At ISG, one of our core skills is something we call "mobility". While we break mobility down into sub-components, such as horsemanship and driving skills, at it's heart, mobility is about you: It's the fitness and ability to move your body to pass through space effectively. This is another topic that should be infamous for the lip-service it receives... there are all sorts of blogs dedicated to the idea of mobility. However, as we've discussed before, we want to set aside the idea of wandering off into the sunset with your trusty rifle and backpack, which is the most common mobility fallacy.
For the last 9 years, we've been testing our equipment on hikes, refugee camping, while training with firearms, in and around vehicles and of course: around obstacles. We've learned a bit about modifying "second line" gear for civilian use in emergencies (and even used our gear during these emergencies), and here's a topic we keep coming back to: Mobility is a crucial blend of several abilities. Let's get in to it.
What is Mobility?
By our reckoning, mobility is the ability to maneuver quickly and efficiently over, around, or through obstacles while under load. We're not concerning ourselves with things like Parkour (which is cool, but dangerous and doesn't serve much purpose), and we're not going to advocate doing long, arduous rucks (anything greater than around 12 miles is a stretch for reasons we'll discuss).
In addition to this, we want to emphasize something that's often overlooked when discussing endurance, and that is the shape you'll be in when you arrive. 20 miles under a load will take you 5 hours of physical effort. If you've done it, we don't need to explain it. If you haven't, get on your best boots and grab your pack. Check that box and understand that even at a solid level of fitness, you probably won't be in any shape to kick your ninja skills on when you get where you're going.
...mobility is the ability to maneuver quickly and efficiently over, around, or through obstacles while under load.
So at it's core, mobility is a blend of the following:
- Short duration speed (sprinting up to 100 yards) with short breaks, under your pack.
- Climbing, pulling yourself, and pulling others up over obstacles.
- Lowering yourself, or jumping down short distances (3' or less) under your pack.
- Moving at a moderate pace over a moderate distance (4-12 miles at around a 15 minute mile pace) with minimal stopping for rest.
- Understanding how to increase your mobility, by using bicycles, horses, and vehicles.
- Manage a fistfight while under load (while retaining all equipment, and access to same).
What we want to do is strike a balance between broad spectrum endurance, capability, and minimal degradation of skill.
Let's start from the bottom, and discuss what that means.
Degradation of Skill
One of the problems with mobility as it relates to the individual, is that it costs a great deal of energy. It can often include risk of injury (especially in abandon spaces, where glass, rotting structures, or loose footing can cause problems), and physical wear and tear. If you're not used to traveling by foot over long distances (4-12 miles) daily, you're going to have a painful adjustment period. Furthermore, your ability to maneuver and operate weapons degrades the longer you travel with a heavy load.
The USMC did a study concluded in 2015 stated the following:
...our data suggest that carrying greater than 30% BW [body weight] while conducting short-term, combat-related tasks decreases performance capability. Further, our data show that, in a rested condition, a 45% BW load degrades shooting precision which may put our troops at greater risk in a combat-environment...Additionally, our study results...suggest that loads should be limited to 30% BW for first responders and those in recreational hiking communities.
This is consistent with what we've been saying for years: you might be able to carry more, but your efficiency sharply decreases. We've also been trying to lead a charge against packing like a soldier or Marine, which means being more of a minimalist. As a citizen, you need to recognize that you don't have the same logistical support or needs as a grunt. So stay below that 30% body weight! Keep in mind that adding a rifle and magazine add a fast 10 pounds (+/-), so a good goal for your pack should realistically be 15-20% of your body weight.
To calculate your maximum load weight, multiply your body weight by .30 (Ex. 230 x .30 = 69 pounds). Also, keep in mind that the your level of fitness makes these numbers work. If you're not where you want to be, diet and exercise. Once you've got your load weighed and packed, find a pull up bar or 6' wall. If you can't do 5 pull-ups or get over that wall, drop the weight. Be sure to include your 1st Line in this!
