28th Jul2011

The Art of the Rucksack

by A.J.

Recently I was in Leadville Colorado on a WET exercise (Winter Environmental Training). For those of you that don’t know, Leadville Colorado is the highest altitude incorporated city in the United States (10,152 feet).  The training exercise started out normal enough; Scarpa Boots, check jet boil stove, check cross-country skis, check fully loaded rucksack containing enough snivel gear to bivouac on the dark side of the moon, check. My team and I got up to the mountains conducted skills training most of the day and in the afternoon headed off to find a suitable site to RON (Rest Over Night). The snow cave I constructed was rudimentary but would have to do, and after a frigid night of -20°F when 0400 rolled around it was time to bug out and link up with the rest of the company.  This is where we get to the point of the story, if it is -20°F and the mission dictates movement to link up, anytime you spend out of your shelter and bag you must use wisely; death will become anyone who wastes those precious minutes.

My team had recently received a new member from another unit and seeing as he was an E-8 we figured he must be squared away or mother Army would never have promoted him. Well, it turns out if you put a duffle bag in formation long enough, someone will come around and put some stripes on it.

0400 Wakeup: out of the Bivy into my boots

0405 Relieve bladder, pack gear into rucksack

0410 Out of the snow cave check the rest of the buddy teams

0415 Final 360°, skis on, ruck on, form up for tactical movement to link up

At this point all but one of our personnel were ready to move as the last bit of warmth from the night in the caves and bags left our bodies. There across the modified patrol base is our new E-8 frustrated as he tries to fit all his snivel gear, poagy bait and useless crap in his rucksack. 30 minutes goes by, one fight almost breaks out and almost everyone gets a touch of cold weather injury waiting around because, someone failed to know the ancient Ranger ‘art of the rucksack.’

First off the rucksack has to be properly selected for the mission. How long are you going to be out on patrol? I generally have two days worth of supplies at all times when on a combat mission minimum. For me two days of supplies means: water and ammo everything else is comfort gear (a muscle milk RTD and a protein bar help if you can spare the weight). Don’t bring a 3-day pack for a two week patrol and conversely don’t bring a large ruck for a one night hit. As an aside remember the movie Predator where Arnold dropped into the jungle with a rifle and a canteen? Packing the gear ends up being the single most important point of the whole art. First off lay out everything you need or are required to have. I almost never bring another uniform even if I am going to be out for three weeks I just bring one other undershirt and two other pairs of socks. Think about it if you are going on a LRP (long range patrol) you would think you want another uniform but it will get crusty and broken in the first 2 hours of any real operation so why bother (do bring a small sewing kit). Secondly just review what you have decided to bring, I am all for contingency planning but seriously you don’t need 3 compasses, 2 GPS’ and 2 types of protractors. Once you got it down to the essentials it is time to put it away. Heaviest gear should always be packed high and close to the body, troopers fail at this all the time it will make a huge shift in your center of gravity and it will exponentially steal performance. Bulky light gear can go to the bottom and outside not only will it feel better it will help protect your sensitive items. There is no need to pack food on the outside, food is the last priority of work and generally if you packed the right food it is dense. If you can barely fit your gear in the pack while in your team room before you leave, unless it is full of disposable items you will never repack it in the field. I always use waterproof bags for my ruck, even in a dry environment they have proved invaluable not only because a rainfly is a pain to get out while underway but because a good wet weather bag has multiple other uses not the least of which is the buoyancy it provides (the last thing I want is to die in the sewage pit in some third world hole). On a military operation I tie everything down I remember in the Q-course they would tell us “your gear is tied down, or in the process of being tied down” after a few days of 2 hours of sleep it is nice to see you have been dragging a sensitive item by 550 cord for 10 meters instead if compromising the net because you are a bone head. Lastly it comes down to training I try to pack my kit about the same every time, obviously the gear changes and the mission changes but the skeleton should be the same, you should be able to find your mission essential gear under strict light discipline and you should know how you can move in it and what your limitations are with the gear on. I often see troopers marching around base with rucksacks on but I rarely see them execute actions on the objective rehearsals with their body armor and assault packs on, I think it is imperative that if you are going to carry the gear on the OBJ you need to train in that gear including modified obstacle courses and fitness training. Moral of the story do not kill your buddies because you didn’t put in the basic work to learn to pack your gear.

3 Responses to “The Art of the Rucksack”

  • Indy

    Thanks guys, I just about lost it lokonig for this.

  • DG

    Nice re-hash of the basics. Never thought of the wet-bag doubling as a float.

    Speaking of “Floats”, what’s your thoughts on the poncho raft? Viable option, or out-dated methods??? Or just another tool in the arsenal???



    • Dave,
      I am a huge fan of having as many tools in the box as possible. Using a poncho raft is primitive and if you had a better alternative (say a kayak) I would skip it but, sometimes that is all you got. In 1995 Lance Cpl. Zachary Mayo fell off an aircraft carrier and survived 36 hours in the open ocean by making a float out of overalls, someone may say that is out of date but it seemed to be the right tool in that situation.

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