Choosing a new backpack — GoRuck vs Life Behind Bars

This past year, after seeing how Apple seems to be prioritizing design and looks vs overall performance in regards to their Macbook Pro line, I decided it was time to go back to Windows.

Like many who grew up during the 90's, I was using Windows before going to Mac. Windows has surprisingly gotten quite nice since then! This is a story for another time but tl’dr — I’m finding that 95% of what I was using a Mac for can just as easily be done on Windows, primarily due to the Linux integration in Windows 10. It’s not perfect, but it gets me most of the way there without having to boot over into an actual Linux installation.

Anyways, I got a new computer — a Clevo to be specific, from the good folks at HidEvolution. It’s great! While it’s not technically THAT much bigger than my Macbook Pro, it is still a little thicker, and much heavier. There are thinner and lighter computers in the Clevo line up now but at the time, this was as good as it got for a GTX 1070 equipped Clevo.

Traditionally I’ve relied on messenger bags as they’re generally highly water resistant and can carry a ton. However, given the new heft of my laptop, based on past experience and also because my current backpack doesn’t fit my new computer, I decided it was time to look for a newer backpack.

After a fairly exhaustive search, it led me to essentially just 2 brands, GoRuck and Life Behind Bars (henceforth also referred to as LBB), which is an Indonesian company out of Jakarta. I was left with these two brands because it is DAMN HARD for some reason, to find a brand with good design and functionality that’ll manufacture a laptop slot that isn’t only for a Macbook pro. The Clevo is a 15.6 inch laptop, roughly around 5.6 lbs, so I needed to find something that could fit up to a 17 inch one. I could use a sleeve but that seemed like a silly idea. I have yet to see a sleeve that looks like it would offer decent protection without looking like a Pelican case; while most laptop compartments are more or less sleeves themselves, it seemed like GoRuck and LBB put a little more thought into laptop protection by using thicker padding and ensuring that the laptop never touches the bottom of their packs. I’ve definitely winced hearing the ping of metal whenever I’ve sat down and accidentally taken off my messenger bag or backpack the wrong way.


I had heard a ton about GoRuck from a previous boss who tends to generally have good taste in the gear he buys. While I’m not a military guy, I don’t mind the aesthetic; my boss’s rave review, coupled with the multitude of good reviews online basically sealed the deal. The week the idea of getting a new bag popped into my head was basically the same week as Thanksgiving / Black Friday, so the timing was great! I was considering a 26 liter GR1 but Black Friday brought the 34 liter GR2 down to the same price as the GR1 which helped me decide what to get. The GR1, for some reason, only got a modest $50-ish discount vs the close to $100 discount on the GR2; still more expensive than the GR1 but I decided that the extra space could come in handy.

Then … calamity struck …

Not really haha — but while in the middle of waiting on my ruck, I came across the Life Behind Bars brand in a Youtube review (there’s also this review too) where the guy went over the Peloton Asphalt. At first I decided that it wasn’t worth it; though it checked a lot of the boxes for me in what I was looking for, the design didn’t really appeal to me since it appeared to use a hook and clasp type system. It didn’t look like it would fail but the overall mechanism wasn’t appealing to me, on top of the fact that I would have to pay more for shipping to get the bag in a reasonable amount of time given that I’m in the US.

But then I discovered their less premium version, the regular Peloton Rolltop bag, which basically is the same thing, but solves my main issue with the pack and it’s potentially headache inducing hook system. On top of that, even with shipping from Indonisia, it would still be $100 cheaper than the GR2(at the Black Friday price of $299 just so we’re clear).


For all intents and purposes, the Peloton and GR2 are more or less the same bag in regards to what I was looking for. They both offer a large main area(s) that store roughly 30-ish liters of stuff, a padded laptop slot, as well the same basic foundation of 1000D Cordura. That being said, there are still some differences between the two and some concerns that one ought to be aware of.

Let me just preface this next part by saying that realistically, none of what I’m about to discuss should be dealbreakers by any means. They all have solves or just require you to think a little more as to how you pack. Also keep in mind that I was not able to actually see a Peloton, but am basing this evaluation solely on marketing and images; this was due to the fact that unfortunately, return shipping is on the buyer with LBB outside of warranty situations.

Let’s start with LBB.

The laptop compartment.

The laptop compartment looked good and well padded, but was somewhat suspect, given the placement/design. It’s in the main compartment which makes some sense, as well as “suspended” which I suspect simply means that the bottom of the compartment never touches the bottom of the bag.

The main issue I have with the design is that, based on everything I could see, the laptop compartment is only large enough to hold your laptop; as opposed to most laptop compartments that function essentially like sleeves. When I say it’s only large enough to hold your laptop, I mean that there is the potential where your laptop might stick out quite a bit like in this image of the Asphalt(the regular rolltop shows what appears to be a Macbook Air, I’m showing the Asphalt version instead since it’s closer to what I have and there’s no reason to assume the general design is any different on the regular one).

