Hitting the rucking trails again lately and figured that it was a good time to revisit the proper boot fit and foot care that we’ve harped on incessantly in our Selection PT posts. And for those heading to or thinking about volunteering for Selection, having the proper boots and taking care of your feet should be two of your primary considerations.
Your feet along with your brain are the two most indispensable parts of your body in Special Operations Forces. Your feet are your lifeline in Special Operations. We all love seeing those cool pics of guys fast-roping from Chinooks or tooling around in Little Birds but the bottom line is once you get off the birds, you’re going to be on your feet until exfil. That is why Selection courses in all of the services revolve around rucking. You can have biceps the size of Texas and be able to do 100 pull-ups but if you can’t ruck to the standard and better than that in reality, then you’ll make the duffel bag drag down the road.
Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you. Having spent many years in the Special Forces Regiment, care for your feet became second nature and will be a very necessary function. For those young guys who are attempting Selection, seek out the NCOs or officers that have been either in a light infantry/airborne/Ranger units. They can help with tips of the trade and be good sounding boards for your preparation.
Boots, Boots, Boots: That just gave me a SERE flashback….ah I digress. The Army is a bit more permissive in terms of boots than the other services so this may change due to which Selection course you attend. So all of the high-speed boots will be a no-no in Selection, and you’ll have to wait until you graduate and go operational to wear those.The Army says boots approved according to AR 670-1, there are many to choose from, and it depends on what works for you. But some of the boots that have been popular and work for many candidates are the Garmont NFS, the Nike boot, and the SOPC Special, which will work only if you are in the Ft. Bragg area or will visit it before you attend the Selection course. I also own a pair of the Belleville’s and they are comfortable and have a good sole for that type of walking.
The key for proper fitting boots is ensuring that the boot’s heel sits tightly to the rear of the foot while giving the toes some wiggle room up front. If your foot is sliding around too much, either front to back or side to side, you’ll have friction, which leads to blisters. If your boots are too tight, your toes will be curled up inside and that is a blister waiting to happen.
Some people advise buying boots a half-size too large because your feet will swell on a long-range ruck march. I wouldn’t recommend that but if your feet swell that much it may be an option. It all comes down to knowing your own body and being prepared. Right? Practice, practice and practice some more until you know exactly how your body will react to the heavy workload.
Have two pairs of boots ready for your Selection class and break both in just like you would a baseball glove. Walk everywhere in them until they feel like an extension of your leg. It is a good idea to get boots that have good ventilation and water drainage as they’ll allow your feet to breathe and dry out when wet which will cut down on blisters. For those heading to Camp Mackall for SFAS, you’ll be walking in a lot of soft sand during the dry times and the kind of boot and sole you choose should have that as a consideration.
I know I harp on this constantly in our PT Preparation articles but having a second pair of broken in boots is essential. Without that, you are setting yourself up for failure. In SFAS you are going to walk a lot of distance and you’ll do it with your ruck just about everywhere you go. You are going to hit the soft sand and you are most definitely going to get wet at times during Selection. It isn’t a question of if, only when. During the events of that particular day, you just drive on and do what you must.
But that night, you must allow the boots to dry out properly. Wear the second pair the next day and the first pair will be ready after that. And if your boots blow out on you during an event, you will have a second pair of well broken in ones to take their place. Having to use a new pair of barely-broken-in pair of boots in Selection is not the way to get thru the course with your feet intact.
I recall one February class when I was a cadre member at SFAS. It was cold and damp and rained hard with an occasional snow or sleet blast on the candidates nearly every day. The dirt back roads and trails in Camp Mackall were a soupy mess in many places. The candidates’ feet were wet nearly all the time and compounded by the course’s criteria, their feet suffered, even those who came to Selection well prepared.
Nearly all had multiple blister problems and our cadre’s medics were working overtime. The medical area smelled like a tincture of benzoin factory. Many of candidates had feet that resembled raw hamburger by the end of team week. They were forced into switching out their boots daily and those who didn’t have a properly broken in second pair suffered the worst of all. The drop and non-select rate for that particular course soared. While the bean counters, snug and warm in a cubicle back at Bragg, demanded to know “what the cadre changed” to make this one course selection rate so low.