Not only will high load weight affect your ability to move across obstacles, but it directly relates to your ability to effectively use weapons.
When arranged intelligently, our 2nd Line: Sustainment Gear should seamlessly integrate with our 1st Line: EDC gear, and what we're looking for is rapid access to our Items of Immediate Necessity (IINs). With regards to our sustainment bag, that's medical kit, water, and commonly used tools. We also want to maintain the ability to scramble over rocks, pull yourself over fences, hurdle small barriers, and sprint for 100 yards or so. We don't want a pack that will prevent you from slipping through tight spaces, or throw off your balance when moving over uneven terrain or climbing. As part of our vetting for this article, we've performed countless hours of physical training and exploration in our packs to establish just how capable you can be with a load of ~30%. We should also be able to get in or out of it in seconds. Pack selection and layout is it's own article, but as you plan your loadout, ask yourself:
- What items do I need access to on the go? Think 1st Line.
- What items can wait until I stop to accomplish a task? Think 2nd Line.
- What items do I use in camp or on longer stops for rest?
You can't always be certain of what you'll need, but packing in this way can make your life easier... that means efficiency, consistency, and capability. If you keep your pack loaded in the same way all the time, it'll save you time searching when you need something under pressure.
A lot of times, extremely important messages get lost in longer text, and here is one: Dummy cord anything that could fall out of your pack or off your person. Compasses and flashlights are vulnerable items that can really benefit from being lashed down, but water bottles (ask about the turtle story), and anything in external pouches should have a lanyard.
Murphy and gravity do a great job stealing your stuff. Tie it down.
It should go without saying that the heavier your pack, the more it'll take a toll on your body. This is both a short term concern (fatigue, caloric intake) and a long term concern (ask any grunt if they've got back and joint problems). One of the things military leaders learned from World War II is that survivability in extreme conditions was largely dependent on physical fitness .
There is an underlying fact here: fighting is largely about maneuver... endurance and mobility are key parts of that.
Since our focus is on avoiding problems, we've shucked the idea that disaster preparedness requires plate carriers and 12 magazines of rifle ammo. Not only does it slow you down, but it's misplaced priorities in terms of training and expenditure. Know your Sphere of Violence, and accept that gunfights are stupid dangerous, and you can "win" them by avoiding or escaping them. Running around loaded for bear is probably not going to pay off. Instead try to be under-estimated and overly capable. We talk about this as it relates to disaster preparedness in "2nd Line: Sustainment".
Endurance is probably the single most important aspect of training. Humans aren't fast or strong relative to other animals. We were successful because we're deliberate and intelligent. We can exhaust prey, and we can outlast them over great distances.
It's more than just fitness; it's physical toughness as well. The weather, blisters, sore shoulders, and achy joints are going to push your towards quitting. It's important to condition your body to withstand these pressures.
Practical Physical Conditioning
While we advocate for being as strong and fast as possible, mixing some mobility training in will get you used to wearing your pack for long distances while moving through tough terrain. Hiking is easy, and a great way to both train physically and mentally while testing your gear. It's also useful to find a range that will allow you to jog or sprint before taking to the firing line. Get your heart rate up and see how it affects your speed and accuracy.
We've covered some of the basics as to why it's necessary to pack intelligently and train to be capable and resilient, so get out and put your pack into play! Its useful, challenging, and makes you more resilient.
 Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad, Marine corps Systems command, "Changes in Combat Task Performance Under Increasing Loads in Active Duty Marines. 2015. Department of Warfighter Performance, Naval Health Research Center, 140 Sylvester Road-Building 328- 208C, San Diego, CA 92106. Recovered from Web: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/wisr-studies/USMC%20-%20MilMed%20Article-Changes%20in%20Combat%20Task%20Performance%20under%20Increasing%20Loads%20in%20Active%20Duty%20Marines.pdf
 East, Whitfield B. "A Historical Review and Analysis of Army Physical Readiness Training and Assessment". March 2013. Combat Studies Institute Press. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Recovered from Web: https://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/APRT_WhitfieldEast.pdf