LAZY”, doesn’t that mean… that less is lazy? (*kidding)

    Heart-warming interview, but a bit light on actual backpack design (too much stress on image and marketing and spirit and so on).

    For example, when Jason said “Cordura is not steel”, you could have replied “Dyneema/Spectra is stronger than steel” and seen where the conversation goes from there.

    I would also have been interested in knowing how well other brands fare in Goruck Challenges. Not everybody goes to those with a Goruck.

    Sorry, I am too tech-oriented. I have a heart of steel Dyneema.

    • Alben

      Have you done a challenge before? It’s true that a lot of people don’t use the GR bags during them. Sometimes they work just fine, but I have been witness to a few broken bags. One had a zipper malfunction (it just came apart), another had a strap break completely off. Sometimes other brand bags break, sometimes they work just fine. But I’ve never seen a GORUCK bag break.

      As far as more info on the actual bag design, in the interview Jason mentions “GR1 Explained”. It’s an article on the GORUCK website that goes a little more in depth on the info you might be looking for.

  • Anil A

    Thought I’d share my positive experience with GORUCK.

    Had a friend bring me over a Radio Ruck in 2011 (I live in the UK). Stupidly I didn’t realise it didn’t come with a patch. So I spoke to Jack (I assume this Jack) who priced a few options for me and eventually just posted me a patch in a letter, saving me some serious cash. Really appreciated that he just went down to the post office to get it priced up and sorted. Extra mile service.

    I had someone bring me over a GR1 and the molle wasn’t sown evenly. Thankfully the guys at GR share my OCD so two replacement GR1s, 3 months and a lot of refunded shipping/customs charges later, I now have a perfect GR1.
    I really appreciated they shared my high expectations and were able to cover all my costs, as well as be flexible when I asked if I could buy some extra stuff with my replacement. I do wish it had all gone a bit quicker, but they’re a small company expanding fast and I know it was difficult for them.

    Jason was available on Facebook to help me then, and answer my subsequent questions, including “why has my GR1 chewed through my favourite jacket?” Answer – “friction, cinch the bag tighter”. For the sake of ventilation I had been wearing my GR1 loose, and it had worn my expensive, new jacket out in the space of 2 months. I won’t be making that mistake again!

    If you want to learn more about the design side of things, Jason mentions the GR1 explained post, which is worth a look

    I’ve actually just last night switched over to my TAD FPL from my GR1 last night as I wanted something lighter for today, and I’m already annoyed by the narrow and fiddly pockets on the TAD compared to the GR1. Still, it definitely is lighter!

    Great interview Carryology.

  • Anil A

    Conversely, my recent experience with TAD could have been better. Just before new years TAD finally restocked the OP1 pouch in black after the better part of a year.

    I priced up the shipping and I emailed them to ask if they could ship the pouch cheaper (instead of $40 on shipping). They got back to me in a reasonable time frame to say they could ship it for $10 instead. Unfortunately by that time I’d already pulled the trigger on two pouches, full shipping costs. The reason I didn’t wait? Not long after getting their response, they had sold out already. I phoned to ask them if they could switch me to the cheaper shipping option but it was too late.

    They offered me free shipping for next time though, so that was pretty solid of them.

    I’ve got absolutely destroyed on customs though (as they factor in shipping costs) and will need to sell one of the pouches.

    • Edward

      If you live in Europe (or Switzerland), I’d be interested in your extra pouch.

      I think you can ask the blog owners to get my email adress.

      • Anil A.

        Well, I was planning on Ebaying it as I need the highest possible price to make up for the absolute working over I just got from UK customs.

        I’m on twitter here if that works -@aarora17

  • Jack Barley


    I’ll see your Dyneema and raise you Supreme Protector 509W/E. Check it out. Really strong stuff.

    Thanks for reading the article my man. There is a lot of cool stuff out there that we don’t work with currently. Who knows what the future holds.



  • Driver

    Can someone explain why the American Flag is inverted or reversed on tactical gear?


  • J.B. McClure

    Great story!

    They have a great philosophy about a product and it’s customer. This is good to see and reminds one of Yvonne Chuinard. We have to encourage products that answer a need and not a “market” or certainly not a trend. This is how we can make customers and partners out of a mere “consumer”.

    Good stuff!

  • Javvy Frehley

    I might be one of the few GR1 owners who isn’t over the moon about it.

    It’s a solid bag and it does exactly what it’s reputed to do, namely, carry heavy loads comfortably in a slim silhouette. I also appreciate the overbuilt-but-understated design approach.

    Where I like it:
    – <1 week travel bag. The GR1 has an impressive ability to always hold just one more thing than I think it will or maybe should.
    – Hauling gear/groceries all over town. Frame sheet and wide straps carry very well. Good construction and materials handle the rest.

    Where I don't:
    – Carrying a light load. The double-layer 1050 ballistic bottom panel holds a shape that doesn't quite work on days when you've just got bits and pieces (but possibly expect to pick up more along the way). Maybe it's the military heritage but the thing just doesn't slouch very well. It's not a do-all, city-life bag but at three hundred bucks for a nylon backpack, maybe it should be.

    With regard to the interview, the thing that bothers me most about the brand, ironically, is the marketing. I like that the Goruck Challenge started out as a bizarre, extreme focus group and evolved into a profit center; it's all the relentless elite military, stars-forward messaging that's too much. Copy like "we say it's water resistant because in the military, waterproof means watertight" feels Chuck Norris silly. How about "we say it's water resistant because it's only water resistant"?

    On the other hand, it's working. I know that waterproof line because, on top of it being there on their website, it cropped up in just about every review I read while deciding whether I should pony up for one. Challenge junkie, IT guy, whomever–it seems just about everyone who bought the bag bought the pitch.

    Which is a little crazy because, at the end of the day, Goruck are a self-avowed "people brand" who put out four sizes of a single design but managed to hitch them to a viscerally powerful, cleverly expansive marketing concept, also enabling them to sell what amount to a lot of expensive accessories for this lifestyle they've implied.

    Unfortunately, some of us just want the bag. And while you can't argue results (and Cordura hats off to what seem like great results in a terrible economy), I wish I didn't sometimes feel like I spent part of my money on hype. It's a good bag and it does a few things very well but the cultish marketing does make me wonder.

    On the flip side, I keep a weather eye on the dollar/yen rate, waiting for the day Porter will make my world truly round. There are many flavors of Kool-aid out there, so take my 1.79 yen for what they're worth.


    • jason

      Javvy — to answer your question directly, we used to just say ‘water resistant,’ then we got tons of questions into asking for more clarity on what exactly that meant. So, basically, I decided to explain in greater detail what we mean by ‘water resistant’ as opposed to waterproof. Sorry that struck a chord with you or came off like some sort of pitch. Also, GR1 and all our rucks break in over time, so after enough use it’ll both form to your back and slouch comfortably. Mine does now, even though it didn’t used to. Have a good one.

      • Javvy Frehley

        Jason, I appreciate your reply. I do like the bag quite a bit. After re-reading my post, I realize I probably came across a lot more cynical than I intended. There is no irony in internets.

        So, snark aside, I think what you’ve done is inspired. In the Challenge, you’ve created a vehicle that: proves your product, adds a heroic dimension to your brand, and turns consumers into (very passionate) advocates. All this by abusing the holy hell out of people who’ve paid you to do so.

        Ultimately, it’s your product and yours to sell. Part of me just wishes it could be dialed back a bit. The same subtle-loving part that shells out for unbranded, boxy, black Cordura backpacks. Best of luck.

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    • josh

      mind blown.

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