After Hours at the GORUCK Garage, Bozeman, Montana


Despite the draw of Big Sky Country, busy is a blessing so when I’m in Bozeman I spend most of my time under the lights in the GORUCK Garage. It’s a vicious cycle of late mornings and later nights that inevitably leads to an empty factory. Aka the perfect time to crank the tunes and crack the Buds.


And somehow the din of oldies but goodies leads to two things: (1) walking around wishing I knew more about how to sew, and (2) some reflection about not taking anything for granted. By anything I mean explanations. This post is a little bit of both with a promise or two thrown in.


Before we opened our own shop in Bozeman, I was completely in the dark about the process of how sewers made our stuff. I didn’t understand why it took so long and I didn’t understand why it cost so much, and I was pretty annoyed by both. Sure, I was and will always be a romantic about American manufacturing, but I don’t view this romanticism as anything to hide behind. My take is that if a brand’s commitment to American manufacturing does not produce superior quality, then it might as well go offshore and pay less so it can charge less. Whenever GORUCK is introduced to a new audience, the first thing that happens is that people are outraged by our prices and begin talking about what our rucks ‘should’ cost. Then usually the people who know us come to our defense. Yes, I think we have the best fans in the world. But as for the price skeptics, I can relate. Five years ago, I never would have paid for a rucksack what we charge. I would have said something about what it ‘should’ cost. And nobody would have convinced me otherwise I don’t think.


Our job at GORUCK is to make great gear and to convince you (not to mention me) that it’s superior quality that’s worth the extra money. And for good measure we’ll throw in things like accountability and the idea that the customer is always right. Things my grandfathers appreciated. One small byproduct of that approach is this blog. I manage it and you can ask me anything. If we cannot convince you of the value, you shouldn’t buy our stuff. There are plenty of bags out there, but my disclaimer is that most would never pass our quality standards. And while I’m on the topic of value, most places I’ve ever dealt with that have a lifetime guarantee don’t really have a lifetime guarantee that I respect. There are notable exceptions like Survival Straps and Colonel Littleton, both of whom make great stuff and then stand by their work. But too many places make stuff that breaks too often. When you send it back, they send you a new one that will break again just like the old one. It’s kind of like when a company – even a good one like Apple – sells you something and there’s a rebate that you have to snail mail in and wait like 5 years to get back. Yeah, in the digital age you have to snail mail it back. Of course they’re hoping you don’t bother. I hate stuff like this though I’m sure it’s good I mean profitable business. But to me that’s awful business because it doesn’t create passion, loyalty, or trust.


Our commitment is to American manufacturing because our commitment is to excellence. Doing everything in America costs more but it also lets us build and master a culture of quality. If you’re a company and excellence is not in your DNA, you’re going to make stuff that is un-excellent. If you cut corners to shave pennies, you’re going to continue down that slippery slope until you’re putting out garbage with a logo on it. I have no interest in doing that. Selfishly I find it boring. Professionally I find it uninspiring. I’m the most skeptical consumer of just about everything. I hate to shop (I don’t shop, in fact, and I only rarely buy) and I hate things that I suspect might break (a product of relying on gear in war). And in the whole price conversation, I want GORUCK to do things a little bit differently. So we’re working on a video, and some explained posts, that will describe in excruciating detail exactly why our rucks cost what they cost, down to the dollar. We’re literally going to open the books to you. I think people more than anything want to understand the why’s. It’s a product of the digital age and our collective ability to find so much information so quickly. It’s also the product of being human and wanting a fair deal in life. So from my vantage point we owe you this explanation. It’ll take us a while to do well, but sometime in late 2013 we’ll have it for you.


