On average, I ruck 6.5 days of the week. I generally only take a day off because I am out of town, my body is sore, or the weather is unsafe (high winds, lightning, rarely heat). And because of the hot and humid climate I live in, the clothing I choose to wear when I ruck is very important for the comfort of the activity.
It’s been a couple years now in Houston where my clothing has been driven from the stuff that will keep me warm and dry enough, to the clothing that will get the sweat off of me and help to keep me from over heating. Here’s the stuff I have tried, and spoiler: only a few of the items are near perfect, while everything else is a series of trade offs.
When it comes to rucking there’s a few items which really matter in a universal sense, in no particular order those are:
- Moisture management: the clothing needs to pull moisture off you and dry quickly. Whether because you got wet while rucking, or because of the sweat build up — maybe both.
- Durability: the clothing needs to hold up, rucks are rough, and friction is something that happens even with the smoother Ruckers GORUCK sells today. Additionally when your bag weighs a ton your clothes will bind and pull at seams, no one wants to tear a seam.
- Movement: I can’t always get my clothing to sit “how it should” when I am soaked with sweat and the sun is beating on me and my ruck weighs 47lbs. The clothes need to allow movement even when bound up.
- Cost: one pair doesn’t cut it, I don’t always do laundry daily. So they need to be low cost enough that I can afford to have a few of them to support the frequency of my workouts.
Ok, keeping those criteria in mind, here are some thoughts on the clothing I generally wear.
There are not many days — a very small window — when I need something more than a long sleeve t-shirt. So the focus here is going to be on warm weather tops, and I’ll touch on some layers later on.
- GORUCK American Training tops: These are what GORUCK says are ideal for rucking, but they are not worth it. They do dry fast and move well, but they are not durable and they stink up fast — adding to all of that: they are expensive. First you might be surprised about the durability, but I don’t mean they fall apart, but since the shirt has a slight sheen to it, and in the wear spots the material starts looking fuzzy and thus matte. These shirts don’t look great to begin with, but they look down right shoddy after a half dozen rucks. And on top of that, they seem to accentuate the amount of body odor you are giving off. If I ruck for 45min in these shirts, I can smell myself and it’s bad. Sometimes I have to wash them twice to get the smell out too (no other shirts on this list have this issue). Flat out: not recommended at all. Waste of money, and that’s despite them being very comfortable to wear.
- Western Rise Session Tee (they sent me this for review): this shirt is really nice. I wish it was a little longer in the body for rucking, but it’s easily the lightest and most breathable layer. It lacks stretch, which it does need more of, and the other downside is that it doesn’t hold up well on my durability spectrum. Like the shirt above, this shirt fuzzes and pills where the wear spots are, and on top of that it looks like a workout shirt so you get that “I am working out vibe” with this, which isn’t my favorite. It’s also pricey. If you absolutely want the best moisture and heat management, this is it, I’ve tested nothing better at all. But it’s more niche. Resists odor well though.
- Beyond Clothing Todra K1 Crew: This is the most recent shirt I have gotten, but I do like it. It’s not as performant as the two above, and faces the same durability issues, but it’s really nice at a lower price. For $35 this shirt represents a great deal. It fits well, is long, very soft to wear, dries quickly but wets fast — it does do a good job with odor control so far (I assume there’s a coating that will fade over time). It is not as breathable as the Session T, but is on par with the GORUCK ones. It moves very well, and the design of the shirt aides with that further as it tends to not bunch as easily as the other shirts on this list. One thing that really sells me on this one is that it looks really nice — not like a nice t-shirt, but it doesn’t scream workout shirt. You could toss it in your bag as your only t-shirt and wear it to work out, or with shorts and be fine either way. That said, it does pill, but those do shave off easily. It pilled a lot after the first few rucks and mildly since then. I am guessing at some point it might stop but I don’t know for sure. If this shirt was any more money, I wouldn’t recommend it, but at $35 or less (discount codes are easy enough to find) it is a pretty solid buy. I have two.
- Under Armour Tactical UA Tech Shirts (Long Sleeve; Short Sleeve): I actually only have these in long sleeve, but I love them. They are super cheap, and really good. They don’t look good on their own like the Beyond Todra does, but they have a lower sheen than the GORUCK shirts and are thinner. They stretch a little less, but generally move well. They dry very fast, rarely stink up fast, and are durable. Mine have a ton of wears, but show very little issues. There’s only minor fuzzing of the shirts in high wear areas and I have had these for well over a year and a half. I wear these even in hot weather to protect against mosquitoes and they breath well enough for me to tolerate sleeves. I know they make Heatgear in the non-tactical line but I can’t be certain it is the same fabric, that said the tactical line has very subdued logos, but also very limited color options. At $24/29 they are a great deal for building up a little more gear.
