Updated: The Case for Rucksack Roadwork

Originally posted on May 17, 2013@19:41EST



“Speed marches gave maximum development to lungs and legs, and most importantly, to feet. In the early stages we had blisters by the bushel. Finally, though, we became hardened, and our feet were able to stand up under any kind of pounding. On one occasion during the training in speed marching, the Rangers flew across ten miles in eighty-seven minutes, flashing that long stride that was to become our trademark in the Mediterranean war.” 

 – William O. Darby and William Baumer – “We Lead the Way”

 Sound advice, and we DO take the example of the Ranger lineage from Robert Rogers to today’s units as they are superb light infantry, and when allowed to operate in MW methodology, do not have many peers in the world.  While NPT members training against hard and ugly times are decidedly not Rangers or any other form of recognized Light Infantry, it still behooves us to take their example and pattern our training as closely as is possible in our civilian world after theirs, so far as subject matter and skill mastery are concerned.

DTG does not accept modern, ‘politically correct’ reasoning in our training methodology such as the ‘gender norming’ of standards or other equally dangerous thought processes.  We prefer, instead, to take time-tested methods and adapt them for ourselves and our students, relying on the advice and correction of true subject matter experts ranging from West Point graduates, SF officers, and other light infantry types who’ve served in combat, and have had successful careers working with indigenous teams.

No matter the subject being taught, we strive to teach this well-known axiom:

Your enemy is training as you read this.  He doesn’t care how much his ruck weighs, it weighs what it weighs; he doesn’t care how long the walk is, it’s over when it’s over; he doesn’t care whether you’re a man, woman, or a goatHe doesn’t care if his weapon jams when he’s firing for practice; he clears it and continues.  He’s training to kill you.


With that in mind, let’s look at some lessons from own military folks recently returning from the Middle east.  It’s a truism on the job anywhere that if you really want to know the score, ask the ‘grunt’ in the field humping the heavy stuff.

One major complaint in recent years is that soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are extremely unhappy that they did not train as they are required to fight.  They don’t carry ammo in their rucks and on their person; they aren’t made to carry their primary weapon on conditioning marches, and so on.  Those lessons have not been lost on us.  We require all of our participants to carry their basic load (standard pack list) on their person with their rifle, ammo, water and food when we’re demonstrating fitness levels with a road march.

Including road marches in personal, team and group training does increase the fitness level and mindset of the team!

Pushing ourselves to our personal limits; experiencing exhaustion when we’re done; going the extra mile to go back and get those who’ve not finished yet all work together for the reward of experience gained without serious risk to life or limb.

Finding out before it’s too late about boot quality and foot care; the importance of conditioning (more PT anyone?); the camaraderie and gratitude (as well as the guilt when someone who’s in better shape finishes and then comes back and helps us finish because they are our teammate), and we’ve all felt the exhileration of finishing under the minimum acceptable time, especially when we’ve failed previously.  On top of that, our marksmanship performance means that much more to us when we know we can shoot accurately after expending so much energy!  (Yes, we also encourage shooting for score following a strenuous road march exercise!)

But sometimes when we’re out doing a road march exercise with heavy rucks (sometimes 70lbs for the shear stress involved, rifles, ammo, food and water, somebody will inevitably complain that the class is carrying too much….that we won’t do that when the SHTF….that it’s ‘too hard’ or unrealistic.

Long research on the subject and actual ‘been there, done that, feedback from active duty soldiers validates our methodology and why we focus on getting from point A to point B quickly with a load that requires upper body strength, wind stamina, and strong legs and still be able to operate when we get there.

Those of us over 40 50 sometimes don’t ever achieve the speeds performed by twenty-something’s, but it can be done.  Not by everyone, but improvement can still be made.

DTG pursues “Combat Mobility” in this type of training, which is to say that the class or team can move on foot from 3 to 4 mph (classified as a ‘Forced March’) to their objective and complete their mission after arrival.

That’s a 15 minute mile as an achievable standard.  Completed with a real-world ruck (probably about 50 pounds, give or take), rifle, ammo, water and food for all ruck walks ranging from 2 through 10 miles.  A 3 mph speed on the low end is a 20 minute mile; not too fast by Light Infantry standards, but an acceptable minimum for a NPT.  Even so, that’s just a tad under the speed youngsters must achieve for entrance into some of the more elite military schools today.