For two years, when people would ask about colors I’d smile and quote Henry Ford: I’ll give you any color you want as long as it’s black. But here’s a little more of the back story on this one. Because of the growth of the Challenge and our manufacturing constraints, we could not make enough black bags to meet demand. And introducing colors makes for a lot of additional costs in terms of inventory and a website that lets people, you guessed it, select different colors. We had neither the IT infrastructure nor the manufacturing infrastructure in place to launch colors properly, so we kept on keeping on Henry Ford style. We try our best to be responsive to what you want, and you wanted colors. The process took us too long, it totally sucked, and I’m sorry for the delays. We will get better and we will get faster. Eventually, though, the philosophy of more won out and we ordered sand and multicam Cordura (the main fabric in our rucks). And we got an itch to see what it would look like, so (the royal) we which means the Montana Magicians made two multicam Radio Rucks. We didn’t have sand colored webbing so we used black webbing. Since it was a run of two in a black-on-multicam style we did not plan to recreate, we thought there would be some interest. So we auctioned them off and raised over $3,000 for the Green Beret Foundation. Yeah, $3K for the first two multicam rucks we ever made. Pretty cool.


Multicam is one of those camo patterns that I think will be around for a long time. Since rule #1 (always look cool) matters, I’d choose multicam first among all the camo patterns out there. And while I probably wouldn’t use it every single day unless I was deployed, I would definitely use it for work out stuff or whenever mud was in the forecast.


We also tried out a few other colors, which was news to me when I showed up. Just to see what they look like was the story I heard, then I saw Jack I mean people smiling and wearing them around telling me how great they look. Then I stopped seeing them around the factory anymore, go figure.


Brick Bags don’t look right to me when they’re sitting around looking all new and empty. They need some dirt or mud or something on the outside, and beers on the inside. We’re thinking of changing the name to either Beer Bag, ACRT Stuff Sack, or Liquid Brick Bag. What do you think?


Above are stacks of pattern pieces for rucksacks. When the day’s over, it’s over, and our sewers go home. So they’ll no doubt start in on the assembly process the next day, and eventually these will become rucksacks.


Field pockets (above) are stacked and in the queue for someone to finish them tomorrow. Most of the heavy (meaning difficult) sewing work on all our gear is done while the gear is flipped inside out. Difficult work lends itself to a greater tendency for errors, so the quality control measures we take involve close inspection of the inside of every piece of gear.


And with enough Mike & Ike’s, the leather patches will get Velcro on the back and Field Pockets will be on their way.


A funny thing about Field Pockets is that RR Field is the hardest one of them all to sew. It’s the smallest one so there’s less material to work with and the turns happen quickly. But of course we inspect all our gear. Above, Java takes the first crack at the GR1 Field pockets.


And sometimes our sewers write their name on components as an additional layer of accountability. Not to worry, Katy’s name is only in chalk and it comes right off with a slight rub.


Above are traced pattern pieces for a new ruck we’ve been working on. I have the finalized ones and am working on the pictures to launch in 2013. They’re similar to our Original Rucksacks but there is no external MOLLE webbing, no external Velcro, and no exit for a hydration tube. In the military, to travel slick means you do not have identification on you, stuff like that. So, if interrogated your identity is better protected. Anyway, because these rucks are pared down and less overtly military-esque, we’re calling them the Slick line.


And then Lou showed up from wherever he was working out I mean drinking beers (think Tommy Boy asking that hot girl where the gym is) and we close the Garage for the night. A lot more explanation to come in 2013 when Lou’s not in town and the later nights lead to later mornings.

39 comments

  1. C.C. Chapman says:

    Killer post and I love how open and honest you are. I look forward to being able to share the “why does this cost so much” post/video when it is done.

    Some time I’ve got to get out there and visit in person.

    And damn you because now I’m dreaming about the red and black GR1 🙂

  2. T.G. says:

    Your honesty and attention detail never fail to amaze. You and yours are truly a trend setter amongst the chasm of wannabes.

    Seeing the sewers name on the inside is something oddly-cool that I would not scrub off. Nothing says Made in USA more than seeing the name of the hands that made it.

