MAJ xXx's Top 10 Marching Tips Plus a bonus
1. Powder your piggies. Your feet will sweat profusely during a road march. Damp feet blister easily. The best way to keep your feet comfortable and avoid excess blistering is to powder your feet before you start. Use Gold Bond, talc, corn starch, or any brand of commercial baby powder. Sprinkle powder on your bare feet, then put your socks on. Put a light coat of powder on the outside of your socks, and then dust the inside of your boots with a little more powder. Remember, lightly coat everything with powder - don't dump the powder in big globs. If you do, those big globs will become big wet globs when your feet sweat and you'll be road marching with a boot full of biscuit dough.
[NOTE: Trim your toenails, too!]
2. Wear only one pair of socks. Wearing more than one pair of socks will not keep your feet warm nor will it keep them from blistering. All it will do is make your feet sweat and lessen blood circulation meaning your feet will freeze faster in the cold and blister more easily on road marches. When road marching, wear one pair of clean, dry, cotton socks. For what its worth, some soldiers recommend wearing a pair of women's knee high hose under their cotton socks to reduce friction. I have never tried this - one, because I am not secure enough in my manhood, and two, because I could never find the right color hose to match my rucksack.
3. Wear the right boots. It is difficult to overstate the importance of wearing the right boots when road marching. Generally speaking, this is a matter of personal preference. There are countless types of boots on the market, and no one particular boot is the preferred model. Whatever you choose, make sure it fits correctly. Remember, your feet will swell as you road march so boots that are too tight to start with will quickly become a problem. Along those same lines, make sure your boots match the climate you'll be operating in. Cold weather boots are a bad call for road marching. They are usually heavy, and due to their special design, they will roast your feet in short order.
Lots of soldiers prefer the Army jungle boot for road marching. It is relatively light weight (most of the boot is canvas), it keeps your foot as cool as possible, and it is fairly easy to break in. The last point is key. No matter what boots you chose make sure you break them in before you start road marching in them. Breaking in boots is not rocket science, you just have to wear them a lot. Often, soldiers will wear a pair of boots around the house to help break them in. Another thing to consider is getting your boots resoled. If you are going to be spending time in the field or doing a lot of road marching, I highly recommend having at least one pair of boots with ribbed soles. Finally, it is a good idea to invest in a set of quality inserts for your road marching boots. Dr. Scholls and others make a variety of styles. BTW--go ahead and pay the extra few bucks to get a good set. If you buy cheap inserts, they will get soggy with sweat and crinkle up while you are road marching and your feet will become blister factories. You can shop for boots, inserts, and soles at military clothing sales stores or at one of the many on-line warehouse stores geared toward soldiers (US Cavalry, Ranger Joes, HSGear).
4. Basic Foot first-aid. Blisters are an inevitable part of road marching. There is not much you can do about a blister during a road march, however when you are done and ready to deal with the blister, I recommend the following: wash the affected area with anti-bacterial soap, then take a small scalpel or razor blade and make a small, linear incision at the edge of the blister. Gently drain the fluid at the incision then pat the area dry with a clean, dry cloth. Apply some type of anti-bacterial ointment like Neosporin or Bacitracin to the incision then place a band-aid over the deflated blister. Keep the area as clean and dry as possible until the blister heals. If you have problem areas or hotspots on your feet, apply moleskin (a commercial product found in the foot care section of the store) before you road march. BTW - always keep some extra moleskin in your ruck.
5. Avoid snivel gear. Wearing any kind of cold weather gear (e.g. long johns, polypro tops, sweaters, Gore-Tex jackets) is generally a bad idea when road marching. Unless it’s extremely cold --like Korea or Fort Drum cold--I recommend going with just a brown shirt under your BDU blouse. You may be a bit uncomfortable initially, but once you start moving with all that weight on your back you will warm up very quickly. The last thing you want to do is have to stop, take off your ruck, your LCE, and your BDU blouse so you can remove a piece of hot gear (which will then have to be stowed). While you're doing that kabuki dance, the rest of the unit will leave you eating their dust.
