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  • Writer's pictureKen Schafer

Build An Inexpensive Rucking Pack

What is Rucking?


Rucking is walking, hiking, and sometimes even running with a weighted backpack as a form of exercise. Rucking is often used as an alternative to running for aerobic exercise. In general, rucking is done over a distance for time. Rucking may be a great alternative if you dislike running and find that walking is not challenging enough. Also, it’s a great way to prepare for hiking. 


When rucking, you can vary the weight, speed, and sometimes terrain to increase or decrease the workload. The specifics of how to train are outside the scope of this article, but I often get asked how rucking compares to running. In general, rucking is less intense than running aerobically, except for rucking up steep hills. When using heavy loads, rucking generally requires greater leg strength than running. 


What Is Needed for Rucking?


Other than appropriate clothing and footwear. You only need a backpack and something to put in the pack for weight. The pack you choose must be sturdy enough to handle your load. However, as you increase the weight, comfort becomes an important consideration. This article will focus on making a rugged, comfortable, cheap rucksack.


Rucking Weight


It’s essential to keep in mind weight is relative. What is considered heavy and light depends on the size, age, gender, and fitness level of the individual. A 100-pound woman and a 250-pound man should probably not be targeting the same pack weights. Any weights mentioned in this article are just examples and rules of thumb; don’t take them too seriously. 


Lighter Weights


Almost any sturdy backpack will be fine if you are rucking with lighter weights, generally below 20 lbs. Start by using whatever you have, and if there are no comfort issues, stick with that until you can increase the weight. 


Heavier Weights 


As you increase the weight of your rucksack, weight distribution becomes an important consideration. The shoulder straps, waist belt, and frame become increasingly important in helping you to carry your pack comfortably. I’ve had to carry heavy packs for long distances where I couldn’t properly adjust for the load, and it was miserable. I don’t recommend doing it unless you have to.


Packs Designed for Rucking


GoRuck Packs Are Expensive


There are commercially available packs developed specifically for rucking. GoRuck is the only company I know currently producing packs designed explicitly for rucking. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive. You will unlikely be able to gear up for less than $250, even if they are having a sale. If you don’t mind spending that kind of money, then based on their reputation, you may want to consider buying from them. 


Military Surplus Packs


Consider looking at military surplus packs if you want a heavy-duty pack suitable for rucking with heavier loads. You can assemble a versatile, rugged pack for around $100 to $125, especially if you are willing to shop around. I have experimented extensively with military surplus packs and found several combinations of old-style Alice packs and newer Molle gear that work well together.

 

Components of Rucksack


The Pack


The first component I recommend is a medium Alice pack. Medium Alice packs are cheap and plentiful. They are also light, rugged, and a good size for weight distribution. I have also experimented with large Alice packs. Large Alice packs are harder to find, more expensive, and it’s more challenging to concentrate weight efficiently for rucking, but are perfectly good for rucking.


Frame


I recommend two frames: the traditional Alice Pack Frame and the Molle 1609 frame. 


Alice Pack Frame 


Actual Army issue Alice pack frames are getting harder to come by and more expensive. I will occasionally see them reasonably priced on sites where people sell used items. You will pay much more if you get one from an Army Surplus store. These are good to get if you can, but I don’t recommend paying top dollar just to get one for rucking.


Knock-off Alice Pack Frames


Because of the availability of medium Alice packs and the lack of Army issue frames, there is a demand for third-party knock-off frames. While these knock-offs are inferior to the original frames, they are much cheaper, and I have found them to be perfectly adequate for rucking.  Would I want to use them in a tactical combat situation? No, but I have never had an issue with knock-off frames for walking around with a weighted pack. Your experience might vary. 



Alice Pack Frame
Alice Pack Frame



Alice Pack Frame Side View
Alice Pack Frame Side View



1609 Open Molle Frame


The 1609 Open Molle Frame has become my go-to frame for the medium Alice pack. They are light and comfortable. I hesitate to use these if you ruck with weights greater than 60 lbs, but very few people will ruck with that much weight outside the military.  Also, if you are going to use a 1609 frame with an Alice waist belt, you will have to do a small modification. I’ll discuss that more later on. 





