In our Selection preparation, we always stress the importance of Rucking and the value that all of the services put on it in the Special Operations community. The services will all stress the 45-pound minimum in training and one of the frequent questions we get is why train with 45-pounds when in reality the amount will be much more.
The 45-pound weight is considered the minimum, it is a baseline that everything is based on. That isn’t the ceiling but the floor. As we’ll get to in just a moment. Carrying a ruck is the basic mode of transportation that every Special Operations Forces trooper will have to master. In Selection, it isn’t just a physical test and yes you will be tested physically there, but a mental one. You’re going to get tired, hungry, sore and worn down. The rucksack is the vehicle by the cadre to see who has the intestinal fortitude to keep putting one foot in front of the other and drive on with the mission.
It is even more important in the Special Forces Selection and Assessment Course (SFAS). That 45-pounds as we said above is the floor. That is the baseline of weight before a candidate has to add his food and water. And then the cadre of SFAS have no shortage of events for the candidate to increase that weight exponentially each day.
So, if you aspiring SOF candidates are following along with physical training program, on Sunday (we always do a Sunday ruck, to pay homage to the SF gods) we had a five-mile ruck on the agenda and I, for one was looking forward to it.
We’ve had a pretty sustained heat wave with high humidity up here in the Northeast for quite a while now. On Saturday afternoon, massive thunderstorms ripped thru the area but in their aftermath brought crisp, cool air with an almost autumn feel with it. The air was dry and temps in the low ‘60s, perfect rucking weather.
So as I was trudging along in the dark at about 0520, I decided to take another route and extend the distance (arthritic knees and all) for about another mile and a half into my neighboring town. While trudging along I made some mental notes to pass along about the basics of rucking and ensuring that we all are doing the little things right.
Boots and Socks: Are we all wearing two pairs of socks, turned inside out so the stitching isn’t rubbing and causing hot spots? The inner sock should be one of those nylon or polypro socks to wick away the moisture from your feet and put on some foot powder as well to help with the same.
Your boots have to fit snugly but not too tight, especially in the heel and have them laced up to where they are comfortable enough without being too tight and cutting off your circulation. Are your second pair of boots broken in well enough?
Packing Your Ruck: During training or train up for Selection, you don’t need to have a bunch of gear in your ruck, just the prescribed amount of weight, in my case a sandbag in the radio pouch. Again, going over the basics here, the reason you want the sandbag up higher between your shoulder blades is that you don’t have the weight down low pulling on your lower back.
If you do decide to opt for a gear-laden ruck, follow the same guidelines, the heavier items go on the top and as close to the frame as possible. You don’t want heavier crap far away from your body. Why? It is a simple case of leverage. The next time you are in the gym, walk back and forth around the gym a few times with a heavy dumbbell pressed against your chest. Easy right? Now do it with those dumbbells extended away from your body.
It is a lesson that once learned will stick with you. Once during training, a friend tripped over an exposed root in the dark and twisted his knee up pretty good. We were going to walk him out to a road and have him exfiltrated to the hospital just to be on the safe side. In the dark, we divvied up his essential gear to be shared amongst the rest of us lucky souls. The boss asked me to carry his radio and I, of course, said sure. As I was helping the injured guy to his feet, the boss stuffed the radio in my ruck. We loaded up and moved out.
It took all of about a quarter mile to realize, in his haste, he stuffed it on the outside. A big mistake of mine for not checking. It felt like it weighed about three times the actual weight. If you doubt it, try it once and put the heavy stuff on the outside and feel it for yourself.
Have your Camelback system handy to where you can drink on the fly and not have to stop or fumble for it. In training, it isn’t a big deal but once you’re in the Selection Course it will matter a great deal.
Just as a force of habit, I still pack a basic survival kit, (photo) with stuff I’d need in the case of an emergency, which while rucking along a road or trail in town seems ludicrous but it is just a good habit to get in, and good habits die hard. Why do I carry an extra water bottle when I have a Camelback? Some of us, myself included, are weird when it comes to people drinking out of my Camelback. If I come across someone that needs a drink, I will gladly share and even give them my spare water bottle. But unless of a dire emergency, I don’t care for anyone else drinking out of my kit.
Stride Out Without Running: In your training prior to Selection, we stress always to go as fast as you can without running. It puts way too much stress on your knees and lower back and you don’t want to hurt yourself before you even arrive.
And of course, it goes without saying that when you are in the course and conducting a gated event such as a long-range movement that is timed, do what you have to do to pass. If you need to make up time, lightly jogging down any hills or the flat terrain will help get ahead of the power curve or makeup time if you were slowed down for any reason.
During your train up is the time to find your ideal pace. You know what the standards are, (15-minute mile pace), and of course, you want to better that each and every time you go out there. Once you find your optimum pace that you can say do a 12-miler for that is well within the time limits, keep that pace and use it as your baseline.
You won’t know the details of the distances during Selection and probably won’t know how far you’ve gone on the gated events there. That’s why having your pace down pat is so important. It is why we stress the leg training that we do in our PT program. It builds the strength and power to push you thru these ruck marches much easier.
A quick word about posture, while you don’t want to be bent over staring at the tops of your boots, (that won’t go over well in the course and is dangerous while rucking along the roads here), you’ll find that the best way is to bend slightly at the waist and lean forward as you ruck. On steep uphill climbs, you may want to lean forward even more so. It is all a personal choice there.
So strap on your ruck, ensure the waist belt is secure and snug and get to it. This week as I mentioned I changed my route and rucked along the road in a neighboring town. I guess I looked like a sketchy MFer to the local gendarmes and they drove past me slowly a few times. Either that or they wanted my walking stick.
Ah well, it is all good. Ruck on and if you have any questions, shoot them my way and I’ll be happy to answer them.
Photos: US Army, author