Editor's Note: The following article is a web-exclusive supplement to author Kevin Estela's print feature, “Ruck It: Functional Fitness for the Serious Survivalist”. To read more of Kevin's thoughts on the topic of survival fitness, pick up a copy of RECOIL OFFGRID Issue 20, on sale starting June 2nd, 2017.
Ruck marching is the latest trend in the world of “survival athletics.” It's inspired by the tradition of military marches, where soldiers carry heavy packs to build endurance. When proper precautions are taken, “rucking” is a safe and highly-effective exercise for burning calories and building functional strength. More importantly to survivalists, it's a great way of testing yourself for any future bug-out scenarios.
Of course, the question always comes up, “What do you carry in your pack on a given march?” You'll need to carry a moderate amount of weight to see results, but that doesn't mean you should go stuffing your ruck with sandbags. Read on to hear our thoughts on packing your ruck, and five common mistakes to avoid as you train.
Beyond the prescribed dead weight, it’s wise to have some basics in your ruck to ensure you make it from point A to point B. Beyond the basic everyday-carry items, the wise rucker has some special gear.
Water/hydration bottle: Bring what you need, and remember each gallon is slightly more than 8 pounds.
Electrolyte tablets: You’ll be sweating. Replace those salts.
Snacks: Not meals, just enough calories in easy-to-consume snacks to keep you going.
Headlamp: Just because it’s dark doesn’t mean you have to stop.
Signal panel: A signal panel like the one from The Hidden Woodsman is light and inexpensive to keep cars off you.
Cell phone: If you’re out on your own, don’t be stupid. Know when to say “when” if you can tell the difference between pain and injury.
Hat: Keep the sweat out of your eyes and rain off your face.
Foot care: Package of moleskin and some duct tape. Good to go.
Extra clothes: Not a full wardrobe. Just a dry shirt and set of socks so you don’t have to stand all day in your funk.
Selfie stick: First, punch yourself in the face then leave this at home.
Once you have your gear in order, it’s time to hit the trail. Just make sure you that you don’t first commit any of these five common newbie mistakes:
1. Poor Diet
Ask any serious athlete what the hardest aspect of training is and they will more than likely tell you it is diet. Trainer Johnny Ray Vega of New York City-based CrossFit BQE believes in using food as you need it, not as you want it. This means knowing your body, how it functions, and what is needed during a ruck.
The human body is a machine that needs fuel. For optimal performance, the correct balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats must be supplied to it. Rucking taxes the body and burns calories. Depending on the fitness goal, the appropriate diet must be consumed for fat loss or muscle growth. A good diet is a frequent diet beyond three square meals. Five to seven meals a day every two hours is not uncommon. Not eating enough or appropriately is a cardinal mistake.
2. Lacking Hydration
The body is composed of mostly water. When the body is deprived of water, the chances of injury increase with the level of dehydration experienced. Water consumption is important, and knowing how to hydrate is part of the formula to successful ruck marching. The human body can only absorb so much water at once. Water should be consumed in small quantities frequently rather than chugging a large quantity. This is why Camelbak-style bladders are popular with ruckers. Also, too much water can deprive the body of essential salts and electrolytes. Using a good electrolyte tablet like Nuun is recommended when the body sweats a lot.
3. Too Heavy / Too Far / Too Fast
When first getting started, the concept of burning significant calories or developing muscle can be attractive. This may lead the rucker to carry too heavy a weight, go too far a distance, or attempt to go too fast. Rucking need not be physically damaging to the body. When the happy medium of weight, distance, and speed are found, the body will hit its stride and the results desired will be achieved. Let this happen slowly; don’t force it or attempt to speed up the process.
4. Bad Footwear/Foot Care
“Its gotta be the shoes” — remember this marketing slogan from the late ’80s? Well, in the rucking world, appropriate footwear and foot care can make or break the workout. Some new ruckers want to wear the heaviest boots. Others want to go minimalist. What is comfortable and appropriate will vary based on pronation, volume, and conditions. Regardless what is chosen, take care of the feet that go inside them. Keep toenails short, feet dry, and hot spots covered with moleskin. Disregarding these small issues lead to big problems. Keep your feet in good shape and they’ll carry you far.
5. Too Warm
The body has a natural furnace. When you burn calories, you stoke that fire and warm the body. A common mistake of the novice rucker is starting off too warm, loading up with clothes on a cold body. Instead of wearing multiple layers of clothing then having to stop to shed various garments, consider wearing a wicking layer and a wind-resistant shell. Start off cooler than you feel comfortable and trust your athleticism to warm you as you begin to sweat. Keep your groin, chest, underarms, and head warm and you can let your arms and legs take care of themselves. Going out too warm will cause you to dehydrate quickly and overheat. Work cooler and wear layers with deep zippers to allow you to vent.
Kevin Estela is the owner/head instructor of Estela Wilderness Education, a bushcraft and survival school in New England. He is a Sayoc Kali Associate Instructor, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, and an avid marksman. As a “survival athlete” he can be found regularly testing his physical and mental limitations in the gym, woods, and urban landscape preparing for the fight.