The topic of the soldier's load cannot be properly examined without some consideration of context.
Many studies have produced long lists of equipment weights and somewhat neglected the functionality of the items.
30oz of entrenching tool is certainly heavier than a 20oz bayonet, but the entrenching tool is a more versatile and more useful item.
Location of the item is another factor
Several kilos of worn clothing will carry differently to the same weight carried in a pack.
Soldiers do not generally operate in isolation, which reduces the need for the individual to carry duplicate or back-up items. If a soldier is missing some item he can usually share with his comrades.
If a unit is constructing fighting positions, part of the unit is likely to be guarding while the other part digs. This suggests that a unit does not need entrenching tools for every member of the squad.
There are certain military operations that are best performed on foot
A dismounted patrol will cover less ground but it will cover it more thoroughly and more stealthy.
Just because a patrol is moving on foot, however, does not mean that it cannot make use of vehicles were the terrain allows. A lightly encumbered patrol could move on foot and when it reaches its intended overnight position vehicles can meet it with shelter gear and rations
British AFVs all have a source of hot water called a boiling vessel (BV), which is useful for heating ration pack items and providing hot tea or coffee.
If there is a need to conceal the overnight position, vehicles can be met at a nearby location, minimising the distance equipment needs to be carried. Several fake-RVs can be conducted by the vehicles to keep the enemy guessing.
Adding a mounted component to patrols has other benefits:
Should the foot patrol encounter heavy resistance, the vehicle element can be brought up to provide fire-support and evacuate casualties. Should an enemy flee the foot patrol, the vehicles can be directed to an intercept position.
There will be times when vehicles and dismounted troops may move together. In terrain where there is a high likelihood of ambush, lightly encumbered troops on foot may form a screen around the slow-moving vehicles. The majority of the infantrymen's equipment will be carried by the vehicles and troops will take turns walking and resting in the vehicles
Logically, the only time that infantry would need to carry heavy loads is in situations where vehicle support is not possible. This will often mean operations in jungle or mountainous terrain.
Look at any of the great mountain or jungle campaigns of the past and you will probably find there is one element that is noticeably under-used in current operations. That is the mule.
While the use of mules in mountain warfare is well known, many jungle armies such as the Chindits have also made extensive use of mules.
Prudence suggests that the best use of mules is to carry consumables such as food and ammunition. The loss of a mule is therefore not such a problem since the soldier still has his personal supplies.
If the four-legged mule is not going to be utilized, then part of the unit must become porters rather than fighters. Porters carry the weight while less encumbered soldiers handle defence and reconnaissance.
The large rucksack should be regarded as an item of strategic mobility and packed and treated accordingly. If the bullets are flying, the large pack should not be worn. Extra ammunitiona and other tactical gear is carried in a small pack. Webbing is for items that may be needed immediately.
The army rucsack is not the best way to transport a heavy load.
It is easier to pull a load than to carry it. Energy savings of as much as 88% have been recorded when using handcarts.
Snow troops use pulks so why shouldn't other units use equivalent system?
Boy scouts of the past used handcarts to move their gear and some armies have done the same.
German infantry made extensive use of small trailers that could be moved by man, dog, horse, mule or machine.
The US Army and USMC also used handcarts in WW2. If mortars and ammo can be moved in a cart, why not the rations to feed the crew?
Whilst a cart with a wide wheelbase may be mechanically more efficient, soldiers operating without vehicles will probably be operating in restricted terrain where routes may be no wider than a man's shoulders.
Viet Cong and NVA modified bicycles so that they could be loaded down with gear and pushed by a man or woman walking beside: a system that could navigate the narrowest trails.
Carts designed to carry stretchers can be used to carry other loads on narrow trails.
Arctic units use the pulk, and in many environments a travois can be easily constructed.
If a load must be carried, two men carrying a load slung from poles can move it more easily than on their backs.
If the situation really requires a load to be carried on the back, then we should consider the features of the Korean A-frame (Chige: right). Its long legs allow the wearer to rest his load at any time just by bending his knees. By using a walking pole to prop it up, the wearer can don or remove it without having to roll around on the ground and struggle to get up.
The A-frame can also be used to form part of a shelter in treeless terrain.
