An Everyday Marksman’s Fighting Load

Earlier, I discussed how the Army breaks apart combat loads into categories. In particular, I discussed the basic definition of a fighting load, which is the equipment carried or worn by the fighter while in contact with the enemy or mission objective. I consider this to be the minimum essential equipment to fight and survive. Army regulations, particularly FM 3-21.10 The Infantry Rifle Company, state the fighting load should be kept below 48 lbs. For my purposes, I would like to keep this load below 45 lbs, or 25% of my own lean body mass, and will hopefully be quite a bit less (after all, I’m not carrying linked machine gun ammo, mortars, anti-tank weapons, or other squad fire support items).

I also discussed the approach load, which consists of the fighting load plus additional sustainment equipment in order to continue surviving in the field until resupply is available. This extra equipment, typically carried in a pack of some sort, can be dropped and stowed during a fight and retrieved later. Army regulation states that the goal should be to keep the load below 72 lbs, which would be 40% of my own lean body mass. Ideally, I would like my own approach load to remain below the 45 lbs limit set by the fighting load, keeping my overall equipment load light enough to keep with me at all times and not have to ditch it during a fight. However, after performing the exercise below, I found that I may need to rethink my loading strategy.

Everything must be planned with METT-T in mind; otherwise there is a significant risk of blowing past the maximum goal weight. Since METT-T requires a situation to plan for, I’m going to pursue a load based upon my earlier idea of a marksman who is serving the role of keeping security in a neighborhood after some form of natural disaster.

In my scenario, the overall mission is general dismounted patrol of a six square mile area in a fairly suburban neighborhood surrounded by mixed farmland and agricultural industry. Local gangs have been making life difficult for residents of my neighborhood following a powerful earthquake. These gangs are relatively undisciplined, but aggressive in their pillaging since the local police response is pretty much nonexistant. Patrols are dismounted due to conservation of gasoline for emergency generators that keep some refrigerators and local HAM radio enthusiasts online. The climate is dry, with temperatures that range between 40 degrees at night and 65 degrees during the day. Patrols run in 12-24 hour shifts, with several teams on patrol at the same time. Local drinking water is not potable due to the lack of electricity for treatment facilities, and a timeline for federal/state assistance is unknown since most assistance is focused on major population centers 40 miles North and 70 miles South of my neighborhood. This scenario reflects my experiences after living through several large hurricanes (benefits of a South Florida upbringing), and observing what happens during other disasters or social unrest.

Choosing the Fighting Load

As with choosing a rifle configuration, there are tradeoffs and compromises that must be made. This isn’t intended as a fantasy list, but rather a thought exercise for myself based upon the scenario above (which already makes a lot of assumptions, such as the cooperation of the neighbors rather than a panic situation in which everyone is out for themselves). Items I do not already own are marked with a **; I plan on purchasing these relatively soon. All weights are listed in ounces, as it is easier to add up. Furthermore, as you will see, counting in ounces provides a better opportunity to see where little weight savings, such as two ounces there and three ounces here, can combine into larger poundage savings.


  • Base layer: socks, underwear, long sleeve wool shirt (16 oz)
  • Belleville Sabre Boots (45 oz per pair)
  • Triple Aught Design Force 10 RS Pant (28.6 oz)
  • Vertx Smock (51.2 oz)
  • Fleece beanie (2.1 oz)
  • SKD PIG gloves (2.3 oz)
  • Shemagh/scrim scarf (6.5 oz)

Weapon(s) and ammunition

  • The “Musket,” as configured for my regular shooting sessions: 20” floated barrel, collapsible stock, sling, Elcan optic, etc.(144 oz)
  • Beretta 92A1 with TLR-1s (34.7 oz)
  • 120 rounds of 5.56 – 4 magazines  (~ 64 oz)
  • 51 rounds 9mm – 3 magazines (34.7 oz)

Essential Equipment

  • **Two 32oz Nalgene canteens (4.58 oz each, dry; 36.58 oz each, full)
  • GI canteen cup/stove combo (10 oz)
  • Talkabout radio with spare set of batteries (6.4 oz)
  • Map of the area (0 oz)
  • Silva compass (3.5 oz)
  • Calorie-dense food bars (3 oz each x 3)
  • 12 Water purification tabs (.44 oz)
  • Ear pro (foamies/Peltor Tac 6s ) (8 oz)
  • **DARK Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) w/CAT (tourniquet) (32 oz)
  • **One pair compact binoculars (Vortex Viper R/T 8×28) (11.8 oz)
  • Leatherman Skeletool multitool (5 oz)
  • **Firestarting equipment: Petroleum soaked cotton/ Light My Fire 2.0 (3 oz)
  • SOL survival blanket for emergency use (blanket, shelter, etc) (3.2 oz)
  • Surefire G2x Pro flashlight with spare batteries (4.4 oz)
  • Two Cyalume Chemlights (1 oz each)

