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How to Survive The Bataan Memorial Death March

Updated: Feb 20

31 tips to surviving the Death Marc

Updated: 2/20/24

I've been participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March since 2012. The tips listed here are taken from my experience completing Bataan annually and insight from my time as an Ironman Triathlete -- and then as a fat ass couch potato after 2020. Some are from seeing others on the course and thinking, "I'm glad I'm not that guy!" I’ve seen the carnage on the course of those who showed up ill-prepared. It isn't pretty.

I'm a huge believer in learning from the successes and mistakes of others. Thus, this list. If you are a first-timer, I want to save you the pain and suffering of learning things the hard way. 😉

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that not everything on this list may resonate with everyone. You can pick and choose whatever you find helpful and ignore the rest. This list is not exhaustive as there might be some circumstances and situations that I haven't experienced yet, which means it will continue to evolve with each Bataan March. Nonetheless, it's important to learn from my mistakes and the experiences of other past marchers. Enjoy your march and good luck!

1. Make a gear checklist! The last thing you want to do is be out on mile seven of the 26-mile March and remember that you forgot your food or sunscreen at home. Be like Santa; make a list and check it twice! Download a gear checklist here!

2. Don’t wear new shoes or boots! This should go without saying... Make sure your boots/shoes are well broken in. ;-)

3. Stop at aid stations (if you feel you need to stop and rest. Stop!) Quickly check to see if your feet need tending, and grab food and water.

4. Don’t wear thick socks! I’m sure some people swear by wearing heavy socks or multiple layers, but I have been running in combat boots for several years now, and I rarely blister. Every person I know who has worn thick or multi-layer socks has come out with huge blisters. I’ve done 50K ruck/runs without a single blister because I wear good quality moisture-wicking socks. My boots DO NOT go on my feet without SwiftWick I swear by them!

5. Keep your feet generously covered in Glide, Vaseline, TrailToes, or some other type of anti-chafe lube. Don’t forget the tips of your toes, in between your toes, and up the leg to where your boots no longer touch. Keep one or both items in your pack.

6. Wear leg gaiters if you’re wearing running shoes. These will keep sand out of your shoes/boots. I have literally witnessed people without gaiters pouring sand out of their shoes.

7. Wear long compression socks if in boots. These socks will help with muscle fatigue while keeping sand out. I wear mine just above my bootline, and when I need the added calf compression, I pull them all the way up.

8. Wear comfortable, moisture-wicking clothes. The last thing you want is to wear sweat-soaked cotton clothes or something that rubs you to the point of pain.

I wear moisture-wicking briefs under lightweight Army BDUs. Having all those pockets is great for quick access to anything you use often. This will keep you from having to dig through your pack constantly.

9. Wear a neck gaiter! (AKA Buff) The winds can be epic at times, and where there’s wind, there is sand blowing. I suggest wearing a lightweight material gaiter, so you’ll stay cool and be protected from the sun.

10. Use a nice fitting pack and/or hydration pack during the March. If you’re a woman, I highly suggest getting a female-specific pack. I’ve tried using packs made for men, which are always too large. I end up with massive back pain from the ill-fit. After much searching, I finally found a great pack; Osprey makes it.

11. Carry extra socks! When your feet start feeling wet and developing hot spots, you’ll want to change into a clean dry pair of socks. See #7 for what I wear. If you’re doing the 26.2-mile ruck, I would take two extra pairs to be safe. Keep the socks in plastic ziplock bags to keep them dry and clean.

12. Take a travel-size foot powder with you. The aid stations have footpowder (and other foot care), but in my experience, some people don’t make it to these stations before needing to attend to their feet. This powder also comes in handy if you start chafing where the sun doesn’t shine…

13. Use and carry sunscreen with you. The weather in White Sands is deceptive. The temperature is usually mild, with some cloud cover and a cool breeze, which leads you to think, “I won’t sunburn.” Yes, you will! Within 15 minutes, you’ll burn. Make sure to cover all exposed skin, including the back of your neck and ears.

14. Wear some sort of sun hat that has a brim. This will help to keep the sun off of your face and neck. You’ll want one with a drawstring. The winds can really kick up, and your hat WILL fly off. Boonie hats work perfectly.

15. Carry water with you! Unlike “normal” marathons, there are NOT water stations every mile. I carry a water bladder in my pack and top it off with fresh water at EVERY or every-other station. I also carry a 20-ounce water bottle filled with a hydration drink. I normally carry individually wrapped Gatorade packets; they make 20 ounces.

16. Eat small amounts and often! You should graze your way through the course. Unless you're out there running, it will be a long day, and you will burn a ton of calories. I keep food and endurance nutrition products on me and eat bananas and orange slices at every stop. See Don’t Bonk Bataan March – I set a timer to go off every 20 minutes to remind me to drink and nibble on something.

17. Take wet wipes with you! Keep a ziplock baggie with baby wipes in your pack. You never know when you need or want to clean up, and they come in VERY handy if/when you enter a potty without toilet paper.

18. Take about $10.00 – $15.00 with you. On my first Bataan, some point well into the 26.2-mile March, I was starving for real food, and we came upon a little tent village in the middle of the desert, I could smell hamburgers! OMG… I wanted one so bad… They looked and smelled delicious. Everyone who apparently knew about the BBQ and took money was sitting down enjoying their burgers, and me…? Well, I ate another banana. That hurt! Take money!

