Rucking is a verb. It’s the action of moving with weight on your back, like in a rucksack or backpack. In a bug-out or emergency situation, you will be doing just that—hauling gear hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles towards your survival camp. Essentially, GORUCK’s challenges are simply the physical movement of people with weight strapped onto their backs; GORUCK likes to call it social fitness. GORUCK also adds tasks to the trek that force you and your team to make decisions that have real consequences—just like in a real-life time of distress. These tests of will and strength are taking place all across the country, and they serve as introductory experiences of what to expect when you’re faced with a variety of real-world disaster scenarios.

Led By Veterans

GORUCK originally started as a gear company manufacturing, you guessed it, rucksacks and military-grade backpacks. The founder of the company, Jason McCarthy, initially traveled all around the country and organized events from the back of his SUV. He started small challenge events with people who purchased his rucksacks. The events were used to test the gear and to show customers how tough the packs were. They were no walk in the park, however. As a retired Green Beret, McCarthy put his products and the people who used them through tough challenges, and what McCarthy found is that these small events inspired team building. GORUCK still manufactures top-grade gear, but you don’t need to buy one of the company’s packs if you enter an event. This genesis of GORUCK is less about selling products and more about building people, and it’s been gaining momentum since 2010.

The GORUCK cadre is in charge. They are the teachers, the as-signer of tasks, and they have the last word. Members of GORUCK’s cadre are former military and special operations personnel. Many have served in combat zones. They aren’t drill sergeants shouting you and your team into compliance, but teachers who are former Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Air Force Combat Controllers, Marine Reconnaissance and Army Rangers. These are disciplined, top-shelf personnel who provide basic instructions to event participants.

There is no running an obstacle course, crawling under barbed wire or jumping through a manmade wall of fire. These instructors provide lessons that can and will be used in real life. Remember when you whined about learning chemistry or algebra, saying you’d never use it in real life? Don’t whine if the cadre gives you the task of moving a 20-foot telephone pole across a bridge under a time restraint. Don’t like it? You now have a casualty that you have to deal with. Keep whining and your team will possbly suffer more “casualties.” As the team leader, what is your plan?

Tough Enough

GORUCK challenge events are divided into three types: Light, Tough and Heavy. A Light event takes place over four to five hours and involves about 7 to 10 miles of travel. If you can do a 5K run, then the Light category might be a good introduction to GORUCK. As its name implies, the vibe is lighter on the challenges, there’s more team fun and you have a lighter load to ruck. The completion rate for Light events is 100 percent.

A Tough event is 10 to 12 hours long and spans 15 to 20 miles. This is the original challenge that teaches participants how to lead, follow and overcome adversity together. You will earn the Tough patch and become a member of a community of people who live life to the fullest. The completion rate for GORUCK Tough events is 94 percent.

Heavy events last for over 24 hours and cover more than 40 miles. These challenges are significant undertakings. Only 50 percent who start a Heavy event will finish it. If you weigh less than 150 pounds, you’ll carry 25 pounds of weight; if you weigh more, you’ll carry 35 pounds of brick or sand. You will need more gear for these events, too: extra socks, a hydration system, water (which doesn’t count toward your weight-toting requirement) and $20 for cab fare in case you find out the Heavy event is too much for you to handle. Bring a friend to this event; it’ll be less scary with someone you know.

Most of the people who participate in a GORUCK event do not necessarily know each other. It is sort of like the first day at work or boot camp. Combining both physical and mental challenges, GORUCK events are the ultimate team-building experiences. We have all gone on corporate team-building events where we huddle around a table and try to be more clever than our colleagues at the next table. We present, everyone claps and then you eat mediocre hotel food. GORUCK is not that type of team-building training. They don’t provide posh meeting rooms with Sharpies and Post-It notes, nor do they provide food. You need to bring your own food, the settings are in urban and suburban areas, and you start your mission or series of tasks in the dead of night. Make sure you bring a headlamp.

“This is how we build better people and better Americans,” said John Croft, the senior director of GORUCK events and challenges. “Friction and uncertainty bring participants closer together as a team working through adversities.” Sound familiar? At work, have you ever disagreed with a peer or fellow employee who was unwilling to solve a problem collectively? Ever have an argument or disagreement with your spouse or a family member? The lessons taught at GORUCK events are applicable to everyday life.

Adapt & Overcome

The cadre brings credibility to the events. You can’t fake being a special operations member. It is a tight-knit family where everybody knows everybody else. For these events, the cadre designs the challenge and uses safety limit guidelines stipulated by GORUCK. This flexibility makes all GORUCK events different and safe. You will not be put into a situation where you can physically be hurt. You might be drained emotionally, or cry at the completion of the event, but you’ll know you overcame something while in the company of others. “They’re not cookie-cutter events,” explained Croft. “Some participants have run 40 events with 25 different cadre, so participants are not being given the same challenges over and over. It is always different.”

An event starts with a “welcome party” where the cadres assess the participants for physical ability, mindset and attitude. Once participants are vetted, the cadre will designate a team leader and provide basic instructions for a mission-based scenario or task. There won’t be any night-vision equipment or helicopter rappelling, just an investment in sweat equity.

A smile and positive attitude are requirements. The “mission” may be a sightseeing/exercise tour of the city the event is being held in. Teams are typically made up of six participants that are both male and female. The scenario might be this: The team has this much equipment and must move the equipment from this location to another location. It could involve pushing, pulling or holding some sort of weight from Point A to Point B. Maybe it is a log; maybe it is each other. Perhaps you are given some materials to build some type of device. No maps or compasses are provided. No GPS or cell phones. Part of the exercise is an immersion into the local population at the event’s location. Teams must be able to communicate with locals who may speak a different language or may be standoffish to a bunch on people in sneakers and backpacks. In military slang, it’s called “charming the snake.”

Engaging the local population forces participants to step outside their comfort zones. The cadres assesses how the team is interacting and may inject additional problems, like a “casualty,” which could be a team member who has been hypothetically been bitten by a snake or hit by a car. What do you do? The cadre torques up the stress to introduce friction into the team to see how it will react. Are you a slacker? Guess what, you and your team now have to do 50 push-ups because you goofed off. The cadre constantly engages the group to keep everyone on the move.

“The group has no time to think and get into their happy place,” Croft said. “It is 12 hours of constant stimulation and physical exertion.”

Croft continued, “You can attend seminars, buy books and DVDs, but a GORUCK challenge is a practical application of team building—building the patience and persistence of working with each other. We want to inspire individuals, no matter what part of the team they are—leader or follower—about understanding the problem, visualizing success and then executing the plan.”

Croft has been part of the cadre for over 50 events and has seen participants embrace the team while it takes longer with others. But in the end, participants come to understand the beauty in working together. They don’t sing “Kumbaya” at the finish— it’s much deeper than that. You earn a patch at the end of every GORUCK event. They don’t just hand them out and thank you for participating. It is much more. Sure, there is plenty of physical strength and stamina needed, but the lessons learned at GORUCK events are life-changing. For more information, and to find GORUCK events near you, visit

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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