The term rucking, walking or hiking with a loaded backpack, has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. What was once primarily a military training activity has now become a mainstream fitness term. This guide is on rucking for beginners and is everything you need to know to get started.

I was rucking long before I knew there was a specific word for it. Like many of you I’m guessing. I call it training. I intentionally carry more weight when hiking so that I can build muscle and make backpacking and trekking an easier and more enjoyable experience. A lot of hikers do.

Rucking For Beginners
1. Start with the Right Gear
2. Proper Footwear is Crucial
3. Begin with Light Weight
4. Focus on Posture
5. Pace Yourself
6. Stay Hydrated and Nourished
7. Plan Your Route
8. Monitor Your Body’s Response
9. Include other forms of exercise for a balanced fitness routine
10. Let someone know your route
Rucking for beginners
Wander Healthy

The Ultimate Guide to Rucking for Beginners

Origins of Rucking

Rucking finds its roots in military training, where soldiers are required to march long distances with heavy backpacks.

It’s been a fundamental component of military conditioning for centuries, fostering physical and mental toughness. The term “ruck march” is commonly used to describe these training exercises.

Rucking Gear

To get started with rucking, you’ll need some gear. The most crucial item is a sturdy backpack, preferably but not necessarily, one designed specifically for rucking.

These backpacks typically have a frame to distribute the weight evenly and padded shoulder straps for added comfort. It’s important to choose a backpack that fits well and can accommodate the necessary weight.

I do not have a special backpack. Mostly I use my Osprey hiking pack or my Deuter backpack and put a dumbbell in, usually wrapped in a towel for padding.

If you don’t have a vest with weights, you’ll need a selection of weights to load your backpack. Start with lighter weights and gradually increase as your strength improves. Common weight options include sandbags, dumbbells, or specialized rucking plates designed to fit inside your backpack.

One option is to carry gallons of water with you, so that you can dump out the water if you find you’ve overestimated your energy that day.

I once met two Army recruits going up to Serene Lake one day and they were carrying 1 gallon jugs of water in each hand, ALL the way up. They dumped it at the top, all over themselves to cool off.

Additionally, invest in a good pair of supportive and comfortable hiking boots or shoes. Proper footwear is essential to prevent blisters and provide stability during long rucking sessions. Consider wearing moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet dry and reduce the risk of blisters.

Man with a backpack walking on a flat trail

Updates From My Experience

* Edit to say that I gave my husband a rucking vest and have found that I use it, and love it, quite often. It works better than just a backpack once you start going up in weight, because the weight is evenly distributed and doesn’t hit you in the back with every step.

** Edit a second time! To say that he’s moved up in weight and I suspect because he may be tired of my using his. His old one has become my new vest and I absolutely love it.

Getting Started Rucking

Before beginning your rucking journey, think about setting realistic goals and choose an appropriate starting point. If you’re new to fitness or haven’t engaged in regular physical activity, consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise regimen.

You can walk on sidewalks, dirt roads, hiking trails or even on a treadmill, though the outdoors provides a more comprehensive workout.

Start by selecting a suitable distance and weight for your first ruck. Aim for a distance that challenges you but remains manageable. Begin with a lighter load and gradually increase the weight as your body adapts.

A beginning weight often recommended is 10% of your body weight, gradually increasing as you get stronger. Start with shorter distances, like 1-2 miles, and gradually increase your distance and weight as your endurance and strength improve.

Technique and practice

To prevent injury and minimize discomfort, follow a proper warm-up and cool-down routine into your rucking sessions. Prioritize stretching exercises that target your lower body muscles, such as your calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

Focus on proper posture and technique. Maintain an upright posture while walking, with your chest up, shoulders back, and core engaged. Take shorter strides and maintain a steady pace to minimize the risk of injury and fatigue.

Hydrate and fuel properly. Stay hydrated before, during, and after rucking. Carry an adequate water supply and drink regularly. Additionally, consume a balanced meal or snack before your ruck to provide your body with the necessary fuel.

Listen to your body. Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or pain. If you experience any sharp pain or excessive fatigue, take a break and rest. Pushing through excessive discomfort can lead to injury.

Incorporate strength training. To better prepare your body for rucking, include strength training exercises that target your legs, core, and back. Squats, lunges, deadlifts, and planks are examples of exercises that can help build the necessary strength.

Practice pack organization. Organize your gear in your backpack efficiently to distribute weight evenly and prevent any items from poking or rubbing against your back.

Remember, if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, including rucking.

People wearing backpacks walking on a hill

How often should I ruck?

For beginners, it’s recommended to start with once or twice a week to allow your body to adjust to the new activity, with rest days in between to recover.

As you become more accustomed to the weight and the activity, you can increase the frequency, duration, and weight according to your fitness goals and capabilities.

Rucking Benefits

The benefits of rucking are numerous, as it’s a full-body workout that builds confidence and focus through perseverance.

Strength and Endurance

Rucking is a whole-body workout that engages various muscle groups, including the legs, core, and back. The added weight increases the resistance and challenges your muscles, leading to enhanced strength and endurance over time.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Rucking elevates your heart rate, providing a great cardiovascular workout. It improves your lung capacity, boosts blood circulation, and increases overall stamina.

