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What Do Soldiers Carry and What Does It Weigh?

We live in an age of unprecedented technology – technology that makes our lives easier and more connected at the push of a touch-screen and glace of a monitor. For the military, ruggedized equivalents provide tactical awareness, allowing soldiers and Marines to see beyond their personal sight using GPS, smartphones, tablets, and even helmet-mounted screens. Further advances in technology have produced better body armor, better weapon optics and imaging devices, and a host of other specialized protective and offensive gear. We’ve reach a point where the most significant limit for our soldiers is how much they can carry.

The Modern Soldier’s Inventory

Today the average US soldier carries at least 60 pounds of gear, with an extended patrol often doubling that weight. Specialized warfighters, such as Automatic Riflemen, Combat Medics, and Special Operations can see totals much higher. For example, US Army Spc. Craig Brown carries 90 pounds of gear as a SAW gunner, not including a ruck.

Let’s break down a soldier’s gear into its respective components.

Clothing and Protective Measures

The base uniform is an ACU (Army Combat Uniform) or MCCUU (Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform). In addition there’s protective gloves, boots, and glasses, such as the Oakleys that Specialist Brown wore. The full weight of this uniform is more than the average civilian garb, but still runs less than 10 pounds for the average soldier. This isn’t counting CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) or cold weather gear.

Body Armor and Helmet

One major advancement from the days of World War II and Korea is the protection given to our soldier. Plate Carriers and IOTVs (Improved Outer Tactical Vests) provide substantial protection against small arms, shrapnel, and debris—but at the cost of weight. A full ITOV with side plate, groin, and collar weighs around 30 pounds. The Advanced Combat Helmet (Army) and the Lightweight Helmet (Marine Corps) both weigh in at around 3 pounds.

Load Carrying Equipment

On top of this body armor is worn a harness or vest designed to carry the warfighter’s gear—and that amount has increased with each new piece of technology. At the very basic a soldier carries ammo for his weapon and his IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit), but that’s usually only the beginning. From water carriers to grenades to the pouches that carry them all, it’s impossible to have an exhaustive list.

Ruck

The bane of every soldier’s and marine’s existence, the rucksack can come in many different shapes and sizes, from a large pack that holds 100+ pounds of gear to a more modestly-sized patrol pack that holds filled with 20 to 30 pounds of gear. The longer the duration and more specialized the soldier, the more gear that needs to be carried, especially if you’re stepping out of an airplane inside enemy territory.

Electronics & Batteries

This is a dear category to us, one where we’ve put a lot of effort into reducing weight and maximizing effectiveness. The modern US soldier is bedecked in electronics, from night vision to radios, and new technology is coming in from Nett Warrior and other programs, using smartphones, tablets, and GPS. Just like the bullets for a soldier’s gun, a soldier’s electronics needs ammo in the form of batteries.

The above image from PEO Soldier show the breakdown for electronics and batteries used by a US Airborne soldier during Operation Enduring Freedom, for a 72 hour mission. Between optics, flashlights, night vision devices, GPS (DAGR), and radio and the lack of interchangeable batteries on many of these devices, 16 pounds of batteries had to be carried—or the equivalent of an unloaded SAW machinegun.

The War on Weight

The world has never seen better equipped warfighters, but it’s now become clear that they are overburdened as well. The US Armed Forces and the Department of Defense have spearheaded initiatives to reduce weight in all categories, from case-less ammo to solar power. Protonex is a part of this movement, such as with the U.S. Marine Corps MAPS: Marine Austere Patrolling System using our Vest Power Managers (VPMs), which reduces the number of needed batteries and increases the efficiency of a warfighter’s electronics. And for us it’s not just about relieving back pain—by reducing weight we give the soldier or Marine an edge in speed of movement and reaction time, and a reduction on resupply convoys, both of which in turn save lives. If you’re interested in our SPMs, fuel cells, or other power solutions, please contact us today.