We always get good questions about how to pass some of the various selection courses. And while certain things will be looked at differently, many of the key attributes are going to be the same in the successful candidate in any course regardless of the branch or unit.
For today’s purpose, I’ll talk about SFAS because I worked there for a time and had to go through it as an already tabbed SF guy when they first started it up. So, I can speak to how difficult it is, especially so when you’re already qualified.
In nearly every event you’ll go through in SFAS, you’ll be wearing a rucksack. And with many of the events, the amount of extra weight that you’ll be tasked to carry in some of the events will just be added to an already full rucksack.
So rucking, and specifically being able to carry a ton of weight on your back and being able to function when you get to your next location is key. Rucking is involved in nearly every gradable exercise in one form or another and is the Selection candidate’s primary mode of transportation. It is also used as a discriminatory tool and those who can’t ruck to the standards, which are very high, will wear a long face.
A while back on our sister site SpecialOperations.com, I wrote that I look upon rucking just like any perishable skill in SOF. And a lot like shooting, it is one skill that requires a lot of practice and constant repetition to master. It begins with a proper mindset. When I wear a rucksack, I think back to the film, “The Man in the Iron Mask.” In it, King Louis XIV finds out that he has a twin. He imprisons him and forces him to wear an iron mask so that no one will realize there are two heirs to the throne. “Wear it until you love it,” Louis says… Sagacious advice
Like anything else, we can give you advice and the benefit of our own experiences. Most of the advice you’ll get from former SF guys, Rangers, SEALs, etc. is spot on. But remember one thing. This is what worked for us. You may find a way of doing things that is slightly different. But the bottom line is this:
You have to find what works best for you. All that we’re doing here is just giving you the benefits of our own experiences and hopefully, you’ll find our advice here valuable. No one has “The Method” that works for everyone as we’re all different. But what you’ll see here has been tried and true for several thousand SF guys that came before us, and will be in use long after we’re turned to dust.
Foot Care and Boots:
We’ve mentioned foot care is several different articles, but nothing will stop a candidate’s Selection course shorter than having his feet go south on him. That alone will sink a candidate faster than a speeding bullet.
It was the most common ailment that was suffered by SFAS candidates when I worked there, and I’m sure that nothing much has changed since…
You can check out an earlier piece I wrote on foot care and boots here:
Pack Your Ruck Correctly…You Can Thank Me Later:
It is imperative to know how to pack your rucksack correctly. Sounds kinda stupid right? Wrong. Like everything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. A common mistake that many inexperienced candidates make is to put the heavy stuff on the bottom of the ruck and then put the lighter stuff on top. Regardless of your rush or ease of removing certain items, always follow this rule: Don’t do that.
But in Selection, the proper packing of the ruck may not be as important as it will be later. Right now we’re worried about weight. Or to be more specific, having the correct weight.
If the cadre members tell you to have a 45-pound ruck without food and water, that’s exactly what that means and when I say err on the side of caution, the sword cuts both ways. 44 pounds and 15 ounces won’t cut it and will result in failure and the long walk to the truck doing the duffel bag drag. We always would add about 2-5 pounds extra just to be safe.
But just as being smart and adding a couple of extra pounds to be safe, there is also “too much of a good thing.” And yes, we saw this all too often as well. If the cadre says “45-lbs” while 50 is okay, going out there with 75-80 is not. Trust me, you won’t get Brownie points or extra credit for it. And with what you’re going to be tasked to do, adding that much weight will sink you fast. So, don’t go overboard with it. As always, be smart.
Your weight should be packed up high between the shoulder blades. When training, pack your sandbag in the radio pouch up high. I prefer sandbags because they mold to your pack and back and don’t have any sharp edges that can rub you on a ruck.
For preparatory training, the guys over at GoRUCK sell these nice molded plates that will do the trick. They take all the guesswork out of it. I’ve used weighted plates in the past. But as I mentioned above, I have always preferred to use sandbags.
Water and hydration are always very important, even on days when it is cloudy, cool and threatening rain. So, stay hydrated and force yourself to keep sipping while on the trail. Keep your hydration up in pre-training and it will be easier to keep going once you are in the course.
The only way to get better at rucking is to practice, practice and then practice some more. It has to become part of you and become an extension of your own body. As the old saying goes, “Embrace the Suck.” Many people I knew hated rucking, but once they got in the habit of doing it, they would ruck several times a week.
Many of the questions we get here are about rucking for speed. So let’s address the elephant in the room about getting some speed going. When it comes to increasing speed, I highly recommend that you DON’T run with a rucksack on your back while in your prep training.
They’ll be times in your selection course or the qualification course that you’ll have to make up time or want to pick up your pace, especially on the downhill slopes. At those times, you’re going to have to do what you must; but during your pre-training preparation don’t do it. Learn to increase your speed without running. Running with a ruck will hurt your knees and back…take it from the guy with two arthritic knees.
I like to lengthen my stride on the downhill slopes; some guys will tell you the exact opposite. Again, find out what works for you and stick to it. But the bottom line is: don’t resort to running to increase your speed. You’re going to have to learn to ruck quickly without running sooner or later.
The standard is a 15-minute mile pace to pass the courses — you should be aiming to go lower than that. Back in the day, I used to maintain around a 13-minute per mile pace, which would bring myself in with around 20-25 minutes to spare on a 12-miler. And I could keep that pace for a 20-miler.
The better you get acquainted with your rucksack the better off you’ll be in SFAS. For those attempting Selection that are coming from light infantry, airborne, or the Ranger Regiment, this will already be second nature to you. But if you’re enlisting in the 18X program or coming from a soft-skill MOS, this can’t be overstated.
If anyone ever has any questions, feel free to send them along to [email protected]. I’ll be glad to answer them and we may use them in our next article.