For the most part, it’s fine the way it is. However I really do wish there was a separate padded section inside of the main compartment instead. Because the computer is (potentially)exposed to whatever is in the main compartment, as you might imagine, you run the risk of damaging your very expensive machine depending on what else you have in there.

Side note — the Asphalt version seems to have less laptop padding(?). I’m not sure but that’s just the way it appears from the pictures. Something to keep in mind.

Also, this is less of a concern, but I have questions about how well attached the laptop compartment is to the back panel and how long it might last, especially with my computer. The laptop compartment appears to be formed by Velcro strips sewn into the back panel, and a padded panel attachment that sticks to the Velcro to form the laptop compartment.

I imagine there’s always force pulling the Velcro base away from the back-panel like most laptop compartments, which is fine. However I’m not sure how long things would last with the additional downward force generated by the weight of your laptop, given the suspended nature of the design. Of course it’s understandably impossible to test every kind of laptop but part of me wonders how much testing was done and what the methodology was that determined making the laptop “suspended” was a better way to go vs just adding a ton of padding on the bottom.

Construction

I can’t really comment on this as I was unable to see an actual pack, but it seems to be well built as far as images and secondhand accounts can depict.

Organization

The laptop compartment is my biggest concern. From here on out, the rest of my concerns should really be considered more like minor annoyances that I could live with if I was forced to.

The Peloton, like most bike messenger oriented bags, does not have that much in the way of organization. While it’s definitely better than most, as you can see in the following image, I’m not sure it’s enough for me at least.

In addition to that area, you still have a large main compartment and a smaller compartment(where the notebook is sticking out) as well.

While I could adjust, the one thing that doesn’t quite work for me about this set up is that the organizational area seems to be made to store relatively flat things given the design. The sides zip up and the secondary main compartment folds over the opening like a flap. I tend to carry, not only things that probably shouldn’t be getting wet, but also irregularly shaped objects, like a mouse for example. The flap also doesn’t appear to offer any kind of protection from the side when folded over, partially exposing whatever is in the organizational area that isn’t behind the main plastic area.

Again, it’s not the biggest deal and I could certainly adjust, but it’d be nice if they did something like Chrome and sew in a little bit of extra fabric to cover up that area.

There are other pockets scattered about, 2 smaller ones in the front and another in the back underneath the back padding ,these don’t seem like they could carry all that much, but could be useful for your situation.

There are also side pockets, which could be good if you like carrying water bottles, but for me, there’s no real advantage to having them.

Lifetime Warranty

LBB offers a lifetime warranty with their bags. However, there are some limitations to the backing.

Anything within 45 days of purchase(not sure if this starts from purchase time or starts from when you receive the pack) is fully covered. They’ll pay for you to ship back the pack, repair or replace it, and pay to send it back to you.

After 45 days, while they’ll still do warranty repairs for free, it’s up to you to cover the cost of shipping there and back; for me, this would end up being about $100 if I wanted to make sure I got the bag there and back in a timely manner at a reasonable price.

I’m a little torn on this as it’s both an understandable policy but also kind of a bummer comparatively to other brands who offer lifetime warranties.

Online presence / customer support

This was not a deciding factor in my eventual choice, but it’s worth bringing up as it the situation here is indeed odd.

There is literally next to nothing in terms of reviews for the Peloton. All I could find besides the two Youtube vids, were some scattered reviews on Reddit and Facebook of mostly very brief statements(or no statements at all, just star ratings).

That’s was it.

Information about the company is a bit sparse as well. I kind of expected this given that they’re a Indonesian company, thus not well known in the US, but what struck me as odd was that I wasn’t even able to surface any local Indonesian results. The company’s social media accounts aren’t really active except for a rareTwitter post every once in awhile which was weird too.

That being said, their customer support seems excellent. I emailed them and heard back the very next day with very detailed explanation to my questions. While I don’t know what dealing with warranty requests would be like, the way they responded to my email is definitely worth something in my book.


Moving on, let’s take a look at GoRuck and some of the concerns I have with the GR2.

The laptop compartment.

The laptop compartment is one of the better designed ones I’ve seen, in spite of it’s simplicity. I’ve never understood why companies make more form fitting sections. If you compare and contrast, the GR2 has just a space with padding on all sides spanning the width of the pack which I think is a much better way to go. Also another thing I like is that your laptop is kept separate from everything else in the main compartment.

note(this may not be a GR2 — I just pulled a random image, but the laptop compartment should be the same)

I do have one concern, that being the lack of additional water resistance around the zipper. The main compartment zippers as well as the slash pocket all have a rain flap at least, why isn’t that here as well? Another alternative would be Aquaguard zippers. At the very least, a zipper garage would have been greatly appreciated.

