"The machine has made warfare ponderous but has also given it greater velocity. . . it is conspicuous that what the machine has failed to do right up to the present moment is decrease by a single pound the weight an individual has to carry in war."
- - S.L.A. Marshall, The Soldiers' Load and the Mobility of a Nation


The fighting capability of an infantry soldier is directly related to his load. There is a maximum individual load limit that cannot safely be exceeded if an infantry soldier is expected to accomplish his combat mission. The following examples demonstrate how important it is for commanders to understand their responsibilities for lead planning and load discipline.


The weight a soldier can carry is based upon his weight, the climate, the terrain over which he will move, and the stress he has faced and is currently under.


The 87th Infantry Regiment, soon to be part of the 10th Mountain Division, trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, during the early days of WW II. These "ski troops" were in reality a mixture of a few seasoned ski instructors from New England, a handful of Mexican-Americans fresh from desert training, and a number of men from the 31st (Dixie) Division, Louisiana. Only a few of these troops were acclimatized to the cold and none were prepared to cope with the 9,000-13,000 ft. elevation. As the men moved out on their first training exercise, they were severely overloaded with 80-90 pound packs. In the thin air the men struggled to keep up with each other on the unfamiliar skis. The heavy packs compressed the lungs with each step and each step and each movement became painful. As a result of the failure to properly acclimatize and condition the men, nearly 30% of the men on this one regimental exercise had to be evacuated for frostbite and exhaustion. [19]


Not all British soldiers were physically capable of enduring the long marches with heavy loads which were constant features of the Falklands War. An interesting and quite surprising occurrence was the number of physical training cadre that fell out of the marches. In garrison these cadre ran company physical training. It was determined that some of these cadre were unable to complete the force marches with such heavy loads because they were not able to maintain a high-protein diet. The British realized that the intent of physical training is not to develop professional athletes or weight lifters. The purpose of physical conditioning is to develop combat stamina. [20]

No amount of training can change the body's reaction to carrying excessive loads. The commander's involvement analyzing the situation and the level of risk involved is the key to carrying only what is mission essential.


A soldier in Grenada said, "We attacked to secure the air head. We were like slow moving turtles. My rucksack weighed 120 pounds. I would get up and rush for 10 yards, throw myself down and couldn't get up. I'd rest for 10 to 15 minutes, struggle to get up, go 10 yards, and collapse. After a few rushes, I was physically unable to move, and I am in great shape. Finally, after I got to the assembly area, I shucked my rucksack and was able to fight, but I was totally drained."

In the early morning hours prior to deploying into Grenada, one of the Commanders in the 82d ABN DIV made a conscious decision to issue a double basic load of ammunition to his unit. The commander thought this was a prudent decision because his unit was designated as the assault battalion for Operation Urgent Fury. In addition to the ammunition, the troops were issued flakjackets, mosquito nets, 5QT canteens and poncho liners. By the time the soldier was issued three days basic load of C-rations, there was no room in the rucksack. The battalion commander recognized his error in deciding to take a double issue as he watched his soldiers struggle under their heavy loads during the 2 mile march from the unit holding area to the departure airfield. In retrospect, the commander realized he should have taken only one basic load for the initial assault and resupplied his unit as needed. [21]


"It was particularly significant that in this modern age of troop movement by aircraft, helicopters and sophisticated armored personnel carriers, the ability of infantry to move overland on foot became a strategic issue." - - Harry G. Summers [22]


Vehicles will not always be available for the light fighter to carry his essential loads of ammunition, food and equipment.

The British soldiers, during the Falklands conflict, did a remarkable job of carrying heavy loads on their backs over long distances and during adverse weather conditions. A good example of this physical endurance was the 42 Commando of the Royal Marines. The Commandos landed at San Carlos carrying approximately 120-145 pounds of equipment per man. A typical load consisted of two mortar rounds (26 lbs.), personal weapon and ammunition (50 lbs.), 2 water bottles, food for 48 hours, sleeping bag, shelter, spare clothing and other special equipment required by the individual or his squad. With this load, 42 Commando made a "Big Yomp" (forced march) of 80 miles across the Falklands. The "yomp" was made in three days across boggy and wet ground during wet and cold weather. [23]


Guidelines for determining the soldier's combat load: the fighting load for a properly conditioned soldier should not exceed 48 pounds; the approach march load should not exceed 72 pounds; the weights include all clothing and equipment, either worn or carried.


The following references will assist commanders to plan for determining soldier's load.

FM 90-5, Jungle Operations, Aug 82. Appendix H of this manual provides guidance on preparing and carrying the combat load.

FM 7-70, Light Infantry Platoon/Squad Sep 87, Ch. 8.

FM 7-71, Light Infantry Company, Aug 87, Ch. 7.

FM 7-72, Light Infantry Battalion, Mar 87, App C.

Report on the Army Development and Employment Agency (ADEA) Soldier's Load Initiative, Feb 87.

BOTTOM LINE Overloading the soldier can get him killed. Develop a unit SOP which strictly limits what is carried on all exercises and enforce those limits.

Table of Contents
Reverse Slope Defense
Small Unit Leadership

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