As I prepared myself for my 2nd GoRuck Challenge, I sought to improve upon both my gear choices AND how I utilized my gear.
As I made clear during my write-up of my 1st GRC, one of the challenges I faced over the course of that night was dealing with the limitations and weaknesses of my consumer-grade trail pack.This is how I soldiered my bricks through my 1st challenge:
I wrapped all of my bricks into one large package of six bricks and bubble wrapped the whole mess. This approach was less than ideal, as it allowed all of the weight to sink to the bottom of my pack. I really didn’t recognize this as a “problem” during my 1st challenge however, as I had so many other problems with my pack zippers and shoulder straps. “Ideal load distribution” didn’t even show up on my radar that night. As such, when I got my new GoRuck GR1 early in the fall of 2012, I began training with my original setup: 6 bricks, bubble wrapped, dropped right into the pack:
Over time, through GoRuck community Facebook groups, I began to see how other GRT’s distributed the weight in their packs. There are many different approaches that have gained popularity in the community and I experimented with quite a few of them. Utilizing the MOLLE webbing to distribute the weight higher in the pack is a common approach, so I picked up some straps from my local REI and weaved them through the MOLLE webbing on the inside of the pack, like the image below.
I stripped the bricks of their bubble wrap and lashed them to my ruck. These straps allowed me to take the full, duct-taped compliment of 6 bricks and strap them reasonably high on my back. This approach had a few pros and cons.
- Slightly better weight distribution, as the load was drawn away from the lower back.
- More room in the pack for additional items
- Weight did not shift significantly inside the pack to one direction or another
- This still felt awkward. My center of gravity just felt ”off” with all of the weight up high between my shoulder blades
- With the higher, off-balance center of gravity, quick lateral movements seemed to allow the pack’s momentum to pull against my body, throwing me off balance. Again, it just felt “off”
- Vacant space in the bottom of the pack needed to be filled with SOMETHING, as the empty cavity in the ruck made the pack want to roll up on itself. This made it awkward to put the pack on and off. This also caused the rolled-up bottom of the pack to press against the lower back in an unnatural way.
All-in-all, this approach caused as many problems as it solved and was not the ultimate fix I was looking for. So I experimented, brainstormed and studied up some more. One GRT mentioned to me that he had used a yoga block as a space filler to add rigidity to his pack. Why the hell didn’t I think of that?? Another mentioned use of sliced pool noodles. NOW I was getting somewhere! After a bit more trial and error I finally settled on the layout of my GR1 for my next challenge.
1st, I picked up a yoga block and some foam pipe insulation, then I split my 6-pack o’ bricks into a block of four bricks, and two individual bricks. I then taped these up well:
I then measured and cut the pipe wrap so that I could use it to border my main block of four bricks, near the top of my ruck. I laid these foam segments in two stacked layers around the perimeter of those bricks, like so:
Additional sections of pipe wrap were cut to be positioned below the main block of bricks. The remaining two bricks were then placed vertically in the bottom of the ruck, with a light, foam yoga block as a spacer in between. The whole setup looked like this:
I could tell already, this was going to work GREAT!
I currently utilize a hydration bladder from Osprey called a HydroForm Reservoir. One of the features of this product is the rigid framesheet along the back of the bladder. This allows for the bladder to keep its shape and, when used as designed, allows the reservoir to follow the curvature of your back.
In my case, this curved profile allows the water to sit nicely in the vacant space on top of my yoga block near the base of my ruck. The bladder fits perfectly:
As you may or may not know, the GoRuck GR1 pack DOES have a pocket for the hydration bladder in the rear of the pack, between the wearer’s back and the main compartment. This pocket works fine, and I DO use it during everyday use, but it’s less than ideal for challenges. The GoRuck Challenge can often feature stretches where you simply don’t have long enough breaks to fish out your bladder hose, remove the bladder from your pack, fill it up, and methodically slide it back in place, while weaving your hydration tube back through the designated opening.
Not only do you need a balanced ruck, but also speed and efficiency on this day! Supplies need to be AT HAND, water refills need to happen QUICKLY. Fast, quick, dirty, accessible. You may need to do this with gloves on. Because of this, the easy accessibility of the main compartment exists as the ideal place to stash your hydration bladder for a Challenge… right on top of your bricks. I simply fished the tube between the two zippers of the main compartment for routing across the shoulder of my choosing:
This may not be as pretty as using the bladder compartment in the ruck, but let’s face it: The GoRuck Challenge is a lot of things, but “pretty” ain’t one of ‘em.
I’ve had the chance to do a few short training hikes with this setup, and I have to say: the feel, balance, and usability of this configuration is a VAST improvement over every other setup I’ve tried.
- Perfect weight distribution. This setup does an excellent job of distributing weight between your upper, middle and lower back. This addressed all of my center of gravity issues from previous setups.
- Excellent balance. With the ruck packed tightly, the weight cannot shift inside the pack. Moreover, the weight never seemed to pull me in any direction when making lateral movements or bending over.
- Moderately improved buoyancy. You may or may not get wet during a challenge (*COUGH*). Your pack may or may not come with you into the water. If it does, the impact may be negligible, but the added buoyancy of those pieces of foam can’t hurt.
- Room for water. This setup makes it easy to move the hydration pack into the main compartment in a way that doesn’t allow it to slosh around.
- Packing your ruck in this fashion means you have to depend upon the secondary pockets of the rucks for snacks and supplies, as the main compartment is essentially filled to capacity.
I will be using this setup for my GoRuck Challenge with class# 501 on 4/13/2013 and will offer a Post-Challenge Review of my gear preparedness at that time. All-in-all, I feel pretty good about my newly refined approach. The only thing that was missing was a little home-brewed morale patch, scrawled right onto my bricks, to lift my spirits when the going gets tough!
Happy rucking my friends.
[infobox] Post Challenge Thoughts: This setup worked GREAT. The balance and feel of this setup over the course of a Challenge was just perfect… even when we lost strap privileges. Admittedly, my back and shoulders were stronger for my 2nd Challenge than they were for my 1st, but the difference in comfort and manageability between the two events was like night and day. I barely thought about my pack for most of the Challenge, which is obviously saying quite a lot. I highly recommend this setup for anyone who is looking for a way to improve their ruck loadout for their next Challenge. [/infobox]