The tumpline is a device that possibly has been in use for centuries. Many of its potential users are, however, unaware of this option.
A tumpline may be easily improvised. Modern components such as foam, carabineers, synthetic strapping and buckles may be used.
A tumpline may be combined with other lifting or towing systems, such as rucksacks or chige.
Tumplines saw use during the First and Second World Wars. Some battalions had tumpline squads and tumpline companies were formed.
Multiple tumplines may be used for large loads. See this article for an account of how archaeologists established that tumplines may have been used to transport materials for in ancient constructions.
The main drawback of a tumpline is that it requires a certain level of body conditioning. This may be achieved by practice and sensibly graduated training.
Several companies are developing powered exo-skeletons systems but it looks like it will be some time before these are actually of a form that can be used as a combat system. Combined with an A-frame, exo-skeletons may be useful for a military portaging system in the nearer future.
To many this is the infantryman's reason d'être and there is no way we can eliminate this category.
Quantity and contents are something that can be addressed.
Most studies have concluded the infantryman carries far more rounds than he needs, but understandably running out of ammo is a concern for the individual.
At the end of January 1967, The 4th Infantry Division at Pleiku concluded that no more than 300 rounds per man was needed: “Units should reduce weight loads of individual soldiers by maintaining no more than 300 rounds of ammunition per man. Experience has proven that more than 300 rounds per man is excessive weight and reduces his efficiency in movement over rough terrain.” (US Army Uniforms of the Vietnam War, Shelby Stanton, page 13: 4th Infantry Division Operational Report 1 Feb 67, p.32). It is possible that some of this could have been carried as stripper-clips or as belt for machine-guns.
More efficient use of ammo by improvements in realistic fire discipline, combat marksmanship and snap shooting is a partial answer.
Fully automatic fire with assault rifles needs to be reserved for CQB and Clusters.
All other targets are engaged with semi-automatic and rapid semi-automatic fire.
Soldiers tend to fire until a target falls or disappears, so the adoption of the harder hitting 6.5mm MPC round or 6.5mm Creedmore may reduce the number of rounds used per engagement. Less effective weapons like PDWs will increase ammo-expenditure per target and increase the soldier’s load.
For 5.56mm weapons, it needs to be understood that a 14.5" barrel is the minimum needed to produce a sufficient velocity. Infantry rifles will perform better with a 16" barrel and M249s need to be fitted with the 18" barrel rather than the 13" para-barrel.
For units that are travelling any distance dismounted, the M27 automatic weapon with a drum or beta C-mag may be a more practical option than the M249.
Issuing some of the soldiers' ammo in stripper clips would also lighten the load.
Familiarisation with weapon systems other than rifles would also help. In certain situations, compact concussion grenades or mini-claymores can be more effective than the equivalent weight in magazines.
For a point-man making a hostile contact, firing an already fitted rifle-grenade may be a better response than reflexively emptying the magazine.
Military body armour is probably here to stay and has saved numerous lives.
How much the weight of armour can be reduced remains to be seen, but the weight of armour is not the only way that it contributes to soldier fatigue.
When operating in hot climates, the soldier's uniform beneath his body armor becomes saturated with perspiration and remains wet throughout the operation. The sweat-soaked uniform proves very uncomfortable at night as the desert cools. Even nighttime temperatures between 60-70 °F can feel frigid to a soldier in wet clothing when he was operating in 116 °F temperatures only a few hours earlier, as was the case during Operation Resolute Strike. page 89
A combat jacket is designed to keep out the wind.
It is made of a cotton-mix and cotton is a textile notorious for feeling cold when wet and being slow drying.
The combat jacket is not suitable for wearing beneath relatively impermeable body armour.
Future combat clothing systems have to take into account that armour will be worn and will have an effect on ventilation, heat-retention, windproofing etc.
In previous centuries, when men have worn armour it has usually been worn over a padded garment such as a gambeson or aketon. Not only were such garments padded to reduce chaffing but they were usually of a quilted construction that may have allowed air to circulate more easily.
Modern body armour needs to be worn over garments that allow the escape of hot humid air and the circulation of cooler air.
Garments such as RVU use a ribbed construction to create an airspace. They are made of Coolmax, a very comfortable, fast-drying and easily laundered material.