Incidentally, history documents that forced march speeds going all the way back to the Civil War was 4 miles in 50 minutes, or 12.5 minute miles (just under 5 mph), and yes, that would be with just ‘combat gear’ (rifle, ammo, & web gear).  Incidentally, this ‘forced march’ speed allowed no mitigating factors for age, height, weight, etc.  You either did it or were considered ‘unfit’. Stragglers were not looked upon with great favor, either.

Let’s see what today’s soldiers have to say about the subject, shall we?

Here are a couple of quotes:

“We recommend that we change the two-mile run to a three-mile or 6 mile speed march in BDUs, 35-pound rucksack, Kevlar(c) PASGT helmet and weapon which can be a “rubber duck” or a 2×4 piece of wood cut to a 36″ length and spray painted black. To get 100 points, you must do the three miles in less than 30 minutes or 6 miles in 60 minutes for a speed of six miles per hour or better.  A tangible goal. A lot of people wail about the “Soldier’s Load” problem but do not do anything more than offer a band aid solution of telling leaders not to overload their men. There has to be a yardstick to prove one way or another if men are overloaded or not. If they cannot move at 6 mph with their battle gear they are not “all that they can be”. If they cannot even maintain 1-2 mph they are overloaded, not properly conditioned for COMBAT or both.”  

 – Anonymous Soldier on US Army PT program standards

 “The 2-mile run is done with NO load whatsoever. Unfortunately, this means that people who run really fast for 15 minutes dominate the PT test, and are seen as the ideal — and physical training is geared towards making greyhound runners, with little concern for upper body strength. (Got news for all you ‘PT masters’ who can do 2 miles in 10 minutes, and still make good scores on situps and pushups — if you ain’t GOT any upper body, it’s pretty easy to lift it off the ground 75 times in 2 minutes, ain’t it? But that won’t help you carry heavy things?)

Personally, I’m less interested in how fast you can run 2 miles in jogging shorts and sneakers than in how long you can carry a 50 pound load at a reasonable pace — and I’ve found damned little correlation between the two tasks. Most super runners I’ve met couldn’t hump worth shit, and vice versa. The ‘moderately good’ at one was generally moderately good at the other — but the current test slants the emphasis the wrong direction.”

  – Anonymous Soldier on PT tests versus Real World Requirements

 So, let’s take what they’re saying into context:

  1. You need to carry a reasonable amount of equipment on your back, including extra ammo,  food, and water.  This load will be a minimum of 35 pounds, maybe more.   Whatever the load is, you need to be able to carry it for long distances and operate when you arrive at your destination.
  2. The only way to get to the point of actually being able to achieve that is to practice it under similar conditions.  You can’t just hit the track or treadmill or elliptical (though they do help getting your wind and legs in shape!) You must develop the core strength needed to perform over long periods of time and still fight at the end of the trip.
  3. Garrison BS, standing around and looking cool doesn’t do anything but help get you killed.

So, here you are getting ready to go out and train.  With things being the way they are in the country and world, can you honestly say it isn’t time to ratchet what you do up just a couple notches?

17 thoughts on “Updated: The Case for Rucksack Roadwork

  1. Pingback: DTG: The Case For Rucksack Roadwork | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. B-Dog

    I have mentioned it before, and it bears repeating: Rucking is a completely different PT animal. I happen to be one of those “2 miles in 10 minutes” people. Tall, thin, with minimal upper body strength. Throwing 50lbs on your upper body, and then moving under that load puts stress on your core (abs, lower back, upper legs), legs, knees, ankles, and feet. These stresses simply do not exist without a load.

    No amount of swimming, running, push-ups, sit-ups, weights, or anything else seems to fully prepare a body for rucking: the endlessly fatigued thighs, burning glutes, feet that feel like you have just done thousands of jumping jacks, and a core that screams for relief. It is when all of these kick in that you have to push through it, because pushing through burning runner’s lungs simply does not compare.