Weight Loss and Calorie Burn

This fitness trend is an excellent calorie-burning activity. The combination of walking and carrying additional weight significantly increases energy expenditure, aiding in weight loss and weight management.

Joint Health and Low-Impact

Unlike high-impact exercises such as running, rucking is a low-impact activity that places less stress on your joints. It’s a suitable option for those with joint issues or those looking for a low-impact alternative to traditional cardio exercises.

Mental Resilience and Stress Relief

Rucking challenges not only your physical endurance but also your mental fortitude. It builds mental resilience, discipline, and determination. Spending time in nature during rucking sessions can also reduce stress levels and provide a sense of calm and tranquility.

More Tips for a Successful Rucking Experience

  • Avoid the temptation to overload your backpack with excessive weight right from the start. Gradually increase the weight and distance to allow your body to adapt and prevent injuries.
  • Mix up your rucking routes to keep things interesting. Incorporate hills, stairs, and uneven surfaces to challenge your muscles in different ways. Gradually increase the distance over time to continue pushing your limits.
  • Rucking can be a solitary activity, but joining a rucking group or participating in organized events can provide a sense of community and motivation. It’s an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and learn from experienced ruckers.
People walking up staircase in the forest

How is Rucking Different than Hiking, Backpacking or Trek Training?

Rucking, hiking, backpacking, and training for a trek are related activities but have some key differences. Rucking involves walking or hiking with a loaded backpack, focusing on building strength and endurance.

You can practice rucking to prepare for difficult hikes or treks. Many of my friends and I do this all year long.

Hiking is typically a recreational activity that involves walking in natural environments. Backpacking combines hiking and camping, carrying supplies for overnight stays. While you carry weight for both of them, the goal is more for enjoyment than exercise.

Training for a trek involves specific preparation for a challenging long-distance hike, focusing on conditioning, endurance, and gear selection. People usually ruck in their efforts to improve physical fitness for a trek, but tend to think of it as training more than rucking.

Rucking for Women

Women typically have different body shapes and proportions compared to men. It’s important to find a backpack that is designed to fit a woman’s body properly.

Look for backpacks with adjustable straps that can accommodate a shorter torso length and consider models designed specifically for women. For women with longer torsos, a men’s or unisex backpack is probably a better choice.

For women with larger breasts, it’s important to wear a well-fitting sports bra that provides adequate support and minimizes discomfort during rucking. Choose a bra specifically designed for high-impact activities to reduce bounce and potential discomfort.

Here are some more ideas on rucking for women.

Rucking for Seniors

Rucking can be a beneficial activity for seniors, promoting cardiovascular fitness, strength, and overall well-being. However, there are some considerations and modifications that seniors may need to keep in mind to ensure a safe and enjoyable rucking experience.  

Before starting any new exercise regimen, including rucking, consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.

They should pay particular attention to maintaining proper posture and form while rucking. This includes keeping the back straight, shoulders back and relaxed, and engaging the core muscles. Taking shorter strides and maintaining a steady pace can help minimize the risk of injury and strain.

Seniors may have more sensitive joints and a higher risk of injury. Be sure to choose appropriate footwear with good cushioning and support to reduce impact on joints. Padded insoles or orthotic inserts may provide additional comfort and support.

Like anyone else, seniors should pay close attention to their bodies and be mindful of any signs of fatigue or discomfort. It’s important to take breaks as needed, hydrate regularly, and rest when necessary.

Person walking along a bridge in the forest

FAQs on Rucking

Can you build muscle by rucking?

Yes, rucking can help build muscle. It involves carrying a weighted backpack while walking or hiking, engaging muscles in the back, shoulders, legs, and core. The added resistance stimulates muscle growth and strength development, making it an effective exercise for building muscle endurance and overall fitness.

What is the purpose of rucking?

The purpose of rucking is to improve physical fitness and strength through the activity of walking or hiking with a loaded backpack. It provides a full-body workout, enhances cardiovascular endurance, builds muscular strength, promotes mental toughness, and can be used for training, recreational purposes, or as a challenging form of exercise.

What is the ideal weight for rucking?

The ideal rucking weight varies depending on factors such as individual fitness level and goals. Beginners typically start with 10-20% of their body weight in the backpack, gradually increasing the weight over time. It’s important to find a weight that challenges you without compromising proper form or causing excessive strain.

Is Rucking a good workout?

Yes, rucking is considered a good workout. It provides a full-body workout, improves cardiovascular fitness, builds muscle strength and endurance, burns calories, and promotes mental toughness. It is a versatile and effective exercise option that can be adapted to different fitness levels and goals.

Final Thoughts on Rucking

Rucking is a fantastic fitness activity that offers a range of physical and mental benefits. By incorporating rucking into your routine, you can build strength, endurance, and mental resilience while enjoying the beauty of nature.

Remember to start slowly, invest in suitable gear, and gradually increase the weight and distance. Embrace the challenge and make rucking a part of your fitness journey for a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.