    • jason says:

      Jay – I’ve been toying with ideas for camera gear for a while now. I love my Pelican case to carry camera gear but it’s not the most practical when I’m on the move. We’re looking at doing some protective inserts for the rucks, but they’re really only in the idea stage at this point. I really don’t know when we’ll have any complete. In the interim, I’ve been using our padded Field pockets when I’m on the move. They’re not ‘perfect,’ but I think that short of building a 100% bombproof camera bag, nothing is. I’m really tough on everything I use, and especially GR2 Field has done its job well for me.
      TG and CC – thanks for checking in. And yeah, CC, you’re invited to come check Bozeman out as long as I’m there when you come!

  3. Uri says:

    Jason, honesty and transparency has been always the mark of a great company. This post helps solidify this for GORUCK.
    I’ve been a fan of GR since back in 2010 and seeing first hand how more and more people get introduced to the quality of GR gear, makes me want to wish that all products made in the USA have the quality, accountability and overall badassery that you guys have.
    Bravo!

  4. Webb says:

    This transparency is why I continue to love the Goruck brand. Keep it up.
    Regarding Kate’s work, another quality company I love is Grunsfors Bruk and they identify the specific forger on all their axe heads. I would love to have some connection identifiable to who the sewer on my ruck was in the same way.

  5. Eric says:

    Thanks for the post, Jason. Great way to present the brand. It’s great to see that your attention to detail isn’t just a marketing ploy.

  6. lars says:

    It’s just all of the above, from the quality & fit of the packs & gear to Sandy handling the SCARS. There are not many vendors that deliver the level of personal service that GORUCK does IMO.
    I agree with Webb too regarding some ID on the gear as to the sewer / artisan.
    Keep up the great work & know that grandpa would be proud.

    • jason says:

      Hey Bob. the goal with the Slick line was and is also to reduce labor (as well as offer an alternate aesthetic). When we do the post on pricing, this will all make more sense (ad nauseum), but that hydration exit port takes a ton of time to do. In the future, though, let’s call it 2014, we plan to allow for customization of the rucks so that when enough people want a ruck a certain way, we’ll make it. That kind of thing. It’ll require some more robust internet capabilities, but we’ll get there.

  7. Sean says:

    Jason I’m a fan of everything your doing, you and your team keep up the good work. Can’t wait to see the finished Slick Ruck. Don’t know if your familiar with Danner and their site, but Danners Standards videos might be worth checking out for inspiration.

  8. Clay says:

    Jason, sign me up for a slick line GR1 and GR2. I don’t think it needs the hydration hole, to be honest. But a slickened GR1/2 would be perfect for me, as I need to avoid anything that has even a hint of MIL about it. Hopefully the interior pockets would remain much the same.

    Another excellent post. As someone who has sewed (and who is completely OCD on matters of quality) it became immediately apparent when I first held my GR1 that it was in fact worth every penny you were charging. The first thing I do when I guy a piece of gear is turn it inside out and look for the stuff no one is supposed to see–blown or restarted stitches, sloppy cutting, etc.–Stuff I see too often in most gear (even American-made).

    After inspecting my new GR1, I was simply amazed–I simply couldn’t find anything wrong with it from either an assembly or design standpoint. In my mind, the added peace of mind provided by knowing the gear is the absolute best it can be is well worth the extra money.

    The other reason I like GORUCK and your gear is . . . the organization and layout of your shop. Silly, and perhaps a bit OCD again, but you apparently care enough about the small details (like how to organize your shop floor and workflow) which make the big details a bit easier to manage. I get the feeling nothing falls through the cracks in your garage.

    Thanks again, and look forward to seeing you guys on my first challenge in March in San Francisco (never San Fran).

  9. DonCarlos Wells says:

    Jason-

    I was one of those that was put off by the price. Then I read your posts “GR1 Explained” and “Building GR1’s in Bozeman, Montana” and I went, “Oh. Makes sense.”

    I’ve told friends that I’ll have my GR1 for at least the next 20 years. I’ll probably lose it long before it wears out. And I’ll add to my GR collection as the need arises.

    Great company, man. You should be very proud of what you’ve created. Your grandpa would be.