Load Carrying Equipment

  • VTAC Brokos belt (10.4 oz)
  • VTAC Cobra Belt (7.4 oz)
  • **Tactical Tailor (TT) Fight Light suspenders (6.4 oz)
  • TT magna double pistol magazine carrier (3.2 oz)
  • Two HSGI taco pouches (3.2 oz each)
  • **Tactical Tailor Universal Mag Pouch (8 oz)
  • **Three Tru-Spec canteen carriers, one as a general purpose pouch (4 oz each)
  • Safariland 3280 Holster (13.6 oz)

Total weight of these items amounts to: 656 ounces, or 41 lbs 

Weight of weapons/ammunition: 17.2 lbs

Weight of Clothing: 9.5 lbs

Weight of all other equipment, with water: 14.3 lbs

Weight of all other equipment, dry: 10.3 lbs

The big takeaway for me in this exercise is how quickly things begin to add up. It is easy to look at an individual item and say, “Hell, it’s only 3 ounces, I’ll take it!” But when you do that repeatedly for multiple items, you just added several pounds of equipment that you probably don’t really need. The same works in reverse, though. It took some effort to assemble this list and the associated weight of each item; but as I look at it, I can see plenty of little ways to shave a few ounces here and there that may result in significant weight savings.

I’m sure there are a million ways to tweak this gear list. I could carry more ammunition, but each magazine is an additional pound of weight. I honestly don’t think the scenario mentioned would involve more than a few skirmish shots here and there (I’m not talking about guerilla warfare, after all). I could carry more water, but I’m already carrying 4 lbs of it for two canteens. I could carry less water, but having been a victim of heat exhaustion and dehydration in the past, I’m not inclined to do so. With a 9 lb rifle, I’m looking at nearly 20 lbs in just primary weapon, rifle ammunition, and water. If anything, this presents a valid argument for always pursuing a lighter rifle. If I can save two to three pounds of weight by using a smaller/lighter rifle, without losing much capability, then that would be two pounds that could be used for other things or just two pounds of reduced load overall.

If my goal is a total combined weight below 45 lbs for fighting and approach load, I’m not leaving myself much room for the backpack (which weighs 3 lbs just by itself). The above list of equipment will be equitably distributed between my belt and the pockets of my Smock (another post for later), but it still adds up. Perhaps 45 lbs for a combined load is unrealistic.

As I think through the next phase, I will see if I can rebalance things a bit by moving some items to the pack rather than the belt, thus reducing redundancy.


6 thoughts on “An Everyday Marksman’s Fighting Load”

  1. I’m running 49-50 lbs. including loaded rifle w/sling and about 192 rounds of major caliber, but not counting clothes (and pocket contents) etc. since I wear that anyway. I do not wear a service pistol but everyday carry pocket contents include an Airweight S&W J-frame with one reload and a lightweight folding knife (I can ditch my kit and still be armed, but look harmless, if wearing green/brown/tan civilian clothes not BDU’s). My fighting load includes a poncho, and approach pack includes a poncho liner, heavy-duty “space blanket” tarp in OD green/silver with corner grommets, and GI foam sleeping pad though (getting a decent night’s sleep in a ‘Ranger taco’ during the six warmer months when patrolling will count for a lot).

    1. The above 49-50 is total fighting/approach load, by the way. Approach pack also includes about 2 days food (2 MRE’s, six 400+ calorie meal bars, small beef summer sausages), 20 oz. full water bottle, Sawyer mini squeeze filter, soap/toothpaste/toothbrush, washcloth, 6-clip bandolier (48 rds.), 550 cord, skewer tent stakes, extra firestarting & first aid stuff, half a TP roll, and a couple other odds & ends.

    2. Sounds reasonable to me. I was skeptical of adding clothing into my total, but I figured it was worth writing. Since I usually workout in lightweight shirts/shorts/shoes, the added weight (and insulation) of heavier layers and boots would add more stress.

      I imagine that if I changed the scenario to hunting, the load would look significantly different. I would have a different rifle, far less ammo, and less “kit” to worry about. I could do pretty damn well with just my smock and a backpack for most purposes.

      Interestingly, I am with you with wearing plain color clothing. I don’t really care for the attention that uber-cool camo patterns bring. I’ve never really “gotten” the dudes who show up to a training class wearing top of the line camo and combat gear.

      1. Been collecting BDU’s but keep hitting the local Goodwill/ARC stores for green/tan/brown fleece shirts, jackets, & vests, wool shirts, pants, etc.
        Jump in a field of tall weeds or some shrubs or bush, and stop moving, you’ll be hard to spot.


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