Read my original nature poems right here!

Read my original nature poems right here!

The Calories I Burn Rucking vs. Walking (5k, 5 miles, 8 miles)

I’m a fan of rucking as a fitness tool for travel, adventure, and hiking. It’s eco-friendly fitness, in my opinion, and strengthens your entire body. Plus, you only buy the gear once (or don’t buy any gear at all–just toss some weights in a backpack). With just a backpack and some weights, you can burn serious calories and get strong.

How many calories can you burn rucking?

I’m glad you asked.

I’m a numbers guy, so I like to watch patterns and choose efficient methods. When it comes to burning calories, rucking is an obvious choice. You’re carrying heavy weight on your back, after all.

Shouldn’t rucking burn a ton of calories?

Well yeah, it should.

Let’s see how many calories rucking vs. walking burns over a few different distances…

My Rucking Setup

I ruck with GORUCK’s flagship rucksack, the reliable GR1. Now, because the GR1 is larger than GORUCK’s rucking-specific Rucker, I use this setup for a more comfortable ride.

  2. Shaddox Tactical Plate Pocket
  3. GORUCK 30lbs Ruck Plate
  4. A good reusable water bottle (especially in North Carolina summers)
  5. Good walking/running/rucking socks like these (my favorite)
  6. Your favorite walking shoes, or something sturdy like GORUCK’s Mackall

Do I need to buy anything to start rucking?

No, you don’t need to buy any gear to start rucking and burning calories. In fact, even GORUCK, the leader in the industry who basically brought the term ‘rucking’ into popular use, recommends just starting with whatever you’ve got. Take all the things I listed above, remove the brand names and see what you’ve got in your closet. A backpack? Check. How about some books or weights? Socks and shoes don’t need to be fancy, either.

Like most things, rucking is all about just getting started.

My Disclaimer about Calories Burned Rucking

Alright, there are some things to get out of the way before we look at my rucking data. Firstly, even expensive wrist-based heartrate monitors (like my COROS Vertix 2) won’t be able to nail down your calories exactly.

I trust that they’ve got the research and technology to get their metrics right, but I’m not sweating my watch being off by a few calories every workout. This is especially true when we’re comparing two types of workouts, like rucking vs walking.

Consistency is most important.

What’s that mean?

Well, for me, I’ve been using my COROS watch for a few years now. That means I know that my perceived effort (how hard a fitness activity feels) always equals a similar amount of calories.

For years I’ve use my watch for running, walking, hiking, rucking, and hot yoga. I’ve paid good attention to the calories burned and how hard I feel I’m working. When I go through a crazy hard hot yoga class, I know if I’ve crossed the 500 calorie threshold. Similarly, if I didn’t feel like the workout was as intense, I’ll know it’s probably around 350 calories burned.

Are these numbers accurate?

I’m no scientist, so I’m not sure. I trust COROS to put a reliable product on the market.

But I do know the numbers are consistent, and that’s enough for me.

My hot yoga efforts, my running efforts, my rucking efforts…I can always tell about where my calorie burn will be, based on how hard I’m working. So I’ve got some good data for you to check out, comparing rucking vs walking.

What about rucking calorie calculators?

Rucking calorie calculators (like GORUCK’s) are pretty neat, but I feel like they can lack reliability. They don’t account for temperature, humidity, how well you slept and what you ate before exercising. That being said, they’re fun tools. GORUCK’s calorie calculator takes some good extra stuff into account, so I’d give it a try.

GORUCK’s calculator tells me I’ll burn about 557 calories in a 90 minute ruck session.

Let’s see how that stacks up against my on-the-ground data, gathered over a few different rucking vs walking distances on my COROS Vertix 2…

Let’s talk about perceived effort and fatigue

You’re going to see a trend in the data below. I won’t spoil it yet. But I want to stress one point: I always feel like a rucking workout is harder than walking. Whether it’s 3 miles or 10 miles, my shoulders, back, hips, and feet feel the difference. I am more tired, more hangry, and want to sit down much more after I wear a rucksack.

That’s perceived effort and fatigue. I feel like it’s harder (that means it was harder) and I’m more tired.

I can also walk 10+ miles without much fatigue. I just love to walk. Plus, I’ve ran ultra marathons that make long walks seem really, really easy (and enjoyable!). So walking never seems like a calorie-torching chore to me.

