BY ALICIA TOMLINSON
Use What Works For You
The best way to find out what works is to use it in training and then an event. I’ve read blogs and AARs to find out what people recommended when I first started. Then at events I wasn’t shy about saying “What brand of pants are those?” or “Do you like that jacket?” But at the end of the day, you have to use what works best for you.
Consider the Great Sock Debate. Some people swear by Darn Tough. I bought a pair. Wore them for some rucks. Disliked their texture and lack of stretch. Gave them to a friend. Bought Smartwool. Loved them. Tried to save money on additional pairs by buying a cheaper brand. End up not finishing an HTL because the fuzziness of this other brand held onto sand and wore holes in my feet. Morale of the story: test your gear in the conditions you will experience in the event.
This list includes things that were on the required packing list that I already had. Some things (like the tan t-shirts) I had to purchase so I looked for ones most like what I preferred wearing.
The size of the ruck was a point of much debate among participants leading up to TA. I have always used a 20L Rucker and it is my preferred ruck. I like how high the weight sits in the Rucker 2.0, whereas I don’t like how the plate feels in the pocket of a GR1.
I had a 25L Rucker for a little while but after doing an HTL with it, I decided it just doesn’t fit my body type. (I’m 5’6” with a broad back and shoulders.) The base comes down over my butt, the top comes over my head on bear crawls, and the straps just hit me wrong on my sides when I cinch them down. I did not like it at all. So I just couldn’t see using a ruck that was a bad fit just for a little extra space.
So I stuck with my 20L Rucker like I have for all my events (Bragg Heavy included). If you are smart about space and know what you need, then it IS possible to fit everything in.
FAQs on my Ruck: Yes, I fit everything in a 20L Rucker. Yes, I passed the ruck dump portion of admin easily. No, it wasn’t a problem to fit everything back in during breaks. No, I don’t wish I had more space. My point is everyone has to do what works best for them and this worked best for me.
I will grant that I did not pack extra shoes. I only wear MACVs and even run in them during training. I’ve had Salomon’s in the past but the MACVs have seen me through 50 mile Star Courses and multiple HTLs. They work for me and I don’t even need to change socks that often. So my partner and I decided that if not having a second pair of shoes was an issue during gear check, then we’d take whatever punishment they deemed necessary. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t an issue.)
I did use a custom weight plate that is flatter than the GR 10# plate. Also I purchased MREs from AllMREs.com which allows you to choose what’s in them, so mine were a little less bulky than the standard ones. Both these things helped with space issue.
I used the GORUCK padded hip belt with two Simple Side Pockets attached on either side. I didn’t utilize these during the ruck dump but rely on them during the event. I put my headlamp in the left and my gloves in the right. I tend to take both of those items on and off a lot at events and I like to have easy access to them.
I used a sternum strap and had two web dominators to hold my hydration bladder hose. I usually use a 2L bladder but used the required 3L bladder this time and I have to say, when filled it is flatter than the 2L and I will probably use it from now on at events. I packed my 2L as my spare.
Instead of a Nalgene, I used a collapsible Vapur bottle. They are not expensive on Amazon and make a huge difference in space even when filled. I tend to like to leave my bladder for plain water only and utilize the Vapur bottle for ORS.
Headlamp and extra batteries: I use a Black Diamond headlamp and I taped together a set of extra batteries. The batteries weren’t on the list but knowing we’d be using the headlamps constantly for two nights, I felt it necessary. I didn’t end up needing them but I’m glad I had them.
Nylon runners: If doing events with Cadre Fagan has taught me nothing else, it’s to bring straps to help carry stuff. I have a set I bought pretty cheap off Amazon that are about 18” long with handles sewn on either end. I bring them to every event and GRTs familiar with my setup will often ask “Did you bring your blue straps?” I used them on timed 12 milers to keep my hands high and pull my ruck off my traps. I used them to carry ammo cans and sandbags. I like that I can daisy chain them to make longer pull handles. So I pack 4 and they did come in handy on multiple evolutions. They are the only thing I ever put in my front pocket which makes it easy to pull out on the move.
Ruck Wrap: This roll of compression tape does take up a little extra room but it is a lifesaver during events so totally worth it. On breaks, Shannon and I were constantly wrapping our quads and calves. (If I could have figured out how to wrap my glutes, I would have!) Ruck Wrap definitely kept us in the fight and maximized our recovery during down times.
