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Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Art of Humping a Pack, by Blake in Arkansas

Walking with a loaded pack on your back is what the United States Marine Corps Infantryman refers to as "humping".  And while it may not take a lot of brains to put a loaded pack on and walk, it has definitely become an art, science, or skill that is constantly honed by infantrymen of all types.
With eight years as a Marine Corps Infantryman I have learned quite a lot about the art of humping myself.  There are several factors that come into play before you strap on your pack and take your first step.
  1. PHYSICAL FITNESS:  What is your current level of physical fitness?  For those of you who have thought about or have a plan for when the SHTF, you know that this is an important factor of yours and your family’s survival.  If throwing on your BOB and heading for the door with fifty lbs. of survival gear on your back is the first step of your plan, then your not going to get very far if you haven’t conditioned your body to take this kind of physical exertion.  The best type of physical conditioning for humping is humping.  You don’t have to be a long distance runner to be a good humper.  The best thing to do is to just strap on your pack and step off for a mile or three and then gradually increase the distance each time you go out, or at a reasonable rate (add a mile a week).  Every time you increase your distance you should also increase the weight of your pack.  I don’t recommend starting out with a fifty pound pack.  As with any kind of body conditioning you should start out light and work your way up as your body becomes used to your training.

  2. PACKING:  Got a good pack?  If you don’t you better get one.  If the pack you have isn’t a good one you’ll find out once you start humping with it.  I won’t recommend much gear, because all personal gear is just that, personal.  Its your preference.  I will say this, you can’t go wrong with an ALICE pack. Are there better packs out there?  Yes, but when it comes to affordability including durability…it’s a proven product.  In the end it all comes down to what you prefer.  Packing is a separate art in itself.  The first rule in packing is “Ounces make pounds!”.  Nothing goes into the pack that you don’t absolutely need or can’t live without.  You should consider the weight and size of everything as you pack.  One of the most important packing aids that I’ve found through the years is one gallon zip-lock bags (buy the good ones they’ll last longer).  Use these to pack things separately inside your pack.  Stuff them full and then zip up the bag almost to the end, then (if packed with non-breakables) smash the bag to get all the air inside the bag out.  Then zip the bag up the rest of the way.  This will help keep you from wasting space inside your pack.  I would recommend packing breakable items in outside compartments, or packed in between zip-locks of underwear and T-shirts or something soft.  Zip-locs also help waterproof your gear inside your pack.  Using a waterproof bag or a trash bag as a liner will also work but this will give you added protection. Zip-locs also help keep your pack organized.  These can also be used as a washing machine as I found out in Iraq.   Stuff everything into your pack as tight as it will go, then cinch down the outer straps as tight as you can get them.  Second rule in packing is “A tight pack is a comfortable pack!”  If your adding or strapping items to the outside of the pack make sure they are secure.  When theses outer items shift our flop around they will cause you to sway and possibly fall if they are heavy enough.  Just the movement alone can cause you discomfort.  I would also recommend not strapping things to the top of your pack (sleeping bags, etc.) unless they are small.  These will push on the back of your head and cause unneeded neck pains, and you will have plenty of pains to worry about already.  These may also hinder your vision.  Strap them to the bottom of your pack if possible.  I would recommend food or energy bars and often used items to be in outside compartments.  This makes for easy access on short halts and maintains spillages to separate compartments.  Field strip your MREs down to the individual packages, get rid of the cardboard containers.  You can over-pack a few pounds on food.  Because you will be eating the food and essentially lightening your pack at the same time.  And your route to wherever your going may be unexpectedly altered, and you may be on the hump longer than you anticipated. And the third rule of packing, “If you can't put it on by yourself, It’s probably too heavy!”

  3. GEAR POSITION: When you put your pack on make sure it’s adjusted to the center of your back.  Make sure all of the straps are secured to the pack frame properly and that they are tight around your body.  You may have to alter positioning of your personal gear that you are carrying on your body (canteens, ammo pouches, butt packs, etc.).  I recommend that your gear be positioned so the back pad of your pack frame sit squarely in the small of your back, adjust your pack straps accordingly.  Improper ride of the pack will cause extra back pain, and shoulder pain as the straps will be digging into your shoulders.  And setting the pack on top of your pouches may cause damage to them that you may not be able to repair.  I recommend your weapon go on last.  Be sure you are able to deploy your weapon as needed and get to spare ammo without the pack getting in the way.  And if you have to dump your pack, then make sure you can do so without it getting caught in your high speed sling and choking you.  You should know in the first mile whether you need to adjust your gear and pack.

  4. BOOTS & FEET:  An Infantryman or “Grunt” can probably tell you as much about foot care as a foot doctor, as these are generally their primary mode of transportation.   As before, I can’t and won’t recommend a boot.  Its personal preference.  However, please consider your local weather and terrain in selecting the proper boot.  Boots weigh a lot and take up a lot of space.  You can pack a spare set, but you may not have the room.  The best way to break in a new boot is to hump in it.  (Don’t forget to pack extra laces.) The only recommendation I’ll make is don’t skimp when it comes to buying boots.  They should be considered one of your most valuable survival tools.  Because having feet means you can still survive.  Pack plenty of socks, cotton or wool.  When humping, if you will wear a pair of dress socks under a pair of cotton or wool boot socks this will help prevent blisters.  Although you may still get them.  Only extensive humping and conditioning of the feet will prevent blisters.  They also make humping socks made out of Teflon that work good.  From my experience moleskin doesn’t work well if you are going to continue humping.  It just pulls the blister off. Ouch!  The best cure for blisters is Tincture of Benzoin Be ready for some pain.  It feels like someone is putting a blowtorch to your feet for about ten minutes.  But after that you will only experience minor pain or no pain at all from the blister.  You can put it on an open blister or draw the puss from the blister with a syringe then insert the tetra-benzoine into the blister with the syringe.  I’ve had it both ways.  I prefer the syringe method because it leaves the skin on over the blister.  This method once cured me of two half dollar-sized blisters, one on each heel.  After only a ten miler in broke in boots.  I felt no pain within fifteen minutes, remained in the field the whole week and we speed-humped out that Friday and I got no blisters.  It works.  But it will make a grown man cry.  Or want to.  Don’t forget foot powder and anti-fungal powder or cream.  Change socks daily, or soon after your feet get wet.  Also when humping don’t take your boots off until the end of the day, or unless changing socks.  When you stop for a break take off your pack but try not to sit down.  This makes your feet hurt when you stand back up and start walking again.  Let your feet air out in the open every chance you get.

  5. HYDRATION:  Water is good for you anyway, but you will need a lot if you are humping.  You may have to plan your route around watering spots.  Try and hump as much water as possible.  Don’t forget to consider the weight though.  Get a camelback or similar hydration system.  These work great while humping since you don’t have to mess with screw caps or bottle tops.  If you can wear the hydration system under your pack it’s beneficial in case you have to drop your pack you don’t loose your water.  Always keep some kind of water on your body with your personal gear.  I recommend filling the hydration bladder on each stop to prevent running out between scheduled stops.  Some type of sports drinks or powder are good to have on hand as you will loose a lot of electrolytes while humping and these are good sources for replenishing those and will do so faster than plain water. 
Now I know that a lot of this information may not apply to everyone since a lot of you will only be moving so far to a retreat or cache.  And you will all be moving at your own pace, or as fast as the slowest person in your group.  A lot of you may not even be going anywhere.  But if a time comes when you have to "Ruck Up” then this may come in handy.  I may have some more points to add later.