In our Selection preparation, we always stress the importance of Rucking and the value that all of the services in the Special Operations community put on it. The services will all stress the 45-pound minimum in training. One of the frequent questions we get is why train with 45-pounds when in reality the amount will be much more. We will get to that in just a moment.
Carrying a ruck is the basic mode of transportation that every Special Operations Forces trooper will have to master. In Selection, it isn’t just a physical test but also a mental one. You’re going to get tired, hungry, sore and worn down. The rucksack is the vehicle to see who has the intestinal fortitude to keep putting one foot in front of the other and drive on with the mission.
Rucking is even more important in the Special Forces Selection and Assessment Course (SFAS). The 45-pound weight, mentioned above, is considered the minimum. It isn’t the ceiling but the floor. It is the baseline of weight before a candidate has to add his food and water. And then the cadre of SFAS will have no shortage of events for the candidate to increase that weight exponentially each day.
So, if you aspiring SOF candidates are following along with the physical training program, on Sunday (we always do a Sunday ruck, to pay homage to the SF gods) we had a five-mile ruck on the agenda and I, for one, was looking forward to it.
On Saturday afternoon, thunderstorms ripped through the Northeast but in their aftermath brought crisp, cool air with an almost autumnal feel to it. The air was dry and temperatures were in the low ‘60s — perfect rucking weather.
So as I was trudging along in the dark at about 0520, I decided to take a different route than usual and extend the distance (arthritic knees and all) for about another mile and a half into my neighboring town. I guess I looked like a sketchy MFer to the local gendarmes since they drove past me slowly a few times. Either that or they wanted my walking stick.
Nevertheless, while trudging along I made some mental notes to convey to you about the basics of rucking.
Boots and Socks: Are we all wearing two pairs of socks, turned inside out so the stitching isn’t rubbing and causing hot spots? The inner sock should be one of those nylon or polypro socks to wick away the moisture from your feet. Apply some foot powder as well for the same reason.
Your boots have to fit snugly but not too tightly, especially in the heel. Have them laced up to where they are comfortable enough without cutting off your circulation. Is your second pair of boots broken in well enough?
Packing Your Ruck: During training or preparation for Selection, you don’t need to have a bunch of gear in your ruck, just the prescribed amount of weight — in my case a sandbag in the radio pouch. Again, going over the basics here, the reason you want the sandbag up higher between your shoulder blades is that you don’t have weight down low pulling on your lower back.
If you do decide to opt for a gear-laden ruck, follow the same guidelines, the heavier items go on the top and as close to the frame as possible. You don’t want heavier crap far away from your body. Why? It is a simple case of leverage. The next time you are in the gym, walk back and forth around the gym a few times with a heavy dumbbell pressed against your chest. Easy right? Now do it with those dumbbells extended away from your body. It is a lesson that once learned will stick with you.
Once during training, a friend tripped over an exposed root in the dark and twisted his knee up pretty good. We were going to walk him out to a road and have him exfiltrated to the hospital just to be on the safe side. In the dark, we divvied up his essential gear to be shared amongst the rest of us lucky souls. The boss asked me to carry his radio and I, of course, said sure. As I was helping the injured guy to his feet, the boss stuffed the radio in my ruck. We loaded up and moved out. It took all of about a quarter-mile for me to realize that in his haste, he stuffed it on the outside — a big mistake of mine for not checking. It felt like it weighed about three times its actual weight. If you doubt it, try it once and put the heavy stuff on the outside and feel it for yourself.
Have your Camelback system handy to where you can drink on the fly and not have to stop or fumble for it. In training this isn’t a big deal, but once you’re in the Selection Course it will matter a great deal.
Just as a force of habit, I still pack a basic survival kit, (photo below) with stuff I’d need in the case of an emergency — which while rucking along a road or trail by a town seems ludicrous, but it is just a good habit to get in, and good habits die hard.
You may notice an extra water bottle in the picture. Why do I carry an extra water bottle when I have a Camelback? Some of us, myself included, are weird when it comes to people drinking out of my Camelback. If I come across someone that needs a drink, I will gladly share and even give them my spare water bottle. But unless of a dire emergency, I don’t care for anyone else drinking out of my kit.
Stride Out Without Running: In your training prior to Selection, we stress always to go as fast as you can without running. Running puts way too much stress on your knees and lower back and you don’t want to hurt yourself before you even arrive.
And of course, it goes without saying that when you are in the course and conducting a gated event, such as a long-range movement that is timed, do what you have to do to pass. If you need to make up time, lightly jogging down any hills or flat terrain will help you get ahead of the power curve or make up time if you have been slowed down for any reason.
During your training is the time to find your ideal pace. You know what the standards are, (15-minute mile pace), and of course, you want to better that each and every time. Once you find your optimum pace and can maintain it for a 12-miler while staying under time, keep it and use it as your baseline.
You won’t know the details of the distances during Selection and probably won’t know how far you’ve gone on the gated events there. That’s why having your pace down pat is so important. It is why we stress the leg training that we do in our PT program. It builds the strength and power to push you through these ruck marches much easier.
Finally, a quick word about posture. While you don’t want to be bent over staring at your boots, (that won’t go over well in the course and is dangerous while rucking along the roads here), you’ll find that the best way is to bend slightly at the waist and lean forward as you ruck. On steep uphill climbs, you may want to lean forward even more.
So strap on your ruck, ensure the waist belt is secure and snug, and get to it.
Ah well, it is all good. Ruck on and if you have any questions, shoot them my way and I’ll be happy to answer them.