The term "rucking" originated in the military. Practically every military in the world uses rucking of some kind to train new recruits. It's only recently migrated to the civilian world as a form of fitness. To ruck is to walk with some weight on your back. You can choose how much weight to ruck with because you want it to be something that is challenging for you but also not painful. We are going to deep dive into how to ruck and how to get the best health benefits out of it.
Burn More Calories with Rucking
We have all seen that meat head at the gym who throws around massive amounts of weight. Super strong, right? We have also seen that crazy thin guy or gal who spends hours on the treadmill, knocking out countless miles. Imagine getting the best of weight training and cardio in one exercise. This is what rucking does for you. The weight in your backpack is heavy enough to give you the benefits of strength training, while adding distance gives you the needed cardio.
Harvard Health says walking for 30 minutes at 3.5 mph (17min/mile) will burn the following calories:
|125-pound person||155-pound person||185-pound person|
|120 calories||149 calories||178 calories|
According to the Compendium of Physical Activities, adding 20% of your weight to a backpack and doing that same walk will burn almost 3 times as many calories. That sure sounds pretty great to us, especially as running for 30 minutes at 5 mph (12 min/mile) will only burn 355 calories for a 185-pound person, compared to around 561 calories with rucking.
Some of you may not be as concerned with burning calories, but are interested in building more fitness. Rucking does this as well and more. Adding weight to a backpack conditions your core, back, shoulders, hips, quads and ankles. It is nearly a full body workout but doesn't have the stresses that come with weight training or running. Plus, a lot of us sit at a desk for work. This forward leaning posture is not natural and often leads to back problems. Throwing a weighted backpack on and going for a ruck actually helps offset that forward lean and strengthens your core, which protects those discs in your spine.
How do I add weight to my backpack?
The kind of weight you carry doesn't really matter. We have seen people that use weights specifically designed for rucking and we have seen a guy use bricks. It really doesn't matter so long as you are putting weight in your backpack and going for a ruck. We do have a few suggestions.
Rucking Plates: If you really want to get into rucking, spending a little more money to get a weighted plate is a great option. They are designed for rucking and generally have a handle to lift them in and out of your backpack. They are sold by Rogue, GoRuck, and others. If you have some old weight lifting plates laying around, those could be used as well, although some of the heavier plates (45lbs.) are quite large and probably won't fit into your backpack. The downside of the rucking plates are they are expensive and you have to buy multiples if you want to increase the weight you carry.
Old Books: You remember that old chemistry book that you carried around for a year in school? Ya, that one. It probably weighed five pounds. Some of these heavy text books are a great, low cost option to get started. They probably won't be so great once you need to add additional weight as they are bulky and don't have a great size to weight ratio compared to iron, water, or steel, but they are just laying around your house right now anyways.
Water (or beer): If you have ever been backpacking, water is always one of the heaviest parts of your kit. Adding water as weight is really easy. Simply buy a case of water bottles and put it in your backpack. Done! Using water also means you can completely customize the weight in your backpack. Need to add more? Just throw another water bottle in there. Plus, when you get thirsty, you are already carrying your hydration. Not always practical, especially if you are trying to burn calories, but carrying a 12-pack of beer makes rucking fun. Get a few of your buddies together on the weekend, plan a route, and load your backpack full of beer. The farther you go, the lighter your ruck becomes. Win, win!
Make your own weight: One of our favorites is using sand to make your own weight. Often called a sandbag pill, these weighted bricks of sand are great because they are cheap, easy to make, and can you make a bunch of different sizes. Here is a great post about making your own sandbag pill.
What backpack should I use for rucking?
Can I use my JanSport school backpack? Hell yes you can! That may sound weird coming from a backpack manufacturer, but we would rather have you out staying healthy and not letting "not having the right backpack" keep you from going out. Any backpack can be used for rucking, but there definitely are benefits to using higher quality backpacks. Here are a few things to look for in a backpack for rucking:
- Does it have a place to secure your weight(s)? Many backpacks have an internal pocket (sometimes the laptop sleeve) which works great for putting a rucking plate or weight.
- Does it have compression straps? You want to be able cinch down your backpack as much as possible. There is nothing worse than having weight shifting around in your backpack as you are trying to ruck.
- Wide/reinforced shoulder straps. Most of us are not use to carrying a lot of weight on our backs. The main contact point of that weight is your shoulders. Thin shoulder straps are going to become very uncomfortable so make sure you have a backpack with wide shoulder straps that have enough padding. You can thank us later.
