Wales, United Kingdom—Exercise Cambrian Patrol: Is this the world’s toughest military exercise?

Forty-eight hours. Over 40 miles across the arduous Brecon Beacons. Weather conditions: awful. Personal loads in the excess of 80 pounds. Who will win?

Did I mention that Cambrian Patrol is an unofficial race?

The annual exercise is organised by the 160th Infantry Brigade of the British army. Every year, the Welsh-based brigade is responsible for creating an event that contains the most difficult tasks that an infantry patrol might encounter. Patrols from units across the British military are welcomed, as well as units from foreign countries.

Last year, patrols from over 23 nations competed for the challenge and the glory. Points are awarded and deducted over a patrol’s performance. A unit from the Pakistani Army managed to win the gold.

This year, more than 139 units from 28 countries are competing.

The Brecon Beacons, where the SAS also hold their selection process, are famous for their strenuous terrain and unpredictable weather. And like all realistic exercises should be, Cambrian Patrol won’t be easily cancelled due to bad weather conditions. This year, for example, the exercise is taking place amid a storm.

But what tasks does the exercise actually contain, and why is it considered the hardest in the world?

First of all, the patrol commander is issued a set of coordinates. The patrol, then, maps out the route that it will have to navigate during the next two days. The training staff, however, have planned numerous scenarios in between. For example, patrols are faced with surveillance and intelligence tasks, improvised explosive device (IED) ambushes, casualty evacuations, close-target reconnaissance (a highly dangerous affair, often conducted before an assault to determine the disposition and strength of an enemy force), traversing water obstacles, and performing basic soldiering tasks in a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) environment.

Performing well on Cambrian Patrol is more than just about bragging rights. Participants who score high scores gain promotion points and, more crucially, they earn a reputation—an often unmentioned (but very important) thing to have, especially in the special operations community, which is small by design.

First launched in 1959, the exercise was meant to test the readiness and combat aptitude of Britain’s territorial soldiers. Since then, it has expanded to include the U.K.’s regular military and foreign militaries.

It was Major General Lewis Pugh, who was a Welshman, who first advocated for and designed the exercise.

So, what do you think, is Cambrian Patrol the world’s toughest exercise?