An undershirt suitable for wear under armour needs to become standard issue. It should be made of a material such as Coolmax and use features such as ribbing to create a ventilation space between the wearer and his armour. Whether the garment should be full-sleeved, half-sleeved or short-sleeved remains to be determined but it should have a collar to prevent chaffing. My vote is for short-sleeved since it if is cold. additional undergarments may always be added beneath.
In recent years, synthetic combat shirts with camouflaged sleeves have come into more common usage.
While these are a step in the right direction, I do not believe they are the optimum solution.
On some examples, the sleeves are stylishly close cut.
Looser sleeves will allow better air circulation and allow protective elbow pads to be worn under the sleeve, improving both camouflage and air circulation.
Rather than attaching the sleeves to the undershirt, ventilation will be more effective if they are attached to the armour or a separate combat smock is worn over the armour and undergarments.
Any clothing system that is to be worn with body armour needs to pay particular attention to air-circulation and venting.
In an older article, I have suggested that modern body armour based on the Roman lorica segmenta may prove to be both more effective and better ventilated.
Soft areas of body armour should have ventilation zips in the area of the armpits. These can be opened during the march or when hot and closed in colder conditions or during action.
Garments worn over the armour need similar features to permit the escape of hot humid air.
The use of a combat smock that can be worn over the armour will offer many advantages to the modern soldier.
It will offer a better level of camouflage, particularly if the body armour is of a colour not suited to the terrain.
Being of a loose cut it will have a bellows effect and increase the efficiency of air exchange, improving the comfort when wearing armour.
By wearing the smock over a rain jacket, a relatively lightweight small-packing rain jacket can be used since it is protected from abrasion.
Wearing your raingear underneath another garment also helps the wearer move more quietly. The Dutch army has issued Goretex liners for parkas and combat jackets that use this idea
One effect of using a smock is that the practice of attaching pouches directly to the armour will not be so practical. This will necessitate a webbing system that can be worn over the smock.
I do not see this a disadvantage and believe it will yield several benefits.
Since such a webbing system is being worn over armour, it does not need to be particularly padded so can be relatively lightweight.
Properly designed, such a webbing could also be used as a harness for rappelling or helicopter extraction.
The combat smock would be complemented by a new style of combat field trouser.
These trousers would be cut generously in the leg so that it can be worn over protective kneepads. This both improves camouflage and air circulation.
Side zips allow the trousers to be removed without removing boots and allow easy access to the leg in event of injury. These zips can also be part opened to improve ventilation in hot weather.
Such trousers are designed to be used with gaiters, so are cut to finish six inches below the knee. This saves on material but also on bulk and weight, so the spare trousers take up less room in the pack.
If there is a minimal insect threat, trousers can be worn with their bottoms outside the gaiters for better air circulation. Unbloused trousers may give some old soldiers a heart attack but comfort and functionality are more important.
If you are wearing body armour and marching, keeping warm is generally not going to be much of a problem.
In fact, removing heat and keeping your clothing ventilated is going to be more of a concern, as I have already covered.
If an active soldier ceases activity for a few minutes his body will continue to sweat and attempt to cool itself. This can be potentially dangerous if the perspiration is allowed to condense in the clothing.
The solution is to keep venting your garment and put on an additional insulating layer to ensure a less drastic reduction in temperature.
This is why marathon runners wrap themselves in blankets at the end of a race but this is just as important for hikers and soldiers.
Various garments can be used for this application but if we are going to lighten the soldier's load, the best choice is probably a poncho liner with an opening for the head added. The poncho liner is already carried as a component of the sleeping system, so does not contribute extra weight, unlike an additional jacket carried for warming.
The blanket-poncho (as opposed to the rain-poncho) is a type of cloak, and outdoorsmen and soldiers have known the value of a good cloak for millennia.
When still, the cloak traps a larger volume of air, so is warmer.
When moving the cloak automatically ventilates itself, moving humid air out and drier air in.
A cloak also serves as a blanket or pad to sleep on.
A cloak can easily be thrown aside or discarded should the wearer need more freedom of movement or to access ammunition and weapons beneath.
Gaiters are a useful part of any outdoorsman or soldier's apparel.
Gaiters protect the bottom of your trousers and keep them cleaner. They keep out insects and even offer some protection from snakes.
