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by , July 18, 2014

“It looks tough,” one of my coworkers said after I dropped my bag – a GORUCK SD25 – on my desk. “Kinda like a bouncer.”

I nodded. “So from behind people will think I’m hard”. But then I’ll turn around and be the geek with the high-pitched voice, who’s waving his hands like he’s swatting away bees, and then I’d say something like “Hi guys! I brought snacks!”


Bags need to do two things: hold your stuff and project the image you want to project. GORUCK does both well but I’d argue it does the latter better. Created by a former Green Beret and now hosting gruelling boot camps and physical challenges, GORUCK make bags that are the pinnacle of masculinity.

And that’s the appeal. Their bags are “assault ready” and made to be punished. Me? I’m a bookish guy in black skinny jeans and a sworn pacifist. When I first read into GORUCK I figured I wasn’t their target market. But, having thought about it, maybe I am. Ultimately, I do feel like I could stand to be a bit dudelier. 


After all, GORUCK must be doing something right. Six years ago the company was just a piece of flint in former Green Beret and founder Jason McCarthy’s eye. Now they’re firing bags worldwide and convincing people to run about with sandbags pounding their livers.

Is the SD25 a slick piece of kit? Definitely. But I think its appeal to me has more to do with the company than the bag.


I’m probably not the right person to review most of GORUCK’s gear. The SD25 – the “book bag that won’t break” – is about as close as “Go Ruck” gets to “being appropriate for Cory Zanoni”.

Go forth and Ruck

I intended to go hiking with this bag. I really did. But the closest I got to that was walking through a park on my way to work each day. And I can’t even claim to have taken it on any gnarly city trips: I live in a pretty nice suburb. So while a lot of GORUCK gear is built to handle whatever extreme activity you throw at it, I’ll be looking at the SD25 as a particularly rugged commuter bag. This suits me nicely.


And if you’re wearing a suit to work a black SD25 will suit that nicely. It’s attractive, black and understated – it is a Shadow Ruck after all. 

“Hah, it blends into your jacket,” a friend said to me on a day I was wearing all black.

“Yup. I’m basically a turtle.”


The SD25 is nondescript. It’s one solid colour with space for a Velcro patch on the front. The only branding you’ll see is inside. It ticks my “minimalist” design box.


This continues with its pocketing. 

The handsomely diagonal front pocket is easy to access and makes a good place for your wallet and love poems (if that’s your thing).

The main compartment is neatly divided. The front panel has two pockets: a small go-to one (complete with a sand-coloured zip so it’s easy to find, a quietly brilliant design move) for the things you need right now and a large meshed number for cords or whatever else you don’t want swarming about.



Finally, there’s a slip pocket in the back of the bag for hydration bladders, but in my case it was perfect for magazines, newspapers or a laptop (my 11″ MacBook Air fit with room to spare for a notebook; I daresay you’d slip a 15″ inch something or other in there too). And a word of warning, you’ll need to add your own cushy laptop sleeve or slide a notebook or two behind your laptop for cushioning because the SD25 wasn’t made with your silvery tech in mind. 

And when I really put the SD25 to the test (carrying groceries home) the SD stood up to the task, hauling everything I needed with aplomb. The bag opens flat – handy for when you need to carry more than a single book – making it easy to get things in and out in an optimal way (no misshapen bread for you or I).


The bag is made to be rolled up and thrown inside another, bigger bag. As such, there’s no skeleton to keep its shape and no padding in the back. This can be a problem – I spent a while walking around with a can of lentils or Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy jabbing into my kidneys. And after some months its silhouette began to warp just a little. 


Yet, the materials all seem hardy and more than enough for your daily commute – mine gets through the horrors of trains and office life with barely a scuff.


The stitching is solid (stress-tested to 400 pounds, the equivalent of an average-sized pony pulling on your gear) and the bag is made of 1000D CORDURA. That’s a dense weave and basically means your stuff probably won’t get wet in the rain. 

The SD25 gets out of your way. When your enemies are raining down hellfire (or you’re fumbling for your wallet in line at the supermarket to pay for your on-sale kale) you want to get to whatever you need without any effort. The SD25 helps. It’s functional. I barely noticed it. And that’s the highest compliment I can give.


The Fight Club instinct

And this speaks to the real appeal of the bag. Because functionality is manly.

It’s the strong silent type. The man who can do anything with the least fuss, who wants for nothing more than he needs and, if required, can perform any task. Assault ready” is about war but it eases an everyday worry:

You’ll face all manner of trials just for waking up. With GORUCK, you won’t just face them. You’ll overcome them.

“Problem ready” isn’t as appealing a motto for good reason. Combat is laced through GORUCK’s DNA; it informs every single aspect of the company and it sells bags. I have no use for anything “combat tested” and I don’t know anyone who does. But GORUCK has sold thousands of bags off the back of it (and they have the quality to match).


That sense of masculinity and the allusion to danger adds an allure to the brand. It’s the sense that, sure, I’m just a regular joe in a clean shirt but I could, hypothetically, be dangerous. My housemate compared it to Fight Club: we’re a generation of men fantasizing about getting into a fight with no real idea of how awful it really is.

Maybe it’s because this romanticised idea of “masculinity” is the opposite of what so much of modern society is – loud, disposable, isolated. Look at anything Crumpler churns out, with its reflective panels, neon detailing and pocket for any occasion, and compare it to the SD25.

If both were people I know which one I’d trust with my life.


More of a man

I like the SD25. I’ll keep using it. It has almost everything I like: a simple design, well-considered functionality and sturdy materials. If it had a little bit of padding through the back it would be perfect, though the extra weight might not be worth the few occasions I’d benefit from it.

Should you buy the SD25? Sure, if you’re after something durable, simple and stylish for your daily commute or spare pack. That’s what it set out to be – a simple, sturdy backpack for quick trips away from basecamp/bed. And for US$95 it’s great value. Its failings are only failings if you want this bag to be more than that. If you need something with padding, this ain’t the bag for you – try the GR1.

And, yeah, it looks cool on my back. And people do comment on it. I actually like using it. Did it make me feel hard? Not really. But there’s only so much a simple bag can do.

I can’t do a lot of things. I can’t make anything, I can’t light a fire without firelighters and I can’t fix anything you’ve broken. I won’t die for my country.

But the SD25 and GORUCK remind me of people who can and will do those things. And I like them because of it.

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