- Internal or external frame. As you begin to add more and more weight, it will become increasingly hard to carry it in a non-frame backpack. These packs just don't have the support. A frame backpack is designed to help distribute higher weights, making it easier and safer to carry heavy loads.
- Grab handle. Definitely not a requirement, but something that comes in handy is a grab handle on the top or side of the bag. These handles make it nice to move the bag around when it is not on your back.
Easily our most popular backpack for rucking is the Velox Tactical Backpack. This versatile backpack checks off virtually all the requirements for a solid rucking backpack. It is large enough for carrying a lot of weight, big shoulder straps, sternum and waist straps (both removable), tons of compression straps to tighten everything down and a robust build.
Two new alternative rucking backpacks are the Transit EDC Backpack and the Sovereign Internal Frame Backpack. Both have their advantages, but the biggest differences are the size and the internal frame on the Sovereign. The Transit has a large internal pocket for carrying your weight as well as loads of compression straps. Plus an external water bottle pocket will come in handy for long rucks. The Sovereign may seem too large for rucking but the internal frame will be beneficial for heavier loads. Plus, if you are using the Sovereign as your bug out bag, it would be a great idea to take that out rucking so you know how heavy the pack is and you feel comfortable carrying it if needed.
How to Pack Your Rucking Backpack
Your pack should feel secure on your back and the weight should not be shifting inside your backpack. The easiest way to load your backpack is to lay it on a flat surface and open the main compartment. The Velox and Transit are ideal for this as they have clam shell openings which allow them to be opened completely.
Place your weight on the backpack. It should be centered and high on the backpack. Use old clothing or towels to fill in the bottom and sides of the pack. This will secure your weight from moving around. Some people use yoga blocks at the bottom of the pack to make sure the weight doesn't slide down.
Next, zip up your backpack, cinch down all of the compression straps, and try it on. Move around. How does it feel? Is the weight high in the pack and close to the middle of your back? If you are feeling movement, you may need to add more padding around the weight or tighten down the pack more. Once you get the fit dialed, you are good to get out and start rucking.
Making it Fun
Making rucking fun will help ensure you make it a habit and keep doing it. This is a great time to catch up on podcasts, audio books, or listen to music, but rucking does not need to be a solitary endeavor. Have children? Why not get them out with you? Sure, they may not ruck as far as you, or carry as much weight, but getting them outside rucking will help lead to a lifetime of good fitness. Plus, spending a little quality time with your children can never hurt.
Another good idea is to make rucking about the adventure. There are countless ways to do this. Here are a few ideas:
- Explore new parts of your city or town.
- Find a self-guided walking tour of your city. Most large cities already have these mapped out. Here is a good resource for finding one in your city, or just Google "self-guided walking tours [your city]" to search for something in your city.
- Create a bar crawl with your buddies. Ruck a few miles and stop for a pint before heading onto another bar across town. You could knock out the miles really easy.
- If you are super creative, you could make a scavenger hunt with clues at each point along the route.
- Find a good cause. There are always "walks" or short races that are trying to raise money for a good cause. This could be a cancer walk or some other kind of event. A simple Google search in your area will turn up a bunch.
- Check with your local Team RWB. They are always meeting up for rucks.
Depending on your current fitness level, you may need to adjust the mileage and the weight you are carrying on your back. We recommend starting with a manageable weight and distance and incrementally add more weight and distance. With this program, you will add 5 pounds of weight to your pack and one mile each week. We recommend rucking 3 times a week to build your fitness and endurance.
Week 1: 20 pounds for 1 mile
Week 2: 25 pounds for 2 miles
Week 3: 30 pounds for 3 miles
Week 4: 35 pounds for 4 miles
Week 5: 40 pounds for 5 miles
Week 6: 45 pounds for 6 miles
Week 7: 50 pounds for 7 miles
Week 8: 55 pounds for 8 miles
If you are very new to rucking or have never carried weight on your back before, we recommend starting with Hal Higdon's 5K Walking Program. This program will get you consistently walking and you can add weight to your pack as you are feeling more fit.
However you want to do it, just get out there and ruck. Your body and health will thank you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kirk is the Marketing Director at 3V Gear and is an active outdoors man. When not working, you will often find him in the Utah mountains biking, hiking, camping, skiing, or trail running. He likes to travel the world with his wife, exploring new cultures and meeting interesting people, all the while photographing everything he sees.