We always get some questions vis-à-vis about passing Selection and most of the questions center around rucking and the land navigation course. While each has their own challenges for the Selection candidate, you’ll have to utilize both together while passing land navigation as you’ll be conducting it with a rucksack on.
While we encourage our readers who are aspiring SOF candidates to read and follow our Physical Training prep posts in getting physically prepared for the rigors of Selection, it all begins with having proper fitting boots and taking care of your feet.
As I’ve repeated many, many times, your feet and your brain are the two most indispensable parts of your body in Special Operations Forces. They are your lifeline in Special Operations. You MUST take good care of them or you won’t last a fortnight. Foot care will become second nature to all of you (if it isn’t already) after you spend some time in SOF.
The very nature of the Selection courses is designed to stress the candidates to the max, wear them down, and put you under stress. They are hard enough as it is. Factor in any foot problems and it is a battle that is a losing proposition. That isn’t to say that if a candidate gets a few blisters that he’s guaranteed to fail. That isn’t the point nor is it true. However, if foot problems are constant there and are slowing down the candidate, the odds of being selected go down sharply.
We aren’t going to break any new ground here. This is basic 101 type of stuff. I’ve spoken with some younger guys who are just entering the military for the first time or are just finishing up their initial entry training and are still finding their way. So there are questions that they have that anyone who has been in a light infantry or an airborne unit will know already. If you don’t have that background but have NCOs or officers that served in these type of units, seek out their advice on the subject before beginning your prep for Selection.
Boots, Boots, Boots: You’ll wear what Uncle Sam issues, so you’ll have to ensure that your boots fit properly. Too big is just as much of an issue as too small. I know some guys who got boots a half-size larger to take into account their feet swelling on long-range rucksack marches. I’m not a believer in this, however, if you’re one of those guys whose feet swell that much, it may just be something for you to consider. But for the average Joe? No, I wouldn’t do it.
The key for proper fitting boots is ensuring that the boot heel sits snugly around the rear of the foot while still allowing 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 either be curled up inside or squished together and neither is a good option and is just a blister waiting to happen.
Having at least two pairs of boots prepared for Selection is essential. Having three broken in pairs would be even better. Ensure the boots you wear 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. You’re going to get wet in Selection, nearly every day especially if you attend a winter class, but rest assured, winter, spring, summer or fall the candidates will get wet. During the day’s events, it is what it is and they just drive on continue on with the scenario.
That’s why having two or three pairs of boots, broken in boots is key to a successful course. When you’re finished for the day’s events, let them dry out and if available, stuff them with whatever is available, (paper towels, newspapers) to let them dry out. Wear the well-broken-in backup boots the next day and switch accordingly from day to day. Having to use a new pair of non-broken in 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 or snowed on the candidates nearly every day. The dirt back roads and trails of Camp Mackall, North Carolina were soupy and underwater in many places. The candidates’ feet were wet nearly all the time and compounded by the course’s criteria, their feet suffered. Training never stops. Our cadre had just got issued Wolverine and Matterhorn winter boots and it made a big difference. But the students suffered constantly slogging thru cold, muddy water.
Nearly all had multiple blister problems and our cadre’s medics were working overtime. Many of the 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 second broken in pair suffered the worst of all. Several were forced to wear what more resembled moleskin booties than patches. Several were medically dropped, of those a couple had secondary boots barely broken in, despite what they were told prior to coming.
Proper Care for the Feet: Having been a cadre member at SFAS, I witnessed first hand all different manners of foot preparation and care. When assigned the night duty, another cadre member Doug P. and I would walk around the candidate’s barracks incognito at night to see how they were caring for themselves and their teammates. Yes, take note, you may not notice and many did not, but you’re always being evaluated.
In an earlier piece, I wrote that a successful candidate has to know his own body and what works and what doesn’t for him, long BEFORE he gets to Selection. Everyone is different and what works for me, may not work for you and vice versa.
Each one should have a good set of nail clippers when attending Selection and ensure that they take good care of those as needed. Some candidates 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 students, 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.
What I’ve found to work 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, if you put half a tin in your socks, it will 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 in the nether regions it won’t be pleasant walking 12 miles plus every day feeling like that.
Socks, Feet’s Last Line of Defense: Socks and their fit are just as important as boots are Just as proper socks will protect them from blisters, poorly fitted ones will cause even more problems.
We know that heat, friction, and moisture are the cause of blisters. While the proper fitting boots are the start, they are only half of the equation.
Candidates should start with 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.
This two-sock system is designed so that the friction will occur between the layers of socks rather than between the socks and your feet. Have enough pairs to be able to change socks frequently and the packing lists for Selection will state to have that many on hand. You’ll need them.
Start Slowly and Work up in Preparatory Training: When you are beginning your preparatory training, the rucking you’ll be doing should increase in both distance and intensity as the weeks go by. But don’t overdo it at first. You don’t train for a marathon by running one on the first day of training, and Selection is no different.
This will play right into your boots and foot care. Start with shorter rucksack marches. If you notice hot spots or blisters forming during prep ruck work, stop immediately and deal with those. Waiting until you’re done at this point in time may result in a much more serious blister which will set your training prep work back. If you don’t have any issues with a hot spot or a blister then your prep work can increase.
Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint. The key is to work up to being able to carry a ruck all day long with the prescribed weight and do it all over again, day after day. Once a candidate is successful and is a member of one of the Special Operations Forces units in the military, the question of boots becomes much easier as there are a lot of great boots out there that the services allow their troops to wear. But for now, you wear what is issued and those are better than the old combat boot of days of yore.
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
No Days Off, Keep on Rucking. DOL