Before I get into the details of my experience doing the Mud Dog Run this past Saturday in Frederick, Maryland, I want to talk a bit about the GORUCK Radio Ruck. I was loaned bag by the fine folks at GORUCK, so I had a couple days to test it out as my every day bag, prior to running with it.
GORUCK bags consistently seek a couple design notes. First, they are very simple, with limited exterior pockets, no brand labels, and small amounts of MOLLE webbing. Second, they are made with 1000D Cordura fabric. It’s a heavy, tough fabric and though it is not waterproof, it will keep things dry inside in very wet conditions. Given that GORUCK was started by a member of the Special Forces and the bags are designed for military-grade applications, they are made to take a serious beating and survive without trouble.
The Radio Ruck is a 17L backpack – the second smallest of their backpacks. The first thing that stood out to me upon receiving it was how tough the fabric was, almost to the point of being rigid. The bags improve with use and I found it only took a few minutes for the straps to adapt to my frame. That brings me to the second thing I noticed – how wide and well-padded the straps on the Radio Ruck are. The bag doesn’t have any sternum or waist straps, so well-fitting and comfortable should straps are key. One of the most impressive features of the bag was the laptop compartment on the back panel. It’s also well-padded and designed to take a laptop into combat. For people like me who aren’t likely to see combat, let alone combat with a laptop, in the foreseeable future, what this means is that the padding is completely adequate to have a laptop right up against your spine as you go through whatever activities it is that you do.
The interior of the bag has two organizing pockets on the front panel, with a mesh pocket on the back panel. There’s a velcro opening on the top, below the grab handle that can be used to pass the tubing for a hydration bladder out. And that’s about it. It’s 17L, so it was more than adequate to hold my gym clothes and shows, a Kindle, my MacBook Air, and charger. It’s actually about the perfect size for a day pack.
I was able to get this Radio Ruck because it was no longer needed at its intended destination for the weekend, the Philadelphia GORUCK Challenge. While the Mud Dog Run was only 5k and the GORUCK Challenge likely covered 15-20+ miles, I felt it my obligation to put the Radio Ruck through as much torture as I could in the short race. I think I succeeded.
The Mud Dog Run is located on a farm in Frederick, Maryland. It’s sponsored by the Flying Dog Brewery, one of my favorite mid-Atlantic breweries. It’s a 5 kilometer obstacle course, featuring, not surprisingly, a lot of mud. I’d guess between 1000-1200 people did it this weekend, as each wave was capped at 300 people. I registered on the last day, so was in the last wave to go. I had the Radio Ruck with me, packed with a 2L hydration bladder, a change of clothes, a pair of sandals for after the race, and a small assortment of snacks for post-race consumption (Peanut M&Ms & Clif Shot Bloks).
I started in around the middle of the pack. Going in, I’d decided that since I’m just getting back into running and no speedster, I would go at a pace that I could maintain the whole race, but seek to go through every obstacle as fast as possible. This seemed to work pretty well, because by the time we’d crossed the first four obstacles, I’d passed a bunch of people and was cruising. I ended up finishing around the top 20% for my wave and while I didn’t break any land speed records, I felt good about my performance.
What made the Mud Dug Run fun was the obstacles. None were particularly challenging, so long as you embraced getting muddy and wet. The third obstacle was a long, boggy stretch of mud that ended in a 30-40 foot long pond. The pond floor was mud and it sloped down into the water and up out of it. I’m about 6’4″ and at its deepest, the water was around my mid-thigh. Coming out of the pond, the uphill mud was really slick and I slipped, falling flat in the water to my upper chest. It was a cool day and the water was pretty icy, so from this point forward I was wet and muddy. Just to be sure that I stayed wet, two obstacles later we encountered a giant slip ‘n’ slide, with hoses spraying down a big plastic tarp. Most people were trying to surf down it, but I figured I was already wet and did a headfirst slide down the hill. Good fun.
Things go more fun heading into an obstacle that required you to crawl low to the ground through deep mud. We had been warned by race officials that this obstacle, which was under a low tent, had metal bars across it and a few people had cracked their heads on these bars already. I decided the easiest way to ensure I was low and didn’t get stuck would be to take off the Radio Ruck and push it in front of me while doing a belly crawl in the obstacle. It worked and my head was safe, but the Radio Ruck was almost completely covered in mud.
I’m a bit confused on their order, but there are two others worth mentioning. One was another crawling obstacle, this one filled with white flour. In addition to crawling 20 feet through a few inches of flour, there were two women dumping bags of flour on me while I did it. Since I was one of the few competitors wearing a backpack, I heard one of them say, “Make sure to get the backpack,” while I was crawling through. It’s not shocking, but since I was already wet, the flour stuck both to me and the Radio Ruck with no problem. The other fun obstacle was a web of criss-crossed bungee cords that we had to duck and climb through. The Radio Ruck made things a bit difficult, so after the first couple feet I took it off my back and just threw it the remainder of the distance, then charged through to get it. Naturally it had landed in a deep pocket of mud. Oh well, it’s just a small taste of what the bag would have experienced in Philly…
Over the last kilometer or so, I was just cruising. I passed a few groups of people from the previous wave and by the time I entered the penultimate obstacle, I could hear a live band playing to the crowd and smell the fire pit which I would have to jump over as my final obstacle. I finished in a sprint and felt pretty good about my time. After catching my breath, I headed over to the beer garden for a post-race pint. The Radio Ruck was completely covered in mud and flour, prompting a few people to ask me how the bag had gotten so dirty.
One last word on the bag. At $245, the GORUCK Radio Ruck is not cheap. But it’s made in the USA by American workers and should last a lifetime. And if it doesn’t last a lifetime, GORUCK’s lifetime guarantee means you can get a busted bag fixed by the company. Compare that to a $100 pack from North Face or some other adventure company that’s made in China and will be blown out in a year of moderate use, and GORUCK strikes me as reasonably priced. When I got home on Saturday, I cleaned the Radio Ruck so I could return as close to the condition I’d received it as possible. I didn’t take the “after” shot, but I was pretty impressed by how well the bag cleaned up after all the mud it had been through. From a quality perspective, this was actually the test that I was most interested in and the Radio Ruck really shined. While I’m not certain that I would take the smaller Radio Ruck over the somewhat larger GR1, I can definitely see myself getting a GORUCK bag in the not too distant future.