“Tactical running shoes“ was a new one for me. Many of the running shoes I’m pitched by brands big and small target speed, endurance, comfort, or even style.
But GORUCK — a brand decidedly not on most runners’ radar — has its eyes on a slightly new vertical: rucking. If you don’t hail from a military background, you’ll be forgiven for having no idea what rucking is. Once a much-lamented piece of basic training, rucking has become one of the darling exercise routines of functional fitness.
Put simply, rucking involves walking, marching, hiking, or running with a weighted vest or pack (owing to its namesake “rucksack”). And while new recruits have long slogged in Army boots, agility is increasingly part of the “fun.” Today, GORUCK launches a purpose-built rucking-running shoe, “designed to withstand heavier loads and last 3x longer than the standard running shoe.”
I’ve been wearing a pair of GORUCK Rough Runners nonstop for the last week for this first-look review. That includes some road runs, trail runs, and even some functional fitness work — all to see how the brand’s debut running shoe measures up to its lofty claims.
In short: GORUCK surprises with its first running shoe with out-of-the-box comfort, solid construction, and a noticeable performance DNA. It might not satisfy serious, 30-plus-mile-per-week runners, but it’s a great do-it-all option for folks whose training involves at least as much strength as cardio.
- Upper 100D polyester mesh w/TPU film reinforcement
- Midsole "Gradient Density" EVA
- Outsole Dual Compound Rubber
- Drop 10mm; 10mm heel-to-toe drop
- Weight (size 9) 10.5 oz.
- Price $140
- Instant comfort
- Durable construction
- Neutral cushion
- Not waterproof
- Not for intermediate to serious trail
GORUCK Rough Runner Shoe Review
Aesthetically, the GORUCK Rough Runner is nothing to write home about: all black with a couple of gray hits on the heel and tongue, and a white foam midsole. Of course, in the current era of color-splashed, bombastic shoe design, GORUCK might actually be something of an understated standout.
That said, the no-frills look matches the shoes’ stated purpose — work, not play.
The upper utilizes 100D polyester mesh — it’s not indestructible, but it is tough and provides a good measure of breathability. But the star of GORUCK’s construction is a TPU film that covers the toe and wraps all the way around the heel. Though not novel technology, the execution creates a surprising measure of durability.
An EVA foam midsole (the industry standard) connects the shoe to a dual-rubber outsole, and provides a decent amount of cushion, with neutral rebound. The outsole sports nonaggressive, shallow lugs to accommodate pavement running and some grip on light to intermediate trail.
Unfortunately, I do not own a rucksack — I know, “ruckie” mistake. But, I do happen to have a couple of GORUCK accessories that really help put the Rough Runner through its paces (literally). In addition to some regular running workouts — 3 to 6 miles, varied terrain — I employed the Rough Runner while hucking a 60-pound training sandbag and 35-pound sand kettlebell around my backyard.
To top it off, since I had a tight testing window for this first look review, I wore the shoe daily for the last 2 weeks.
GORUCK Rough Runner: Running
As a running shoe, I was pleasantly surprised on my first paces around the neighborhood. I have a 5-mile loop that meanders along some mixed-use mountain bike and running trails, and plenty of paved roads, too.
I expect most shoes to feel stiff and a little “unripe” for the first few runs. And while I believe the Rough Runner will still break in with my feet, I was taken aback by just how comfortable and ready to go they were, right out of the box. The upper is pliant and forgiving, and the midsole provides plenty of cushion on your first steps.
I wear a size 13 and have a slightly wider-than-average foot. I don’t wear special width, but some brands definitely fit better than others. And when I have an issue with fit, it’s always being too tight around the forefoot. GORUCK’s Rough Runner fit beautifully — room for toe-splay, not too tight, and not so big as to be unstable.
The Rough Runner excels on mellow cross-country paths and asphalt. On these surfaces, the shoe provides an excellent blend of impact absorption and bounce. However, on steeper trails, loose clay, rocky terrain, or loam, the shoes do not have deep enough lugs to bite. For serious, switchbacking trails, I’d recommend a purpose-built trail shoe.
My size 13 shoes weighed a shade under a pound each. So long-distance racing shoes, they are not. But that extra beef ups the overall toughness and abrasion resistance this shoe offers.
There is one tradeoff to the Rough Runner’s compliance out of the box — it can feel a little too roomy as your feet flex against the laces. I noticed this on my first couple of runs; I’d have to stop after 3 miles or so to re-tighten my laces.
The best solution — and a nifty trick if you find yourself retightening any shoes midway through a run — is to utilize a “lace lock” technique on the final eyelet (you know, that last hole you’ve maybe never used). This prevented my laces from loosening after I cinched ’em down, pre-run.
To round out the testing, I took the Rough Runner to my backyard. I have a gravel patch that measures about 400 square feet. I have a heavy bag there, as well as some basic cross-training equipment (sandbags, rope machine, and TRX straps).
The area is level, rocky, and a solid testing ground for ascertaining a shoe’s ability to take abuse. I put about an hour of heavy bag work — shuffling side to side and quick-stepping backward and forward — as well as calisthenics and sandbag work. For good measure, I went over to GORUCK’s YouTube page, found some functional fitness routines, and gave them a go.
Overall, the Rough Runner worked great. Though the surface was gravel, the rubber, and tread worked well given I was on level ground. I don’t think these shoes would tackle the surface on steep terrain.
The shoes provide excellent stability for agility work and a great combination of rebound and cushion. That said, I own plenty of shoes that could tackle this type of regimen with a comparable degree of comfort and capability.
However, GORUCK specifically advertises the Rough Runner’s durability would “last 3x longer than the standard running shoe.” And this indeed looks to be the shoes’ strong suit. A few rounds of mountain climbers and burpees on gravel would almost certainly abrade my typical running shoes. At the very least, I’d expect to see some wear and tear on the toecap, or possibly some damage to the upper.
To this point, after several combined hours of testing, the Rough Runner shows zero sign of giving up the goose. While it’s a satisfactory performance shoe, it’s bolstered by being a stellar tough shoe.
Conclusion: Is It a Good Shoe?
If running is your primary activity, I think you have better high-performance options to suit your needs. I don’t often run 20 miles or more a week. My fitness routine involves more strength training and dynamic movements. In this arena, the Rough Runner is most at home. It is not the lightest, fastest, or most high-tech shoe I own. In fact, I’d prefer these shoes if they had a waterproof option.
But as an all-around shoe that combines respectable performance, dependable comfort, and outstanding durability, it’s a laudable first release by a brand better known for boots and packs. It’s comparably heavy and not a super-precise speed shoe. However, it does a little of everything pretty well — and it stands up to terrain hazards and pounding abuse extremely well.
While not a budget shoe, the Rough Runner is far from the very high end of the running shoe price spectrum. At $140, I think you should commit to using the shoe for its purpose — cardio and strength building. Its payoff is its reliable lifespan.
If you enjoy a mix of running and strength training in uncontrolled environments — i.e., outside — the GORUCK Rough Runner should see you through many runs, reps, and rucks.