Rucking for fun, fitness and strong bones

article top

Rucking is one of the latest fitness crazes. Full disclosure, I’ve succumbed.

First a definition. Rucking is walking or hiking with a loaded backpack, over varying distances and terrain. You can observe ruckers all over town. It’s those folks with backpacks, clambering around Diamondhead or up Wilhelmina Rise. They are on a mission.


Rucking is nothing new. The military has been marching recruits for time immemorial with heavy packs all over creation. And now it’s chic.

Civilians have gotten on board for good reason. It’s a great workout and most people can join in. Rucking is a low impact exercise that can improve strength, cardiovascular capacity, caloric burn, balance and bone density.

The italicized part is why I got hooked.

My DEXA scan was a wakeup call. No, these aren’t my hips but you get the idea. (courtesy Wikipedia)

“We all lose bone density as we age,” says Bradley Willcox, Professor and Director of Research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii. “It’s a concern more often associated with women, but men need to be aware of this too. Up to 25 per cent of men over 50 years suffer from bone fractures.”

This revelation hit me personally when a recent bone density (DEXA) scan revealed my hips were on the verge of osteoporosis–a condition that causes bones to become weak and lose their strength.


What to do?

There’s a whole rabbit hole of interventions: diet, supplements, pharmaceuticals, FB Groups, high-tech exercise equipment, and specialized fitness centers such as Osteostrong.

Rucking is something that just about anyone can do whether you’re in the bush or on Bush Street. (courtesy Goruck)

My PCP handed me a script for some magic pill that would increase my bone density and the appointment was over. “How long do I take this stuff?”, I asked the guy in the white coat. He shrugged his shoulders and sent me away.

So much for Kaiser Permanente.

So I stumbled into rucking.

The weight-bearing nature of this exercise, as your feet hit the ground, can increase bone density, especially in your hips. So they say.

Is this a silver bullet? According to Dr. Willcox, “when rucking is combined with a healthy diet (i.e. dairy products, fish, soy products, dark green leafy vegetables, etc), limited sun exposure and other healthy lifestyle factors (i.e. no smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, etc.) it can only help.” 

That sounded good to me.

Goruck makes a line of packs dedicated to rucking. They suggest that the 20L model is a good fit for most people. (courtesy Goruck)

Does one need special gear to ruck?

Not necessarily.

Goruck, a company that builds specialty backpacks and footwear for rucking, says on their website, “If you are new to rucking, don’t worry about which type of pack you use… the important part is that you get started, so grab any backpack you can find laying around.”

My feeling is that you could indeed use any pack so long as it’s comfortable, but it

The main thing is that your pack is comfortable and it will have to be would have to be quite strong. You may have to experiment on weight distribution. You’ll be toting generally anywhere from 10-30 lbs depending on your size, state of fitness, etc. More on that later.

One more thing. You’ll a good pair of shoes or boots.

Open the pack’s zipper and voila, you’ve got two pockets for plates. Just drop the plate in (as I’m doing). The plate lies flat against your back so there’s very little movement. (Rob Kay photo)


One of the companies that’s leading the rucking revolution is Goruck. The company offered me a chance to try its signature product, so I availed myself of it.

The company was founded in Africa by Jason McCarthy (a former Special Forces operator) and his wife Emily (a former CIA operative). The couple describe, on the Goruck website, that their goal was tobuild a rucksack with life or death quality standards that would thrive in Baghdad and NYC…”

“Life or death quality standards” sound unequivocal and serious. When you’re working for the CIA or or a Special Forces operator, that’s the case. I’m not quite in the same league as Special Forces but my bone density issue is pretty darned important to me.

Their company provides a wide variety of gear including training rucksacks (constructed to carry metal plates), travel backpacks, men’s and women’s footwear and apparel. 

Note the difference between the two rear loading straps from two packs. On the left you’ll note the hefty padding on the Goruck product. On the right is a strap from Peak Design, which is a high end travel backpack but not nearly as robust. (Rob Kay photo)

Goruck adds a “lifestyle” component to its corporate culture with events, clubs and training programs, even for children.

My interest of course, is focused on my hips.

I was advised to get the 20L pack which is what most folks get. Not too big—not too small. Priced at $255 it’s very robust and has extra padding on the back straps. It’s also designed to have an “elevated” pocket to add the “Ruck Plates” (weights). The point of the elevated pocket is to place the load as high on your back as possible, to avoid any unnecessary friction as you move.

The Goruck pack is a great deal slimmer than an average backpack. Chances are you’re not going to be carrying your picnic lunch in there. It’s meant to carry plates. (However, you could easily stash a bottle of wine). 

You can buy plates of various weights or add books or even bricks. (I added bricks to begin with but ditched them for plates). 

