The soldier's load problem

The problem of overloaded warriors / soldiers is a very old one. Strangely, reports about overloaded mercenaries are less easily found.

Some Western nation is issuing he gazillionth study about optimum / maximum soldier loads.
The result is usually the same. 25 km road march per day, up to 40 on one day with degraded combat capability immediately after the march. Maximum fine load is 30% of body weight, slightly less for tall people and slightly more for short ones. Long road marches and patrols only with reduced load.
Troops in battle loaded no more than about 25% of body weight (heavy weapons such as machineguns), preferably much less. Even less load in hot climates.

The gazillionth stud won't provide insights worth its money, that's or sure.

Now what's a solution to the problem? Thinner, lighter textiles (also less durable) are a hype gone by. Smaller calibres for lighter cartridges are only acceptable for those whose primary job in a firefight is not to shoot (combat medics, radio guy, leaders, forward observer, commando mortar guy et cetera).

Less protection is politically and bureaucratically tricky, and even dropping passive protection altogether would not suffice. It would be a good compromise in few situations only anyway.

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This problem finally made me remember what Vegetius wrote in De Re Militari:

We are informed by the writings of the ancients that, among their other exercises, they had that of the post. They gave their recruits round bucklers woven with willows, twice as heavy as those used on real service, and wooden swords double the weight of the common ones. They exercised them with these at the post both morning and afternoon.

To train with heavier equipment means to develop a safety margin that ensures melee combat will not as easily exhaust you as your enemy who trained with normal weight equipment. Admittedly, it also affects the appraisal of quick moves, for those become less possible.

The concept could be transferred to the modern soldier's load problem. That sounds counter-intuitive, for sure. Why make the load problem even more excessive?

Well, it would force leaders to learn in peacetime that they need to compromise and need to require a limited set of equipment only. Second, once the leaders learnt to make do with the lesser capabilities they might be more tolerant of having the same only in actual warfare - except that the troops would have to carry less weight for said capability.

Doubled or 50% increased weight of equipment would simply force the leaders to tackle the problem, instead of skimming the abyss all the time.



  1. Mules or wheelbarrows were also solutions to this problem.

  2. The marian reforms lead to the nickname Marius Mules for the roman soldier.