The zipper on mine also doesn’t close completely; while not being abnormal necessarily, the opening left seems larger than it ought to be, leaving a rather sizable opening, definitely enough to let just about any sized droplet of water through. I don’t know if this is normal or not but just something to be aware of.

By all accounts, a wet laptop is an extremely unlikely scenario in normal conditions, but we’ll have to see.

Construction

Overall the GR2 is constructed very well as far as I my untrained eyes can tell. The one thing I would have liked to see is a better re-enforced main compartment(s) to help improve water resistance. By comparison, the LBB Peloton, as well as all my recent past bags I’ve had all had some kind of extra inner layer, usually some kind of Tarpaulin like material(the regular Peloton has an inner polyester layer)

Organization

This is more of a minor issue, while there are a large number of organizational pockets, it would have been nice if a few of the larger ones could have been divided further. No biggie, but just a thought. You can of course add more organization thanks to the internal PALS/MOLLE straps.

Lifetime Warranty

GoRuck offers their “SCARS” warranty which sounds like it’s pretty good. It’s better than LBB’s in that at the very least from what I’ve read, GoRuck will fully cover shipping in the event of a manufacturer defect for the entire life of the product. Another high point that’s come up is the quick turnaround time.

Online presence / customer support

As far as online presence goes, I think they must do a pretty good job and have managed to build up quite the reputation. They also appear to be pretty active on social media as well interacting with customers. This is great to see as very few smaller companies make the time to do that. I can’t say as to how customer support is just yet but it looks like I might find out soon(keep reading)


Conclusion

In the end, I decided to just go ahead and keep my GR2. While I’d be paying $100 more and still had some lingering concerns about the pack, there were a couple determining factors.

Primary factors

  • It offers customization thanks to the Molle / pals webbing.
  • The warranty, though it differs only slightly, is better than LBBs. That plus well regarded customer service.
  • The laptop compartment is it’s own separate space.

Secondary factors

  • Overall quality.
  • I do like the clamshell design. While both the Peloton and GR2 offer roughly the same amount in storage, I have definitely felt the pain of having to rummage around a “black hole” of stuff to find what I was looking for.
  • I feel the organizational layout is a lot better than the Peloton.
  • Being based in the US is helpful — cuts down on shipping costs and time spent for anything that might need repair.

This is of course, just my thought process of course and is around what I personally would like in a bag and what I see as valuable. There are some tradeoffs of course, for example, the Peloton does have one big advantage over the GR2 in that it has an additional inner liner to help add water resistance; but at the end of the day, I’m pretty much always carrying an umbrella.

Unfortunately, while preparing to switch out my current pack for this one, I’ve spotted some fit and finish issues.

One area on the rear of the shoulder strap
Section on the re-enforcement area connecting the shoulder strap to the backpack.

I know it’s a bit hard to see with the black on black, but if you look roughly at the center of both images, you should see what appears to be 2 arches poking out of the little valley formed by the stitching. This is happening on both straps to varying degrees on almost each row of stitching.

I don’t know if there’s a technical term for this but essentially, it looks like whoever was sewing the MOLLE onto the straps(and sewing the strap to the pack itself like in the second photo), didn’t tighten the thread enough at some point, leaving the loose thread that you see now.

The rest of the pack though seems fine, as far as I can tell. Will this impact me in the long run? I have no idea.

Though I am a little disappointed that this happened so early in the game given the price, I thought it’d be best to reach out to GoRuck since I literally got the pack just this week; I will update with thoughts of customer service as this progresses.

Update — Reached out to GoRuck, they got back to me quickly. Overall I’m satisfied with the response. The person helping seemed confident and capable and despite what I’m sure is usually a very busy time for them and despite the fact that in all likelyhood this was a minor issue; the person helping me made the offer to check out my GR2 if I wanted to send it to them(though at my own expense of course)

The rep’s explanation was that all the odd loose looking thread was simply a stitch that wasn’t cleaned up properly. I do believe the rep was correct — as after messing around with the stitch area in the first image, it did appear to be loose as I was able to take the larger loop and one end came out quite easily.

That being said, pulling further on that end piece tightened the second smaller loop that you see above. The Molle/pals webbing that seems to be connected to that area still appears to be holding tight though so who knows ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I’m sure the rep knew what he was talking about, one of my older bags exhibited something similar in an area of it’s stitching after poking at it a bit; but it’s still weird how it was behaving. I think it’ll hold but worst case, I just take a flame to it and melt the end piece to ensure that it won’t ever unravel.


Well that’s it! I hope it’s been a helpful tale and evaluation for anyone looking to buy a new pack. If I’ve gotten anything wrong, please feel free to comment.

Some links:

  1. Buy a GR2
  2. Buy a Peloton
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