…What we want is not a light battalion but a light army…such mobility is only to be obtained when the army is formed of sturdy men, well-practiced in peace, well-fed In the field, and carrying as regards all arms a really practical equipment. An army which marches light will also maneuver freely.

— Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke

We’re going to dig into load carriage for a bit. I spend a lot of time talking about the actual art of shooting or selecting your equipment to aid in that practice. I’ve also gone into the importance of fitness and developing your capabilities under a ruck. Now let’s tie it together a little bit.

First, a disclaimer of sorts. This article series focuses on load carriage and equipment with an eye towards the defense of self, home, hearth, and community. The principles here still very much apply to hunting, especially in the mountains, but the types of loads I’m referencing are distinctly fighting-oriented.

There’s been an awful lot written about the overburdening of American warfighters in the last 20 years. But it’s not a new phenomenon. S.L.A. Marshall was writing about it in the 1950s. Finding a balance between the capabilities of a human to carry weight, the need to carry modern warfare implements, and the desire to protect the individual soldier is difficult.

Thankfully, we’re not soldiers here. We aren’t worried about humping mortar, belt-feds, and other specialized equipment. We’re primarily concerned with the ability to produce decisive victory and not get shot in the process.

In a World…

For those of you who’ve read my articles long enough, I’m not one to worry about black helicopters and rebelling against a tyrannical government. Foremost on my mind is protecting my family and community.

I grew up in South Florida. I survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and then had a fun back-to-back experience with Hurricane’s Katrina and Wilma while in college. Losing power for long stretches of time was just part of the deal. One of the experiences that set me on the path to firearms ownership happened during the aftermath of Wilma, where someone kicked in the door of our duplex-mate and stabbed them 16 times with an ice pick.

It took an hour and a half for police to respond.

I’ve lived through blizzard conditions in Montana, as well as raging fires. I dealt with out-of-control wildfires in California while stationed there.

Like many, I watched in sadness as the little island of Puerto Rico struggled after a massive hurricane.

The trend I observed through all of these is that you’re probably going to be on your own for a while. More to the point, you can’t do it by yourself. You need to sleep, so you need others you can count on.

Scenario X

Let’s set the scene. You live in a suburban neighborhood, distinctly middle class in nature. You’ve been hit hard by a “Nasty Nate,” a record-breaking weather system. The power is out, the local government is all but shut down, and the state government is far more focused on what’s going on in the densely-populated urban areas.

The first few days were no big deal. You had a stash of food on hand, and you kept the family entertained the way you always have in the past.

Then the first week went by without recovery. You’ve still got supplies for another few weeks, but many of your neighbors ran out by Day 4. The local grocery stores were a madhouse, as desperate people picked them clean and attacked others who had what they wanted.

Two weeks in, it’s a different story. The shortwave radio you kept stashed in your emergency kit is telling you that the urban areas are overwhelmed. Hospitals are at capacity, and people are starting to succumb to the loss of power. No environmental controls in homes, expiring medications, lack of potable water, it’s all adding up.

You also hear that the local criminal elements are taking advantage of the minimal police presence to venture into new territory.

After a month, your neighborhood is a ghost town. Those who could leave took off hoping for greener pastures. Others were tied to the area for family reasons or just decided to hunker down. After a group of criminals laid siege to a nearby neighborhood, you’ve been talking to your remaining neighbors about some kind of community watch and protection.

Among your group, you’ve got a few former military guys, only one of them was infantry. You have a smattering of small arms, binoculars, medical supplies, and handheld radios.

The Problem With Weight

I realize this scenario sounds like something out of Red Dawn, but it’s a useful illustration. There aren’t black helicopters, blue-helmeted UN troops representing the Illuminati Global Order, or even jack-booted thugs looking to shoot your dog. It’s just a bad situation, and you have a need to provide some safety where others cannot.

In a perfect world, you would be able to carry unlimited ammunition, high powered optics, food, water, communications gear, and wear highly-protective body armor, all while keeping it less than 40 lbs.

Well, we don’t live in that kind of world. Everything has a weight penalty, and weight is your enemy.

