Ruck Marching: Do’s and Don’ts

  • Published
  • By Airman Parker J. McCauley
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Ruck marches are often a foreign concept to many Airmen who aren’t required to do them and don’t see a reason to carry a heavy backpack or rucksack for an extended period of time.

The ruck march I participated in on April 13, 2019 was the Operation HOMEFRONT Ruck March hosted by the 20th Attack Squadron. Each participant donated ten dollars to the charity which helps veterans and their families. The basic weight guidelines for each rucksack were 20 and 15 pounds for men and women respectively with an additional 25-pound weight, which the members of each team took turns carrying.

Growing up as an Army brat with my stepfather, who served as a military policeman, I felt I already had an idea what I was getting myself into when my superintendent passed on information about the march.

He told me about the rucking standards of the 18th Airborne Corps soldiers who marched with a 35-pound ruck for 12 miles in under 3 hours. Having this knowledge from him served as my kind of baseline to keep in my mind.

He also gave me several large backpacks that he was not using when I younger, which I reused extensively. Because of that, I gained more experience with larger and heavier bags for a variety of things such as hiking/camping carrying extra food and water, and for school carrying everything I needed as opposed to having a locker.

Before the march, I did some preparatory work to make sure I’d have the least issues possible. First, I did research online which provided me a variety of information some that worked for me and some that didn’t.

After my research was finished I went on a 3-mile practice ruck march that took approximately an hour after work a little over a week and a half before the actual one, wearing a different pair of boots.

Standing at 5 feet, 4 inches, weighing 112 pounds, carrying a 32.5 pound ruck was a challenge for myself. My practice session a week prior helped me feel ready as we waited for it to kick off in Green Ridge, Missouri.

We completed the 10.8 miles, over the course of three hours on the Katy trail from Green Ridge to Sedalia, Missouri. It was a decently sunny and comfortably cool day with trees along the edges of the flat trail providing a good degree of shade.

The beginning of the march went very much like my practice one. During the first mile and half, I experienced mild soreness in my calves while I got used to the weight of my rucksack. The straps of my pack didn’t bother me much because I’m used to them but I knew after a while they’d slowly develop light bruises. Throughout the march I had to adjust my waist strap because I wasn’t wearing my multi-tool on my belt like I normally do which caused it to be more loose.

I took one piece of poor advice which was to wear thinner moisture wicking socks inside of thicker boot socks to reduce the friction with the boots. As time went on I felt some friction which was annoying so I kept re-adjusting my boots and feet to try to fix the issue.

About halfway through the ruck I felt a pinching pain feeling on my right heel which prompted me to take off my boots. As I took off my socks I realized I had several bright red blisters on each foot including several that had burst.

I fixed my issue with socks by getting quality wool socks which have the added benefit of providing extra padding for the blisters as they heal.

My next big mistake was wearing boots that weren’t broken in well enough. For the best results, footwear should be snug-fitting and well-broken in to eliminate any rubbing inside.

Breaking in boots properly is accomplished by wearing them over time and by doing things while wearing them just like any other footwear so that they conform to your feet.

I didn’t make every mistake that I could’ve.

Prior to the march, I got full night of sleep while drinking lots of water which helped with motivation and energy. If you drink coffee that can also make things much easier.

As with any other type of physical activity, water is essential to keep you going. The amount of water you need to drink depends on a variety of factors such as height, weight, level of activity, fitness level, metabolism and the weather outside but generally if you’re thirsty it means you need to drink more.

A properly-packed ruck can make a major difference in how you feel fair throughout a march. I used an old LC-1 ALICE(All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) pack, but any modern frame pack will allow the weight to be distributed comfortably. The pack should have a strap around the waist to also move weight to the hips and off of the shoulders and back and it should be snug to keep everything in place which will eliminate friction.

The weight in the pack should be closer to the body to allow for better posture and balance. Depending on the pack, its contents can be arranged vertically to make it more comfortable. The design of my ALICE pack, being a more than 50-years old, had its limitations.

Depending on the weather and the course of the trail, other considerations such as the sun should be kept in mind. I packed a boonie hat as an option to provide more shade than my baseball cap.

Having a good team during a ruck march can help with morale and keep pushing you forward even if it’s painful. My team helped me throughout keeping me motivated and doing a bit of running periodically with everything helped add more fun but having people to talk to and just appreciate the day together and joking around throughout.

For rucking there are several key rules and major takeaways for anyone interested in participating:
1. Take care of your feet. Keeping them dry while minimizing friction can prevent blisters.
2. Have a well setup and comfortable rucksack. Keeping the load close to your body and higher up will help your posture which will be better for your body overall.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drink water as needed to prevent dehydration and stay energized

Despite the pain and the mistakes I’m still glad I took part in it and will probably be doing more once I recover from this one.