I’m going to add some long distance walks and rucks to this data because I really just don’t think any ruck or walk under 10 miles challenges me enough.

Anyway, keep this in mind: rucking is harder than walking. Rucking makes you stronger and more athletic than walking will. Does it burn more calories? Let’s see…

My watch data from a 5K ruck vs walk.

1. Calories Burned Rucking 5K vs. Walking 5K

Both of these were very easy efforts for me. My heartrates and calories burned on each workout reflect that. This 5K ruck and walk were both on flat, paved terrain.

WHOA! I burned less calories wearing a 30lbs rucksack while moving faster? Is that right??

Well, dear reader, it appears so.

Now, it was 20 degrees cooler outside during my ruck march, which I think played a part.

But honestly, I just think a 5K ruck isn’t enough stress for me. When I wear my 30lbs ruck, I definitely notice going uphill is harder. No doubt. My shoulders and back are sore after any ruck, too, even if it’s just 3.1 miles.

The perceived effort and fatigue was much higher on the ruck. Isn’t that what we’re after?

Well, not really. This is a discussion on rucking calories burned.

My takeaway from this first set of workouts?

Rucking isn’t going to alter your calorie burning potential overnight.

Let’s see what happens when we go farther…

My watch data from a ~3.6 mile ruck vs walk.

2. 3.56 miles rucking vs. 3.61 miles walking

For this workout, I added some hills, and I think rucking hills make a big difference in calories burned. Why? Well, my perceived efforts on hills is higher than just walking on flat ground.

Rucking uphill is way harder than just walking uphill, but on flat ground the two feel similar.

Half of this ~3.6 loop I did is very hilly. It’s got a local reputation as being a tough running spot, even though it’s less than 2 miles of hills, in total.

Based on these two workouts (and my perceived effort and fatigue), if you start rucking to burn more calories, I’d focus on routes that have more hills.

My watch data from a ~8.3 mile ruck vs walk.

2. 8.3 miles rucking vs. walking

I really expected a bigger difference in calories burned at a distance over 8 miles, especially with the rucking workout being 30 degrees warmer. But you know what? This was a pretty flat walk, with just about 350 feet of gain spread over 8+ miles. As my first set of workouts shows, flat rucking doesn’t seem to burn many more calories than walking without a rucksack.

I did walk a bit slower with the rucksack (I always bring my dogs, and sometimes he stops to sniff more often), but I’m chalking the lack of calorie difference up to the elevation change.

I can walk 8 miles all day without much fatigue (especially when I’m listening to my favorite language learning apps). Adding a 30lbs rucksack, and my average heartrate doesn’t increase much.

But I can say one thing: the 8.33 mile ruck with 30lbs was tough. My shoulders were pretty torched at the end (I took a couple breaks, even) and my legs were feeling it, too. Soreness that day and the next were obvious, which I never feel after a long walk.

Is it possible to have a workout feel much harder (and induce more soreness) but not burn many more calories? I can’t answer that with confidence, but rucking seems to make a case for it. When you ruck, you will be more sore and get stronger, compared to just walking. No doubt about it.

Takeaways: How to Burn More Calories Rucking

My takeaway from these workouts is this: longer workouts don’t seem to widen the margin between rucking and walking, but elevation change does. For example, walking 3 miles and rucking 3 miles won’t widen the margin much on calorie burn, but adding hills really makes the calorie difference stand out.

A rucking workout with hills will burn significantly more calories than the same route walked without a rucksack. On level ground, however, calories don’t change as much.

You know what will change, though?

Your posture, upper body strength, core strength, lower body strength, and cardio health will all benefit massively from rucking instead of walking. I can attest to it: rucking reaches much deeper into your health than just calories burned.

What’s next?

I’ll be adding more workouts to this page, including some gnarly mountain workouts and longer flat ones, too. Plus adding some hot weather data from this coming North Carolina summer. I think the more extreme the elements (heat and elevation) the wider the gap will become on calories burned rucking and walking the same routes.

Moderate workouts in the winter and early spring are pretty comparable, though, in terms of calories.

George Callahan is the creator of Pine Tree Poet. He is an author of fantasy stories and an adventure poet. He prefers mountains and pine trees to most other things, and usually takes his dog Cowboy along for the ride.

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