An Aimed Shot to the Foot: Training the Ruckmarch and the Modern Army

by Capt James Rodgers | December 08, 2021

line of soldiers ruckmarching

The ruckmarch is a mainstay of Army training. It is a timeless and traditional practice that is used to make sure that soldiers are ready to fight. It makes them tough, mobile, fast, strong, high-spirited, and resistant to pain. A sure-fire way to ensure that you are prepared for anything is to ruckmarch for long distances with heavy loads. Ruckmarching is an unquestioned part of soldier training, an absolutely essential tool to set yourself apart from those soft Air Force and Navy types.

Unfortunately, the only true part of that first paragraph was the first sentence. The truth is that in the modern Army, ruckmarching has a net negative impact upon valuable human resources, wastes training time, and is inapplicable for the vast majority of Army personnel. It is an institutionally acceptable way to shoot yourself in the foot. It is a practice that has persisted for the last hundred years despite the advent of mechanization and its continued use needs to be halted. I will do my part to articulate why this training practice should be retired.

The Injury Problem

The injury problem in the Army is obvious for people in the military, but it does have an effect upon all of you normal people out there. I will not get into any details about the importance of a fit and well-trained Army for national security, but I will talk about money. Injuring military personnel is expensive because that person was injured in the service of the Federal Government, so it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to fix them. The Federal Government gets the money to make this happen from the taxpayers. Now, I understand that there are some aspects of military service that are inherently dangerous, and that personnel will get injured and that is part of the deal. But there is no reason to inflict an injury through ignorance or negligence when it is avoidable. It obviously hurts the soldier, it interferes with completing the mission, and it imposes a high cost upon the taxpayer.

So let’s break down the estimated cost to the taxpayer to break a Gunner (Artillery Private). I’ll use a trained Gunner, just 12 months into his military career who has a torn meniscus from a whole bunch of ruckmarching and running in the first year of his career. He is on light duties for six months until his surgery, on light duties for another six months to recover, has a poor prognosis and is released after another year. For the duration he has two courses of therapy with a physiotherapist and has decided to attend community college for retraining as a carpenter to prepare him for his post-military career. He is also eligible for a disability payment and an insurance-funded 75% income replacement while he is retraining. He was never deployed or able to do any productive work in the furtherance of national interests so his training and salary costs will be considered a total loss. A replacement for him needs to be recruited and trained.

As detailed in Release Cost Estimate, the estimated cost to the taxpayer for the privilege of injuring this guy is $262,542.75. Keep in mind that this cost estimate left out a myriad of other administrative expenses, so I can guarantee that the number that I generated is definitely low. I only accounted for things I could quantify. There is also the obvious bad outcome for the Gunner, since he now can no longer carry on with his career and has to live the rest of his life with a voice in the back of his head telling him that he has a “bad knee.” No playing soccer with his kids for him.


Basic Military QualificationBasic Military Qualification - LandDevelopmental Period 1 GunnerSumUnit PriceCost
5.56mm Blank40011303701900$1.13$2,147.00
Field Pay Days205833$21.00$693.00
Field Rations - Individual Meal Packets205833$30.00$990.00
Diesel (L)1537.550102.5$1.50$153.75
Total Training Cost$9,971.75


Pay IncrementYearsAnnual
Private 11$38,016.00
Private 21$46,428.00
Private 31$55,800.00
Total Salary$140,244.00


Disability Claim


Vocational Rehab Two Years at 75% Salary


Two Year Carpentry Program


Two Courses of Physiotherapy


Torn Meniscus Repair Surgery


Total Medical and Retraining Cost


a. Training $9,971.75
b. Salary $140,244.00
c. Medical and Retraining $112,327.00

These figures are reckoned in Canadian Dollars, so for our American friends it’s only about 78% as bad as it looks.

I want to save taxpayers some money by convincing military leaders to stop unnecessarily breaking their personnel with ruckmarches. This is because the ruckmarch is an inefficient use of training time and is injurious to military personnel. A lot of people reading this understand this right now and can stop reading. A few of people reading this are outraged and will also stop reading. For everyone that has not made up their mind yet, I will endeavor to convince you why the ruckmarch needs to go.

What Does Ruckmarching Do?

For the sake of clarity, I will provide a definition of the term. The ruckmarch is a shortened version of the term “rucksack march.” Rucksack is a German word which translates into backpack. March is used because it sounds more military than walking. Whenever you see ruckmarch, think backpack walk. A ruckmarch is a long, fast walk with a heavy backpack. Soldiers will usually do this activity while also wearing their helmets, plates, fragmentation vests, boots, gloves and weapons. Total equipment load can vary from 30lb to over 100lb. Distances covered usually range from 5km to 20km. For the purpose of this article I will define the ruckmarch as “a fast-paced loaded walk for distance conducted in the context of military physical training.”

