I wanted to share this out because a lot of people have asked me how they can even start to think about tackling a GORUCK HTL. If you’re not familiar, an HTL is a Heavy, a Tough, and a Light back to back to back, making for a nearly 48 hour event. In my opinion, if you can complete a Tough event and not feel completely broken afterward, you can probably already do an HTL, though you may feel like you’re barely hanging on during the Heavy.
While physical readiness is, of course, a big part of the equation, I think the bigger challenge for many people is getting their logistics together. An HTL is three different events, and since there isn’t much downtime between events, you better have your plan and gear well laid out to continue or you’re risking not making it to the start of the next event.
I’ve completed two HTLs so far, and this is my current strategy for making it through an HTL. With the number of HTL weekends being drastically reduced for 2020, now is the time to get on it if you’ve been thinking about earning your bolts. Use this list/guide as a starting point, and adjust as needed. This is not a “one size fits all” solution.
Get Your Main Ruck Ready
- Get your ruck set up the way you want it. This is a whole discussion by itself, but I would recommend adding, at a minimum, a sternum strap and a hip belt. For an HTL, both of those are going to help you adjust your load for a more comfortable carry. An HTL is a long event, so even a mild annoyance is going to become agonizing after 24 hours.
- Completely empty out your GR1. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve discovered money, ear buds, keys, food, etc. hanging around from previous training sessions. Go through every nook and cranny in your ruck and clear that stuff out. Not only do you not want to carry the weight, but you probably don’t want it to get wet either.
- Get your weights ready. If you’re doing an HTL, you’ll have two different weights. I prefer expert plates to get the weight higher and tighter into the center of my chest.
- I use a GR1 as opposed to the Rucker, which means I have internal MOLLE. This stuff is great when combined the discontinued cinch straps. I’m sure there are 3rd party cinch straps, but I haven’t looked for them. I also use these MOLLE straps to zip tie the weight plate in place for added holding power. Things can get crazy during events so you want that plate as high and tight as possible on your back, and not at risk for moving around. Cambridge Zipits Multi Purpose Cable Ties Zip Ties 14 Inch 75 Lb have worked well for me. Other zip ties have broken on me, even during training.
- Get your water bladder together. I like the Source WXP 3L which is taller. Never open the rotating screw port, always put your water in through the top. I’ve seen a lot of screw ports leak because they aren’t closed properly during events.
- Make sure you have a reflector on your ruck. I recommend using only one reflector since the second is just added weight. I personally like Jogalite white reflectors as opposed to the standard yellow, but you can save and get both.
- In 2018, GORUCK added a 1L bottle to the gear list for all Heavys, Toughs, and Lights. I think this is supposed to be a backup to your water bladder but the Cadre rarely check for it. I use one of the Collapsible Platypus Bottles because it stays out of my way, but if for some reason I do need to use it, it clips itself onto my shoulder/MOLLE straps. If you don’t want the clip, Platypus makes that version also.
- Prepare your headlamp, which means making sure you understand how yours works, and also that it has fresh batteries. I use a Black Diamond Storm which is highly rated and has multiple modes (including red, green, and blue lighting) and is super bright. However, the controls are a little complicated. If you want something simpler, the Black Diamond Spot is the way to go. Yes, these headlamps can cost a little more than other options, but the quality and functionality is worth the small increased price.
- Extra batteries per event. Meaning, if you’re doing a Tough and using a Storm which takes 4 AAAs, you need 4 in the headlamp and 4 extra in case those go out. 8 total. If you’re doing a Heavy, you need 4+4 again. HTL: you need 8 for the Heavy and 8 for the Tough. Don’t take the chance your used batteries from the Heavy are going to last through the Tough. Replace them between events and bring enough with you to start. Amazon’s AAAs have done me well and they’re cheap. I’ve never had to go to backup batteries with them but I can tell they’re not as bright at the end of the night.
- Carabiner(s). You need to bring 1 as of 2019 to a Heavy, but I recommend bringing 2 regardless of a Heavy, Tough, or a Light. It’s amazing how handy these things are and how they can help you carry weird objects or attach things to your outer MOLLE. Plus, they’re super light. I recommend large pear-shaped rapelling “pearabiners” because they are rounded and easy to fit your hand into. Something like Black Diamond’s Rocklock Carabiner is perfect. Regular cool looking carabiners tend to have some sharp angles and these will dig into your hand pretty quickly if you use the carabiner to carry something. Make sure whatever you buy is “climbing rated”. Anything that isn’t is trash that’s going to break under heavy load.
