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Soldiers wearing rucksacks on a march

In the United States Army, weighted marching or ‘rucking’ is a staple of military drills and training. All recruits are expected to complete successful ruck marches: long journeys made on foot while carrying a heavy weight in a rucksack. There are many reasons for this, not least of which are rucking’s benefits for stamina, strength and muscle tone.

From a fitness perspective, army ruck march standards are very high. Yet, there’s also a psychological aspect of this training that shouldn’t be overlooked. It takes more than just strength to beat the US Army’s target of 12 miles (19 kilometers) in three hours. Mental fortitude is a key part of this test. Often, the most skilled ruckers are those with high levels of mental fortitude and a positive mental attitude. Learn more about how to ruck march faster here.

12 Mile Army Ruck March Standards

Staff Sgt. Devin Allred straps his ruck sack in preparation for the ruck march event of the U.S. Army
Sgt. Devin Allred, 18th Engineer Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, straps his ruck sack in preparation for the ruck march event of the U.S. Army Europe’s 2012 Best Warrior Competition

In the military, supervised ruck marches are a key part of infantry testing. Recruits must complete all weighted marches to the standards set by the Expert Infantryman Badge. The EIB is a special skills badge which has been awarded to infantrymen for ruck marching and related training challenges since 1943.

Ruck march rules are established and maintained by the EIB. Personnel awarded with the EIB determine the length of marches (always 12 miles) and the weight of rucksack carried. If recruits do not cover this much ground with a weight equal to or exceeding thirty-five pounds, they are disqualified and do not receive a skills award.

On a standard military ruck, participants march along a circular route. After twelve miles, they end up back where they started. Unless rehearsing for combat in a specific type of environment, the chosen terrain is relatively level and even. As rucking isn’t a test of orienteering skills, the route is clearly marked with flags, poles or signs. With all that said though, how much weight are soldiers carrying during their marches?

Well, that depends. When soldiers are in combat, the army commanders and their subordinate leaders need to make a difficult decision. They need to make sure that the soldiers are carrying all their essential equipment to complete the mission successfully, but at the same time they need to ensure that the soldier is not overworked and carrying too much weight because that can lead to exhaustion or potential injuries. Army leaders need to decide between different combat loads to find the perfect balance between soldier effort and completing the mission unbeaten.

There are three types of combat loads a recruit must carry on their march depending on the commanders decision:

  • Fighting Load
  • Approach March Load
  • Emergency Approach March.

Combat Loads is when the soldier demands minimum equipment to operate and survive on the designated mission. The soldiers load is transported sustainment and contingency loads.

Fighting Load

Soldier Combat training
One of the final events prior to the trainees Induction Ceremony is combatives, Aug. 21, 2019 at Fort Jackson, S.C.

The fighting load requires the soldier to carry all of his or her needs to defeat the enemy. These missions are critical and therefore the soldiers’ load is heavy. However, its not too heavy for the soldier as they need speed and agility to complete their mission successfully. The table below is a list from the US military Foot March Publication.

Fighting Load

Pounds

Army Combat Uniform (T-shirt, socks, boots, belt, patrol cap) 7.8
Advance combat helmet 4.2
Field load carrier (FLC) 5.8
Knee pads 0.5
M4 (no magazine) 6.4
5.56 unit basic load (UBL; 210 rounds and 7 magazines) 7.0
Advanced Target Pointer Illuminator Aiming Light 0.5
M68 (Close Combat Optic) 0.9
AN/PAS-13(V)1 (LWTS) 1.9
AN/PVS-14 (MNVD) Includes helmet mount 1.2
Soldier Plate Carrier System (SPCS) 5.9
Small Arms Protective Inserts (front and back), Side Ballistic Insert 16.0
1 Quart canteens (2 each, with water) 4.6
Meals ready to eat (MRE) 1.4
M67 fragmentary grenades (2 each) 2.0
Compass 0.5
Bayonet w/scabbard 1.3
Individual first aid kit 1.0

Total

68.9

Approach March Load

Soldier in Immediate Response Training

The approach march load is where direct contact with the enemy is in motion. This not only demands the soldier to carry the fighting load, but an assault pack or rucksack with more things to carry. The goal here is is to allow the soldiers to fight and sustain themselves until they are resupplied. The load is heavy, but its capped at 100 pounds to avoid impeding the soldiers’ ability to fight. See the list below of items typically held on a Approach march load.

Approach March Load

Pounds

Assault Pack 3.1
T-Shirt 0.2
Socks (2 pairs) 0.4
Wet weather top and bottom 3.0
Poncho 1.0
Poncho liner 1.5
Weapons cleaning kit 1.0
Entrenching tool with carrier 3.5
2-quart canteens (2 each) 10.0
Meals, ready to eat (3 each stripped) 4.2
Subtotal 27.9
Add Fighting Load 68.9

Total

96.8

Emergency Approach Loads

Emergency approach loads are used less frequently on ruck marches. They contain heavy items that cannot be transported by vehicle due to issues with impassable terrain. When they are used for drills, the distance travelled is often shorter than the standard twelve miles. Similarly, sustainment loads – containing equipment needed for overnight missions – are used infrequently to prepare soldiers for longer excursions.

It should be noted military recruits are not expected to be naturally adept at this kind of weighted walking. They build their skills gradually with progressively heavier marches and weight training programs designed to increase muscle in the lower back, legs and upper body. As a general rule, 5-10 lbs get added to a trainee’s rucksack weight every two or three weeks. Military recruits train for both slow marches and quicker marches that require a cadence similar to jogging.

The Final Word on Military Rucking

For casual ruckers, the military-style of weighted marching should be considered a potential progression. If you have lots of experience and want a tougher challenge, it can be an interesting way to take walking for fitness to the next level. However, you must be adequately prepared before attempting an extended ruck. To properly prepare for a long and tough ruck, its important to make sure you have the right gear. We found a few options for inexpensive rucksacks, boots, and socks that we looked at before upgrading my own arsenal!

Twelve miles is a lot of distance to cover. Rucking veterans recommend starting small and increasing the number of miles walked every week or fortnight. Make sure your rucksack is strong and reliable. Authentic military rucksacks include features like waist straps, water bladder pockets, hook and loop patches and advanced shoulder systems. These characteristics make them especially appealing to those who enjoy long walks and other outdoor activities like walking, trekking, hunting and fishing.

If you want a serious challenge, train to match the military’s pace. In the armed forces, ruck marches must be completed at around a mile every fifteen minutes. It won’t be easy with all that weight on your back, but we bet it’ll be rewarding. To help improve your performance, we’ve compiled tips to help boost your ruck march.

Adam Sheriff

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