Hiking is one of the most ancient forms of exercise known to man. And for an infantryman, it’s irreplaceable. Especially if you’re training to use light infantry tactics as a modern American Minuteman.
This week I’ve decided to do an experiment of hiking 5 miles every day for 5 days. It’s not a long distance, nor will I be carrying a massive amount of weight. I’m doing this because I’m curious about what kind of effect this will have on my body, simulating light infantry tactics of moving from patrol base to patrol base daily. I am also testing out my “heavy assault” combat load to see how well different parts of my gear integrate with each other. I am doing this with a heavy combat load consisting of the following:
- War belt
- Plate carrier with front and back lvl IV plates
- Ballistic helmet (lvl IIIA)
- assault pack with 30 pounds of gear, ammo, and water
Total weight: 61 pounds, plus a camelback bladder of water and a weighted rubber rifle.
I ended up hiking 6.5 miles when a “scenic route” turned out to be blocked by an unmapped water feature, so I had to back track a bit. I noticed 3 things about my gear:
- My war belt caused my trousers to slide down to my hips. This led to my thighs rubbing together, causing mild chafing on the last mile or so.
- I noticed a raw spot on my right side. I diagnosed that it was caused by a certain strap on my plate carrier.
- My boots felt a little loose. I had one small blister on the inside of my right foot, and hot spots on my heels.
Overall my muscles felt just a little stiff at the end. My knees and ankles felt slightly sore, but nothing too severe. I also had slight discomfort from my left pack strap applying pressure on my shoulder.
I took the following measures to fix the issues from Day 1.
- I wore a set of Dickies work suspenders connected to my trousers to keep them from sliding down
- I covered the raw spot with duct tape and adjusted the offending strap
- I lanced the blister on my foot and cinched down my boot laces so that my feet didn’t move in the boots.
This time I faithfully followed my 5-mile route. I had a buddy hiking with me, so the pace was a little faster than Day 1. My corrections proved effective, I had none of the chafing/raw spots and zero blisters or hot spots. I did, however, awaken an old injury in my left ankle due to the quick pace, which caused me to slow down a bit. The pain was manageable, and subsided a few hours after the hike.
The raw spot on my side healed enough that it no longer required duct tape to cover it. This hike was uneventful and I had zero issues with my gear or my body other than light soreness in my calves and ankles. No new blisters or hot spots on my feet. My neck also started to feel a little sore from wearing a kevlar helmet so much, but it was barely noticeable.
Given how few issues I experienced on Day 3, I decided to up the difficulty a bit. So 1 mile into the hike, I jumped into a river to soak myself and my gear before continuing the remaining 4 miles. Since I already knew that my gear worked for me when I was clean and dry, this allowed me to see how I would perform if I was forced to ford a river.
The results were surprising. Apart from being smelly and bearing extra weight when my gear got soaked, there was no noticeable impact on my performance. I completed the remaining 4 miles with no chafing or blisters. This may be partially due to the adjustments I made on Day 2, or it could be that I wasn’t hiking far enough for any effects to make a difference. More testing is required.
Otherwise, I started to feel the pain of wearing my kevlar helmet. Besides my neck being sore, the pressure on my skull was starting to manifest into mild pain and discomfort. It was manageable, but still enough that I took notice.
Having used up all of my nice hiking socks, this last time I wore a different set of black socks that weren’t as thick as what I’d been wearing. The result was that the extra space in my boot allowed my feet to move around more, and this time I finished with two blisters on my toes.
- Sustain my current gear setup, specifically the use of work suspenders to prevent chafing.
- Sustain the use of thick hiking socks so my feet don’t move in the boots.
- Sustain training with body armor. I won’t always want to wear body armor, but it’s good to know that I can run it if I choose to. And if I can do it with armor, I can certainly do it with a chest rig.
- Improve the quality of future tests by increasing the distance.
- Improve my sustainability by getting more sets of hiking socks.
All told, the experiment was a success. At no point during this week did any physical effects from the hikes have any bearing on my day-to-day activities (which are still physically demanding). At the end of the experiment I have some slight soreness in my calves due to the quick pace of the hikes, and two small blisters that I will manage easily. I feel like I could continue to hike 5 miles a day indefinitely without damaging my body.
In the future, I will replicate this experiment with increased mileage. The limiting factor is the amount of time it takes to hike that distance, and I’d need to plan it for a week when I’m not too busy between work and my responsibilities at home. When I eventually get the ability to run the 5-day Jäger Course, I will plan to include a couple of short-distance hikes like this. Grab your gear and train with it now, you never know when you’ll need to trust your life to it.