  10. Bob says:

    Thanks for the explanation Jason. One could run a hydration tube out and over the right side just by not zipping up the lap top pocket anyway so it’s not really necessary.

    I look forward to the slick packs, a less tactical, lower cost pack should be a big seller and the customization sounds cool once you get it up and running.

    Thanks for the hard work, nice packs.

  11. Mendi says:

    Ooo, the slick line sounds excellent! I want to buy my little one going in to jr. high an awesome USA built bag! It’s difficult to find one that’s good looking, although I do like those TOPO bags. Colors would be terrific but understand if it isn’t likely to happen. Best Christmas wishes to the “garage” and hopes for continued success in the new year!

  12. Patrick Moran says:

    Jason,

    Love my GR1. Just used it for a Challenge and use it for daily commuting and short trip. About the camera insert idea: a well known ski/snowboarding company that makes packs used to make an insert to hold a DSLR setup. I bought one, but don’t really like it for a number of reasons — but the idea is good. It’s a separate pouch that can be carried alone or secured in pack. It’s a good idea that needs better execution. If you want, I can send it to you to take a look or take pics and tell you more about why it doesn’t work for me. I’m in DC.

  13. Scott M says:

    Jason – more good info. As others have posted, I really dig finding the name of an employee inside the gear somewhere.
    …and by Slick Line, you mean messenger bag, right?
    Thanks again for the great gear.

  14. Joe v says:

    Great gear, lookin forward to doing the challenge on May 11 in Atlantic City, NJ. You guys should do some of the gear in the Air Force ABU (Airman Battle Uniform) tiger stripe design.

  15. Eujin says:

    Jason, great post and I love the quality of your gear (I’m a recent owner of a GR1 and Tac Hat.) Just wanted to add some thoughts:

    1. A camera bag of some kind from you guys would be AWESOME. At the very least, some kind of photog-related field pouch would be great.

    2. I think it’d be great if Katy or whomever the primary assembler/sewer was, got to have their name in the bag somewhere. You guys make these things with pride and I personally would be happy to have their names somewhere for posterity.

  16. Kit says:

    GORUCK exemplifies quality and is one of the many reasons I love the company so much. I can’t wait to get out to Bozeman and see the factory in person sometime. I think the liquid brick bag sounds pretty bad-ass.

  17. A.A says:

    Looking forward to the Slick Ruck……i am waiting for this type of design ..for a long time… Waiting for this my first Goruck Ruck soon…

  18. Clay says:

    Jason, would you at some point consider producing an admin/briefcase bag. Just wondering. Tho honselty, I have yet to come across a situation where my GR1 hasn’t worked.

  19. Ben says:

    Jason, have ya’ll ever thought of making range bags or soft sided cases for rifles and pistols? I love my GORUCK GR1, and everything I’ve bought from ya’ll has been top quality. Plus, I love the fact that made it’s all American made right here in the USA…just sweetens the deal of great gear. Just a thought about the weapons gear, and keep up the great work man. I’ve tried to tell everyone I come across about GORUCK gear and events. Thanks.

  20. Frank says:

    Just chiming in to join the chorus of folks who would be as proud to own a “Katy”(or other GR employee) ruck as you must be to employ these fine folks.

    Think of how nice it would be for your employees to see FB posts from newly-minted GRC’s saying things like “Thanks to Katy for gearing me up solid for my GRC”.

    Anyhow, great post… love the transparency, and love the company. I’ll be a lifelong customer. I know MY dad and grandpa would be happy to see what you’re doing with your company. Keep up the good work!

  21. Alex says:

    Thanks for a great post, having run my own business based on the idea of quality, durability and accountability I can relate to all you have written.

    It is not the easiest way to run a business but if it was easy everyone would do it, right? I have seen so many great UK cottage industries just become a brand stuck on a cheap t-shirt and flogged in the remainder bin or cut corners and turn out trash that does not last.

    There is a great underground of companies working to a similar model and they will always get my custom if I need something they offer. I am happy to include Goruck in this (short) list.