Gaiters are a great thing to have if you have to wade across a river.
You place your gaiters, socks and a towel at the top of your pack before crossing.
When you reach the other side, you put a gaiter outside down on the ground and step onto it with your bare feet when removing your boots.
Dry your feet, put on your dry socks, put on your boots back on and then your gaiters.
A good set of gaiters will stay in position without needing a strap beneath the boot. Such a strap will often wear rapidly and pick up debris.
Field boots should be brown with a matt finish.
Cans of boot polish have no place in a combat kit.
If boots need a little more protection in the field then vaseline can be applied to them. This is not good for the leather, however, so is an emergency measure.
A small tin of vaseline takes up very little room in your pack and can be used on chapped lips. minor wounds and applied to the toes or crotch to prevent chaffing.
Since an extra ounce on the feet is like pounds on the back, boots should be as light as is practical. Studies have concluded that loads carried on the feet result in an energy cost five to seven times higher than an equivalent load carried on the upper body.
For each kilogram added to the foot, the increase in energy expenditure is 7% to 10%.
I have a pair of boots constructed rather like a Vietnam jungle boot, in that the lower is leather and the ankle part is woven nylon.
I've been wearing these in all weathers for more than a decade, so this configuration is worth looking into for environments other than jungle.
A lightweight sleeping system for a pair of soldiers might comprise of the following:
Each man carries:
Between them, the two soldiers carry a pair of sandbags, a bivi-bag, a kipmat and an EVAC panel. Pole sections and pegs may be needed too.
One man sleeps while the other stands watch. The EVAC panel is a multifunctional item that can be used as a poleless litter or aircraft signalling panel. In this instance it is used brown side up as a groundsheet.
The kipmat provides insulation from ground chill and the soldier sleeps inside the bivi-bag.
One of the rain ponchos can be rigged for additional shelter.
Both sleeping bags are of the same type and usually one would be used while the other is kept in reserve. In very cold conditions one bag is used inside the other.
The sleeping bafs would be bags such as the Snugpack Merlin, which weigh only 900gms, are small packing and individually can be used at temperatures down to zero.
The sleeping soldier also has his poncho liner and warm headgear for added warmth.
The soldier changes into his dry spare underwear and trousers to sleep and wears a sandbag over each boot if he is sleeping wearing his boots.
Each soldier has his own easily washed bag-liner made from something such as fast-drying paratex.
The liner keeps the inside of the sleeping bag clean, adds a little more insulation and makes having to use a sleeping bag someone else has already slept in more pleasant.
The soldier on watch will probably be wrapped in his poncho liner and may be using his poncho too for shelter. He sits on his assault pack or a folded EVAC panel.
This is not the lightest possible sleeping system but is intended to create a good balance between weight, performance and versatility, the objective being a well-rested soldier.
There is a prudent element of redundancy to this system. If there is no kipmat, a poncho liner can be used beneath the sleeper. If the bivi-bag is lost, there is still a poncho and so on.
The above suggested system is good for most environments.
Sub-zero conditions will need higher performance sleeping and shelter items.
Jungle operations can use lighter sleeping bags or blankets and will need better insect protection.
Information gathering is in many cases a more important infantry function than actively engaging an enemy.
Information gathering includes observation and surveillance devices, recording and communications to pass the data on.
How many of such devices does a squad or platoon need and can they be lightened and improved by using more up to date technology?
Many of these devices can probably be miniaturized further. Some current issue equipment is rather old in design and much lighter and more effective alternatives are available across the counter in our high streets, often costing a lot less too.
Radios, GPS, night vision equipment, flashlights and various laser devices are just some of the electronic items that a modern soldier may carry in the field.
Some estimates have over 10% of a soldier's load being batteries alone. Ten to fifteen pounds!
If we treat the soldier as a wholistic system then we can probably make some weight savings by eliminating unnecessary duplication.
If a rifle has a laser spot, a flashlight and a nightsight, they should be able to use a common power system.
If his weapon has a high-powered flashlight, then the flashlight in his pocket or on his webbing does not need to be particularly large or bulky.
During World War Two, military units used hand-crank generators to power their radios.
In 1991, Trevor Baylis combined a clockwork mechanism with a hand crank to power a radio receiver, a minute or so of winding giving more than twenty minutes of use.
