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GORUCK: A Journey from Military-Designed To-Go Bags to Worldwide Fitness and Event Phenomenon

by Aoife O'Riordan

Apr 18, 2023


Destinations / North America

What do military-standard bags, energetic events and travel have in common? One word: GORUCK, a rucking company based in Jacksonville, Florida, promoting fitness and travel through the act of rucking. But what is rucking? It’s walking (or sometimes running) with a heavy backpack on your back. That’s basically it. Of course, there’s other elements that make rucking and GORUCK so special and increasingly popular across the world.


Today, GORUCK boasts millions of customers, many of whom, including popular science podcast Huberman Lab, swear by rucking as the new form of exercise. The brand also has world-class designers like Paul Litchfield, former designer for Reebok and former project manager for the iconic Pump shoes, now working with them. The best part of rucking is its communal and accessible nature. You can ruck practically anywhere you want, whether in the heart of a busy city or along mountainous trails in the countryside.


GORUCK airport

Emily and Jason McCarthy © GORUCK

Founded by Jason and Emily McCarthy, GORUCK initially began with the design and construction of a ruck bag. Emily was a CIA intel officer in West Africa, and her now-husband Jason was stationed in Iraq. Despite their distance, Jason often feared for Emily’s safety as she navigated an unstable environment.


“He would come to visit me and say, ‘This place is scarier than Iraq.’ With me, I was by myself; just a girl and a dog who drove everywhere in Côte d’Ivoire. I loved it, but it was also very isolating. When Jason got here, he told me he was going to make me a go ruck. In the army, they call these types of bags a ruck or rucksack. So, he told me to get an extra pair of shoes, some money, water, food for the dog and other things for if something goes awry in Côte d’Ivoire. He made one for the house and one for my car,” Emily explained.


Emily’s U.S. embassy coworkers and Jason’s colleagues heard of this concept and asked Jason to make go rucks for them. Eventually, Emily told Jason to give the GORUCK idea a go, as he had returned to the United States while Emily remained in West Africa.


Jason wanted to create a tactical bag that was durable, didn’t have all the unnecessary additions on the exterior that could break and was multifunctional. In essence, he wanted to make something that looked just as good in New York City as it would on an airplane or in the middle of a forest. One of the bag’s functions was the MOLLE system, a military design featuring an unbreakable interlocking system for easy access and lightweight carrying.


rucksack hiking


Even more unique was the lack of a logo. “The idea was that we could make a logo space on the ruck with Velcro so people could put whatever patch they wanted on it and make it their own. This is a huge part of our business now, too,” said Emily. Of course, every brand needs a logo, so while users can customize their bags, the official GORUCK logo is signified by a sideways spearhead, a symbol tying back to the original Special Forces sign with Native American roots.


Regarding the GORUCK logo, Emily noted, “Special Forces has its roots with the North American and Canadians who worked closely with Native Americans. Some of the first patches for the Special Forces had an upright spear, sort of like what you’d see with the Park Services. The first Special Forces worked with Native American warriors, so we turned the arrow sideways as an homage to this, as well as a symbol of always moving forward.”


Two years after constructing the first bag, there still seemed to be no traction or audience for the bag. Jason traveled the country pitching it to countless men’s stores and retail shops, but all to no avail. But there was a silver lining, “The only good thing that came out of it was Tough Mudder, an obstacle relay mud run organization, which just started taking off at the time with founder Will Dean, got connected with Jason. Jason and his Special Forces buddies had put a bunch of bricks in the bags they had created and ran the first ever Tough Mudder, so Dean found out about that and saw it attracted a small crowd. Dean liked the idea of these people getting together for drinks the night before and then not only doing an obstacle relay but doing it with a bag full of bricks on their backs,” laughed Emily.




Dean soon had Jason create little fight clubs before each race comes to a city. And so GORUCK events and challenges were born, the first in San Francisco and the second in Washington, D.C. “It was like, ‘Show up on this street corner at 1 a.m., no details.’ Like, what kind of people want this stuff? Total adventure seekers,” said Emily. “This is when GORUCK exploded. It started this buzz. No one had cared about the bags beforehand, but people were curious about these events.”


Jason and Emily faced one other problem, though. What sort of company was GORUCK going to be? A backpack company? An events company? To put it simply, it was neither. “We said, we’re not just either of those, we’re a rucking company. You can have rucking gear and you can have rucking events. So, that blew the ceiling off in a good way.”


Today, GORUCK’s line includes rucksacks; apparel for men and women; and footwear, the brand’s newest feature. Its events business continues to soar as well, with its 10-year anniversary happening last March in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


GORUCK aims to encourage people to get outdoors, disconnect from devices, meet people and explore their surroundings. That means, people can enjoy rucking even on their travels. “We have a whole suite of products where you can travel light. For example, we do a lot of things with sand. So, imagine you’re someone about to go on a big trip around the world but you want to still workout and ruck. You can bring sandbags and then empty them out before the airport. You go to a beach or a volleyball court and fill the bags up again at your next destination. We have people who, when they travel, they show us they take these bags, empty them out, take them through security and fill them back up and use them,” said Emily. Just be sure to return the sand to the beach before heading to the airport!


travel rucking


GORUCK bags have space for laptops, as well as a false bottom, meaning when you plop your bag on the ground, it won’t damage your items within. GORUCK bags also have a clamshell design, in which the bag opens all the way without falling shut, making it great for organization and easy access.


As Emily and Jason look ahead to the rest of 2023 and into 2024 with GORUCK, they soon hope to break into the world of hospitality. Recently, Emily and her children visited Costa Rica and stayed at Botanika Osa Peninsula, Curio Collection by Hilton. She had been invited by the owners, brothers Beau and Cory Williams, who created this high-end property recently acquired by Hilton.


During her visit, Emily spoke with the Williamses. “The brothers told me about how their clientele now caters to fancy travelers who want to explore the region and experience the country without being stuck in their rooms. That said, the rooms are so nice. The owners wanted to keep an edge for Hotel Botanika though, so they asked us to partner with them on a couple of fronts. They have this state-of-the-art gym, but they wanted to have a GORUCK section where guests can take it and go out and explore the area while exercising. They also want to create a scavenger hunt on the property with us, so we are very excited.”


GORUCK airplane


Now, Hotel Botanika puts GORUCK rucks in every room with a note explaining what it is, hoping to encourage guests to go out and explore the area. GORUCK also plans to run some events there next year to give people even more adventure. The future also sees GORUCK turn its head toward Europe as it expand its market, meaning more opportunity for travel and rucking.


Whatever your fitness level or wherever you plan to travel, purchasing a GORUCK bag is joining a community of ruckers and becoming part of something greater, in which you embrace the world around you and never stop exploring.


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