A loaded march is a relatively fast march over distance carrying a load. A loaded march is known as a forced foot march in the US Army. Less formally, it is a ruck march in the United States, a tab in British Army slang and a yomp in Royal Marines slang.
In many countries, the ability to complete loaded marches is a core military skill, especially for infantry and special forces. Loaded marching is particularly important in Britain, where all soldiers must complete annual loaded march tests regardless of their branch of service.
In certain climates, the use of loaded marches is limited, since they would result in high casualty rates through heat exhaustion.
In the Roman Army
During the four month initial training of a Roman legionary, loaded marches were a core part of the training. Standards varied over time, but normally recruits were first required to complete 20 Roman miles (29.62 km or 18.405 modern miles) with 20.5 kg in five summer hours (the Roman day was divided into 12 hours regardless of season), which was known as "the regular step". They then progressed to the "faster step" and were required to complete 24 Roman miles (35.544 km or 22.086 modern miles) in five summer hours loaded with 20.5 kilograms (45 lb). Training also included some forced marches of 20–30 miles, often followed by the construction of basic defenses for an overnight position.
In the British Armed Forces
In the British Army, loaded marching is considered a core skill and is tested annually in a 12.9 kilometers (8 mi) Annual Fitness Test (formerly known as a Combat Fitness Test) carrying 15–25 kg depending on the arm. However, infantry soldiers are additionally expected to complete advanced tests, typically a first day of 20km (12.43 miles) with 30 kilograms (66 lb) in three and a half hours, followed by a similar march with 20 kilograms (44 lb) the next day. During the current selection process, recruits are usually made to tab 3 kilometers (2 mi) as an introduction. This is because injuries to the legs are common during basic training tabbing.
The British Army slang term tab has its roots in an acronym, being an abbreviation of Tactical Advance to Battle.
Loaded marches have been particularly important in the British Army since the 1982 Falklands War. Many British commanders felt that British success in the war was linked to the British soldiers' ability to march across the difficult Falklands terrain with their kit. British infantry soldiers in Afghanistan conduct four hour patrols carrying an average of 50 kilograms (110 lb) of equipment, going into battle with that weight if they encounter enemy fighters. There is some debate as to whether this makes them better equipped for battle or weighs them down too much.
In the French Foreign Legion
To complete training, legionnaire trainees must complete the "Combatant's Course" of 8 kilometers (5 mi) loaded with 12 kilograms (26 lb) in 55 minutes, and a night march of 25 kilometers (16 mi) in three hours with a load of 18 kilograms (40 lb). Various marches of much longer distances are also a part of training.
In the United States Armed Forces
Loaded marches are known as ruck marches and are part of basic recruit training. In order to gain the Expert Infantryman Badge, a further qualification for existing infantry personnel, candidates must complete a ruck march of 19 kilometers (12 mi) within three hours, carrying a rifle and load. The total load (including the rifle) may be up to 31.75 kilograms (70 lb). The march is individual rather than in a squad, so an individual may achieve a better time than the three hour requirement.