Military forces throughout history struggled with balancing weight against capability. You can always increase the potential of a fighter by giving them more protection (armor), equipment, weapons, or supplies. But by doing so, you also decrease their mobility, increase their energy expenditure, and increase the likelihood of injury.

Remarkably, the average amount of weight carried by a soldier, from the Roman Legion to modern light fighters, has remained fairly consistent at 60-80 lbs.

The difference is in the quantity carried for that weight.

The Roman Legion

I found a discussion on Stack Exchange about this topic.

There were two types of Roman infantry: light and heavy. The average heavy infantryman had a helmet, a mail coat, greaves, a shield, a spatha(broadsword), five weighted darts, and a javelin (pilum). The pilum was five to six feet long with a tip of iron weighing nine ounces. The total weight of the pilum ranged between five and eleven pounds (the pilum were heavier in the days of the republic than of the empire). The shield could weigh over twenty pounds.

The light infantryman carried much of the same items. However, he rarely wore armor. His shield was smaller and usually made of wood. Instead of using pilum, the light infantrymen carried hastae velitares. They were smaller and lighter than the pilum. Many light infantrymen also carried a gladius as a backup weapon.

In addition to their weapons, each infantryman carried spare clothing, a cloak, three to fourteen days of rations, a wicker basket for moving dirt, rope, a waterskin, and a spade or a pickax. These were attached to a cross-shaped frame, forming a pack. The light infantry usually ended up carrying 70-80 pounds of equipment and the heavy infantry often carried up to 100 pounds of equipment.

Maria Milani, another source focusing on Roman history outlined a similar kit. They highlight that one group led Gaius by Marius, popularly known as “Marius’ Mules”, carried 35-34kg of equipment. That works out to about 70-100 lbs.

British Redcoats, 18th Century

We often assume that the 18th Century soldier carried a lighter burden. After all, there was no more armor to worry about. But that is also wrong.

Each soldier carried a Brown Bess musket with bayonet. Depending on the construction, figure 14 or so lbs. A twelve-pound cartridge box hung around his waist along with a filled wooden canteen.

A backpack held more kit, including a great-coat, kettle, blanket, leather tools, hatchet, and three days of rations. You can expect that this kit only grew in weight as the war dragged on.

The total weight of the equipment was sixty or more pounds.

The Continental Army, coming from mostly British heritage, was likely similarly equipped. Though I might expect some of the guerilla units like Daniel Morgan’s traveled a bit lighter.

WWI British Trooper

The 1908 Pattern Webbing equipment comprised a wide belt with left and right ammunition pouches (75 rounds each), left and right braces, a bayonet, attachment for the entrenching tool handle, entrenching tool head in web cover, water bottle carrier, small haversack, and large pack.

A mess tin attached to one of the packs inside a cloth buff-colored khaki cover. Inside the haversack were personal items, knife, and unused portions of the daily rations.

The large pack could sometimes house some of these items but was normally kept for carrying the soldier’s Greatcoat or blanket. The full set of 1908 webbing could weigh over 70 pounds (32 kg).

Each soldier also carried an 8.8-pound Lee-Enfield Rifle and a 2.4-pound Webley revolver.

This brings the total to over 80 pounds

Not mentioned in that quote is the helmet, gas mask, or the emergence of crew-served weapons and supplies.

You should already start noticing a trend here. The equipment itself keeps getting lighter, so the soldier just carries more of it.

Modern Military

The military loves to write about how much weight each soldier carries.

By WWII, it started getting excessive. The paratroopers on D-Day jumped with loads between 125 and 150 lbs. They also ditched a lot of it pretty quick once on the ground.

The Navy published a study in 2007 detailing how the average Marine carried between 97 and 135 lbs. Weapons, communications gear, armor, mission-specific tools, cross loading, supplies, and everything else required just started adding up. Add to that a risk aversion to casualties, and the hope is pretty dim.

During the Korean Conflict in the 1950s, S.L.A. Marshall was adamant that a soldier’s load should be kept below 50 lbs. That number kept showing up in the US Army’s ORO research, like Project ALCLAD. Being too heavy just had too many consequences.

Alas, the Navy’s own study said the most optimistic reduction in weight would only bring it down to about 68 to 110 lbs.