In general: synthetic, stretch, light weight, not too form fitting and cheap. That’s my recommendation. The only shirts I have ever found that do not start showing wear from my use is the original GORUCK Rucking Shirts made out of a Polartec fabric. I have one that is well over 4 years old and looks brand new. I can’t buy that any more though, so I’ll keep buying the Under Armour for the bulk of my gear and the Beyond Shirts when I can.
Ok, so on this front I do wear pants more often than long sleeve shirts, but still not that often. Luckily the perfect pants for rucking exists, so that is easy. From there, it’s all trade offs with the shorts.
- GORUCK Simple Pants: these are perfect rucking pants. Good breathability, super fast drying, durable, and effective. In fact, I also wear these a lot when I travel as they are generally what I pack as backup pants. They are very light weight and pack down well. The only downside is that they don’t look that good, but they are passable enough for most of the USA. They don’t make too much noise either. There’s a midweight model as well, and I have a pair — those are less perfect. They don’t feel as good, and they are much louder. I have worn those in mid-30°F weather though and they are solid. But the lightweight Simple Pants, most excellent, I have three pairs but you probably only need one. My most worn are the gray ones, which are very light, followed by coyote which I think are most appropriate for general wear. I got charcoal, but I am less of a fan of those, they just look too hiking pant like in that color and I don’t know why. (The Challenge Pants are the mostly the same but with extra zippered cargo pockets.)
- GORUCK Simple Shorts: they are basically the short form of the pants above, in almost every way. I do think they are a little less perfect, as more care could have been put into the styling of them in short form. They come in either short-short length or in 10” length. Which is either too short or too long, I wish they changed these to a 9” length, as that would be much better for rucking. As it is, these are better travel/daily shorts, than rucking shorts for me. I’m a fan, but not a huge fan for daily rucking.
- GORUCK American Training shorts: unlike the American Training shirts, these shorts are actually really solid. I like the pockets, including the zippered pocket, the length is much better. There are only a few downsides: the elastic waistband is a little overkill for me and I wish it was a bit less aggressive feeling; while I like the American flag I would like a pair without any of the flags (same with the Tribe logo ones, which is somehow worse looking to me); and they are lined. I don’t mind lined shorts, but it does limit them to a wash after every wear situation which isn’t always possible when I travel. That said they work well, and even are priced fairly for the workout short market. Of all the shorts for rucking, these are my preferred ones when taking in to consideration price and features/performance.
- Ministry of Supply Newton Active Shorts: these are supremely good (I was sent these to review). The lining is very nice and incredibly breathable. The waist band is smooth and holds firm without pushing hard on you. The pockets kind of suck though as they are not that secure and the only secured method is a pouch in the lining for your phone — which — no thanks. So if the pockets were better, these would be the shorts by a wide margin, but the pockets are not my favorite for rucking and then the price — well they are spendy — and so I am glad I have these, but I am not sure I would buy with my own money given the competition. The logo is nice though, and reflective which is also a nice to have.
- Western Rise Movement Shorts: (these were also provided for review) So far none of the bottoms on this list have shown any wear, but these shorts are developing holes and I have had them less than a year. For that reason alone, I cannot recommend them any longer — they are not durable. They are getting holes in the waistband and discoloring at all high wear areas. Which is too bad because these are otherwise excellent shorts which I really think perform well — but they should last a year especially for shorts as a baseline. If they were more durable, they would be a near ideal short as they travel really well. (For work outs when traveling, Simple Pant/Shorts are what I now pack.)
Bottoms in general: find good pockets to keep your phone and keys from flopping about and driving you nuts, shorter shorts are better, and there’s no reason shorts should be wearing out from rucking. Just get Simple Pants and American Training shorts and be done with it.
Socks are much easier to deal with than the other categories on this list, but worth mentioning a few, as good socks are not cheap but worth their weight in gold:
- Fox River: I wanted to like these, and had heard a lot of good things from military ruckers. I am just underwhelmed by them in every aspect. They are durable and well constructed but they don’t breathe well or manage moisture as well as the others on this list. Durable, yes, and they are inexpensive. You get what you pay for.
- Wildly Goods (sent to me for review): these are very comfortable, but I wore through a pair in well under a year. So on that basis alone, I would skip over these. But they are the socks you want to slip on when you are resting by a nice fire. For rucking, nah.
