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How to Survive The Bataan Memorial Death March

31 tips to surviving the Death March

I've been participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March since 2012. The tips listed here are taken from my experience successfully completing Bataan annually and insight from my time as an Ironman Triathlete. 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 success 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: Not everything on this list will resonate with everyone. Take from this list what you want, and leave the rest behind. This list may never be complete. I’m sure there are circumstances and situations I have yet to experience, so it will likely continue to grow and change with each Bataan March.  But for now, learn from my mishaps and those of other past marchers.  Happy Marching!

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. Duh... ;-)

3. Stop at aid stations (if you feel you need to stop and rest. Stop!) Do a quick 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 or Vaseline, 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 boot line, 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.

P.s. You can pick up one of our famous "What The Ruck Was I Thinking" Shirts"& our "Straight Outta Bataan" Shirts at our booth at packet pickup.

9. Wear a neck gaiter! 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 foot powder (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’s going to be a long day, and you’re going to 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 of your skin as soon as it touches it, you’ll never feel hot and gross, and you’ll 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.