    I would not get hung up on price as some one will always undercut you, and if all you are chasing are numbers you will fail. My customers could have bought a bike frame that was probably 90-95% of what they wanted for 50% of the price…some did and I didn’t begrudge them that. The others were happy to spend more to get exactly what they wanted, built in the UK, by people they had spoken to and shared a beer with. They also knew the repair procedure was not through a dealership or on the other side of the globe…just a phone call or email to get it sorted.

    A couple of final thoughts as I have rambled on:

    1) Grow slow; grow strong

    2) Turn over is vanity; profit is sanity

    3) Names in the bag or on a tag is a great idea, Carradice in the UK does it on their bike luggage and Independent Fabrications send a card signed by all the machinists, welders and painters involved in building your bike frame with it.

    Oh and the slick line sounds interesting…

    Alex

  22. Ben F. says:

    Companies like this are rare. Too often the focus is on profit over quality and even then, it’s the just enough quality to make the item acceptable for the given price. My grandfather was a great inspiration on how I live my life too Jason and one thing he always told me is “Only rich guys buy things twice.” If it is something you need, something you use everyday, buy well-made quality gear. You may spend more up front but stuff like that has a life measured in decades rather than months.
    There is no need to turn those dollars over and over again when one purchase would have done. The things in my life that I value and use daily were all worth the cost to me despite what the value in dollars was or is now. It is always nice to find a deal but to be able to own a quality product I’ll own and use for decades made by the fine people in Bozeman MT, well that value can’t just be calculated in dollars.
    After much thought on what fits my needs, I’ll be ordering a GR2. I know in 10 years I will be glad I bought it.

  23. Peter says:

    The mechanization of manufacturing and the throw-away-culture it gave birth to has greatly depersonalized the connection with our possessions. If you had to build your coffee table from scratch, how well would you build it, and how quickly would you throw it away when your decor changed? Local hand-manufacturing reminds us that people in our community build quality products, not machines. Consequently, the skilled laborer is rightfully recognized as an Artisan, treated with admiration and compensated accordingly. Most if not all of your customers would appreciate the opportunity to have the Artisan leave his or her mark on the artwork.

  24. Brandon says:

    Another great post Jason! Thanks for giving us more insight into the thought processes and passion of GORUCK.

    I’ve been a fan since I first heard of your company about a year ago and it’s this sharing of information and commitment to quality and customer service that continues to solidify that fandom.

    Thank you.

  25. Vic says:

    I would never tell some of my friends and family how much I’ve payed for my GR1 and RR. They would think I was crazy. They don’t understand what makes the pack worth the amount of money that I paid. I once made the mistake of telling them how much money I had spent on my bikes and they could not believe it. To them a bike should cost no more than a couple hundred bucks, my bikes are American made by hand, by people that appreciate quality control and stand 100% behind their product. That is how I feel about Goruck, I am also in the military and I understand about not wanting your gear to fail, I have the utmost confidence that my Goruck packs will not fail. Thank you for putting out great products and actually caring about your fans.

  26. Kevin says:

    Hi
    A camera bag would be great. Integrated to the GR1 or 2. I have been looking for years for a good way to carry my SLR and get at it fast from the pack.
    Color would be great, my wife would love an Echo in blue.
    And for those that say a black goruck bag doesn’t work for work, I am an executive in a big company and my Echo is just fine. Most of us that travel all the time for work want gear that can take abuse. The Echo is fine in a board room, guys expect you to have good gear that holds up not Hermes for your laptop.

  27. Travis T. says:

    I’m really looking forward to the Slick line. My go to brand has always been Porter by Yoshida. High quality cordura. Stark minimalism. Crazy hard to find in the States without massive import fees. Their motto is “care in every stitch.” It’s pretty clear from this blogpost that Goruck is cut from the same cloth.

    P.S. I would love for a SKU from the Slick line to maintain the low profile of the Echo with just enough room for my 15 RMBP without a case.

    P.P.S. I’m sure we’re all a bunch of complainers that want it our way. Keep up the good work.

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