    This past weekend, I rucked a 49lb ILBE over a 11.25 mile rolling hill, muddy, uneven terrain course in 3h 15 min, for about 3.4 mhp, all while raining most of the way. I am mid-40’s and currently on a calorie and heavily carbohydrate restricted diet to rid myself of internal gut fat that has built up due to “sympathy gain” surrounding my wife’s last pregnancy. So, what is being suggested by DTG is more than possible, but you must get out there and actually do it.

  3. Ray

    On of the first training requirements for the 1st. Ranger Batt. in ww2 was learning to live without “snivel gear” . On speed marches Darby had his men leave everything but water ,wool uniforms , organic weapons & weapons support gear , ammo, and E-tools (they could take one spoon & a canteen cup) in a big pile. They “traded out” on who carried the heavy weapons every 15 min. This became the norm for the whole US Army in ww2 with the Army becoming notorious for leaving miles long trails of discarded equipment behind them for the duration of the war in Europe. It was only at the end of ww2 when most movement was by truck that men were seen in photo’s with “full field packs” Same Same in Korea , where pack were seldom used. It wasn’t until the Vietnam war that the “stupid heavy” packs were first seen, and they were considered by David Hackworth to be one of the primary reasons that the VC and NVA could ambush the slow and exhausted GIs at will . During WW2 the us army used a thing called the “M3 Ammunition hand cart” to move bulk loads with man power while keeping the troops “fighting fit”. Something similar would be a great asset to a CIDG and a better Idea than risking injury every time you try and move a 100lb pack.

  4. Defensive Training Group Post author

    A speed march is a great conditioning tool! And that’s a neat concept using a cart or something to haul heavy things; we do something similar in deep winter training – sleds.

    Injury risk can be mitigated significantly with a consistent program of strength/cardio training that will help in getting ready to carry a ruck for a long way. Incremental training is key, along with what another commenter stated on wearing appropriate clothing and starting light.

    As the NPT concept is decidedly not ‘Ranger’ oriented, nor do we believe NPT members should think of themselves as such. The NPT on a security/recon patrol may be on their own outside the NPA for quite awhile. In that condition, it must train to sustain itself, so that’s why we advocate ruck conditioning now, while it can be done. And, of course, this includes establishing patrol bases to leave the ruck while you’re out snooping and pooping to ensure the team doesn’t become exhausted.

    Moving 100 pound packs? Maybe for a strong younger man performing conditioning training, but not for what we currently anticipate for our real-world needs is about half that. Personally, I’ve trained with up to 83 pounds for 8 miles so far with no injury. Would like to get to 100, but I’m a bit longer in the tooth than a lot of folks….might just have to settle for what I can do now…and if I ever have to carry a 55-60 pound ruck in the real world, I think I’ll be able to do it without a huge risk of injury. Other’s mileage may vary, but we all do what we can do. And the one way to be able to perform is eternal diligence with PT, getting adequate rest, and knowing when to slow down or take a break as not to strain the body over its limits.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Will

    Last night I went to Home Depot. Bought $7 worth of play sand….two bags, 100 lbs ….. Took 5 sandbags and filled them- 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs, 25 lbs, 30 lbs….that’s 100 total pounds and nearly infinite combinations……Wrapped the bags in duct tape.

    Ready to march!

  6. Longbow

    Rucking sucks. It sucks more when you haven’t done it in a while. As with any PT, you just gotta do it. Speed first. Load later.

    This topic reminds me of an incident when I was pushing basic trainees at Ft Sill. One soldier couldn’t keep up on a road march and was causing the accordion effect. I sarcastically asked him if his ruck was too heavy. He replied that it was. I had him drop ruck, threw his on top of mine and said “Stay with me!” He couldn’t do it. He broke down in tears and sniveled like a little girl until we got to the range. He had never done anything hard in is life, and blaming the weight was an easy out… or so he thought. He learned a lesson that day.

  7. Defensive Training Group Post author

    Yes, it does, and you’re right. You ain’t gotta like it, you just gotta do it. And as for your trainee’s lesson, yeah, he learned one that day, for sure! Thanks for dropping by!

  8. Mike

    Love this post. I have been rucking weekly for more than a year now. I’m not the runner type build. 6-1′ 220lb and 35 years old. Last week I tested myself on a speed march. With a 45lb ruck I covered 4 miles in 47:50 on an old gravel road. I kind of surprised myself!

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