Our focus here at SpecialOperations.com lately is getting back to the basics. For our readers who are attempting to become part of our Special Operations Forces, of course after volunteering, the first obstacle in your path is passing Selection. And the biggest key to that is being properly prepared to do so.
We went back and recently posted a series of articles on Land Navigation where we called it a 101 type of course and got to the Nuts and Bolts, starting with the basic skills that every Special Operations trooper should possess and went from there. Now we’ll do the same thing with the art of rucking.
And make no mistake, carrying a heavy rucksack like all SOF troops do has an art to it. And we’re going to start from scratch here as well. When we get questions via email or social media, when it comes to Selection, the vast majority have to do with either Land Navigation or rucking. And like any other skill that you possess now or will possess in the near future, it requires practice and preparation.
Ask 100 veterans from Special Operations units a series of questions and you’ll likely receive 100 different answers. That is because there are many ways to skin a cat. What we ’ll post here are some tips 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, what we’ll share here are some techniques that worked for me and should work for you as well.
So let’s take a look at some rucksacking basics, Rucking 101:
Packing and Strapping: In preparing for Selection we base everything off of the 45-pound weight. Why is that you ask? Is the amount of weight we’ll carry much more than that? And the answer to that is yes you will. But in Selection, the magic number is 45-pounds. Everything you do with a ruck begins at 45 pounds before food and water are added.
In your train up for selection, it doesn’t matter if you decide to use a sandbag, weights, or you basic kit so long as the ruck is the prescribed weight. We opt for rucking with just a sandbag as it is easy to fill up a sandbag with the weight that you’ll require and add in just the things that you’ll need, which isn’t much for rucking PT. It takes all the variables out of the equation. But as long as the weight is within the limit, it really doesn’t matter as we’re just trying to get used to lugging the weight.
While we’re on the subject of weight, here’s a very useful tip. As we said above, in Selection the magic number is 45-pounds. In your training to get ready for Selection, don’t go much higher than that number unless you are a very experienced rucker. Why? Because carrying that weight is something you have to train for gradually. You can’t just begin on Day 1 lugging 85-90 pounds around when your body isn’t used to it without experiencing injuries and setbacks.
Follow our daily PT program and work up to things gradually. We had one class at SFAS where a candidate barely made the time limit on one of the first ruck marches for time, coming in right before the clock struck zero, so to speak. So, as soon as the last student was in, we had the candidates take their rucks over to be weighed. Yes, there will be checks after every event and reminder to all of you that you are always being evaluated.
The one candidate’s ruck weighed in the mid-80s. When asked if he didn’t understand the directions given to him, he stated he did. Okay then. If you want to carry 85 while the rest of the class is carrying 45, you go then. By the way, there are no extra credit points given.
The 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 belong. 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 long distance rucksack march.
I recommend using the waist strap on your 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 is a personal decision and will sometimes depend on the situation, on your train up you can try both ways to see what works better.
If you’d rather take the guesswork out of it, the company GORUCK sell weight plates that will fit in your ruck and are molded so that they’ll be comfortable on your back as well. Check out their line of products, they offer not only plates, sandbags 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 have covered boots in the past in several articles and will touch on them again soon. Once you are in Special Operations units as a qualified member, you’ll probably have the choice of what to wear from either the military issue or the aftermarket which has a tremendous variety. I have several pairs that I take on hikes depending upon the conditions. The vast majority of the time I wear either the Merrell MOAB or their “Sawtooth” boots which are now out of production. In the kind of rough rocky terrain, you’ll find in many places, especially Afghanistan, a boot like that works extremely well. But I digress.
For your purposes, in Selection, those choices will not be open to you. You’ll have to wear what Uncle Sam issues. And we’ll leave this here but you’ll hear this hundreds of times on our pages. Have two pairs of boots broken in and ready to go that fit like a glove when you get to Selection. Your feet will get wet there. Bank on it. Change your boots out daily and allow them to dry out thoroughly. Selection is the wrong time to be breaking in the second pair of boots.
Increasing Your Speed: This is something that will come gradually and I’ve also stated before and trust me you’ll get tired of hearing it. When it comes to increasing speed, I don’t recommend that you run with a rucksack on your back during your train up phase. It puts an incredible amount of 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 DO IT.
There are exceptions to the rule. In an earlier article, I wrote, “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,”
However, it is imperative that you learn to increase your speed without running. 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 in order to pass.
The standard in all of Special OperationForces isis a 15-minute mile pace. However, that is the absolute minimum. You should be aiming to go a lot lower than that. My pace today on my rucks around here is a bit slower due to the rocky terrain in the area and the steeper hills, which you won’t find a lot of during the selection courses in the US.
Water and hydration is very important and as a Selection candidate, keeping hydrated on the march should be a no-brainer. I use and you should as well a Camelbak system, I got mine 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.
A very common question we get is this: Is it a good idea to incorporate rucking with Land Navigation? 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. And you will be carrying a rucksack while you do Land Nav…so there’s that.
While you are training for Selection, you’ll frequently be on your own unless you have a training partner and I’d highly recommend carrying a walking stick. In the areas I frequent, especially early in the morning before the sun rises, there are more than a few animals out there that have tested the waters. The stick is just a really good deterrent, plus it will keep you in practice of carrying a weapon.
Photo courtesy of US Army