I’ve had a lot of inquiries from regular readers and new names regarding the type of gear that I used during my recent GORUCK Challenge. So much interest that I thought it would just be easier to write up a review of the gear I used and point people to it here.
If you don’t know what the GORUCK Challenge is you might be wondering what this is all about – get up to speed by doing some background reading, searching YouTube and Googling. In a nutshell the GORUCK Challenge is a team event, never a race. Think of it as a slice of reality found in the most elite schools in Special Operations.
You better have them because it’s a requirement of the GORUCK Challenge gear list. Everyone has to carry bricks in their rucksack. Four if you’re under 150lbs, six if you’re over. I dropped 30lbs of body weight in the six months I trained for the challenge, ending at 160lbs, so I still had to carry six bricks. There are a number of ways to do this, I tried several configurations until I found the one that worked for me. This may not work for you, but with a nagging lower back issue this is what I ended up with.
I wrapped my bricks into two ‘blocks’. One block of four bricks and another of two. Each brick was individually wrapped in duct tape and then wrapped again to form the block. Each block was wrapped in neoprene foam (I just happen to have some left over from something) and then held in place with yet more duct tape.
I placed a foam yoga block at the bottom of my ruck so that it would raise the weight of the bricks up off of the bottom of the rucksack. I then used my Gossamer Gear SitLite pad from my backpacking pack as the base of my configuration, laying it in my ruck and bending it up where it reached the yoga block to form an ‘L’. I placed the four-pack of bricks in first, then the two-pack on top, keeping the two-pack at the bottom of the ruck against the yoga block. I didn’t strap the bricks or affix them in any other way, this setup stayed in place for the entire challenge (~20 miles) and for countless practice runs.
Layering is Everything!
It was 100 degrees in Charlotte at 9pm on the night of the challenge, I had no doubt it was going to be a sweaty 11 hours. We had team t-shirts made up especially for the event (huge thanks to Jen for organizing this) but they were cotton. I chose to wear a long sleeve EMS Techwick shirt as my upper base layer to help wick away the sweat and help keep me as dry as possible. This worked extremely well, even after numerous plunges in and out of fountains and creeks. It dried quickly and kept the cotton shirt from sticking to me.
For my bottom half base layer I wore a pair of Nike Pro Combat dri-fit compression shorts. These not only provided support in all the right places (if you know what I mean) but aided in wicking away sweat and moisture from my skin. On top of these I wore my favorite EMS Excel running shorts, which are light, breathable and very quick drying.
Having wicking material next to my skin on both my upper and lower proved to be the right choice and helped keep sweat off my skin and let me dry off quickly after being in creeks and fountains.
Look after your Feet!
I knew that a part of every GORUCK Challenge was getting wet and muddy. Mine was no exception, but I had been prepared for it and had chosen footwear options that would specifically help me deal with having wet feet. I wore EMS fast mountain coolmax synthetic socks that are breathable and help wick moisture (are you beginning to see the trend here?). These socks also have ventilation panels that let my feel cool down and flat toe seams to avoid any irritation and blisters.
As a precaution I had used a layer of Hydropel ointment on the bottoms of my feet and in all the usual areas where hotspots occur the day before my challenge. This gave me two days worth of pre-treatment for blisters using Hydropel. This small piece of additional foot prep may have significantly saved my feet from blisters. Sure the other factors helped, but using Hydropel a day in advance and again right before my challenge saved my feet. I didn’t have a single blister.
BodyGlide was used to lubricate my shoulders (where the ruck straps would be) and any other spots on my body that might be prone to chaffing – you can use your imagination here. It worked and I highly recommend it as a product!
I wore a pair of Columbia Drainmakers (above) for the challenge mainly because I knew I was going to get my feet completely submerged in water throughout the challenge. These shoes are designed to drain water out of the shoe and away from the feet via a series of holes and drainage ports. They worked ridiculously well and, along with the socks and Hydropel lotion, contributed to keeping my feet dry and blister free throughout the challenge. In fact I was so confident about this combination that I was able to embrace the water and cool down in the stinking heat.
In addition to their remarkable draining capability, the Drainmakers are very lightweight and breathable thanks to a mostly mesh upper. One downside of the mesh though was that I easily snagged it on a rock in a creek and tore a hole in it, but it was pitch dark at the time and I didn’t notice until the next day. I’ll be writing a detailed review of the Columbia Drainmakers soon, so stay tuned.