Another dimension of pack comparison. On the left is Goruck’s 20L 4.0 “rucking” bag. It’s slim and made to carry plates. On the right is a 30L travel backpack from Peak Design which got me through Europe last year. (Rob Kay photo)


Goruck has several styles of footwear. They offer a plethora of “trainers” as well as trail shoes and boots ranging from mid-top to military style. Prices are competitive with what you’d find in the “marketplace” for decent footwear–$140-170 range.

The company is adamant that “Goruckers” wear something that provides decent support. And they are right. If you already own high end hiking boots or athletic shoes, you’ll be ok. I use their brand of an all terrain shoe called Mackall* ($160)–a low top trail shoe that was comfortable and comparable to the Lowa trail shoes that I usually wear. I’ve been wearing them every day and the arch support is great–as good as the expensive German (Lowa) shoes that I normally wear. For rucking I now wear the Mackalls every day.

Goruck has a line of boots and shoes designed for rucking. The Mackall model, above is what I use for hiking and on the farm. I like the grippy sole but would not recommend it on the street because you’ll wear down the tread. (courtesy Goruck)

It has a grippy sole that was ideal for my needs–working my land and hiking on the nearby ridge. A big plus is great arch support.

(*The shoe is named after Camp Mackall, the home of Special Forces training). 

My Rucking Journey

My rucking regime revolves around “lifestyle”. I don’t care for that word but it seems to fit the best.

I have ag land attached to my home. It’s terraced and steep, laced with lava rock. Every morning and evening I tend to the land checking irrigation lines, pig snares, rat traps and bee hives. This is when I don my Goruck pack and my Mackall shoes. (With the bees I need my special suit and having the pack on under it, is not an option).

So I do everything else with the pack on. Weeding, picking fruit, whacking away with the bush knife or simply walking around. The pack definitely adds to the workout, especially when it’s hot. In addition to the “farm work” I’ll walk the dog around the neighborhood with a friend or even take a hike up on the Mauʻumae Ridge Trail which is quite close to my home. Or as pictured below, I may ruck down Wilhelmina Rise to meet friends at a restaurant.

The author in action on the Mauʻumae Ridge Trail in Honolulu. (courtesy Rob Kay)

One of my concerns on the hillside is balance. There’s gravel, loose rocks, tree stumps hidden in the weeds. I need to take extra care in this endeavor. So far so good!

I’ve fallen down a couple of times on my property but it’s not the fault of the shoes. When you hit gravel, loose dirt or slippery leaves that pile up, you just have be careful.

Those in the know say that neophytes should begin with about 10-25 pounds. If you don’t have a pack made for rucking you can use a dumbbell wrapped in a towel. The advantage of using packs made specifically for rucking is that they don’t bounce around. The main thing is that you want to be comfortable. To get on track with rucking you can make do with your exisiting gear so long as you make it work for you. Keep in mind that your existing pack may not handle a lot of weight. Good quality packs can handle a lot weight but I’m not sure I’d want to take the chance of trashing an expensive travel backpack by using it day in an day out for rucking.

I started with about 10lbs on my back, just to get used to the gear but every week added a few pounds to the equation. I’m up to 25 lbs now. (From my research the goal for improving strength and maximizing the benefits of rucking is to slowly increase your carrying weight). Obviously there are practical limits to this and I plan to use common sense in my practice.

The upshot is that I’ve grown to enjoy wearing my pack. It’s comfortable and “usable” in a way that a conventional pack might not be for my “farming” activities.

The advantage of using equipment made specifically for rucking is that it’s not going to need tweaking. The flat ruck plates will rest against your back.

This video rucking is a comprehensive rucking overview.

How far should you go?

Use common sense and start out slowly. Your body is going to need to get used to this. Goruck suggests the beginners start with 1-2 ruck workouts per week, for 2-3 miles. Your pace should be between 15 and 20 minutes per mile. If you’re moving slower than 20 minutes per mile, lowering your weight is a good idea.

I’m a sort of outlier considering that most of my rucking is solitary. Goruck has a social component built into the company’s DNA. They have sponsored 10,000 live events since 2010, and there are over 500 independently run GORUCK Clubs worldwide including one in Honolulu: the Kekoa Ohana Ruck Club.

So far so good. I’ve only been rucking for about two months and I definelty feel stronger. I like the idea of leveraging my precious workout time. I get the theory but one has to The long term goal is to increase or at least not lose any more bone density without taking pharmaceuticals. My next DEXA test is in about six months. In the meantime I feel like I’m doing something important for my health and well being.

Stay tuned.

Rob Kay is a technology columnist for the Honolulu Star Advertiser and the creator of


Leave a Reply