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Meet Rucking: The Perfect Trail Sport for Offseason Recreation

Born out of military boot camp training, the physical and mental benefits of "Rucking" is taking the recreational community by storm! Here's why you should definitely add hitting the trails with a weighted backpack to your offseason agenda this year.

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"You know what you should write about? Rucking. Seriously, man. Rucking."


As I looked back at the kind-spirited man sitting across from me, I could sense the underlying sincerity in his voice. The subtly commanding tone inherited from decades spent serving in the U.S. military - and continued service with assisting veterans across the Detroit region. A gentle, yet tangible, nudge intended to offer a topical suggestion while affirming its validity.


Fortunately for me, I didn't require any further military-grade convincing. Rucking - simply wearing a weighted vest or backpack while hiking - crossed the Expedition Detroit radar several times as a topic of interest before and throughout our inaugural year. Our interest in this recreational activity is hardly unique: rucking now has 16.8 million views and counting on TikTok under #rucking.


Stated differently, what originated as a military exercise for acclimating soldiers to carrying heavy equipment over long distances has evolved into an international phenomena. A seemingly simple sport that science-backed data continues to reinforce the physical and mental benefits of participating in.


And, dare we say, your next favorite offseason training activity.


Friends, family, and fellow outdoor enthusiasts: meet rucking.

BENEFITS OF RUCKING

When I'm leading a guided hike, I try my best to make the experience as holistically interesting and enjoyable as possible for our guests. While that approach changes from trip-to-trip, the constants are (1) exploring the most beautiful and engaging trails in the Detroit region and (2) providing verifiable information about the destination and activity that we're embarking on. One of my favorite facts, applicable to each of our guided hiking, backpacking, and trail running experiences, is this:


Humans are genetically superior than almost all other species at running and load carrying over long distances.


That's right, naysayers (and Springsteen fans): you were empirically born to run...and ruck.


Per Michael Easter's thorough research on the topic, the human body evolved over millennia to fine-tune its ability to run down prey over several miles, harvest the exhausted animal, and then carry it the same distance back to camp. This is exactly why the human physique of 2023 comes complete with two strong legs, springy arches in our feet, big butt muscles, a plethora of sweat glands, no fur, shorter torsos, and strong grips. Even more specifically, Easter argues that the human body is more inclined to ruck vs. run, due predominantly to mankind's more immediate needs to "distance carry" rather than "distance run" throughout our existence.


So...how exactly does a Paleolithic-era genetic predisposition translate to current health benefits? We're so glad that you asked! Here's a breakdown of the core health benefits of rucking:

  • Cardiovascular Fitness: Rucking isn’t just a leisurely stroll around your subdivision - it's a proven calorie burner that spikes your metabolism and helps you burn more calories than walking alone. Add in the elevation changes inherent to trail rucking and your typical trek elevates into a calorie-burning expedition.

  • Low-Impact Exercise: Rucking constitutes a form of "Low-Intensity Steady State" training, which means it supports fat loss while having a low impact on your joints and connective tissue. Perfect for offseason fitness maintenance while recovering from the wear and tear of peak fall racing.

  • Full Body Strength Building: While rucking won't immediately deliver the camera-ready results expected with weighted strength training, rucking strengthens both the shoulders and the lower body - particularly the upper traps, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The exercise also stabilizes your core, promotes the stability and balance of the muscles in your ankles and hips, and can even assist with promoting better posture.

  • Fitness Level Flexibility: Regardless of your fitness level, you start rucking. Since rucking only involves the adjustment three variables – weight, distance, and intensity – the activity is easy to rev up or down based on your fitness experience, preferences, and goals.

  • Mental Resiliency: By solely adding a weighted vest or backpack to your typical hikes, you will add a notable degree of difficulty to what was formerly a comfortable activity. Rucking provides one of the most effective - but manageable - means of increasing your resiliency and mental fortitude in the outdoors. Studies support that building up your resiliency through acts like rucking will translate into becoming more ambitious, handling stress healthier, and better performance across life's full spectrum.

  • Simplicity: In terms of simplicity, you simply can't beat rucking. Pick a trail, warm-up, throw a ruck sack on your back, and go. That’s it.

In summary, the verdict is in that rucking is naturally very, very good for you. So let's keep this trek moving by properly outfitting you for your next rucking adventure.

BEST RUCKING GEAR

Spoiler alert: rucking may have one of the lowest equipment barriers to entry of any recreational sport. If you're already outfitted for hiking or trail running, then you're just a purchase or two away from becoming a fully-stocked rucker. Our backpacking faithful may have already ventured into the sport without even realizing it.


For anyone who is either brand new to rucking or looking to acquire rucking-specific equipment, here's a shorthand reference of Expedition Detroit's recommended gear:

RUCKING BACKPACK

Rating: 4.7/5

Price: $35.99

Carrying Capacity: 45L


The QT&QY Tacticial Training Backpack comes purposefully designed to facilitate your rucking training sessions - as well as any other backcountry adventures that you may embark on this offseason. Each backpack features waterproof fabric, breathable support, 45L capacity for weights and other gear, and ample webbing for attachments. All compartments feature high quality zippers with two-way openings, including the ability to lay 180 degrees flat for easy packing/unpacking. Weights are not included with the purchase of the backpack.