I see this argument come up a lot in studies, actually. A lot of the old-heads sincerely feel like the average ground fighter is reliant on mechanization to carry excess loads, and we’ve forgotten how to truly get around only by foot.

What it all Adds Up to

At the end of the day, some weight is unavoidable. That’s why you have to be on top of your fitness. But that doesn’t mean you should use the military as a model.

S.L.A. Marshall, a veteran of WWI, military historian, and author of Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation, gets cited a lot. Putting aside any controversy surrounding him as a man and his record, it’s a good read. His rule for a fighting load is that it shouldn’t exceed about 30% of your bodyweight.

Now, for this number, I suggest using your lean body mass and not gross body weight as I did in the rucking article for training.

For most adults males in decent shape, that works out to about 50 lbs or less. Repeated studies by the Army and Marines in 1954, 1971, and 2003 repeated this number. But it’s deceptively difficult to achieve.

Snip from the Navy’s 2007 NRAC Study on Lightening the Load

Luckily for our merry band of survivors in Scenario X, we aren’t a military fighting force occupying foreign territory. We, like our light-fighting adversaries in Afghanistan, are living on top of our logistics train and don’t need to worry about much more than our Assault Load. 

The Assault Load

The Marines break down equipment loads into three major categories: Assault Load, Approach Load, and Existence Load. Similarly, the Army calls these categories Fighting Load, Approach Load, and Sustainment Load. FM 3-21.10 details these if you want to look, but it works out to the same numbers the Marines found.

As stalwart neighborhood defenders, you aren’t likely to march 20 miles to the fight, drop excess gear, and get to business. Rather, your goal is to stay light and nimble so you can move with aggressive action, minimize exposure, and keep momentum in your favor. This is your assault load.

The short version of this is that the assault/fighting load is your minimum equipment required to fight, communicate, and survive in a combat environment. This means your clothing, weapon(s), ammunition, first aid kit, water, protective gear, and communications (i.e. radios, whistles, air horns, whatever you decide).

This needs to be as light as possible.

After many years of experimentation, training, and learning, I’ve more or less settled on this configuration here as my “standard.”

My go-to fighting load, not including clothing

This configuration came from MVT’s Fight Lite concept. Max came up through the British military, which leans heavily on traditional belt kit. He used to suggest a more belt-centric load, but now suggests something closer to this for civilians defending their home turf.

I detailed this history of my battle belt over in another post. You can find that here.

So exactly should be in your assault load for defending your community along with your neighbors?

The next article in this series discusses the pros and cons of carrying weight on your waist versus chest. Go ahead and check it out!

Over to You

I’m curious about your thoughts so far. Have you considered a scenario like this in the past? Have you thought about what exactly you would be carrying and how much it would weigh?

I look forward to continuing this discussion.

Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Ben Dover
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Ben Dover

Another excellent article. Luckily for me I have several close aquatintes in the area and we actually discussed this after the whole Ferguson events. I figured a defend the homestead load to be AR with LPVO (trijicon accupower) & Surefire m600; g19 or 17 with Surefire X300U on the belt in a raven concealment holster. Also on the belt, double pistol mag pouch, single AR mag pouch. Keeps the belt light and fairly balanced with 3 mags on one side and pistol on the other. Also on the belt is a map edition dump pouch on the back side to keep it out of the way. With the belt set up that way I either run a camel back (3 L) only in warm weather with 2 AR mags on it in hsgi tacos, or if weather is colder/ worse goruck pack with 2 mags on the outside and sustainment items packed inside (water bladder, jacket, food, socks, etc). This gives me 4 loaded mags and if that’s not enough then discretion maybe the better part of valor.

Right now I run all my belt items on a normal 1.75” webbing belt that I use for IDPA matches, but I’m looking at either an Essetac double layer belt or crye precision modular riggers belt as the Molle options would make it a little more user friendly.

My next step is to try to find a run and gun to try and shake out the gear to see how it works out. What do you use to proof your gear?

Norm
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Norm

I would always have a harness on the belt. It makes it easier for a team mate (if you have one) to drag you more easily. And if you hook on something with the belt (vegetation or anything sticking out) you won’t have your belt potentially pulled down. It also doesn’t require your belt to be tight on you. I prefer it slightly loose.

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