In the past, before mechanization, the ability to conduct forced marches was absolutely essential to the conduct of military operations on land. All successful western militaries got very good at this because it allowed formations to maneuver, regroup, and concentrate quickly. Forced marching let you win a battle before it started. In the late Roman Republic, legionnaires became known as Marius’ Mules because of the manner in which their demanding leader made them carry heavy loads for long distances. This let the legions dispense with baggage trains and led to a series of stunning victories against numerically superior but slower-moving Germanic tribes. Napoleon’s armies moved with staggering speed across Europe thanks to their forced marches and decisive leaders. French soldiers would link arms while marching, so that those that fell asleep during the march would not be left behind. Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate troops were able to defeat much larger and better-equipped Union Forces in detail during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign thanks to their ability to cover enormous distances on foot in short periods of time.

Before mechanization, the ruckmarch was a must-have for any worthwhile Army. This all changed with the advent of the internal combustion engine. A truck can transport men and material much farther and faster than men can walk. Troops marching on foot will become disconnected from mechanized forces, a fact driven home during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. A mechanized force is a superior force due to its advantages of speed, protection and firepower. The US Army and Marines did not walk to Baghdad in 2003 – they drove. Walking to Baghdad would have been stupid. The important lesson to draw from all of this is that the utility of the forced march is diminished thanks to mechanization. It is obsolete.

map showingmovement of ​ forces in stonewall jackson’s 1862 shenandoah valley campaign

Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Take a moment to look at the distances covered and the dates of the battles to appreciate how fast they were moving.

Despite the fact that ruckmarching is an obsolete form of battlefield and operational maneuver, it persists in Army culture and as a part of the training system. This is because it is identified as a common task for everyone in the Army to do. This is not consistent with the situation on the ground. Ruckmarching is also popular with senior personnel, and part of being in the Army is that you have to do what they say. Some personnel like to do it and make others do it as a demonstration of how tough they are. It’s the Army, so some degree of tough-guy posturing/masochism is inevitable. The ruckmarch is also useful to some extent for recruit training because it lets you know if new personnel have all of their equipment and they know how to put it on. Ruckmarching also is used to inflict a degree of discomfort that produces some mental resilience. It is also very easy to plan since it requires no facilities or equipment outside of what has been issued to the troops. The only things you need to make it happen are time and effort.

The effect of training your ruckmarching is that you get better at ruckmarching. For a little bit, since you cannot keep adding weight to the pack or increasing the distances covered for a long period of time. The physical training programming tools of adjusting intensity, volume, time, and exercise selection cannot be manipulated effectively in a ruckmarching program. It does not make you better at anything else. It does not make you fast or strong. You do not get fast because the pace is a walk. There is no logical reason to expect that walking at a fast pace will make you able to run fast. You do not get strong from ruckmarching because the distance to be covered and the duration of the training event preclude the use of a weight heavy enough to elicit a strength adaptation. When used in a military training, the weight and equipment loadout is standardized. This results in situations where a 6’2” 250lb man and a 5’5” 130lb man will be carrying the same load on a ruckmarch, with no attention paid to their individual capabilities.

Thus, the ruckmarch is an ineffective tool for general strength and conditioning training. It is a way to do twice as much as you should half as well as you could. The ruckmarch reliably produces hot, sweaty, tired, and hurt. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are common and if your feet are not well conditioned you’ll get some blisters. The end result for soldiers who have gone through a training program with a lot of ruckmarching is tough feet, good conditioning for low-intensity work, lower bodyweight, less speed, and less strength. But they got better at ruckmarching, so they should be better at their job, right?

Who Needs to be Good at Ruckmarching?

To borrow a concept from Carl Raghavan, the definition of physical fitness is specific to the task the athlete is to perform. Without a clearly defined task, the concept of physical fitness is so vague that it is useless. Someone can be the world’s fittest person at a certain task and useless at another one because their physical attributes, developed by training, and their task are not a fit for one another. Brian Shaw, a four times World’s Strongest Man champion, would perform poorly in a triathlon because his physical capacities, acquired through genetics and training, are not a fit for the tasks required to produce a good performance in a triathlon.

The ruckmarch is a task that is specific to military occupations that conduct dismounted maneuvers while executing their primary task. If the task of dismounted maneuver is not an integral part of your job, you do not benefit from proficiency at ruckmarching. If you are in the Army and you get to where you need to go on tracks or on wheels, ruckmarching is not a task that matters to you. The vast majority of personnel in the Army move on wheels or tracks. Unless you are light infantry, airborne, airmobile, or special operations, ruckmarching is not relevant to you. If you are in a position where the execution of your battlefield tasks require you to move long distances on wheels or on tracks, the ruckmarch is useless because if you lose your wheels or tracks, you are out of the battle. Your ability to project combat power has been destroyed because it was or was in that vehicle. You are out of the game at this point and your primary concern has become escape and evasion. In this case, ruckmarching will only prepare you for a situation where you have been defeated.

To reinforce this point, I will break down the tasks of my old Artillery Regiment to figure out exactly who in that unit needs to be good at ruckmarching. The Regiment consists of a Regimental Headquarters, a Headquarters and Services Battery, and three Artillery Sensor Batteries.  

Regimental Headquarters

Who is in it?

What do they do?

Do they move on wheels?

Can they perform tactical tasks on foot?

Regimental Command

Lead the Regiment


No. Their unit is dispersed over tens of kilometers and their radio is in their vehicle

Regimental Operations.

