I was writing an entry detailing my “Fighting Load” within the the guidelines of Army regulation and my own needs. The post was growing excessively lengthy because of my description of the decision making process I’m using to prioritize the load. If I had that much to say about it, then it probably deserves to be its own post.
In the past, I have mentioned the importance of choosing the rifle configuration that best matches your actual use, and not your imagined use. Correlating to this, my second law of purchasing rifles and accessories is, “Let the mission dictate the configuration.” If you’re not sure what your need is, then it’s probably best to stick to a generalized configuration that does okay at a lot of things without being great at any one particular task (a summary of my recommendations for first time AR-15 buyers). This holds true for the rest of the equipment that can be brought along for a marksman’s mission.
Factors for a Fighting Load
As much as we would like to try, it is simply impossible to be ready for every possible contingency at the same time. It’s relatively easy to load up a vehicle with a ton of gear you might need for any given situation, but it’s another when you have to carry it all yourself. I made this mistake when hiking the Smokey Mountain leg of the Appalachian Trail several years ago. I packed too much food, clothing, and “extras” for the amount of time that we were actually on the trail and the conditions that we were actually backpacking in. The heavy pack combined with a heavy pair of “tactical boots” from a local surplus store, rather than purpose built hiking boots (another lesson learned), meant my knees were just about shot after the fourth day and I was all but out of commission by the seventh. I would have been better off carrying far less and relying on a resupply every few days, especially given the rather dramatic elevation changes and relatively difficult terrain on that section of the trail.
The Army has long struggled with this concept as well. There is a rather famous story about an officer during WWII, frustrated with the amount of equipment his men were being required to carry, walking into his commander’s officer wearing every item of “kit” that the brass wanted the enlisted men to hump. The load was extremely excessive and the bulk was laughable. The men were making active decisions to ditch much of the equipment at the risk of punishment for not following SOP. The officer made his point and the commander sought to provide more leeway. The most modern iteration of this is called METT-TC, which stands for Mission, Enemy, Terrain/Weather, Troops, Time, Civil considerations. I find that using this model (minus the C at the end, which takes it back to the METT-T model that has been around long before the GWOT) is very practical.
Mission: What is it that you are trying to accomplish? Figure out the who, what, where, when, and why of the mission. What will be required to complete that task? What constraints might limit me from accomplishing that task, and how will you overcome them?
Enemy: Who are your adversaries? What are their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses? How will you counter their capabilities and strengths while taking advantage of their weaknesses?
Terrain/Weather: Where will you be performing this mission? Is the ground level or will there be elevation changes? What kind of cover/concealment is available? How available is fresh water? What will the climate be like (cold/heat/rain/etc)? How will you account for or take advantage of these factors?
Troops: What are your capabilities as far as equipment and training? What about your team (if present)? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you leverage strengths to reduce load? Will weaknesses cause you to require more resources?
Time: How much time do you have to prepare? Do you have time to improve your weaknesses (conditioning/capability)? How long will you be in the field without resupply?
Using these factors, you will be better prepared to prioritize what kind of items you should be carrying. If you are unconditioned or unused to carrying loads over terrain, for instance, then you will likely need to carry more water and move at a slower pace. If your enemy is a deer that won’t fight back or take cover, you probably don’t need to carry much extra ammunition. If it’s going to be warm and dry, then you don’t really need to bring rain gear and bulky insulated garments. If you need to “pack out” the carcass of an elk over rough terrain, then you should probably start with a lower equipment load so you have “room” for that task.
For defensive scenarios, it is really an exercise in risk management. Your average concealed carrier who is not likely to draw their weapon, much less get involved in a shootout, probably doesn’t need more than a couple magazines for their pistol. But if you are looking for trouble, or intend to cause trouble, then you will probably want to carry more ammunition as well as other supplies.
Similarly, as you analyze weaknesses of both yourself and your team, be honest about them as well as what you can do to either eliminate them or mitigate them. If your problem is fitness, then it is within your control to improve upon it. If you lack practice, then go to the range. If you lack training, then go out and get it. This is true for all things in life.