One more thing about your boots and that has to do with how you lace them. Again, this is a personal preference type of thing but something to just keep in mind. I used to ruck most of the time in my favorite jungle boots. Why jungle boots? Well, that was what we were going to be issued in 7th SFG (I know, FOG right?), and I knew that I had to prepare just like I’d wear boots operationally. The way the boots, as well as my feet, were constructed, there was a bend in my foot that always rubbed during a long-distance ruck march right at the crease of the boot at the ankle.
I’d always skip the eyelet right smack in the middle of my boots right there as it was always a sore spot that would rub. And after many 20-milers under my belt, it didn’t take long to figure out what needed to be changed.
Proper Caring for Your Feet: Having been a cadre at SFAS, I’ve seen all different kinds of foot preparation and care. One of our cadre members Doug P. and I used to walk around the candidate’s barracks, incognito at night to see how they were caring for themselves and their teammates. (Foot stomp take note. You’re always being evaluated)
You should have a good set of nail clippers with you when attending Selection and ensure that you take good care of those as needed.Nuff said.
Here is where you have to know your own body and what works for you. Everyone is different and works for me, may not work for you and vice versa. That’s where the proper preparation and training BEFORE you get to Selection is invaluable.
Some guys spray their feet or use a roll-on antiperspirant which is supposed to stop the sweating which is the cause of blisters. While I was never a big believer in this, if your feet sweat profusely as mine do, then by all means, try it during your prep phase to see if it works for you.
Other guys, I’ve seen use Vaseline or some type of oil or cream to reduce friction. Again, it isn’t something I’d recommend but it does work for some people. I did try it once during the wet February class mentioned above. To me, it was unnecessary and it was uncomfortable, but try it during your train up and see how it works.
What worked for me was to use just a small amount of Gold Bond powder on your feet and in your socks before going on a ruck march. Not too much, like anything else, too much will cause it to clump up and create just as many problems. It cuts down on friction which creates blisters. I’d recommend putting some around your crotch as well. If you get rubbed raw “down south” it isn’t pleasant walking for miles that way. Been there, done that and it isn’t pleasant.
Wear the Right Socks…Correctly: Socks are your feet’s last line of defense. Just as proper socks will protect them from blisters, poorly fitted ones will cause even more problems.
So first, what causes blisters? Heat, friction, and moisture. We’ve already covered getting a couple of pairs of boots that fit well, don’t rub, and are ventilated so your feet can dry out quickly and allow some airflow inside.
Initially, get a good pair of tightly fit synthetic or polypro socks that will wick the moisture away from your feet. Rub your feet down with a light coat of powder or whatever you choose and then turn them inside out. Why? So that the stitching inside won’t rub your toes and create hot spots. That stitching can and will cause blisters.
The thick military issued wool socks go over the inner layer of socks and once again inside out to prevent the stitching from rubbing and creating hot spots. The second sock reduces the friction and will absorb the moisture from the inner sock while cushioning your foot inside the boot.
Why do we do this? Good question; the two-sock system is used so that the friction will occur between the layers of socks rather than between the socks and your feet.
Easing into Prep Training: When doing your preparatory training, don’t lean too far forward in the foxhole. What does that mean? I’ve seen or heard from guys who began their prep work with a 12-miler with 75 pounds. Don’t do that. Start slowly and gradually increase your speed and distance. As you get more comfortable rucking, the speed and distance will become second nature.
And it plays right into foot care as well. If you notice hot spots or blisters forming during prep work, stop right away and deal with those. Waiting until completion may result in a much more serious blister which will set your training prep work back.
Give your feet a chance to toughen up and develop some calluses. One of our SOFREP medics recommends soaking your feet in isopropyl after rucking. Once the hotspots and blisters are no longer an issue your rucksack training can begin in earnest.
You will find certain things that will or won’t work for you. That’s where the prep work is invaluable.But it all comes down to practice. Ruck, ruck, and ruck some more until it is a strength of yours. It is the one training event that nearly all of Special Operations training is based around. And having the right boots, socks and taking proper care of your feet is of paramount importance.
I was out yesterday on a short ruck (3.5 miles) and was rucking for a cause #RuckingForGBF and will probably head back out for another one on Sunday. Even us FOGs like to get out there a bit.
As always, I appreciate the many questions that you have and will always be here to help in any way I can. Any questions or comments can be emailed to me [email protected] or at my Twitter account @SteveB7SFG
Happy Rucking! DOL