What's the Difference Between Rucking and Hiking?

You've seen them in person or online. More and more health-conscious adults are wearing weighted backpacks or maybe strapping on a weight vest during their walks through the neighborhood, at the park, or across town. To the untrained eye, one might think it's some peculiar urban hiking initiative. No. This isn't hiking; it's rucking, and there's a difference.

Rachel Watters at Ruckfest

Rucking is a term often used in military training and refers to walking or marching while carrying a weighted backpack or rucksack. The weight carried during rucking is typically heavier than what is carried during hiking. The purpose of rucking is to build endurance, strength, and mental toughness, as it simulates the physical demands of military operations where soldiers often carry heavy loads over long distances. Rucking is commonly done as a part of military training or as a fitness activity for individuals looking to challenge themselves physically and mentally.

Hiking for scenery is different than rucking for endurance

Hiking, on the other hand, is a recreational activity that involves walking or trekking in natural environments such as trails, mountains, forests, or national parks. Unlike ruckers, hikers are trying to avoid carrying any unnecessary weight. While they may carry a small backpack with essentials such as water, snacks, navigation tools, and extra clothing, the hiker's goal is to keep things as light as possible. Hiking is still a form of outdoor exercise, but the focus of hiking is usually on enjoying nature, exploring scenic landscapes, and experiencing the outdoors. Hiking can vary in intensity and difficulty depending on the terrain and distance covered, but it is generally less physically demanding than rucking.

Here are some specific differences between rucking and hiking:

  1. Purpose: Rucking is primarily done for physical training and conditioning purposes, focusing on building strength, endurance, and mental resilience. Hiking, on the other hand, is mainly done for recreational and leisure purposes, allowing individuals to enjoy nature and engage in outdoor exploration.

  2. Weight: Rucking involves carrying a significant amount of weight in a backpack or rucksack, typically 20 pounds (9 kg) or more. The weight is deliberately added to increase the physical challenge. In hiking, the weight carried is usually minimal, with emphasis on carrying essentials for safety and comfort.

  3. Intensity: Rucking tends to be more physically intense due to the added weight and the focus on training and pushing one's limits. Some ruckers even do it at a jogger's pace, but that's the elite exception as most enjoy rucking as an alternative to running. Hiking can be leisurely or challenging depending on the trail and personal preference, but it generally involves a lower level of intensity compared to rucking.

  4. Duration: Rucking sessions are often structured and timed, with specific distances or time targets to be achieved. Hiking, on the other hand, has a "let's see how far this creek takes us" vibe to it. It can vary in duration, ranging from short day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips. 

It's worth noting that rucking and hiking can complement each other. Hiking can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors and build endurance for rucking. Additionally, rucking can provide a unique challenge and help develop the physical and mental strength needed for more demanding hikes or backpacking adventures. Both activities offer their own benefits and can be tailored to individual preferences and goals.

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