Wait, how am I supposed to wear my ruck again?

“What’s this for?” I asked, holding the waist buckle male and female ends of the ALICE pack in my hands.

“It’s for pogues. Buckle it in the back of the frame and tape up the free running ends” my squad leader said with the certainty of the entire infantry behind him.

And that’s where the waistband stayed the entire time I was enlisted: buckled, stowed, and taped. Not using the waistband was a given. If we were to take contact from the enemy, it would be easier to drop the ruck. And using the waistband was for pogues, those cretins worse than dirt who valued things like comfort and future musculo-skeletal health.

Every now and then there would be “that guy” who bucked the trend and wore the waistband fastened and tightened, swearing that it was “designed” that way and it made rucking just a little bit easier. The good infantrymen I knew would smirk at his relative weakness before squirming under the weight on their shoulders.

Well, it turns out that rucks are designed to be worn with the majority of the weight on the hips, not the shoulders. What, you haven’t read TM 10-8465-236-10 (Operator’s Manual for Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment)? Here are the instructions on how to “don” the ruck:

LARGE RUCK – Continued Donning

1. Place ruck on back by inserting arms through shoulder straps.

2. Buckle and adjust waistbelt.

3. Adjust shoulder straps with the quick-release buckle (Figure 2) on the lanyard (Figure 3).

4. Stow free-running ends.


Not the best instructions, but it drops more specific hints in other sections.

Shoulder Straps

The shoulder strap suspension of the frame is adjusted by securing the 1-inch webbing around the frame in the appropriate location using the slide buckle.

The proper location is determined by donning the frame and fastening the waistbelt buckle while wearing the vest. Position the shoulder straps so there is complete contact with the shoulder. For short torsos, move the waistbelt location on the frame as shown in the next illustration. If more adjustment is needed, move the shoulder strap location on the frame.

A properly positioned waistbelt will cover the hip bone. After the 1-inch webbing is secured around the frame to hold the shoulder straps in place, wrap the 1 1⁄2 -inch webbing around the cross bar and secure with the non-slip slide buckle.

And a note on the “load-lifter straps.”

The load-lifter straps can be used to adjust the pack while marching. The weight of the pack can be transferred from the shoulders to the hips and back again by either cinching the 1-inch webbing down or by loosening the webbing by adjusting the non-slip buckle.

I also found these instructions from REI’s website. These are general to any pack, to include our own MOLLE II rucksack:

Backpacks: Adjusting the Fit


Six Steps to a Great Fit

Your goal is to have 80% to 90% of the load weight resting on your hips. To achieve this, start by putting about 10 to 15 lbs. of weight into the pack to simulate a loaded pack. Follow the steps below in front of a mirror. Get a friend to help if possible, or visit an REI store for more assistance.

Step 1: Hipbelt

  • First make sure all the pack’s straps and hipbelt are loosened.
  • Put the pack on your back so that the hipbelt is resting over your hip bones.
  • Close the hipbelt buckle and tighten it.
  • Check the padded sections of the hipbelt to make sure they wrap around your hips comfortably. Keep at least 1″ of clearance on either side of the center buckle.
  • Note: If the hipbelt is too loose or tight, try repositioning the buckle pieces on the hipbelt straps. If this doesn’t solve the problem, you may need a different pack (or hipbelt).

Step 2: Shoulder Straps

  • Pull down and back on the ends of the shoulder straps to tighten them.
  • Shoulder straps should fit closely and wrap over and around your shoulder, holding the pack body against your back. They should NOT be carrying the weight.
  • Have your helper check to see that the shoulder strap anchor points are 1″ to 2″ inches below the top of your shoulders.

Step 3: Load Lifters

  • Load-lifter straps are located just below the tops of your shoulders (near your collarbones) and should angle back toward the pack body at a 45-degree angle.
  • Gently snug the load-lifter straps to pull weight off your shoulders. (Overtightening the load lifters will cause a gap to form between your shoulders and the shoulder straps.)

Step 4: Sternum Strap

  • Adjust the sternum strap to a comfortable height across your chest.
  • Buckle the sternum strap and tighten until the shoulder straps are pulled in comfortably from your shoulders, allowing your arms to move freely.

Step 5: Stabilizer Straps

  • Pull the stabilizer straps located on either side of the hipbelt to snug the pack body toward the hipbelt and stabilize the load.

Step 6: Final Tweak

  • Go back to the shoulder straps and carefully take a bit of tension off of them. Now you’re ready to go!

I’ve written before about how some of the most common and mundane things in the Army hardly get any attention. How exactly should my boots fit? What is the “standard” for weapon cleanliness? And how am I supposed to wear my rucksack?

Rucking sucks. Anything that can be done to make it easier is worth the effort, or at least worth a try. The MOLLE ruck is designed to carry the majority of the weight on the hips and the weight can be easily transferred from the hips to the shoulders and back as needed during a ruck. All you need to know is how to do it. Read the TM, and ruck lightly.

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