Modern versions of this technology have got even smaller and will also recharge mobile phones and similar devices.
Some modern hand-crank generators weight under a pound. Note that many commercially available hand-crank devices intended to power mobile phones also serve as LED flashlights, and many hand-powered LED flashlights also recharge mobile phones.
Potentially, all of a soldier's electronic systems can be fitted with rechargeable batteries and standardized with USB-C sockets, allowing human-powered generators to be carried instead of a greater weight of spare batteries.
Military vehicles would be fitted with recharging ports for the soldiers' gear. Plugging into the vehicle’s intercom system may automatically start charging the batteries the soldier carries.
Other technologies can supplement this system.
Rifles spend much of their time in the open air rather than packed away in pockets so a small solar panel fitted to a rifle fore-end could top-up the charge in the weapon's universal battery.
An electric motor can also work as a generator, so hand-crank systems can easily be built by units. The page here shows a generator made from a drill. Not the most compact example, but lighter than a mass of batteries and illustrates the basic principle.
Certain items of a soldier's load it is unlikely that we will be able to get rid of.
He will need his armour, but we can take some measures to increase his comfort and reduce fatigue that using it may cause.
He will need ammunition, and the best we can do is ensure that he carries a realistic quantity and uses it effectively.
There will, however, be many items that are there just in case or nice to have and a few ounces there and a few more here soon builds up in to extra pounds.
As veteran soldier and writer Ralph Zumbro put it: Modern soldiers are nickel and diming themselves to death.
Washkits, for example, can be stripped down to just a few items such as soap, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste and towel shared between a pair of soldiers.
Something that I noted on the lists here is that every soldier seems to be carrying a multi-tool and bayonet. A typical set of multi-pliers such as a Leatherman weights 8.5oz, more than half a pound!
Does every soldier in the platoon really need wirecutter/pliers? If they do need them, wouldn't this capability be more effectively served by a dedicated tool that is not only lighter but electrically insulated?
If the multi-tool is just there to provide screwdrivers, scissors and a nail file then a basic Swiss Army Knife weighs only 3.5oz. If you must have a folding set of pliers, the Leatherman Squirt weighs only 2oz. My everyday carry includes a Swiss Army Knife and a Squirt.
The majority consensus these days is that bayonets are unlikely to be used attached to a rifle muzzle.
Even if this were not the case, the typical modern bayonet is too heavy to be ideal for this application. As a field utility knife, bayonets like the M9 and SA-80 bayonet are also less than ideal, there being many field knives that are lighter and more useful.
For the same weight as an M9 or SA-80 bayonet I can carry a 10" bladed kukri!
On this page, I discuss how the majority of an individual soldier's needs can be met by a stout but modest-length fixed blade.
Also in the category of unnecessary weight, we must include the carrying of any information that is not needed and may aid an enemy.
In another article I have suggested that up-to-date mobile phone technology could be used to improve soldier communications.
Personal use mobile phones are another matter and have no place in the field. People are stupid enough to use their phones while driving or walking across the road looking at their texts, so I'd not put it past some soldier to be mucking around with his phone when he should be doing something critical.
Modern phones can provide considerable information to a captor.
Do you really want a terrorist phoning your mother and recycling your phone to set off an IED?
Food is obviously something that a soldier cannot do without, but we can address the quality and quantity.
How many days' rations is it realistic for a soldier to carry?
Many military rations are based on the cultural concept of breakfast, snack and meal, which is often not practical in the field.
Studies have shown that soldiers often only eat the components of a ration pack that they can eat on the move, and the tactical situation may prevent cooking or reheating.
This means that not only is a soldier not getting his full calorific intake, but he is wasting further energy carrying food items that he does not eat.
Energy bars and the First Strike ration are only part of the answer.
We need to look to the past at proven trail foodstuffs such as pinole, fruit-leather and jerky.
On another page I discuss this idea in greater detail.
Non-nutritional items such as chewing gum need to be dropped from the ration pack entirely and replaced with something that has actual calories or that serves a useful function such as a sachet of foot-powder.
By the Author of the Scrapboard :
Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence
Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.
Crash Combat Second Edition with additional content.
Epub edition Second Edition with additional content.
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Epub edition Third Edition.