7-17. A combat load is determined by the mission leader and consists of only what is necessary to fight and survive immediate combat operations. The levels of combat loads are─

  • Fighting loads.
  • Approach march loads
  • Emergency approach march loads
  • Unit Basic load
  • Sustainment load


7-18. A fighting load is what the Soldier carries once contact has been made with the enemy. It consists only of essential items the Soldier needs to accomplish his task during the engagement. Excessive combat loads of assaulting troops must be configured so the excess can be redistributed or shed (leaving only the fighting load) before or upon contact with the enemy.


7-19. An approach march load contains the operational essential equipment Soldiers carry in addition to their fighting load. These items are dropped in an assault position, ORP, or other rally point, before or upon contact with the enemy. On extended operations, Soldiers must carry enough equipment and munitions to fight and exist until a planned resupply can take place.


7-20. Circumstances could require Soldiers to carry excess loads (greater than 45 percent of body weight) such as approach marches through terrain impassable to vehicles or where ground and air transportation resources are not available. (Refer to FM 21.18 for detailed information.)

7-21. These emergency approach march loads can be carried by well-conditioned Soldiers. Although loads of up to 70 percent or more of an individual body weight are feasible, the Soldier will become fatigued or possibly injured. If possible, contact with the enemy should be avoided since march speeds will be slowed tremendously


7-22. The platoon’s combat load varies by mission and includes the supplies physically carried into the fight. The leader may direct minimum requirements or be specific for composition of the combat load. Often, the unit SOP or the platoon leader specifies most items. The unit basic load includes supplies kept by the platoon for use in combat. The quantity of most unit basic load supply items depends on how many days in combat the platoon might have to sustain itself without resupply. For Class V ammunition, the higher commander or SOP specifies the platoon’s basic load.


7-23. A sustainment load consists of the equipment required by the company commander for sustained operations. This equipment usually is stored by the company supply section in the field trains and brought forward when needed. A sustainment load can include rucksacks, squad duffel bags, and sleeping bags. In combat, protective items for specific threats may be stored in preconfigured unit loads.

The following vignette describes the science behind determining Soldier fighting loads. - SELECT HERE

Studying the Soldier as an Athlete

By Bob Reinert, USAG - Natick Public Affairs

Tyler Brown, Ph.D. Studying the Soldier as an Athlete

NATICK, Mass. (March 21, 2013) -- To better understand how carrying heavy loads affects Soldiers, Tyler Brown, Ph.D., looks at them as if they were athletes.

In the past, biomechanics load-carriage studies typically focused on Soldiers walking over long periods of time in a straight line. But Brown of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's Biomechanics Team has his subjects run, cut, stop and jump -- movements that mirror what would actually happen in combat.

Athletes have been studied in this way to assess injury risk, but not Soldiers, according to Brown.

"Nobody's put a load on somebody's back," said Brown, "and asked the Soldier to speed up, slow down or change direction of movement."

Except Brown, who is measuring how 16 human research volunteers, or HRVs, are affected when they carry different loads and make "anticipated and unanticipated" movements in the study, part of a three-year effort that began in 2012 and was funded by a Department of the Army competitive In-House Laboratory Independent Research award.

The Soldiers run, cut and jump on force plates -- basically, precise weight scales -- that measure how much force is created as they move up and down, back and forth, and side to side under different loads. Brown then collects and analyzes the data.

"This is just another data point that shows how much load is affecting our Soldiers," said Jeffrey Schiffman, Ph.D., the Biomechanics Team leader. "Now we're starting to get more into react-to-contact type moments."

Brown has put Soldiers in the study through their paces with three weight loads -- no load, which consists of a helmet and weapon; a fighting load, which includes body armor and a tactical assault panel; and an approach load, which adds a backpack to the fighting load.

"The no load is like six or seven pounds, the fighting load (is) about 40 (pounds), and then the approach load is about 88 pounds," Brown said. "We have basically four or five different movements we're looking at."

Pfc. Jeremy Vasquez of Bronx, New York, took part in the study as an HRV. An accomplished amateur boxer before joining the Army, Vasquez is no stranger to athletic movements, but the heavy loads proved challenging for the 5-foot-3-inch, 153-pounder.

In Basic Training, said Vasquez, the "biggest problem, I know, for me was the ruck marches and was getting used to that weight. I'm a smaller guy, and when you get that weight on you, it limits you a lot."

Vasquez said that he hopes his participation in the study will help Soldiers to cope with those loads and to stay healthy.

"I'm really glad I was able to participate in it, because I feel like I did contribute and help future Soldiers, Vasquez added."

The researchers expect that their data will show that Soldiers use different mechanics when carrying heavier loads.

"The idea is if you can anticipate or pre-plan a movement, you're going to perform it better," Brown said. "They've shown that athletes, when they have to react to something, use different mechanics, postures, and they activate their muscles differently, and even without loads."

Schiffman said a follow-up study is already planned.

"We, as researchers, want to make sure we're documenting everything we can about how load affects human performance," Schiffman said.