- Some people like to bring a runner or two with them, but I don’t. A runner is basically a nylon rope loop that is meant for climbing and can hold a ton of weight. These are meant to help you carry things during GORUCK events. Black Diamond Runners are pretty nice.
- I throw in your windbreaker right here since it’s on the gear list (for less than 60F but you should bring one anyway regardless of temp. I was so cold in 70F after a Light I literally couldn’t hold a beer can without two hands because I was shaking so bad). Up to you. I use a Marmot Precip (Men’s and Women’s) which is really a rain jacket but also works as a windbreaker. They’re cheap compared to a lot of rain jackets and they actually work. The cheap is nice because if they get destroyed after lots of events then it’s all good. They’re also super thin so you won’t bake in them if you really are just using it for a windbreaker. They also come in a ton of colors, so as Cadre Dustin would say: “You do you boo.”
- Dry bag. Although technically only required for the Heavy, if you plan on bringing your phone or your car key or whatever you don’t want to get wet, you will want one of these. As Jason says in a long ago packing video, “two is one and one is none.” Side story for a second. I completed the Spartan Agoge in 2018 which had an unusual event quirk that at any point during the 60 hours, your entire pack would be held underwater and if you failed to waterproof your gear, you were dropped on-the-spot from the event. Because of this, I tested the crap out of the dry bags I had at that point and they all failed. I bought more and they failed too. WTF? It isn’t a dry bag if the contents don’t stay dry, right? As it turns out, most dry bags are more meant to handle rain and a oopsie dunking, not prolonged submersion in water (i.e. a GORUCK event….). The only dry bag that actually worked was the Sea To Summit Big River Dry Bag which comes in all sorts of sizes and colors. If you buy something else, you are probably screwing yourself. The Big Rivers work. Beyond just the waterproof aspect, I’ve actually rubbed through a dry bag during an event, so trust me on this, the Big Rivers are the way to go. So as for the “two is one” part from Jason’s video, I use a Plano 3440-10 Case for my phone and those guys are way more sealed and sturdy than the Pelican Cases in my opinion. That Plano Case is the perfect size for a Note 4 or S8 sized phone, and a wallet and keys, so adjust according.
- Get together your blister/chafing kit. This is mainly for Heavys and Toughs. Hopefully, you’re going to tape your feet properly so that you don’t have to re-tape. But, if for some reason you need to re-tape or you get a blister you weren’t expecting, you better have this ready to go. After much experimenting, Leukotape is a beautiful product. Even by itself, it works way better than almost anything else, and stands up to sweat and water well. I don’t recommend bringing a full roll for your in-bag blister kit as those suckers are pretty big brand new. However, I don’t recommend re-rolling a smaller length of tape because you’re breaking the adhesive down. I’d use the tape during training and use a fairly worn down roll for you in-bag kit. Next, you want Tincture of Benzoin. I need to make a whole post about that stuff but it’s essentially glue that will make your tape extra sticky. If you apply this right before an event, you shouldn’t ever have a need to fix your tape, it just simply won’t move. Unfortunately, as you may have noticed from that link, only REI sells those nice single use vials with the little cardboard protectors. Don’t bring a bottle of tincture with you, they’re going to be prone to breaking and that stuff will destroy anything you let it leak onto. Also note, it doesn’t work on wet skin, so get your tape right before your HTL. For cutting tape, I use a Gerber Splice, which is tiny and has very sharp scissors. For chafing, I use a microtub (that I repacked) of Trail Toes (Small, Medium, and Large tubs). Anything petroleum based is not ideal for chafing because after awhile, petroleum products break down and cause even more friction. However, the only brand I’m aware of that isn’t petroleum based, Body Glide, doesn’t sell a gel version of their product. Cadre Dustin taught me something else: using stick based lubricants for chafing is weird to apply to tight areas on yourself, and even more weird to share. Get the tub of Trail Toes instead. Dip your finger in and apply.
- Pack up some pain medication. Don’t use anti-inflammatorys (i.e. naproxen, ibuprofen, or aspirin) for an HTL or even a Tough (I’ll explain why in a future post). Instead, use a non-NSAID analgesic (pain killer) like acetaminophen (paracetamol for you Commonwealth folk). I use prepacked Tylenol so that the pills don’t get wet during the event. DO NOT TAKE MORE THAN THE PRESCRIBED DOSING. Seriously. This is too long of a conversation for this post, but anti-inflammatories lower the blood flow to your kidneys and overdosing painkillers is hard on your liver. You’re already beating your body up during an HTL, you don’t need to stress out your systems more. Combine dehydration with reduced blood flow to your kidneys and you’re risking rhabdomyolysis, which can easily be life threatening. Despite all this, a little acetaminophen can make a big difference in your suffering levels. By the way, those prepackages seem like they have a faulty tear mark, but it’s intentional. Roll the edge over slightly and tear down the center of the mark. The perforation intentionally doesn’t go to the edge so that you can only open it if you purposefully fold it over. Ask me how frustrated I got trying to figure that out.