19. Drink, drink, drink, drink, drink. Drink even when you don’t feel thirsty. Due to sweat evaporating off your skin as soon as it touches it, you’ll never feel hot and gross and think, “Oh, I’m okay. I don’t need to drink anything.” And then BAM! You’re getting carted off by medics because you’re severely dehydrated. As I mentioned in #16 set an alarm on your watch to remind yourself.

20. Carry blister pads with you. This is just my two cents on the subject; others might disagree, and that's okay. But I don’t suggest using anything thick. In my experience, most everyone who used moleskin or thick pads blistered up. The medical tents are littered with people with hamburger-looking feet from using moleskin. It's not pretty! I keep thin — almost bandaid-thin, treatment pads with me. If I get a lingering hot spot where my boots are really rubbing, I’ll patch over it.

21. If you do happen to blister and you’re not at an aid station – you’ll want to pop it. Sterilize a safety pin. Clean off the area. If you have alcohol swabs, even better. Pop the blister. Then, dry the spot and then put it on the treatment pad. On one of my last Bataan's, I gave out at least twenty blister pads along the way to active-duty guys wearing moleskin and blistering badly. Blisters will f'up your day! Be prepared to take care of them before they happen.

22. Condition your feet. If you’re a female and you get pedicures, stop it! You can still go and have your nails painted and let them rub your feet, but you’ll need and wish you had tough skin during the March. Also, see #23.

23. Train in the footwear you’re marching in. If you’re wearing combat boots during the March — train in the boots. This goes back to conditioning your feet and breaking in your footwear.

24. Pack a flask of pickle juice. No, I’m not crazy. Pickle juice is like rocket fuel for the body when you’re feeling sluggish and helps you keep from cramping. This was another thing I saw all along the 26.2-mile March; guys cramping up. If you’re drinking as much water as you should be, you’re also flushing out your sodium, which needs to be replaced. “Those who drink pickle juice feel cramp relief 37% faster than those who drink water. Results show pickle juice can relieve cramps in just under a minute and a half. Drink 2.5 ounces at the onset of cramp.” — Dr. Oz — I use pickle juice during long runs, rides, and even at Ironman Triathlons; it’s a magic potion.

25. Pack food. Take more food/nutrition in your pack than you think you’ll need. You WILL need it! And if you end up with more than you need, you can always share it with someone along the way. I also packed some individual Gatorade packets to put in my water bottle(s) to replace electrolytes and change things up from just drinking water all day. See Don’t Bonk Bataan March

26. Don’t rely on packaged nutrition products only. And don’t take/eat items that you haven’t trained with. Packaged nutrition products like GU, chews, sports beans, etc., are great quick energy and/or electrolytes, but if you take in too much and mix things your stomach isn't used to, you could end up with gastrointestinal issues – which means stomach cramps, bloating, and even diarrhea or vomiting. I suggest doing one GU at the top of each hour and trying to get the rest of your nutrition from things like nuts, fruit, etc.,

27. Pack a couple of PayDay candy bars. I learned about PayDay candy bars from some Special Operators I met during my first year at Bataan. The salt, protein, sugar, and calories make them the perfect rucking snack. I carry them with me all the time now.

28. BRING MUSIC. When the suck gets deep, music can help you push through. Music can provide a distraction and help you stay zoned and keep pace. Many studies have been done about music improving performance. To that point, you’ll want to bring some solar or another type of portable charger to keep your phone or music device juiced up.

29. Remember to check your ego at the start line. Bataan is a challenging (but rewarding) endurance event, and it's important to pace yourself. With the morning's buzz, some people will start off really fast, and it's easy to get caught up in the energy. But don't go faster than you are comfortable. Take the day at your own pace, and remember that it's a marathon, not a sprint. The terrain may be challenging, but it's also very rewarding. If you find it difficult to keep up with your friends, asking them to go ahead without you is okay. You shouldn't try to walk at someone else's pace or fitness level, as this could lead to you being unable to finish the course and having to be picked up by the support vehicle. It's important to listen to your body and avoid overexertion, or you may be unable to complete the event.

30. Take in the moment. White Sands, NM, is some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. Then you mix in thousands of people — many of whom are active-duty military and veterans in 50+ pound packs and full gear — then you sprinkle in the reason why the March is taking place in the first place, and it is magical. As corny as it sounds, I had a spiritual awakening during my first March. I never felt so honored to share my day with so many great people in the most amazing country on Earth.

31. Wear layers and prepare for any weather! There is one thing you can count on at Bataan... the weather will change! In 2019 it was snowing the morning of the event, and many marchers were literally caught out in the cold due to not having layers of warm clothing. Think layers!!! Race morning, I had layers and a $4.00 robe from Goodwill to keep me warm. At a minimum, have a bennie and gloves with you. You can always ditch them. Just as the day can start off cold to freezing, the day can range from mild to "hot as hell." In my many years of doing Bataan, I have only seen one of these "hot as hell" days -- but it caught many off-guard, and they were dropping like flies (not having prepared for this type of weather). About mile 17, my hiking partner Lisa and I took our shirts off, soaked them in water, and used them as a cooling towel. We also increased our water and electrolyte intake (see nutrition sections).

32. Have an AMAZING ruck, and don’t forget to visit the Memories of Honor booth during in-processing. We will be passing out Fallen Hero Memorial Back Bibs containing the names of fallen military heroes for you to wear on your ruck. Bibs are first come, first serve — we will stay in the booth until we run out.

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To learn about the history of the March click here.


Read about How NOT to Bonk / Bataan Course Nutrition.

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