Proper fit and the packing of the Ruck are key areas to watch
With the cooler weather months back, the Selection courses are in full swing for their busy season. And that means that we’re getting some questions about Selection and rucks and rucking in particular which means that yours truly has been getting out and hitting the trails, albeit not as fast as back in the day, but it is like riding a bike. You never forget how.
We’ve posted some tips in the past year that, based on our experience, that we feel will be of good value to you if you are getting ready to go thru Selection. I don’t claim to be a know it all, but after many years in SF, as well as a cadre member in Selection, these tips and techniques worked for me and hopefully, they’ll work for you as well.
Your weight should be packed up high between the shoulder blades. If your ruck has radio pouch up high, that is where the sand bag or weight plates belongs. I prefer sand bags because it will mold to your pack and back and doesn’t have any sharp edges that can rub you on a ruck.
Lately I’ve been using the waist strap on my rucksack, that way, the weight rides on your hips and you can loosen your shoulder straps a tad so that the weight isn’t all on them. But it depends on the situation, you may try it either way to see what works for you.
The guys at GORUCK have weight plates that they sell that will fit in the ruck and are molded so that they’ll be comfortable on your back as well. Check out their line of products, they offer the plates, sand bags as well as a really top end line of different rucksacks that you can use for training, backpacking or just the day hike.
Boots: We covered boots in a couple of our earlier articles. I have several pairs that I take on hikes depending upon the conditions. Now that the cooler weather is upon us here in the Northeast, I’ve been wearing my heavier duty Merrell Sawtooth boots. The park course that I ruck in has quite a few rocks and rocky outcrops at the top and bottom of the trail loop so those boots are a perfect fit. But during the warmer weather months I wore the Merrell MOABs almost exclusively with the Bates desert boot a few times. It is all a question of preference and what works best for you.
Part of the trail I used goes near or next to a road that is heavily traveled, especially on the weekend. A word to the wise, walk facing traffic, it is much safer and if you’re carry a green rucksack next to a wooded area, a driver may not see you. Be safe.
Walking Stick/Animal Deterrent: The closed loop trail in “Purgatory” gives plenty of varied terrain so it was up and down some steep hills. I took my SFAS Cadre walking stick (The staff of Ra) on the course. But unlike Indiana Jones’ medallion, mine has a large snapping turtle skull attached. It does make for good conversation on the trail when you meet people who are out doing much the same thing as yourself.
It does help with your balance, takes a bit of stress off your knees and hips on the upside of slopes as well as crossing scree. If you take a break to enjoy the view, (not recommended for Selection candidates) it will serve as a leaning post. And last but not least, it makes a heckuva deterrent for that one angry dog that seems to always show up when you are in the middle of the woods. I ran into some coyotes this summer on the railroad tracks in my town while rucking. They were a little too close for comfort and were trying to decide if I was worth their trouble. I wasn’t.
Increasing the Pace: We’ve talked about this many times and I’ll repeat it again. When it comes to increasing speed, I don’t recommend that you run with a rucksack on your back while in training. It puts way too much stress on your knees and back. There will be times on steep downhill, you can pick up a shuffle for a few steps but as for running a distance with a rucksack while prepping for selection…DON’T.
From our last article on rucking, “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,” 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 and an arthritic back to boot.
Lengthen out your stride and generate power with your legs and your speed will come naturally without resorting to running. But in the course…do what you must do to pass.
The standard is a 15-minute mile pace to pass the courses, however you should be aiming to go a lot lower than that. You don’t want to be the last guy in. My pace is a bit slower due to the rocky terrain out there and the steeper hills, many of which you won’t find during the selection courses in the US. But it is still a pretty quick pace.
Water and hydration are very important and yes, I continually repeat that but it must become second nature to keep drinking in your training so that you’ll do it during the course. We’ve been having a lot of cooler and cold mornings (it is December) and of course this morning we had rain. Why does it always rain when I go rucking? So I get it, I wasn’t in the mood to drink much either but I did, besides I wanted to break in my new Camelbak system, courtesy of Sofrep’s Crate Club. If you’re looking for some great gear every month, check out the Crate Club. My “go-bag” ruck is rapidly becoming filled with the new stuff they put out every month.
One questioner back in the spring asked if you can incorporate rucking with land navigation practice…Absolutely! In your training for selection, getting used to rucking where ever you go is great practice. It will build up your endurance while getting you used to carrying your ruck everywhere.
Photo courtesy of US Army, author