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Soldiers wearing rucksacks

The next time you hear about a hot new fitness trend, consider its level of accessibility. Often, popular fitness movements sell themselves on being convenient and carefree, the type of hobby you can get stuck into in just a few hours. The problem is, it’s rarely accurate. Now now and then though, a fitness trend comes along that delivers on the promise.

Rucking is an increasingly popular form of cardio exercise. Its biggest strength is it makes fitness as easy as one, two, three, walk. It takes the most instinctive form of exercise human beings have – walking – and ups the difficulty. ‘Ruckers,’ as its proponents are known, place a free weight in a rucksack and carry it as they walk outdoors.

The extra load accelerates caloric burn, improves posture, builds muscle tissue and boosts cardiovascular fitness. There’s no need to jog with your rucksack. In fact, running with a weight is frowned upon by instructors and practitioners as it places undue strain on the knees. So, rucking could just be the most accessible fitness activity around.

 

What Is Rucking?

Sometimes referred to as ‘foot marching,’ rucking is ordinary walking with a weighted rucksack.  You can use almost anything to create the added weight, from gym plates to water bottles, boulders, books or any heavy items you might find around the home. Beginners are advised to start with 10% of their bodyweight and increase the load gradually. A good rucksack will spread the load evenly, so it barely feels like you’re any carrying extra weight at all.

With a premium rucksack that fits correctly, the weight should pull tight against your back muscles. While other bags can be used, most won’t allow the weight to sit at an optimal height. Backpacks have a similar design to rucksacks, but they’re often made of less robust material that isn’t designed for outdoor use. Keep this in mind when shopping for rucking equipment.

It’s thought every military in the world uses rucking and ruck marches as part of drills and fitness training. It’s cheap, easy and highly effective. The additional weight challenges endurance and forces the biggest muscles to work harder and, thus, grow stronger. It works because it is functional: rucking is just everyday movement with an added twist.

Learn more about our list of best rucksacks for rucking.

What Is a Rucksack?

The name rucking has obvious origins considering it involves a ‘ruck-sack.’ Yet, it’s worth asking how important the rucksack is to the activity. Is a true rucksack the only viable option or is any similar kind of bag or pack suitable?

The good news is, there’s little difference between a rucksack and a backpack for beginner ruckers. The two have similar features and are mostly interchangeable. Backpacks are more commonly used as everyday items for work and school. Rucksack is the preferred term for a bag used for hiking, climbing and other outdoor activities. Rucksacks commonly have one entry point, like a sack or satchel. Backpacks may have a range of zippered compartments.

If you’re just starting out on your rucking journey, don’t worry too much about this distinction. The key thing is to use a bag that feels comfortable and secure. It shouldn’t sag or hang away from the body as this places undue pressure on the joints. The best rucksacks for rucking are those with chest and back straps that pull the load tight against the body.

As you gain experience, you may become more sensitive to the differences between rucksacks and backpacks. The more your passion for this activity grows, the more likely you are to want to invest in high quality, tailor made equipment. Then, you can start scrutinizing straps and shopping for a true rucking rucksack. For now, pick a bag that’s comfortable and tough.

 

What Is a Ruck March?

US Military Ruck March
US Military Ruck March

Rucking is a staple of military training, both in the United States military and in forces around the world. This is where the activity originates, as a form of intense cardio exercise for soldiers. In the army, soldiers regularly go on ‘ruck marches’ – highly regimented and closely scrutinized weighted walks.

The basic rules are the same. Each soldier travels with a weighted rucksack. The difference is, military personnel are expected to jog (for at least part of the march) and they carry much heftier weights as well. It’s not uncommon for rucking soldiers to carry over fifty pounds of gear, weaponry and accessories. It sounds like cruel punishment but it’s the best way to prepare for real life scenarios in which they might have to run for their lives while keeping survival equipment intact.

It’s fair to say ruck marching is a lot more intense than rucking for general fitness. Unless you have a highly conditioned body already, you shouldn’t be carrying anywhere near the same amount of weight. While similar to a degree, military rucking has a different purpose. It tests endurance by sending soldiers out walking for miles and miles. This level of intensity is not recommended for most people.

 

What Is a Ruck in the Army?

It’s not just the amount of weight that differs on a military ruck march. There are some important rules soldiers must follow to avoid disqualification. For example, weights must not be made up of replenishable items. Participants must carry plenty of drinking water, but it is not counted as part of their ruck weight.

Military ruckers must adhere to a minimum ruck weight of 45lb depending on the mission and what the Army commander dictates.  Each soldier typically packs a single rucksack with equipment that adds up to this weight or more. One of the trickiest parts about a ruck march, according to former military members, is deciding how close to get to the minimum weight. Pack too little and you risk failing the final weigh in. Pack too much and you’re in for a brutal journey. We’ve written an article detailing the army ruck march standards, and the crazy amount of weapons and equipment they have to carry depending on the type of march ordered by the commanders.

Rucking is serious business in the army because it tests more than physical strength. When you’re on the seventeenth mile, with stinging blisters on your toes and a hefty load on your back, mental toughness is what pulls you through. You don’t need to be the strongest, fastest recruit to be the best at ruck marching. Motivation, focus and perseverance are every bit as important.

 

Conclusion

Now that you know what rucking is and how different people ruck for different goals, it shouldn’t seem intimidating at all! Anybody can do it, so don’t rule yourself out even if other types of exercise have been too intense in the past. Rucking is meant to be leisurely and gradually progressive for us normal folks.

Grab your rucksack. Put your boots on. Start your favourite playlist. And get out there. Rucking might just be the hobby you’ve been looking for.

Adam Sheriff

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