- Waterproofing. Anything you won’t want to get wet, get Ziploc bags and double bag everything. Also, double bag your windbreaker because they can hold a lot of water while rolled up and that’s unnecessary weight you’re going to carry.
- If you’re doing an HH12HR with Spartan, get your extra gear ready here.
That’s it for getting your ruck gear ready. Now get your other gear ready.
Get Your Non-Ruck Gear Together
- In-water electrolytes. You will not survive an HTL, a Heavy, or a Tough without electrolytes. I used to love, love, love Skratch Labs electrolyte, however, it needs to be shaken into the water to mix. This is problematic during an event when you’re trying to fill water and move quickly. I’ve since stopped using Skratch and have moved to Nuun Tabs which come in all sorts of varieties (with caffeine and without, etc.), but they come in a nice waterproof tube and they dissolve and mix without you having to shake it up. During an event, this is great. Fill your water, drop in your tabs, and go. Nuun tabs don’t have the sugar content of Skratch, but the usefulness outweighs the lack of caloric intake that Skratch provides. I recommended one Nuun tab per liter roughly (this is half of the recommended strength). I would bring at least two tubes for a whole HTL weekend but you only need one on your for the Heavy.
- Out-of-water electrolytes. You may be wondering what this is about since we’re already carrying in-water electrolyte, but if your muscles start cramping, you need to hit a concentrated electrolyte dose immediately. Cramping is thought to be caused by electrolyte imbalance, so if you cramp, take electrolyte. For this purpose, I use Salt Stick pills and double bag two pills into drug dealer baggies to keep them waterproof. Those baggies suck to open so I typically just rip them open with my teeth (don’t litter please).
- Food. This is totally up to the individual and is super hard to figure out. Don’t use anything you haven’t tested a lot during training. Make sure whatever you take sits well in your gut when working out heavily. If you want to get technical, I highly recommend the SOF Nutrition Guide. This is a freely available pdf textbook written for Special Operations soldiers to figure their nutrition out. Great stuff. I personally like Pro Bars but they’re not very satisfying. If you’re doing an HTL, bring at least a couple of “comfort food” items like Watermelon Wedges or Starburst or whatever. It’s amazing the psychological boost you get from eating something tasty when you’re in a bad mental spot.
- Extra water. Bring one gallon of water per additional event beyond the first. So for an HTL, bring two gallons of water. This is to refill your bladder and drink between events.
- Gatorade, Powerade or whatever. This is for in-between events. Unfortunately, you can only absorb about 800ml of water per hour, but most people sweat about 1000ml an hour. This means during the course of an event, you are likely becoming slowly dehydrated, even if you’re up on your hydration. As soon as you get done with one event, smash down some sport drink, eat some regular food, and get ready for the next one.
- Imodium. If you’re worried about pooping during an event, grab this stuff to plug you right up.
- Disposable butt wipes. I use Stall Mates but some people like DUDE Wipes. If you do need to poop, or poop between events, these are a godsend.
- Base clothing. With the exception of your belt, you will want a fully separate set of clothing for each event you are doing. So for an HTL, bring three full sets of clothing. I really prefer to do events wearing Crye Combats Pants, which are crazy expensive, so I use those for both the Heavy and Tough. However, that means that I’ve wearing soggy pants between events. Yeah, it sucks, but buying another pair of Crye Pants sucks more ($$$$$$$$$).
- Warm clothing. If you know it’s going to be raining or cold, figure out your appropriate layers beforehand. If it’s going to be near freezing, you want at least, in additional to your base layer: a thin warmth layer, a mid-weight warmth layer, and a light jacket (in addition to your windbreaker). That’s five layers for near freezing weather. No matter how hard you’re working, you’ll figure out a combination of clothing that doesn’t overheat you, but also doesn’t leave you shivering.
- Get gloves. You want gloves. Trust me. I really like the FREETOO Tactical Gloves, but, they don’t hold up well and the mostly squared off hook-and-loop strap has a tendency to curl back on itself which drastically reduces the stability of the glove. I now use JIUSY Gloves and while they’re not quite as stream-lined feeling, they have held up great and the rounded hook-and-loop can’t roll back on itself. I’ve gone through about six pairs of gloves over 30ish events and I’d rather it’d be the gloves than my hands. A lot of people swear by Mechanix Gloves, but I don’t like all the labeling.