Plan future activities

Yes. They will deploy with a higher headquarters.

No. They are essentially a mobile office.

Regimental Command Post

Control current activities.

Yes. They will deploy as a headquarters

No, they are a mobile office with a lot of radios that require generators.

Headquarters and Services Battery

Who is in it?

What do they do?

Do they move on wheels?

Can they perform tactical tasks on foot?

Signals Troop

Set up and maintain radio networks

Yes, they have mobile command posts and can lay wires.

No, their antennae towers, radios and generators cannot be carried in backpacks. Their equipment weighs hundreds of pounds.

Maintenance Troop

Fix vehicles and equipment.

Yes, they are a mobile repair shop.

No. Imagine putting a garage on your back or towing an armored vehicle by hand.

Logistics Troop

Provide fuel, water, ammunition, food and other supplies

Yes. Trucks, trucks everywhere!

No. Completely impossible.

Three Artillery Sensor Batteries

Who is in it?

What do they do?

Do they move on wheels?

Can they perform tactical tasks on foot?

Radar Troop

Set up radars to look for aircraft or enemy artillery fire.

Yes, the radar is pulled by a truck.

No. The radar weighs about 28 000lb

Small Unmanned Aerial System Troop

Fly drones.

Yes. They deploy to the launch site on trucks.

No. The flight missions are commanded from a Sea Can.

Support Troop

Provide fuel, water, ammunition, food and other supplies to the other two troops.

Yes. Supplies are bulky and are moved in trucks.

No. If their vehicles are lost, so are the supplies which were in the trucks.

All of the personnel in my Regiment are tasked with operating radars, drones, command & control, or doing the things needed to keep the radars and drones functional. None of this can be done dismounted. Therefore there was zero utility for personnel in my old Regiment to become proficient at ruckmarching.

To the extent of my knowledge, this piece of equipment has never been put in a backpack.

What is the Injury Rate?

Ruckmarching produces a lot of injuries. It is usually done in conjunction with distance running, so it’s hard to untangle cause and effect to tell which pointless activity caused the unnecessary injury. I could not get any information out of our own injury tracking system or find any helpful peer-reviewed journal articles. Here is my unscientific, anecdotal evidence on the injury rate associated with ruckmarching:

There are a lot of them.

If you want to confirm this piece of data, just talk to anyone who has been in the Army for more than a month. Ruckmarching produces a lot of sneaky, nagging injuries. I know someone who is currently going through the training to become an infantry officer. After fourteen weeks of training (which includes a steady diet of ruckmarching with extra-heavy loads) he has a partially torn Achilles tendon, a torn hip flexor, an undiagnosed injury to the other hip, and non-mechanical back pain. If ruckmarching was supposed to get this person ready to fight, it has failed.

How to Get Good at Ruckmarching if You Have To

By now it should be pretty clear that if you are in the Army and in a unit that rolls on wheels or on tracks (almost everyone), there is no earthly reason for you to be ruckmarching. However, if you are in a position where you need to be good at it (unlikely), or are about to go through the rigmarole of recruit training (much more likely), I will give you an overview on how to get good at ruckmarching while exposing yourself to the lowest possible injury risk:

Step 1: Get Strong. Stack some big boy weight on the bar to sort out your flimsy back and shaky legs. Here’s how to get that done: Get started on Starting Strength. Getting strong will make the weight of the rucksack feel puny in comparison. Also, spend a lot of time walking in your boots. This will toughen up your feet without pulverizing your lower body.

Step 2: Get Conditioned. Do hill sprints every day for about two weeks to whip your fluffy milk-swilling ass into shape. While this is happening, do a few short ruckmarches with the equipment that you will be using to make sure that your equipment is in good order and your feet will not disintegrate.

Step 3: Get Lubricated. Make sure that you always have a small tube of Vaseline on your person, ready for immediate application to your undercarriage. Since you have become strong and well-conditioned, chafing is the only thing that can stop you now.

The most important thing to draw from this is that the process of becoming strong and well-conditioned will produce the effect of being able to ruckmarch, along with being able to do all sorts of other useful things. Doing a lot of ruckmarching in an effort to get good at ruckmarching will make you weak, slightly better at ruckmarching and a little bit broken. Reducing the amount of ruckmarching that you do in your own training plan will have the beneficial effect of reducing your exposure to injury risk while freeing up training time that can be used for executing a rational strength and conditioning plan.

Sum Up

Ruckmarching is not a useful tool for general soldier training. It became obsolete about 80 years ago, with the proliferation of trucks. Very few Army personnel are in a position where the ability to conduct ruckmarches matters; the need to effectively conduct ruckmarches is specific to occupations that conduct maneuvers over long distances on foot. It breaks troops, and broken troops are expensive as hell. Finally, the general traits of being strong and well-conditioned, which produce the ability to ruckmarch, can be trained using safer, more effective, and more efficient training methodologies.

Do not feel bad if you have been using ruckmarching as a method to train your troops. You were doing what was expected of you. Feel bad if you keep doing it after reading this article, because ignorance is no longer an excuse. Now you know better.

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