The Rifleman’s Essentials

I’ve helped many people set up their combat equipment over the years, from family to students to fellow Marines. Earlier I wrote an article entitled “Priorities of Purchase: Progressively Building a Rifleman’s Kit on a Budget“, in which I laid out the order in which an aspiring rifleman should purchase gear. In that article I started with what I call the rifleman’s essentials, the bare minimum equipment necessary for a rifleman to carry on his person. Today I want to go a bit deeper into these essentials, listing why they are important and how I recommend you carry them.


This is the first and most obvious of the rifleman’s essentials. A rifleman, who carries a rifle, must carry additional ammunition for that rifle. This ammunition must be loaded into magazines (or stripper clips, if you’re running a vintage bolt gun) so that the rifle may be reloaded quickly.

You may be wondering, “how much ammunition should I carry?” The answer is that it depends. Depends on what your mission is, the nature of your perceived threat, whether you’re alone or in a team, etc. If you’re doing work around the homestead and carry a rifle in case you encounter a trespasser, 1 extra magazine may be plenty. If you’re conducting a lengthy patrol with multiple objectives against occupying PLA forces, you might go up to 15 magazines. Assess your threat and mission and decide for yourself how much ammunition is appropriate, but always have at least 1 extra magazine.

I’ll probably step on a few toes here, but I don’t care. The type of pouches you get is important. If you plan to do any serious work in the field, closed-top pouches are a must. I have seen many, many bungee retention systems fail. I have seen every high-end open-top pouch drop magazines in the field once guys started running, climbing, and crawling through the mud with them. Unless you intend to always fight standing up (dumb idea), you need closed-top pouches.


Without water, you die. Never assume that you do not need to carry water because you don’t know if the unexpected may happen and you find yourself stuck in the field for an extra day. Better yet, try to carry the means to purify water in the field.

I recommend that you carry a minimum of a half gallon in canteens/water bottles OR a 3-liter camelback. Be warned, however, that camelback bladders tend to pop if you lean on them, bury them in your pack, or wear a backpack over them. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. If you use a camelback, carry at least 1 hard canteen/water bottle so you aren’t completely screwed when it pops.

Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK)

When you throw on a plate carrier, chest rig, battle belt, etc., it means that you plan to go into an environment where somebody might shoot at you. And even if you do everything right, once in a while the enemy does something right too. You need to be prepared for that.

Your IFAK contains only critical lifesaving supplies that can be used by your teammates to stabilize you so that you can be CASEVAC’d. It is not a boo-boo kit with band-aids and moleskin. Mech Medic wrote a pretty good article on what to put into an IFAK. He’s the expert on all things medical, and he also sells IFAK refill kits.

In addition to your IFAK, you need tourniquets to stop the massive hemorrhaging that occurs when you get wounded in a major artery/vein. I strongly recommend the CAT tourniquet from North American Rescue. It’s the easiest to learn and train others on, and it’s what the military uses. Carry at least 2, and carry them somewhere on your kit where they can be reached by each hand. Carry them in actual tourniquet pouches, DON’T rubber-band them to your gear. Constant exposure to the elements can cause the tourniquets to fail when you need them most.

The excellent Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT). Be warned, there are a lot of counterfeit CATs out there, so only buy them from NAR or an NAR dealer, like Stuck Pig Medical.

While you’re at it, grab an extra tourniquet to practice with. DO NOT practice with your go-to-war tourniquets, they are only rated for 1 use of the tension band. Mark your practice tourniquet and keep it separate from your go-to-war ones. Practice applying it to each extremity (arms and legs), and when you’re good at that, practice doing it one handed. Then switch hands. You should be able to apply your tourniquet to any extremity with any one hand in under 90 seconds. Faster is obviously better.


These three items are the bare minimum for a rifleman to carry at all times. Ammunition for his rifle, water to keep him alive and moving, and basic medical gear to patch himself up. If you have nothing else on your kit, you need these three items. Not in a backpack, on your kit. Everything else is supplemental.

I personally run a battle belt with a chest rig. The way I set my gear up, all of my rifleman’s essentials are on my belt, and my chest rig contains additional tools like my radio, map, and smoke grenades. Whatever you run, however you run it, ensure that you have the essentials squared away.

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at

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