RUCKING WEIGHTED VEST

Brand: RunMAX

Rating: 4.6/5

Price: $36.71 - $439.99 (price based on weight)

Weight Range: 20 - 150lbs


The RunMAX weighted vest has all the features that you'll need for an effective rucking vest. With a weight capacity ranging from 20lbs all the way up to 150lbs, you can modify the vest's weight by removing or adding the desired weight. You can also purchase shoulder pads with the vest extra comfort, and the best includes both a water bottle holder and phone pocket.


RUCKING STANDALONE WEIGHTS

Brand: Yes4All

Rating: 4.8/5

Price: $22.99 - $78.00 (price based on weight)

Weight Range: 10 - 45lbs


The Yes4All Ruck Plates are the ideal standalone weights for packing into your go-to rucking backpack. Constructed of solid cast iron and covered with a black paint coating finish, these plates can stand for years without corrosion, oxidation, and rust. The plates fit seamlessly into standard rucksacks for superior stability.


ADDITIONAL GEAR

While the above items are the only "rucking-specific" gear items on our list, we also strongly encourage you to review our articles on two other important gear genres: proper footwear and night gear. For footwear, we recommend treating rucking exactly like backpacking - supportive trail runners for easier rucks, durable boots for difficult sessions. For night gear, always remember that visibility is safety. While your rucking backpack may be camouflaged, your headlamp and reflective gear should aim to undermine its covert qualities.

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BEST RUCKING TRAILS

So now that you have your backpack or weighted vest, the next logical question is obviously "Where should I ruck?" Yes, you could obviously just walk out the door and ruck around your neighborhood for a mile or two. But come on...where's the fun in that?


For our more expeditious readers - i.e., you since you're currently reading these words - we've highlighted three of our favorite trails for your rucking adventures. These trails are organized from beginner-friendly to advanced, so please explore them in proportion to your comfort level and ability. You can also utilize these trails as benchmarks for tracking your rucking progression.


Most importantly, you'll be reaping the benefits of rucking, within three of the most pristine trails in the Detroit region, during a time of year where most outdoor enthusiasts opt for the treadmill.


Here are our top recommended rucking trails:

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1. MAYBURY STATE PARK | Northville, MI

Trail Rating: Beginner-Friendly

Trail Length: 3.1 miles

Trail Elevation Gain: 127 feet

Trail Orientation: Loop

Maybury's family-friendly loop in the heart of the Detroit region has provided a hiking staple for generations. Fortunately for anyone interested in rucking, the oscillating terrain of the trail's multidimensional ecosystem is also perfectly-suited for introductory-level rucking. Maybury's panoramic forests, defined moraine ridge lines, and wildlife-abundant pond will keep you engaged throughout your first steps into this new sport - especially during this fall's peak colors season!

BOOK A GUIDED RUCKING HIKE AT MAYBURY STATE PARK THIS FALL!

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2. BRIGHTON STATE RECREATION AREA | Brighton, MI

Trail Rating: Intermediate

Trail Length: 4.9 miles

Trail Elevation Gain: 393 feet

Trail Orientation: Loop

Ready to up the ante on your rucking sessions? Awesome, we've got the perfect trail for you: Brighton Recreation Area's famous Penosha Trail. Often hailed as Metro Detroit's best day-hiking trail, this ~5 mile loop beautifully features the full spectrum of our region's best natural landscape characteristics. For rucking purposes, however, the steady 0.5 mile incline striking at roughly the 2.5 mile marker will kick the organic benefits of hiking into overdrive when sporting your rucksack. Your legs may not be too thrilled with you in the middle of Penosha's 17% grade incline, but trust us - your celebratory post-hike brew at the Bishop Lake trailhead will taste just that much better when earned.

BOOK A GUIDED RUCKING HIKE AT BRIGHTON STATE RECREATION AREA THIS FALL!

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3. HIGHLAND STATE RECREATION AREA | Highland, MI

Trail Rating: Advanced

Trail Length: 14.7 miles

Trail Elevation Gain: 1,309 feet

Trail Orientation: Loop

We're not going to sugar coat this last one: Highland Recreation Area's infamously adventurous A-B-C-D Loops are very, very difficult. Conquering any one of these loops - let alone all four at once - with a weighted vest or backpack qualifies as a feat worth bragging about. That being said, for Metro Detroit's most hard-nosed, intrepid, experienced, and resilient endurance athletes, this is the trail for you. The hardest of the Detroit region's three "Black Diamond Trails." An adrenaline-fueled rollercoaster of winding climbs, descents, rocks, roots, and bliss in Milford's northwoods.

BOOK A GUIDED RUCKING HIKE AT HIGHLAND STATE RECREATION AREA THIS FALL!

 

Note: Before beginning any new exercise program, you should always consider consulting with your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience any pain.

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