As I have mentioned in previous articles, I prefer the large-frame Alice Pack of the US Army, the one I have been using for many decades, now. It is both sturdy and affordable, and can meet a person’s needs from a training and a survival perspective. That mentioned, it is up to you to find one that feels both comfortable and offers you the support you need to be able to move on the road or cross-country with weight on your back.
Don’t road march cold: you need to take the time to do some light calisthenics to warm your muscles up prior to the physical exertion. The weight you will tote with you will vary according to your abilities and physical condition, as well as the needs of the exercise. It is a training event: you need to keep it as such and hold it in that regard. You need proper footgear and comfortable clothing, as well as a water supply. You need to prepare for it the night before, with a good meal and plenty of rest and fluids prior to your start.
Your stretches can include (but not be limited to) the side-straddle hop (referred to as “jumping jacks,”) as well as half-squats, squats, hamstring and calf stretches, and so forth. I prefer boots to support my ankles, although I have seen many people using tennis shoes and hiking shoes. Whatever your preference, as long as it gives your arch the support it needs.
Start out small, with a lighter amount of weight. That will be on you to gauge. Start by doing a mile, and then work your way up. A good conservative plan for a road marching “schedule” can be one per week with lighter weights and shorter distances. As you “work your way up” you’ll want to make the road marches less frequent. The reason being is you don’t want to damage yourself with a potential stress fracture or a hairline fracture from continuously pounding the pavement with your feet and heavy weight on the shoulders. Shin splints are a common occurrence over time, as well.
Medically, they’re referred to as MTSS (medial tibial stress syndrome), and are pains within the connective muscle and tissue surrounding your knee and the outside of your tibia. It is a chronic “dull” aching feeling that arises in about 15 to 20% of people who run, walk, or (in this case) march long distances. Ice packs and rest can enable you to recover in a short period of time. For any question of it, consult with your physician if the problem persists.
The road marches will strengthen your legs and back, and also develop your cardiovascular capabilities. You should time every one of them, and attempt gains each time you undertake a march. Gains would take the form of quicker times, or more weight carried. You have to do it gradually. Eventually, your end goal is to carry what you normally would in a rucksack if the SHTF and you were out in the woods. Cross-country is markedly different from doing it on the side of the road due to the uneven terrain as well as other factors, such as water, thick vegetation, an abundance of rocks, etc.
Weather is also a factor, and in the warmer months great care must be taken to ensure you don’t dehydrate yourself. Remember: thirst is a late sign of dehydration, and means you’re already depleted when you feel thirsty. It would also be good to undertake these marches with a partner, so that if an emergency arises you have someone with you to rely upon for first aid or to go for help.
Your endurance will improve with time, and it also takes adjustment for your feet to become accustomed to both your pace and the work. It is an excellent lower-body exercise that still manages to work your upper body. It requires discipline, determination, and preparation to accomplish. Eventually you will see results, and can road march 2 to 4 times per month successfully as part of your physical regimen.
Remember to take account of the water you will carry when you initially weigh your rucksack. You can pick up a good fishing and game scale that will enable you to find out exactly how much you tote. Try it out. It is cost effective and will give you some good results. Happy rucking! JJ out!