- Socks and Shoes. We’re not getting into a discussion about boots here. I use Garmont Bifidas for the Heavy and Tough, and then switch to Salomon Speedcross for the Light. Sock wise, for the boots, I use Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Socks with Darn Tough Wool Socks. For the Speedcross, I just wear a synthetic running sock (cotton will give you blisters).
- Tac-hat / Beanie / or buff. Rule #1. I use a Condor Tac Hat.
- Sunscreen. I think all sunscreens are terrible and I don’t like any of them so I’m not going to recommend anything specific. That said, this is for the Heavy and Light. You’re going to be out for awhile, make sure to wear waterproof 50SPF and realize any higher SPF is a scam.
- Some people bring sunglasses for the Heavy. I think these are easy to break during the first 12 hour of the event when they’re in your ruck and not worth the weight. Up to you.
- For the ladies, pack extra hair ties and consider leave-in conditioner for detangling between events (source: my HTL girlfriend)
- Bring wire-clippers or dikes if you’re using zip ties. If you’re doing a Tough+Light or HTL (or even an HZL, i.e. sleep in the middle), you will want to switch out your ruck weight and redo your zip ties. You need something to get the zip ties out and you don’t want to accidentally cut your ruck with a knife.
- Towels. Bring a bunch of these. At least two. If you don’t use them, just take them home, they’re still clean. One is for wiping off between events. The other is for your car seat so you don’t get your car soggy.
- Bring shower wipes. As I’ll describe later, I stay at the event site, so having some way to wipe down as you towel yourself off between events is good. I like Shower Pill.
- Post-event and in-between event clothing. If you don’t like being nearly naked between events, which a surprising amount of people do, bring clothing for this, per break, as needed.
- Contractor bags for all of your nasty clothing and gear after the events. Also, you can use one of these guys to sit to keep your car clean. These bags usually come in 3 mil thickness, but I like the Aluf 4 mil Extra Heavy Contractor Bags because they’re super hard to puncture. With aggressive shoe treads, clipped zip ties, carabiners and what not, I’d rather not risk dumping all of my wet, nasty gear into my car.
That’s pretty much it for gear. Now, it’s just about getting organized and getting to the event start.
The Day of Your HTL. Load Up, Tape Up, Quadruple Check Everything.
- 5-6 hours before you start. Shave anywhere you will be applying tape. Seriously. This will allow the tape to stick better to your skin and also alleviate discomfort later when removing the tape. I actually shave my big toes and my shins before events because I tape my big toes and the knee pad on the Crye pants literally chafed a hole through my shins during my first HTL. Sand is no joke after 24 hours foiks.
- Shower. Let your body dry out for at least 30 minutes if you just took a shower. Then apply your Tincture of Benzoin and then Leukotape your hotspots. The early timing here is because the longer your Benzoin and tape sit on your body while being unmolested, the more the heat, your body oils, and the adhesive will bond. A strong bond means no re-taping, even over all of an HTL. After two HTLs and an Agoge, I have not had to re-tape during an event yet with this strategy. For what it’s worth, I only use the Tincture of Benzoin during events, it’s a bit overkill for training.
- Look over the event Facebook pages again, check your gear list over again, think about your ruck packing and between events strategy, and then relax a little (as best you can). Nap if you’re able.
- 2-3 hours before you start. Put on your pants, belt, and socks, and shoes, and then sunscreen any visible skin. During the Heavy, I don’t want to carry the weight of sunscreen so I put it on a few hours before I start and reapply it about twenty minutes before the event start. That does mean that by the next day, a lot of sunscreen has likely washed off, but some of it should still be there. I’ve been only slightly burnt after both HTLs and the Agoge, but being in the sun the entire day is going to do that almost no matter what you do. You can, of course, carry sunscreen to avoid getting burnt, but again, weight.
- Fill up your bladder and drop in your electrolytes. Hook your bladder into your ruck. Also, feed the tube under the handle and out the prescribed hole. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen with their water tube coming out of their main zipper. Don’t do this.
- Apply your anti-chafe product. Do not apply this from your repacked ruck tub, use the packaging tub. Do not apply this over your tape… you put the tape there so you wouldn’t have to lube that area. Make sure you lube up your butt crack if you are going longer than 12 hours. Sand that gets in there will have a looooooong time to work and you will be severely sorry if you don’t do this. Ask me how I know.
