Pssst. People are rucking all around you.
ON A RECENT sunny Sunday afternoon, Sheri Hollinger, who is known around town as the Mother Rucker, hiked with a friend along Leif Erikson Drive, the fire road that traverses Forest Park in Northwest Portland. It is popular for rucking, a type of exercise that involves walking while carrying a weighted backpack or vest.
Hollinger, 57, rucked only four miles that day, to accommodate the journalist tagging along, but she regularly travels distances as long as 30 miles to train for a 65-mile event. She co-leads one of the only all-female ruck clubs out there, Portlandia Ruck Club, where her fellow ruckers made her a hashtag: #SheriMadeMeDoIt.
Historically, rucking has had a vibe that’s male, mostly East Coast, and military. It is best known as foundational training in the US Army Special Forces, where packing heavy gear is a critical part of missions. Beyond the military and people training for multiday hikes, many haven’t heard of rucking, and why would they? There’s little to sell, no monthly memberships to hype, and no exercise studio to visit—and, critically, rucking is invisible. Ruckers appear to be normal walkers wearing backpacks. Yet the workout has been gaining momentum—seven clubs now exist across Oregon—due to the social appeal and laundry list of health benefits, including building strength and bone density while incinerating calories at a notably high clip.
Hollinger, a mother of six and grandmother of four, describes her prerucking self as “depressed and overweight.” She started rucking three years ago using a bag of flour for weight, and so far has finished a 50-mile ruck, with some help from friends. “The camaraderie is my favorite part. We help each other push through. And if you can overcome something like a 50-miler, then it isn’t so upsetting later on, when a friend isn’t talking to you. Rucking improves your mental wellness.”
The activity gained popularity when the Florida-based brand Goruck launched in 2010, and proceeded to organize thousands of events worldwide and a Tribe ’n Training program. The brand sells narrow packs that hold weighted plates, training weight vests, and rucker backpacks ($115–285); some packs come with handles on all sides for Crossfit exercises. “Besides niche military chat rooms, no one talked about rucking,” says founder Jason McCarthy, who retired from special forces in 2008. He has been as surprised as anyone by the boom in popularity. “We started with extreme events. Then the community started rucking on their own.”
Goruck events include 5k to 50-mile courses with ruckers carrying 10–30 pounds, fitness festivals, and firearms training events, all of which attract fans ranging from army cosplay guys to longevity gurus like Peter Attia. “I’ve become semiobsessed with an activity called rucking,” the doctor wrote in his 2023 book, Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity. “I’m strengthening my legs and my trunk while also getting in a solid cardiovascular session. The best part is I never take my phone on these outings.”
But ruckers say that the people are what keep them coming back. “I’ve met my best friends through rucking events,” says Stephanie McGrew, cofounder of online community Girls Who Ruck and co-organizer of an annual autumn Badass Babes Goruck event, held in 2023 in New Orleans. She speaks of the unlikely mix of participants from coast to coast, including, yes, Stumptown. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have conversations with these people, which is what you do when you ruck.”
It doesn’t take much to start. You’ll need:
- Durable shoes: Ruckers wear hiking boots, hiking shoes, or army boots.
- Backpack: Preferably with a waist belt, chest strap, and padded shoulder straps. Specialized rucking backpacks stabilize the weight high and close to the body, but they aren’t essential.
- Weight: Either buy a rucking plate, or use water, sand, or rocks (stuff in a pillow or ball of clothes for stability and added padding). ModGear sells water packs that carry up to 20 pounds of water and fold flat. A kid in a backpack carrier works. So do groceries.
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