Backpacks for Rucking

GORUCK GR1 21L in Steel

Let’s talk about the best backpacks (rucksacks) for rucking. We’ll highlight some great products that are both functional and stylish, as well as some great rucking accessories that help you get the most out of your gear.

When choosing the best backpack for rucking – you need to consider a few things:

  • Function
  • Form
  • Durability
  • Price

What is Rucking? Rucking is walking (or marching) with a loaded backpack (rucksack in Army-speak). Carrying a heavy load for a long distance is great endurance exercise – and it’s low impact but burns a lot more calories than walking. The roots of rucking lie in the military – where soldiers prepare to carry their essential gear for long distances.

Essential features for the best rucking backpacks

Also, there’s some key features in common with the best rucking backpacks. You should look for these items:

  • Zippers – Nothing makes a backpack worthless quicker than a blown out zipper. Look for high quality zippers whenever possible. Bonus points if it is “silent pull” – meaning it makes a minimum of noise when you open or close it.
  • Ruck plate (weight plate) compartment – A specialized ruck plate compartment will help ensure the ruck load stays stable, comfortable, and in the correct position – high on your back.
  • Laptop compartment – For a versatile EDC (Every Day Carry) ruck – look for a laptop compartment. Even better if it’s fully padded, including on the bottom where damage from an accidental drop is likely to occur.
  • Velcro patch area – If you are going to get into rucking – you’re gonna want to put some patches on – whether showing some style, making a personal statement, or showing off a major achievement – patches have an important role in rucking.
  • Rain proof or some degree of water resistance – If your backpack can’t keep your gear dry in a sudden downpour what good is it? Doubly important if you are carrying a laptop or other expensive electronics. Sure you can double wrap everything in plastic – but that gets old quick – and the one time you don’t do that, it’ll be sure to rain.
  • Wide shoulder straps or padded shoulder straps – Skinny little shoulder straps are going to dig in too much – it’s simply physics – you want the load distributed over the largest surface area for maximum comfort. Go with a model that was wide shoulder straps and padded shoulder straps.
  • Size – Backpacks and rucksacks are rated according to capacity in liters. For example, you’ll hear reference to 21L, 26L, 30L, etc. The bigger the “L” the more it will fit. But there are other considerations as well. Is it a “lay flat” rucksack? These are easier to pack efficiently. Are there special pockets or compartments for laptops, electronics, weight plates, etc? All of these can make the difference between an easier to use rucksack. We’ll highlight some common accessories that can help you get the most out of your ruck below.

Let’s look at some options and rate them according to each category.

GORUCK GR1

GORUCK GR1 21L in Steel

GORUCK designs and builds gear specifically for rucking – and their GORUCK GR1 is a top notch piece of equipment. Built to last, and made in the USA – it’s a practical piece of equipment that is made for real world use.

  • Function – This is a real backpack, made for real world use. Not only that but it’s designed well and gets rave reviews from those who buy it. Features include: Separate (and super-tough) laptop compartment, opens flat for easy packing, MOLLE (rows of webbing – heavy-duty nylon stitched onto the vest/pack to allow for attachments) for versatility, rainproof, and has a hydration port. It’s also compatible with GORUCK ruck plates, which are compact weights perfect for ruck load. Lastly, this backpack was designed specifically for rucking. The right model will keep the weight high on your back.
  • Form – It’s available in two sizes – 21L and 26L. The 21L is the recommended model for nearly anyone, but if you are 6 foot plus in height – you can get more space with the 26L. By the way, the L is for “liters” – meaning capacity. It’s also available in all black with no logos – which is required by the US military for personnel to use non-government issued backpacks that don’t match the camoflauge uniform in use. There’s many other colors and styles available as well.
  • GORUCK GR1 rucksack in java
  • Durability – GORUCK claims to overbuild their gear and it’s got a lifetime warranty (aka the SCARS warranty) to back that up.

    It’s a heavy duty rucking backpack, it’s that simple. Made from 1000D Cordura, which has a good strength/weight ratio and it’s resistant to abrasion, cuts, and wear.

  • Price – Check the GORUCK website for current prices.

Need a backpack for business or personal travel (especially with a computer) – and you want to reap the fitness benefits of rucking? This is the piece of gear for you.

Rucking has a lot of acronyms and terms – AAR, EDC, HTL, GRC, GR1, and more. If you want to decipher these check out our Rucking dictionary.

Is this too expensive? Not in our opinion – it’s dual purpose gear that will last a lifetime and it has features you can’t find in cheaper backpacks. About the time you’re on your 3rd cheap backpack you may wish you’d bought the GR1.

Lastly, if we’re going to lug this thing everywhere – let’s make it look good. The GR1 comes in a variety of styles – from business commuter to combat ready – and has a cool velcro patch area – slap a sweet looking GORUCK patch on there if you’re at a loss for any other ideas.

The GORUCK GR1 21L rucksack is available in these styles and colors for 2018

The GR1 is a nice trade-off between capacity and bulk – if you need more space, check out the GR2 or GR3.

