Updated: Nov 2
Walking with a weighted rucksack, aka rucking, is an increasingly popular health activity for both women and men. In this article (first of a two part series) we look at the rucking's background, its health benefits and how you might start.
Please take note: you are strongly encouraged to exercise discretion when embarking on higher intensity physical activities. Always train within your limits. If you have an existing heart condition or any other illness and/or injury, please consult a doctor prior to starting.
Now, that being said, let's ruck!
The Origins of Rucking
People have been hiking and trekking with rucksacks for years but the modern exercise activity of 'rucking' has military origins. 'Rucking' is the popular term as used in the US. In the UK you might hear the word 'tabbing' (a military term, short for Tactical Advance to Battle) - a loaded march at speed.
Rucking can provide physical, mental and social health benefits.
Rucking at a walking pace is relatively low impact compared to running.
It's good for your core muscles and can improve your posture.
Burns more calories than walking alone.
Rucking gets you outside.
Rucking can help get you out of the 'comfort zone' and can help to develop both physical and mental resilience.
If you are planning a trekking or hiking vacation rucking has practical benefits.
Rucking is fun as part of a group, this has social health benefits.
There are risks for stress and overuse injuries. Never break into a jog or run as the impact on joints, bones and muscles can be significant. Train within your limits (especially in the heat), increase intensity (weight, distance or speed) slowly.
How to Ruck
Get yourself a rucksack and, recommended, some boots. Ankle support is important, especially as loads increase or you get tired and are more likely to make mistakes on your feet. Load your rucksack with weight and Go!
Pro-Tip. Carry weight as high up and as close to your back as you can, this is more efficient and comfortable.
Start by going on a gentle walk on a known route. If you can find a route in greenery fantastic. Perhaps a route that has some inclines or hills. In some buildings you may be able to access stairs and can simulate walking up hills or mountains. I know of some, especially in the winter months, who ruck at home - stepping up and off a (strong) box for however long a duration their 'route' is.
Try rucking once a week as part of your overall health activities. If you are planning for a hiking trip or rucking event you might want to increase the frequency and the load. Consult with the trek or event organiser to learn what are the requirements. They might be able to advise a training regimen that meets the goals.
Some people, including myself, enjoy the discomfort of rucking. Walking with a load, in the heat or the rain can be positively miserable. In a good way. Being outside of one's physical comfort zone brings mental as well as physical rewards, sharing the experience can create special memories and bonds with others.
As with any exercise or training programme consistency of effort is important. It takes time to get fit and to grow strong. Also consider your hydration (especially in the heat), nutrition, sleep and recovery.
How Much Weight to Carry?
The answer is - it depends on your existing level of fitness, strength and conditioning. I'd suggest take the few rucks easy to establish a baseline, get some experience with how you feel.
5kg / 11lbs is typically what a hiker might carry on a day trip - basic gear, water, supplies.
Up to 10% of your body weight is a common load, say, up to about 9kg / 20lbs.
16kg / 35lbs (and over) is the weight where the UK and US military train at.
Some people ruck with much more weight but this is entirely depends on their own level of experience and goals. A typical military load might be 16kg / 35lbs or more. When packing your rucksack, place the weight high in your pack, not at the bottom.
Groups and Support
Singapore has a small rucking community, see the Lion City Ruckers - although after the pandemic I am not sure how active they are.
The USA has many rucking groups and teams. Backpack manufacturer Go Ruck seems to be the dominant voice in the sport and has a useful website with rucking related information.
In the UK check out the PARAS'10. An annual series of events organised by the army's
Parachute Regiment and its associated charity Support Our Paras. Not for the faint hearted, this 16km (10 mile) event is conducted at speed and with a 35lb load. It takes months to build up to this level of stamina. There is also a 16km run (non load carry) event.
Rucking is rewarding and can be as easy or as uncomfortable as you want to make it. I enjoy
the occasional ruck as part of my health activities. It's easy to go for a 'walk plus rucksack' and increase the intensity even without having to carry a heavy load. Plus... you never know when the opportunity to go on an adventure (requiring a rucksack) might present itself.
For recommendations on what gear to use or carry when rucking, read Part 2 here.
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US Army "Foot Marches" documentation, April 2022
Orr R, Pope R, Lopes TJA, Leyk D, Blacker S, Bustillo-Aguirre BS, Knapik JJ. Soldier Load Carriage, Injuries, Rehabilitation and Physical Conditioning: An International Approach. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Apr 11;18(8):4010. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18084010. PMID: 33920426; PMCID: PMC8069713.
Knapik JJ, Reynolds KL, Harman E. Soldier load carriage: historical, physiological, biomechanical, and medical aspects. Mil Med. 2004 Jan;169(1):45-56. doi: 10.7205/milmed.169.1.45. PMID: 14964502.