Firstly, before I piss off any hardcore hikers reading this, the following article is constructed from my own experiences and is merely one man’s opinion. Fitness and health in general is subject to the interpretation of the individual.
Now, with that out of the way…
What is hiking?
Hiking is when one goes for an extended walk either with or without carrying equipment. It is generally done for pleasure and moderate exercise whilst enjoying being amongst nature. Quite often, people hike across country and up hills or mountains and generally carry only what that require for that particular hike. Generally, a hiker would carry no more that 20-25% of their bodyweight.
How is rucking different?
The term ‘rucking’ originally came from the U.S. military. A ‘rucksack’ is what we, in the Australian military, would call a ‘pack’ — and our terminology for rucking was usually either ‘going for a pack march’ aka ‘going for a stomp’.
Rucking is always done with a reasonably heavy load. While starting out, these loads may be 20% of your bodyweight, but could also be as high as 50-60% depending on what outcome you’re going for.
The sole purpose of rucking is to increase your body’s ability to carry load over varying terrain and distances. The benefits of rucking from a physiological point of view are phenomenal to say the least.
Carrying load over distance burns a huge amount of calories, and you can ruck for much greater times frames than running alone. If you are incorporating hills or stairs into your ruck work, then this will dramatically increase your work rate and reduce the time needed to achieve the training effect.
Which is best?
After 14 years in the military, I’ll be the first to say that I never would have thought — not in a million years — that I would have voluntarily put a heavy pack on my back and go for a walk.
I think when you are told to do a certain task, told how much weight to carry, told where to walk, how fast to walk and when you can stop to rest, you just don’t enjoy any of it.
These days, though, I find both rucking and hiking thoroughly enjoyable. I try and get out for one shorter ruck each week with a pack weight of 25-28kg and go up either stairs or small hills in suburban terrain.
I do this mainly for the fitness aspect and as a form of mediation in motion if you will. This form of ruck work also makes my hiking so much easier and I can really look up and enjoy immersing myself in nature without huffing and puffing and always wanting to stop and rest.
I then aim to get out once every few weeks into nature, carrying only what I need, and go for an extended walk over varying distances ranging from 20-50kms.
Apart from the physical benefits, I find hiking especially good for destressing. I think taking the time for yourself to enjoy nature and moving your body for longer periods of time could benefit just about anyone.
I have always encouraged my clients to walk. I have been a personal trainer in Perth for many years now and only a small handful of clients have ever really taken me seriously on just how good walking can be for both your mind and your body.
So how do you start?
I firstly suggest just going for a walk in comfortable walking shoes. Start with 20 mins twice a week and build from there. Once you can comfortably walk for 60 minutes without rest you are probably ready or a rucksack.
I would make sure you have a decent rucksack that is suitable for your body type. Going to any good army surplus store or outdoor adventure place should have the right advice for you.
Start your first walk with an empty ruck. Then each week add 2.5-5kg but don’t rush to get your pack as heavy as possible in the shortest times frame. Your body has to adapt to the load and this new walking position.
For a novice I would say the heaviest you will need to go to is 15-25% of your bodyweight depending on the terrain. Always take water with you and hydrate as you go. Try and mix up the terrain and distances depending on how you feel each time. Don’t force yourself to walk if every now and then you just don’t feel like it. To really enjoy it you must want to walk, so give yourself a break from time to time. Rest and mindset is important too!