6. Consider going “out there.” If you’re a fan of the TV show Seinfeld, you’ve probably seen the episode where Kramer decides stop wearing underwear. In describing his newfound freedom to Jerry he excitedly exclaims: “I’m out there, Jerry, and I’m lovin’ every minute of it!" I hesitate to delve into this topic for fear of offending people or sounding juvenile, but the truth is infantrymen and other soldiers who spend a lot of time in the woods rarely wear underwear either on road marches or in the field. Underwear gets damp as you sweat, it gets wet when it rains, and anything wet and clammy next to the skin, especially in that area of the body, rapidly causes chafing. Personal preferences vary, but you may want to consider going sans-skivvies when road marching. Who knows, you might end up like Kramer, out there and lovin’ every minute of it. BTW -- if you decide to go this route, keep your decision to yourself. There is such a thing as too much information, even among friends.
7. Powder your privates. As long as we’re talking about stuff like underwear, it’s worthwhile to remind you to make sure you are dry and comfortable downstairs. Prior to your road march put a light coat of powder on your bottom and in your crotch area. Those places will chafe very quickly and there is nothing worse than having a heavy ruck, five miles to go, and a case of atomic monkey butt. If you do chafe, or you have a specific hotspot down there that is very prone to chafing, I highly recommend a product called Desitin (if you are a parent, you are probably already familiar with it). You will find it in the baby care section of the store. It is a white cream that comes in a tube and it is made for babies with diaper rash, but it works great on adult chafing as well. Put it on the affected area and you will be amazed at how quickly and completely it works.
8. Streamline your equipment. Take the time to get your gear squared away. By that, I mean adjust your LCE so that it rides below your ruck. Secure all of the loose straps, buckles, and webbing with rubber bands or 100 mph tape. The less stuff you have flapping and flopping the better. The same goes for your ruck. Pack it so that you don’t have bulky or sharp objects stabbing you in the back. Roll and secure straps, pockets, and other things that drag, flap, or bounce. Talk to people who have done this for a while and you’ll pick up lots of good tips on how to secure and pad your gear to make it more comfortable. Also, these days there are lots of commercial off the shelf products designed specifically for making a soldier’s gear more comfortable. Military clothing sales stores (especially those on posts with infantry divisions) will have lots of this stuff. So will stores like US Cavalry and Ranger Joes. These and other places all have websites, so finding accessories of this type isn’t hard to do.
9. Empty your pockets. This may sound overly simplistic, but you would be surprised at how many people don’t do it. Remember, the key to comfortable road marching is reducing friction. Anything that rubs against your body will do so over and over again as you road march. Something as seemingly insignificant as a set of keys, a wallet, a pen, or a can of Copenhagen in your pocket will become a major friction point before you know it. If you are rucking any distance at all, a small item will rub a big raw spot in a hurry.
10. Drink water. It is essential that you hydrate before, during, and after you road march. Yes, I said during. The canteens in your LCE are not there for show. Fill them with cool water and take periodic drinks while road marching. It takes practice, but you will quickly get the hang of drinking on the move. If you perspire a lot, you might consider purchasing a Camelback or some other high speed hydration device. For what its worth, I think the Camelback is one of the greatest inventions of the modern world. It is has been a Godsend for soldiers, especially those who spend a lot of time in the field. The night before a road march, hydrate until your urine is clear. Be advised, said hydration should be done with water, versus other beverages, especially the adult, malted variety of beverage. Consuming mass quantities of alcohol, especially a diuretic like beer, the night before a road march is a recipe for disaster. Trust me, it is tough to regain your credibility as an officer and a leader if you end up as a heat casualty quivering and sniveling in the fetal position on the side of the road during a road march. Finally, continue to hydrate after you road march. It will ease soreness and muscle aches.
11. (Bonus Tip) You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it. The toughest 6 inches of any road march is directly between your ears. And while there is nothing remotely enjoyable about strapping a heavy bag on your back and walking several miles, remember, like anything unpleasant, it won’t last forever. Commit yourself to staying mentally tough and putting one foot in front of the other for as long as it takes to get the job done.
Don’t quit, and before you know it, you’ll be done. Then you can hang out, tell war stories, and tell the younger soldiers how things used to be back when it was hard.