Why not a hiking backpack? Generally speaking, hiking backpacks aren’t the best option for rucking. Why? because they rely extensively on a hip belt to put the majority of the load on your hips. Much of the benefit of rucking is had from including the upper body in the action – and that means keeping the load high on the back, and off the hips. For very long ruck marches, a hip belt (and a sternum strap) can be a useful addition to vary loads over different musculature over time, but for short rucks you’re going to miss out on upper body training benefits if you rely on one too much. Hiking backpacks are also pretty large and specialized – and not real practical for other normal travel or commute uses.

What’s a frame sheet and do I need one?

A frame sheet will help make your ruck stronger. It allows for a higher-up weight placement when rucking – keeping the weight up high helps prevent your shoulders from being pulled backwards. Overall this will reduce fatigue and help you go farther.

It’s a standard feature of every GORUCK GR1 backpack – another reason why these backpacks are the best for rucking.

The Rucker 2.0

GORUCK's Rucker 2.0 - a purpose built rucksack - no laptop compartment, more padding in the straps , and compatible with GORUCK Expert ruck plates.

The Rucker 2.0 is GORUCK’s simpler rucksack made specifically for rucking.

There’s no laptop compartment, and it’s a bit cheaper than the GR1.

It’s also got thicker padding on the straps and works best with the Expert ruck plates. They’ll stay nice and high on your back – as they should. It’s also got a D ring in the interior.

Otherwise, it’s very similar. 21L capacity, MOLLE webbing, frame sheet, rain proof, made from 1000D Codura, 2×3 velcro patch area, hydration port, silent pull zippers, etc.

The main decision point is really – do you need to carry a laptop or not? Or want to save some coin?

There are also less color options on the Rucker.

Need to pack more?

Need to pack more in the space you have in your rucksack? Here’s some useful ideas. Consider these “best practice” accessories that will help you sub-divide the space in your ruck, or to use the space more efficiently. These choices have been picked from the “best of the best” reviews from experienced ruck marchers.

NOMATIC Vacuum Bag - great for getting more space out of your ruck sack or backpack

The NOMATIC Vacuum Bag (Buy on Amazon) is a great solution for packing more in the space you’ve got. Its durable air tight fabric and air valve allow you to suction down clothes or other soft goods to conserve space. The Vacuum Bag also makes a great place to put wet or dirty gear while traveling to keep your other valuables clean and separate. You can increase packing efficiency up to 300% for soft goods – and best of all no pump is needed.

The NOMATIC Vaccuum bag helps make more space in your ruck - by compressing out all the air - fit more in the same space.

Need to keep your gear better organized?

Greyman Tactical rigid MOLLE panel

Additionally, you can use a Greyman Tactical rigid MOLLE panel (Buy on Amazon). This size will fit nicely in the GORUCK GR1 – and let’s you secure various items as you see fit.

This MOLLE Panel will work great with an item such as the VooDoo Tactical Men’s Enlarged EMT Pouch (Buy on Amazon).

VooDoo Tactical Enlarged EMT Maxpedition Grimloc 4-pack D-rings

And whether you are attaching things on an internal MOLLE Panel or on the MOLLE webbing on the outside – you can use these Maxpedition’s Grimloc D-rings/Carabiners (Buy on Amazon). These are super-versatile and put ordinary carabiners to shame. It’s a locking D-Ring that can be used on any 1″ wide piece of webbing and replaces the metal carabiner. It’s strong enough to hold equipment – but has a break-away design to prevent snagging hazards.

Another item that can help with keeping your ruck’s contents better organized is the Eagle Creek Pack It Cube Set (Buy on Amazon). What is this? It’s a set of small zippered containers that let you keep gear better organized within the backpack – it’s almost like having “shelves” in your backpack. These are available in a selection of colors, are easy to wash, and are sized as follows: Small is 4″ x 8″ x 2″, Medium is 7″ x 10″ x 2 1/2″ and the Large is 10″x14″ x 3″. These don’t make more space, but they make the space more usable, and easier to access. These work great in your regular travel luggage too. And they’ve got a lifetime warranty.

The Eagle Creek Pack It Cube set can help keep your gear organized - in your backpack, rucksack, or luggage

Don’t forget your feet

For military training purposes rucking in boots is recommended – to accurately reflect the real world. For civilians wear a shoe that is comfortable and matches the territory you’ll cover.

But in either case remember that you’ll be out in the real world – and it can be hot or rainy or both. And keeping your feet dry is important for the most comfort. But don’t forget about blisters as well. Long distances and extreme conditions put you at greater risk for these.

Injini Mens Toesocks - Superior moisture prevention and hot spot and blister prevention, thanks to 5 individual sleeves for each toe.

To avoid this, we recommend the Injinji Liner Crew Toesocks (Buy on Amazon). What’s the benefit of these? They provide superior moisture management and eliminates skin-on-skin friction which is one of the primary causes of blisters. The secret is the individuals sleeves for each toe. And these make a big difference.

Why GORUCK Products? We’re a GORUCK affiliate – so if you order equipment after clicking the links in this article we receive monetary compensation. But that’s not why we recommend GORUCK. It’s because their equipment is innovative, built to last, and made in America. They are the driving force behind rucking not just as exercise, but as a way to make people better. And that’s why we love them.

Photo Credits

  • Some product photos on this page are provided by, and property of GORUCK.
  • Other product photos are property of the manufacturer, and provided by the manufacturer.

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