Rucking: My Thoughts and Experience
Recently, I’ve noticed a rise in popularity of rucking as a well-rounded means of exercise. With such a low barrier to entry, it’s no wonder that so many people are picking it up. For those who may just be getting started, and inspired by Jacob Smith’s commentary on the subject, I figured I would share what I know, having done quite a bit of it myself.
As for buying a bag, you don’t have to spend big. Milsurp is your friend. Pick what you’re comfortable with. Even a simple assault pack is fine, but the patrician choice is to mount an old ALICE bag to the modern polymer frame for the perfect balance of comfy and classy.
More important than your bag is your footwear. I’ve seen plenty of people get easily avoidable foot injuries due to something as simple as how their boots are laced. Treat your feet like royalty! If you’re going to spend big anywhere, this is the place to do it. If you’re staying on pavement, running shoes are generally fine, but if you’re going on rougher terrain, invest in a good pair of boots.
Picking a boot
When the time comes to buy boots, go to a good shoe store and get properly sized. I don’t care if you think you know what your size is. Messing this up can cost you weeks of pain from blisters, hairline fractures, or worse.
Now that you know your size, shop around at brick and mortar stores. I’d stay away from the surplus stores for this one, however. Standard issue boots are subpar, to say the least. Try on any boots that appeal to you, and make sure there’s no “slop” when you step. The boot should feel “snug” when brand new - it will stretch over time. If it feels excessively tight, try another size, or a wide.
Buying boots online, while not preferable, is still an option. At the time of writing, the Garmont T8 Bifida, which I bought years ago at around $150, is listed for $85. This is a solid boot with phenomenal ankle support and tread that rivals a set of mud tires.
A note on Gore-Tex
Don’t stress too much about Gore-Tex branding. A high quality boot can still be waterproofed just fine without the manufacturer paying royalties for fancy rubber (and inevitably passing that cost to the consumer). In most cases, waterproofing may actually do more harm than good. Unless you’re rucking in wet or snowy terrain in cold weather, it’s better to allow your feet to breathe. That’s why most boots have ventilation holes in the leather. In warm weather, your feet will get wet - if not from a puddle, then from sweat. Waterproof boots trap that moisture and let it fester. A ventilated boot, while more prone to water ingress, allows for water egress.
Big companies like GORUCK sell “premium” weights that are designed to fit in a backpack. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, there’s no need to fork over $200 for a slab of steel. Besides, that slab of steel is only good for being heavy. The secret is that everything has weight.
Pack what you need
Packing stuff you’ll actually use in lieu of otherwise-useless weights will teach you the art of packing. Additionally, your weight is dependent on the packing list, and the packing list is dependent on the distance and duration of your trip. When you first begin, you’ll be going short distances with little weight. As time goes on and you build strength and endurance, you may even consider getting a group together to ruck 10 miles into the woods, camp for the weekend, and ruck back. You’ll benefit tremendously from knowing what to bring and what to leave behind.
For the former category, something around 20lbs. (~10Kg for you metric commies) is enough. This can be achieved with a core set of essential items that you should have on you at all times, regardless of the weight you’re aiming for.
Obviously, your equipment may vary in weight from the examples used above, but the outcome should be close enough. You can always add extra stuff if you’re still not cutting it.
When you start to feel ready to take on a bigger challenge, the following items are good to bring on longer distance/duration outings:
- Food (snacks or full meals)
- More than 1gal of water (you’ll be surprised how quickly it can go)
- Tools (hatchets, firestarting, etc.)
- Handheld GPS (ALWAYS bring a map and compass as a backup)
- Cold/wet weather gear
The goal is to make up the bulk of your weight with items you’ll actually need, but once that’s accomplished, you’re free to add anything else to make weight.
The art of packing
Being able to fit a lot of stuff into a tiny space is an oft overlooked yet invaluable skill. The golden rule is to pack everything high and tight. Having the weight on your shoulders (“high”), with no empty space in the pack (“tight”), is a much more natural way to carry it, while effectively eliminating the potential for back injuries.
The benefit of a proper rucksack over a traditional backpack is that any unused space can be used to elevate the contents of your pack, thus achieving both goals at once.
See those slots? The straps on the bag loop through them to secure it to the frame, allowing the user to position it exactly where and how he wishes.
Tips and tricks
- Learn to roll cloth items like clothing and blankets. It’s a very simple skill that can be learned in 5 minutes and will help you pack more efficiently.
- Keep some moleskin in your first aid kit to cover blisters/raw spots, should they develop.
- Those extra socks aren’t for nothing. If your feet are tired, wet, or you’ve been wearing the same socks for more than about 15 hours, change them out.
Rucking is pretty much the only exercise I do outside of manual labor. It’s treated me well, and when armed with the right knowledge, it’s something any able-bodied man can benefit from.
And again, TAKE CARE OF YOUR FEET. They’re the one item that can’t be replaced, and they’re responsible for doing all the work.