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I stumbled across rucking when I started training for a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon. For that trip, I know I will need to walk a long way and carry my gear in a pack. I started out walking around my neighborhood with a book bag I happened to have and gradually added weight to the bag. Soon after I started, I had questions. What is the best way to distribute the weight in my pack? How should I adjust the straps on my pack for the most comfort? So, I started searching for answers and discovered there was a name for what I was doing—rucking. Hopefully, this guide to rucking for beginners can help you find a new way to get out and experience the outdoors, even if it is in your own neighborhood.
What is Rucking?
Rucking is a sport where you walk while carrying a weighted pack. It has all the advantages of walking—it is low impact and can be done almost anywhere. Plus, rucking burns about three times the calories of simply walking. It builds the core and upper body as well as your legs and has more aerobic benefits than walking without weight. Rucking is also incredibly simple. If you can carry a sack of rocks, you can ruck.
The History of Rucking
Rucking has its roots in the military. Weighted marches have been a standard in military training since at least the Roman Empire.
Sometimes called forced marches, this training tool builds stamina, muscle tone, and mental fortitude. It has lasted as a training tool for more than 2000 years because of its effectiveness.
How Hard is Rucking?
Rucking is easily adaptable for all physical conditions and experience levels. If you are a real couch potato, you can start walking to the end of the driveway and back while carrying a bottle of water.
At the intermediate level, you can shoot for the US Army Expert Infantryman Badge. To qualify for that, in addition to other requirements, a soldier must be able to carry a 35-pound pack at least 12 miles in three hours. Most of us are not trying to qualify for an Army award, but it is a standard to shoot for while training.
Some hardcore ruckers can go more than 20 miles carrying more than 50 lbs in a day. My goal for my Grand Canyon trip is 7 miles per day carrying 30 lbs.
Getting Started with Rucking
If you are like me and starting from a pretty low base, just start walking. Walk whatever distance you are comfortable with walking. If that is from the couch to the curb and back, then that is where you start.
You can use any pack or bag with a shoulder strap, put a couple of bottles of water in it, and add that to your routine. Then, increase your distance every day. It was only a few days before I was up to a mile. I started to see visible results, lost weight, lost inches, and had better stamina once I was walking about 1.5 miles per day, pushing to 3 miles twice per week carrying five to 10 pounds in my pack.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to injure yourself by pushing too hard. You generally get more exercise bang from increasing your pace than increasing the weight, but you should not jog or run while carrying extra weight. That can be very hard on your joints.
What Should You Carry for Weight?
When I started rucking, I just carried a couple of 500 ml water bottles. Each bottle weighs about 1 lb. On a side note, If you are planning to participate in an organized march that awards prizes, drinking water does not count toward your pack weight.
Over time, I needed more weight. I started adding canned goods to my pack. Many people carry books because they are handy and weigh quite a bit. Dumbbells, exercise weights, sandbags, and bricks are also popular.
As I progressed in my training, I found that I couldn’t fit enough stuff in my pack to get the weight I wanted, so I splurged and bought a 20 lb cast iron plate. The plate is designed to fit into the laptop slot in most backpacks and still leave plenty of room for additional weight.
Packing Your Pack
When packing your pack, you want the load to be stable and comfortable. It is most comfortable to carry the load above the bottom of your rib cage, not in the small of your back. Most packs hang pretty low, so it is best to put something light in the bottom of the pack such as blankets, pillows, or foam blocks to shift the weight up.
If you are packing something that can shift around as you walk, such as books or bricks, you might want to bind them together with duct tape to keep them from moving as much. Finally, if you are packing something with sharp edges, such as my cast iron plate, you should wrap it in a towel to keep the corners from creating wear spots on your pack or digging into your back.
Choosing Your Pack
I outgrew my bookbag pretty quickly as I added more weight. I needed something bigger and designed to carry the weight I wanted. Most people choose tactical military packs. They are designed specifically for this purpose and they look tough. Traditional canvas rucksacks provide a retro look and are often designed to carry the load higher on your back without putting padding in the bottom.
I chose a hydration pack with additional storage compartments for weight. The hydration pack includes a three-liter water bladder and drinking tube that makes it convenient to carry drinking water. Whatever style you choose, it should include padded shoulder straps and a harness design that shifts the weight off of your shoulders and onto your hips.
Rucking Gear Recommendations
There are several things you can use to make your workout better as you progress. While I started with a simple book bag, I have added new equipment as I increase my strength and distance. Here are some of the options I recommend when rucking for beginners.
For a hydration pack, I use a Teton Sports Oasis 1200 Hydration Pack. It comes with a 3-liter water bladder. It has plenty of room to carry additional items and a highly adjustable harness system that accommodates most body sizes.
If you prefer a tactical backpack, I recommend the Kelty Map 3500 Tactical 38L Backpack. It has that clean military styling and it offers plenty of room for weights as well as a compartment for a water bladder.
If you prefer that vintage look, there are a variety of vintage packs available. You can get military surplus bags or you can get a new pack with that vintage look. I like this one from Bagamie. It is handmade in Vietnam.
There are weights made to fit into a pack, just for rucking. While anything heavy can be used, I started using a Titan 20 lb Iron Ruck Plate because I can't fit enough water bottles into my pack to get to the weight I want.
It gives me a sense of accomplishment to measure my distance and pace when rucking. There are many smartphone apps that make this easy. I prefer Map My Walk by Under Armour. In addition to distance and pace, it also tracks elevation changes. As a bonus, it gives an audible update after each mile. You can download the application from either of these locations:
I like to listen to audiobooks as I walk. I use the Audible app on my phone. It is easy to use and has a vast library of books. The app requires a subscription to Audible.com. Free download of up to two books per month is included with the subscription, depending on the plan you choose.
Hopefully, this will help answer some of the questions you might have about rucking for beginners. It's a great way to get outdoors and get moving. Be sure to explore Wander With Wonder for more ideas about great places to walk.