- Darn Tough: These are the standard, and my favorites are the Light Hiker Micro — they offer enough cushion, but reduce the warmth factor by a ton. They also show very little wear, can be worn for days, and perform darn well. Don’t think about it, get these, that’s easy. You can usually find them on sale somewhere.
- Icebreaker: I’ve never found a pair of these that didn’t feel cheap to me. I won’t wear these, or even pack them in my emergency bags because every time I have tried them I regretted it.
- Smartwool: I have not loved the moisture control on these for rucking, and they fit a little looser so they add friction. For casual wear they are a good buy and often on sale, for rucking your feet will not love this pick. I don’t know, just stay away.
- Farm to Feet: Take everything good about Darn Tough, and then make it feel even better and perform slightly better — that’s Farm to Feet. I love the Damascus line with the ribbed cushion on the top of your foot — they are my perfect sock. They are not cheap and I have trouble finding them on sale, but if you want the best sock — it’s these.
In general: merino wool and nylon blend; pick a crew length (at least) for boots, and a 1/4 crew length for shoes (this helps keep the sock in place and dirt out of your socks. Darn Tough are an easy pick, Farm to Feet are an upgrade pick.
Shoes are a bit like pants, I have one solid no-brainer recommendation, but then it’s a toss up of uncertainty for me.
- GORUCK I/O Cross Trainers: These are my current “wearing shorts” shoes for rucking and my short review of them is: meh. They are not objectively bad, and I don’t have a ton of complaints. They offer a very stable footbed and great traction on anything that is not muddy or wet grass. They hold my foot well and after break in (which was probably 20 miles) they stopped giving me blisters. But the thing is, they look bad, they get dirty super fast, they soak up water (though dry fast) and overall are a little heavy. I’d say: strong pass if you are spending money. I only use them because I have them and can’t bring myself to buy something new until they wear out.
- GORUCK Ballistic Trainers: I love these shoes as a shoe. They are my only sneaker style shoe and so I wear them all over the place casually, for rucking they are full of trade offs. They breathe really well and still offer decent support for your foot. The downside is that for longer rucks I’ve found the foot bed to not be as solid and thus not as protective of your foot. I’ve rucked them a bunch on the beach too and they worked as well as anything there could short of boots. Same tread issues as the I/Os. If all you do is 1-3mile rucks on sidewalks, these are a good buy for a versatile shoe, anything longer and I would find something else.
- GORUCK MACV-1s: these are the gold standard for rucking shoes. I love these, two pairs in, they are fantastic. The all black models are not the best looking, but the newer colors (Jedburgh and Light Brown) look vastly better. They are aces. The new tread has decent traction in mud, and so they work all around for rucking. If I need to put in some miles on my feet, I work hard to make my clothing work with these — rucking or not. They are that good, if you ruck, you should have a pair. If someone told me I could only have one boot, it’s these.
- Hiking boots: No, bad idea. Now, lightweight hiking boots that are like sneakers, that might work but see the last boot option as that will for sure be better.
- Red Wing Iron Rangers: These are not a good choice, I have rucked in mine just to see. And I can confirm this is not good.
- Salomon Speed Cross (I tested 4, 5’s are current): I used these when I started rucking and am a big fan. They fit me well and are comfortable, but there’s a catch. The catch is that the tread is very aggressive so if you ruck on pavement and concrete: the tread will wear out very fast. I barely got a year out of mine. But if you go into dirt and stuff like that, these are fantastic — as tested in Washington forests.
- CrossFit style shoes: I’ve tried a few other random brands for training shoes (Brooks, INNOV8, Nike), CrossFit, and other stuff like that: no thanks. The foot beds on most of these, and honestly most running shoes, are too unstable for my foot and cause my feet to hurt a lot when I ruck.
Short version: you want something with a stable footbed to keep your feet healthy, get the MACV-1 for sure. My next low-top shoe will be the Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 as they seem to advertise better stability and a better hybrid road/trail sole on them.
Ok, here’s the thing, you need a hat. Several reasons: keep rain off your face, keep sweat off your face, keep sun off your face, hide my terrible “I just woke up” hair. All good reasons, here are some of my favorites:
- GORUCK Performance TAC Hat: This is GORUCK’s current offering, and I own two of them. They are not as good of a hat as the original TAC Hats, but the fabric is fantastic. They breathe really well, dry fast, but the bills are curved aggressively (almost too much for me) and the 2×3 patch just isn’t right on them. I think it’s the material as it didn’t bother me on the mesh design. But if they offered one without a patch, that would be my pick. But, it has a patch, so bummer. They don’t look great, perform well, cheap.