Misc: My usual Mechanix gloves are a given. I only packed one pair but some people brought an extra. I also had a flat pack of duck tape, extra MACV laces that double as paracord, and the required odds and ends like sunscreen and chem lights. I also keep a carabiner clipped to the front molle on my ruck which helps get to the dry weight. Annnnd a contractor bag - very useful as a ground cloth and heat blanket during longer breaks.
Dry Bags: I used two SeaToSummit bags like I always do. The 20L held all my clothes and the 4L held everything else. I’ve tried other bags and I like how low profile these are. Other ones have been too thick and stiff for me to work with.
Rash and Blister Management
I used CombatReady tape for my back and biceps and it stayed on really well. It did not stay on my feet well but that didn’t really matter because I fell back on my usually antichafing cream for that.
Salty Britches Anti-chafing Cream: This stuff is nice and thick and stays in place. I use it on my feet, neck, arms, and anywhere I get ruck rub. Bonus - it smells nice.
Head: I wore my usual GORUCK Tac Hat and packed my Smartwool headband to go over my ears when it got cold at night. I packed a Smartwool beanie because it was required but I didn’t use it. I also used extra hairbands to roll my extra clothes in case I needed extra (I didn’t).
Smartwool neck gaiter: I've used this buff for a lot of events in various temperature. It's lightweight so it packs down small but it is a game changer when the temp drops and/or the wind blows. Definitely needed it during breaks on the second night.
Base Layer: I've been using a long sleeve Under Armor heat gear shirt for several years. It is light enough that I can leave it on for PT without getting too hot, but tough enough that it holds up on low crawls.
T-shirts: For only about $5, I got two tan A4 Men’s Performance Crew (small) t-shirts and wore one, packed one. I liked that it was lightweight and felt like my UA shirts I normally wear but the tan wasn’t too see-through.
Windbreaker: The GORUCK Women’s Windbreaker is one of my favorite gear items. I have this windbreaker in the lightweight version too but when I saw temps were going to be in the low 40s at night, I switched to the Midweight. I love everything about this layer. It keeps me from getting too cold at breaks and is easy to get off when I’m on the move and warmed up again. It dries fast, wicks water away before soaking in, and packs down really small. Best of all, I’ve put it through hell and it still looks brand new. After events, I wash it and wear it day to day.
Extra Outer Layer: My go-to outer layer at events is the Northface Venture 2 jacket. (This is the men's version.) When the temperature drops close to freezing or it’s going to rain, I pack this layer. I wear it when we have a break to keep from getting too cold. I take it off again once we are on the move because you can really work up a sweat in it. It’s a great rain jacket and packs pretty flat. Key element - it has a hood to help hold the heat in and keep the wind/water off my neck.
Pants: I used to wear exclusively Prana pants for events but since getting some GORUCK Women's Simple Pants, I've converted. I normally wear the original version but am not a fan of the skinny legs (can’t change my tall socks because calf muscles). I was ecstatic that when GORUCK released the Power versions which have much more room. I just wish I’d gone down a size because once they stretched out they were a little baggy. I love how fast the GORUCK pants dry, how well they hold up to abuse, and how flat they pack down. The Prana ones are much thicker so they don't pack very flat or dry super fast.
Belt: I used to wear a Grip 6 belt and liked how sturdy and endlessly adjustable it was. I didn't like how the buckle left bruises whenever we did burpees or how I had to completely undo it to use the bathroom (not ideal when on a short time hack). I switched to an Arcade belt for several reasons: it is thinner and fits the Simple Pants belt loops better, it stretches, but most of all it has a buckle closure that is easy to do and undo. Also I can throw it in the wash still on my pants when I get home from an event.
Socks: Smartwool all the way - wore one, packed 4 (as per the requirement). I packed a couple different lengths and thicknesses, all of which I’ve worn before. I only changed socks twice because wet feet don’t really bother me. (sand is another story) and both times we ended up back in the river almost immediately. Ha.
Footwear: I only wear the GORUCK MACVs. They drain well, keep my feet warmish, and have lots of room in the toe box. I’ve worn out the inner lining in several pairs of these so the greatest challenge was breaking in my latest ones. For the record, I don’t think the traction is any worse than any other boot or shoe I’ve worn off road. Everyone was slipping and sliding on The Hill no matter what was on their feet.
And for the ladies that need to know what I had on underneath...
Undergarments: I wore one and packed one of each Icebreaker brand sports bra and underwear (bikini style). I wear these at all my events, hot or cold. They dry pretty well and don’t make me cold when wet. And they hold up really, really well.
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