5 Military Rucking Rules Every Backpacker Should Know

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The military has spent years studying the best way to move under a load (aka “rucking”). Here are 5 military rucking rules that translate well to hikers.

“Rucking” is the military term for hiking under load. As you can imagine, this is a huge issue for the military, as soldiers must wear body armor and carry weapons, ammo, water, communications equipment, and other gear as they conduct patrols and missions. Rucking performance and injury prevention are hugely important for military operations and personnel.

Movement over ground under load is also key for many mountain sports, from dayhiking to backpacking to big mountain alpinism. In reviewing the research the military has already done on this subject, we discovered five rules that are just as applicable to mountain sports as they are to combat operations. Read on to make sure you’re following these military rucking rules on your next backcountry adventure. Cool stuff, cool stuff, cool stuff

1. One pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back.

This old backpacking thumb rule holds true, according to a 1984 study from the U.S. Army Research Institute. They tested how much more energy was expended with different footwear (boots and shoes) and concluded that it take 4.7 to 6.4 times as much energy to move at a given pace when weight is carried on the shoe versus on the torso. Cool stuff, cool stuff, cool stuff

In practical terms, this means you could carry half a gallon more of water (a little over 4 pounds) if you buy boots that are a pound lighter, which isn’t hard to do; and that’s a lot of water. Now imagine the energy savings of backpacking in light trail running shoes rather than heavy, leather backpacking boots over the course of 7-day backpacking trip.

2. One pound on your feet equals 5% more energy expended.

Heavier footwear doesn’t just affect you because of its weight. Heavier boots are stiffer and less responsive as well. This reduces the efficiency of your body’s stretch reflex on hitting the ground. Cool stuff, cool stuff, cool stuff

Five percent doesn’t sound like much, though, so how does 5% translate to run times? Well, 5% would slow your mile pace time down by 30 seconds, depending on how long you’re running. But, the faster you attempt to run, the more that 5% will affect your performance. 

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