Gloves and Headlamps
Headlamps are mandatory for all night challenges, which mine was. I already had a Petzl Tikka headlamp that has served me well for years, but wanted to take this opportunity as an excuse to try a different brand. I chose the Princeton Tec Remix headlamp based on a combination of cost, size, weight, and features.
It’s not the lightest, most powerful, or fully featured headlamp on the market, but I liked what it had to offer and the price was reasonable. As it turned out it performed like a boss, continuing to work after being put through some pretty nasty conditions and a long time under water. I’m very happy with it.
I knew that I was going to be on my hands quite a lot as part of the challenge. Pushups, bear crawls, crab walks, drops and runs were just some of the typical PT exercises that you have to do during a challenge. It was a no brainer to have a good pair of gloves to protect my hands. I used a pair of Mechanix Wear Fastfit gloves that I already had. These were lightweight, easy to take on and off, and drained out pretty quickly. I thought I’d only have to put them on when I needed them, but it turned out to be easier (read as ‘took less time’) to wear them for the entire duration of the challenge. I forgot I even had them on.
Hydration and Fuel (Food)
As I said earlier, it was a stinking hot night in Charlotte for the GORUCK Challenge #192. I had been over hydrating for the past two days (makes you learn where every bathroom is) and was carrying a 3-liter Camelbak Hydrolock bladder in my rucksack for the challenge.
I’ve had some previous experience with dehydration and the effects it can have. I’ve also been on the opposite end of over-hydrating with water only and flushing out my muscles to the point of cramping. The bottom line here is that hydration is something you have to take seriously, practice and learn what works for you.
To ensure that I was replacing the electrolytes and minerals that I was losing from exertion and sweat, I used Nuun Active Hydration tablets in my Camelbak bladder. A tube of Nuun tablets contains 12 tablets that each mix with 16 fluid ounces of water. I had about 2.5 liters (85 fluid ounces) of water in my bladder which should have required 5 tablets, but I only had one tube (12 tabs) and didn’t want to run out so I used three tablets per refill of my bladder.
As it turned out I had to refill my bladder three times throughout the length of the challenge, using up nine of the Nuun tablets that I was carrying in my ruck. This worked perfectly and I didn’t have any issues with cramps or symptoms of dehydration other than one time. As part of the challenge it is inevitable that your ruck is going to have to be taken off your shoulders, passed to someone else, and generally shifted around the team during ‘missions’. At some point early on I lost my ruck among the team and ended up with someone else’s – this person had plain water in their bladder and with the heat and effort I had no choice but to chug on their water to stay hydrated. About 15 minutes later I experienced cramp in my calves and had to quickly stretch them out to avoid it getting worse. I eventually got my ruck back, drank my fluid mix and as quickly as they had come the cramps went away. I’m completely sold on the benefits of hydration tablets!
I carried five PROBAR packs with me, plus some team trail mix, for food stops on the challenge. We only had three stops that were long enough to have time to eat. Most of the time I was taking care of more important things like refilling water and emptying out water.
PROBARs are a new product for me. I was sent some boxes of them before the challenge to review as part of my blog and I have to say that after trying a few I love them. Each bar is roughly 450-500 calories and serves as a complete meal replacement. I ate three of these, can’t remember which types, during the challenge and had no issues with hunger or lack of energy from food. I’ll be doing a detailed review of PROBAR soon, so stay tuned for that too.
That’s it, that’s all I carried in my ruck. Pretty much only the things that I needed and nothing more. This is definitely not a recipe or guide for completing the GORUCK Challenge, if you’re thinking about doing one I would highly recommend you take the hardest step and sign-up, it’s all mental after all. Hopefully this loadout will give you some pointers on what gear you’ll need for doing the challenge, be sure to check the official GORUCK packing list for what you have to take.
We started the challenge as 32 individuals hoping to get through the next 11 hours of torture, and we ended up as one team, a unit, a group of amazing friends that I will have a lifelong bond with. I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing another challenge again soon or at least as work/vacation time permits – it was an experience like no other. Sign up and join the GORUCK Tough family, I guarantee you won’t regret it.