- All Day Ruckoff Hat: Similar to the GORUCK design, but a more standard fabric and the logo makes the patch area less aggressive for me. I dig these hats and they are really nicely done. Great buy, great deal, fabric is nothing to write home about. He does offer a 50-50 NYCO hat, which that material is a better pick in general.
- Triple Aught Design Field Hat: I really love this hat. It has no patch area, is low profile, and just all around really solid for $24. There’s only two downsides with this one: mine is Multicam Black and it does show sweat stains after a while, but that washed out fast with only water; and the second is that the sweatband could be much more absorbent than it is. That said, this is my basic/standard pick — as soon as another color I want comes back in stock, I shall be getting it.
- Western Rise Versa (sent to me for review): This hat has a lot going for it. It is mostly waterproof with the soft shell fabric, but where the bill meets the bucket of the hat it does tend to leak in the heaviest of storms. It breathes well, but not as well as the GORUCK hat above. The bigger benefit is that the entire hat can survive being smashed about in a bag without issue, but the trade off of that is the bill doesn’t really hold it’s shape. This is the best normal looking rain baseball cap I’ve ever seen or worn, but it does have trade offs and is pricey at $60.
- Filson Tin Cloth Logger Caps: Filson makes a bunch of Logger Caps with their Oil Finished Tin Cloth. These are fantastic hats for cooler and wet weather. They completely block out wind, and they handle up to moderate rain without wetting out. In Washington, I wore these hats more than any others, and at $50 or less, they are a solid grab since they basically won’t fail on you over the years. They wear warm though.
Bottom line: pick your climate, and optimize your hat for that. There’s a reason I have so many, and that’s because I pick and choose based on the weather of the day.
Outerwear / Rain / Warmth
Alright, look, I live in Houston now so even when it’s raining I often still just wear a t-shirt. There is like maybe 3 weeks of weather where I need something warmer than Simple Pants and a long sleeve shirt. So yeah, but with that in mind here’s some of the items I do recommend and have used for an extra layer:
- RAB Charge Rain Jacket: this is a great warm weather rain jacket. Extremely lightweight, holds up to the rain and rucking, and moves really well. It breathes about as good as you could hope when you are also blocking out rain. Really good stuff.
- For Cold Rain: any heavy rain jacket you got, use that. Seriously, I used a ton of old ones back in WA and never found a reason to complain with those.
- GORUCK Simple Windbreaker: I’ve had this forever now, and I still swear by it. If it gets cold, most of the time I just toss this on over a t-shirt and keep going. It’s the only true clothing item I keep in my ruck at all times when I am rucking. Fantastic item. Handles very light and brief rain, but excels in blocking the wind which keeps you from freezing.
- GORUCK Shemagh: there are many brands out there and I have tried a bunch of them, but I like the GORUCK ones the best. The Triple Aught Design ones feel equally nice, but the patterns there suck. The GORUCK ones look solid and feel great. I use these to manage sweat on a hot day, to keep the sun off the back of my neck if I pick an area not shaded, and in the cold to keep my neck warm from the wind under my jacket. I keep a Shemagh in pretty much every bag I take with me no matter what the activity or location.
- Beanie: I still love the All Day Ruck Off Beanie and it’s all I wear in cold weather. Looks great, feels great, insulates great.
- Gloves: you need some, I don’t have a good recommendation for you at this time. Houston…
- Power Wool: there’s a product called power wool and if you want a base layer to keep you warm that is a little more durable than merino wool, I’ve had very good luck with this material. Mine is Beyond Clothing’s A1. (This one is interesting too.)
- Alpha Direct is a type of Polartec insulation I love for rucking. I have one from Outdoor Research and it is great. Breathes really well such that I don’t have to shed the layer because I don’t easily overheat with it. These are getting harder to find, I have no link for a recommendation. (I would probably try this under the Simple Windbreaker.)
- Grid Fleece is another fantastic option. I have the GORUCK Half Zip version, but I’d recommend skipping it and getting the Patagonia R1, or Beyond’s. Oh, Beyond also has a t-shirt Grid Fleece which I have and it is really neat. Keeps you warm, but removes some bulk from the forearms — sounds weird but it works really well in practice.
Bottom line: stay warm, but not too warm. Breathable is key, adjustable is next priority.
That’s all I got, good luck. Let me know if you found something really great I should check out.
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