Molle 1609 Frame
Molle 1609 Frame



Shoulder straps


Alice Pack Shoulder Straps


Like Army-issue Alice frames, Army-issue Alice shoulder straps are getting hard to find. In my opinion, Army-issue Alice shoulder straps are not ideal for rucking, especially with heavy loads. So I don’t recommend them. The cheap knock-offs that are available should be avoided at all costs. If you get a pack with cheap knock-offs included, I recommend throwing them away. 

There are some more expensive Alice-compatible, third-party straps that I do like for rucking, but they will add to the overall costs. One third-party maker of Alice pack-compatible straps I’ve had good luck with is Fire Force. I’m sure there are other brands out there, but I recommend these if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars. 




Army Issue Alice Pack Straps
Army Issue Alice Pack Straps



Molle Shoulder Straps


If you are trying to save every dollar possible. I recommend going with Molle-style shoulder straps. They are comfortable, cheap, and can be used with Alice and Molle frames. In my experience, these straps do a great job of distributing weight on your shoulders. The downside with Molle straps is that you cannot match the color to your Alice pack. Personally, I don’t care about that, but some people might. 





Molle Rucking Shoulder Straps
Molle Rucking Shoulder Straps



Waist Belts


Alice Pack Waist Belts


Again, Army-issue Alice pack waist belts are getting harder to find, but I have found them to be adequate for rucking. If you go with a third-party Alice-compatible waist belt, again, I’ve found the Fire Force brand to be excellent. Alice pack waist belts can obviously be used with Alice frames. If you want to use them with Molle 1609 frames, you must modify the frame slightly. I will discuss this later on. 




Army Issue Alice Pack Waist Belt
Army Issue Alice Pack Waist Belt


Molle Waist Belts


There are two Molle waist belt styles: one for larger packs and another for medium-sized packs. Many people swear by the belt for large packs. I have not had good experiences with them. To be fair, I believe my problems were directly related to my being short, but I found the large Molle waist belts dug into my glutes and were extremely uncomfortable, and I was never able to find a way around this. Because of this, I recommend using Molle belts designed for medium-sized packs. Both styles of Molle belts can be used with Alice pack frames and the Molle 1609 frames. 



Large and Medium Molle Waist Belts
Large and Medium Molle Waist Belts


Weight for the Pack


You can literally use anything that will fit into your bag for weight. Ideally, it’s best to distribute the weight as close to your body as possible, and the heaviest weight should be up near your shoulders. 


Among other things, I’ve used sandbags, weight plates, dumbbells, and weight vests. You will probably have to experiment with packing and distributing the weight, but your goal is to pack the weight close to your body and up near your shoulders. Also, pack it tightly enough so the weight will not be shifting around. I use cloth and other lightweight materials as filler when needed. 


Recommended Configurations for Mixing and Matching Items


The Hellcat Alice/Molle Hybrid Pack


A popular Alice pack mod is called the Hellcat Mod among bushcraft community members. For rucking, I recommend a slightly modified version of this configuration. You won’t need the Molle sleep system carrier. However, if you choose to include it, that’s fine.


This configuration includes a medium Alice pack, an Alice frame, Molle shoulder straps, and a Molle waist belt. Again, I recommend the Molle waist belt for medium packs, but many people use the belt for large packs. 




Hellcat Configuration
Hellcat Configuration



Hellcat Configuration Side View
Hellcat Configuration Side View




Here is a link to instructions on how to put the pack together - here!



Modified Hellcat Pack using an Alice Belt


This is my go-to configuration for rucking with heavy loads. It is the same as the original Hellcat modification, except the Molle waist belt is replaced with an Alice pack-compatible waist belt. Fire Force manufactures the one I use.





