Recently we have revisited some of the basics of Land Navigation, one of the trio of the biggest obstacles that Special Operations candidates will face in their individual Selection courses. And now we’ll move on to the next one, and one we always get a lot of questions about. Rucking.
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. And it begins with a proper mindset. When wearing a rucksack, I think back to the film, “The Man in the Iron Mask” when King Louis XIV finds out he has a twin and places him in a prison wearing an iron mask so no one will realize there are two heirs to the throne. “Wear it until you love it,” Louis says… Sage advice
When it comes to rucking you will hear 100 different things from 100 different people. We all have our own tips of the trade and the vast majority of them are good. But I’ll share 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, these will be of value to you. But as a caveat, I’d be remiss in saying that what works for one man won’t necessarily work for everyone… So, with that in mind, let’s go.
Packing Your Ruck:
First up on the agenda is how your rucksack is packed. Sounds like a no-brainer…right? Not so fast. Like everything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. A common mistake that many young guys make is to put the heavy stuff on the bottom of your ruck and then put the lighter stuff on top of that. Don’t do it.
Now in preparation training for Selection, your ruck doesn’t have to have a packing list with all of your tactical needs. The weight, the correct weight is the important factor here. And a really, really, really good rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution.
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 that will be really frowned upon… Yes, that means, it could be a show-stopper. We always would add about 2-3 pounds extra just to be safe.
But just as being smart about adding a couple of extra pounds to be in the safe zone, there is such a phenomenon as “too much of a good thing.” 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. So, don’t go overboard with it. As always, be smart.
Your weight should be packed up high between the shoulder blades. If your ruck has radio pouch up high, that is where the sandbag or weight plates belongs. I prefer sandbags because it will mold to your pack and back and doesn’t have any sharp edges that can rub you on a ruck.
The guys over at GoRUCK sell these nice molded plates that will do the trick and they take all the guesswork out of it. I’ve used weighted plates in the past. And when the gym starts running short of 45-pound plates, someone will complain. But as I mentioned previously, I like to use sandbags.
We’ve talked boots in several different pieces before, in Selection, you will have to wear what the cadre allows, so the high-speed boots may have to take a backseat until you reach an operational unit. In the Army, that means boots that are compliant with AR-670-1. However, I recently acquired a new pair of boots and we’ll post a review of those ASAP.
Water and hydration are always very important even on days like the last couple where it is cloudy and 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 trail we’ve been using in a power line cut so it was up-down without much flat terrain involved. When rucking it is best to lean forward and getting the arm swing going from side to side rather than a typical running type swing back and forth.
This spring, it seems the tick population has exploded. One can scarcely take a step without several of the buggers attaching themselves to you. Last night I took my dog on a quick jaunt down the trail. After only about 300 yards, she was covered. I pulled 10 off of her forelegs and cut things short. So, check yourself frequently.
But I digress, let’s talk about getting some speed going. When it comes to increasing speed, I don’t recommend that you run with a rucksack on your back while in 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 your pace, especially on the downhill slopes. At those times, you’re going to have to do what you must, but for our training purposes 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, and there’s no time like the present.
The standard is a 15-minute mile pace to pass the courses, you should be aiming to go lower than that. We were keeping a 14:30 pace on one of our practical exercise videos, which means we’ll have to step it up as well. 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.
On one certification 20-miler at Ft. Bragg, our team maintained a 13-minute mile pace for the entire length of the course and that was with two 7-8 minute breaks built in to change socks and catch a breather. Of course, since the movement wasn’t considered tactical and was mapped out along a road, our communications supervisor (18E) strapped a boom box atop his rucksack and we rocked to AC-DC and Metallica. Much better than the sound of boots scuffling for 20 miles. We ended up with the best time in the battalion that night…the staff when learning of the music…were not amused. Always look for an edge, right? And sometimes it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
If anyone ever has any questions, feel free to send them along to [email protected] and I’ll be glad to answer them and we may use it in our next article or video.
Photo courtesy of US Army