Ballantyne Ruck

Walking with weighted backpacks develops devotees

By Dawn Liles  |  Photos by Kim Hummel Photography

Ballantyne may not have mountain peaks to scale, but some local hikers meet on the Lower McAlpine/McMullen Greenway to train for loftier summits by wearing rucksacks on their backs.

The group is called Ballantyne Ruck. Rucking is the foundation of Special Forces training and involves carrying a weighted backpack while hiking or walking. The goal is to increase the weight of the pack a little every week. Rucking has become popular among civilians as it is a great low-impact workout and burns nearly as many calories as jogging.

Volunteer leader Alex Holland started the rucking group in 2018 under the umbrella of Charlotte Piedmont Hiking Club, one of the largest hiking meetups in the Carolinas with nearly 8,600 members. “The first time I offered the ruck seven people signed up, but no one showed,” says Holland. Undeterred, he kept offering the group, figuring he had to do the training anyway for an upcoming backpacking trip. Currently, the group has 10 to 15 regular members, many of whom meet to socialize after the ruck and attend other events together.

“I enjoy helping others get into backpacking,” he says. Holland notes that one woman in the group went from having pre-diabetes to going on a strenuous, 16-mile backpacking trip. Another woman joined the group to train to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Members of Ballantyne Ruck praise the workout. Sri Ram Padavala joined about three years ago and says wearing a weighted backpack has enabled him to greatly improve his endurance. He now leads hikes through Meetup and credits Holland for encouraging him.

“I always wanted to backpack but didn’t want to be miserable by the time I reached the destination,” Padavala says. “I want to be in that sweet spot where I’m not exhausted and able to enjoy the journey. The journey really is the best part.”

Kim Shepherd fractured her shoulder in a bad fall that made her slow down for a year. “Joining this ruck has helped strengthen my shoulders and given me confidence to go back to hiking again,” she says.

The group welcomes members of all ages and fitness levels. Member Leslie Lanza never worked out routinely until she joined Ballantyne Ruck last April. “I consistently went to the Tuesday ruck,” says Lanza. “I started carrying 16 pounds and moved up to carrying 30 pounds.”

Lanza says she can now climb and hike farther than her two teenage sons. “It makes it easier to continue to be active because you have a group of people to motivate you. I love the social aspect of the meetup.”

Whether training to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro or simply improving fitness, Ballantyne Ruck members praise the workout and the socializing.

Holland agrees that in addition to helping people get in shape, many members have made close friends through the group. “It’s great to do something inexpensive and proactive to help people be healthy,” he says. “But the social aspect of the group is definitely another reason why people keep coming back.”

The Charlotte Piedmont Hiking Club will celebrate its 10-year anniversary this year. Events are usually free or low cost, and members are asked to pay an optional $5 annual fee to help with meetup costs. Ballantyne Ruck currently meets Tuesday nights from 6:30 to 8 at the greenway trailhead adjacent to Pike Nurseries in the Toringdon Circle Shopping Center. Interested participants may sign up online at by searching for Ballantyne Ruck.

Kim Shepherd says the group helped her get back into hiking after a shoulder injury.