Hellcat Configuration with an Alice Belt
Hellcat Configuration with an Alice Belt


Modified Hellcat Pack using the Molle 1609 Frame


This is a great configuration if you also want to use your pack as a day pack. It consists of a medium Alice pack, a 1609 frame, Molle Straps, and either a Mollie or an Alice waist belt. Again, I recommend the medium Mollie waist belt. You must modify the frame slightly if you use an Alice waist belt. More on that later.


If I had to choose only one configuration, it would probably be this one. This configuration is probably the most inexpensive and can double as an excellent hiking pack.




Hellcat Configuration with a 1609 Frame
Hellcat Configuration with a 1609 Frame





Hellcat Configuration with a 1609 Frame Side View
Hellcat Configuration with a 1609 Frame Side View



Traditional Alice Pack Configuration


Some people use Alice packs with Alice frames, shoulder straps, and waist belt. If you want to go with this configuration, I recommend replacing standard-issue Alice straps with Fire Force Alice-compatible shoulder straps and maybe the waist belt as well. 




Traditional Alice pack configuration using Fire Force belt and straps
Traditional Alice pack configuration using Fire Force belt and straps




Traditional Alice pack configuration using Fire Force belt and straps
Traditional Alice pack configuration using Fire Force belt and straps


Bare-bones Configuration


This configuration consists of an Alice pack frame and any shoulder strap and belt combo you prefer, but no pack. You will also need to buy an Alice pack frame shelf. With this configuration, the weight is strapped or secured directly to the Alice pack frame on top of the Alice pack shelf at the bottom of the frame. The weights are usually metal plates of some kind.


Personally, I haven’t used this setup. Clearly, this is a single-purpose setup for rucking. If you also want to use your ruck as a general-purpose backpack, then this probably is not the best configuration. 


Modifying the 1609 Frame for Alice Compatible Belts


If you use an Alice-compatible belt with a 1609 frame, you will have to cut out two small sections in the bottom corners of the frame. I easily accomplished this with a handheld hacksaw.




The 1609 Frame Unmodified
The 1609 Frame Unmodified




The 1609 Frame Modified
The 1609 Frame Modified



Final Thoughts


As a general rule of thumb, the more weight you plan to carry, the more you should consider using an Alice pack frame. You probably could go up to 60 or so pounds with the molle frame, but it’s up to you. If you want to have a versatile Alice pack system, consider getting a medium Molle belt, Molle straps, Molle frame, and an Alice pack frame. Depending on the load, you can change the frame as needed.


Places to Shop for the Equipment


I’ve used the following resources to buy my equipment.  Take your time and bargain hunt.

Amazon.com - Amazon is always a good place to start. I have found some great deals there. There is also a lot of overpriced stuff there as well.


Ebay.com - I have found a lot of good deals on gear there. Prices will vary considerably. 

Facebook Marketplace - I regularly see full Alice packs with frames, straps, and belts for sale here at good prices.


Military Surplus Stores - The prices and available equipment vary widely if you use Military Surplus stores. Do not assume that you are going to get a good deal. 

Fireforceusa.com - Good after-market Alice-compatible Belts and Straps.


Approximate Costs:


As of the time I’m writing this article, these are the approximate costs for the following items. Clearly, availability and costs will change over time. Be sure to shop around! 


Medium Alice pack - $30 to $40


Alice frame knock-off - $20 to $30 (these are often sold with cheap after-market straps and belt. The straps and belt should not be used for rucking)


Alice frame, Army issue - $50 to $90 (often sold with Army issue Alice straps and belt)


Alice belt, Army issue - I’ve never seen these sold separately. They are usually sold with packs and frames.


Alice shoulder straps, Army issue - I’ve never seen these sold separately. They are usually sold with packs and frames.


Molle 1609 frame - $10 to $20


Molle shoulder straps - $10 to $20


Molle waist belt - $10 to $20


Alice pack frame shelf - $10 to $20


Fire Force Alice shoulder straps - $40 dollars on Amazon, $50 direct from Fire Force


Fire Force Alice waist belt - $40 dollars on Amazon, $40 direct from Fire Force





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