- Put on your shirt and make sure you have your gloves clipped to your person somehow. It’s not always easy or possible to get into your ruck, and you know you signed up for PT and carrying stuff, so you’re going to want these. I typically only take my gloves off between events, so make sure you have something you like. Make sure your gloves are broken in, just like shoes. I start wearing my gloves hours before the event to make sure I get used to always knowing where my gloves are.
- At least one hour before you start. Get to your event. You want the extra time and to lay things out.
- I recommend sorting things out in your car so that you don’t have to think as hard later, after you’ve been up for many hours. I start by putting a contractor bag in a rear foot well for dirty gear, then separating out my event clothing items, my non-event clothing items, my tools, and extra food items so that like items are piled together and I can easily find things.
- Take your Imodium if you’re worried.
- Take your anti-inflammatory and put what you need in your pockets.
- Gauge how your gut is feeling and pack in your ruck as many butt wipes as you think you need.
- Put least two packs of two salt pills in a readily accessible pocket.
- Place your food appropriately for immediate use and later use as needed.
- Lock your car and then pack up, in your dry case and bag, your phone, car keys, and wallet (quitter’s cash). You’re going to have to pull this out in a second, but make sure it’s all fitting properly.
- Be ready on the start point at least 15 minutes before the event start (you may forget something, need to pee, vomit from nervousness, be in the wrong place, etc.) Be on the line a little early.
- Get ready for good freakin living.
This sections is going to be highly personal, but this is what I do and I encourage others to do the same. If you know you can get a minute of sleep, do it. Your nervous system will appreciate it. I actually start getting double vision if I’m up for too long without a moment of shut-eye. Your body will go into deep sleep really quickly if you’re super tired, so these naps aren’t a normal nap. Take them.
- Drop your ruck. Seriously. You’ve been up a long time if you’re doing an HTL. People forget this. Your ruck and weight become part of you. Take it off. Relax for a minute. It’s ok. The Cadre aren’t watching right now. They want to sleep too.
- Strip your clothes off. Shower (if available) or Shower Pill wipe yourself. Then dry off, and drop all that nastiness from your event into your contractor bags.
- Put on in-between clothing. This will also rapidly warm you up if you’re cold.
- Go to the bathroom and use your butt wipes to wipe all the sand out of your butt. Reapply anti-chafe after you get all that out so that you don’t forget later.
- Drive to food, if you’re able. I like a 6″ Subway Spicy Italian with nothing but spinach, salt, and pepper. Easy on the gut, and contains carbs, fat, protein, micro-nutrients, and electrolytes. Drink your sports drink with this.
- Drink water as you feel necessary after eating. You should probably drink more than you think you need.
- I like having a coffee at this point but to each their own. I would not recommend energy drinks. Too much sugar and they overstimulate you, which during an event is hard on your heart.
- Drive to next start point (taking Uber or whatever if you are too tired).
- Nap as long as you think you are able. Some people hate to sleep because they don’t think they can wake up, but here’s where being an HTL crew comes in handy. Decide where you are going to park beforehand, and then ask lots of the people in cars around there to make sure you are up. Lots of people will take naps and someone is sure to wake up and then they in turn can also make sure every one else wakes up.
- Put on your clothes for your next event.
- Re-tape if you need to. Your skin should hopefully be dry again at this point. If you left on tape from the previous event, it will still be moist. That ok, the Tincture of Benzoin will keep it in place.
- Go to the bathroom.
- If you’re between the Tough and the Light, change your weight. Wire clip your plate out and replace it with the lighter plate for the Light. Redo your zip ties.
- Load your water bladder again.
- Load fresh batteries into your headlamp.
- Grab event food and reload any consumed salt pills.
- Lock your stuff up again and keep on livin’ good.
Obviously, you’ll do that twice during an HTL, but it’s the same procedure both times.
Yes, this is a ton of stuff, but if you get all of this handled, and can keep your head in the game during the events, you’ll be looking at your bolts.
Not everything in here will apply to everyone the same way, but this is a pretty finely tuned step-by-step list that is working for me, so if nothing else, it’s a starting point to get your head in the right place to think through these logistics.
Once you’re done with your HTL, and there’s lots to talk about there, but not in this post, go home, get some rest, crack a beer and pass out. You’re going to be sleeping pretty erratically for a couple of days. So, if you have to work on Monday, make sure they know you might need to step out for a nap if they’re cool with that.
If you have any questions or comments, you can leave a Facebook message below or contact me directly. Get on those HTLs while they’re still around, you can do this!