In this article I’d like to explain first, second, third, and fourth line gear. I became familiar with the first three terms when I was in the SEAL Team. I think the last one is more of a prepper term but it makes sense nonetheless. Basically, it goes like this. Your first line is closest to your body and generally the most important… at least for your long term survival needs. Second line usually refers to your “fighting load” and I guess you could call it immediate survival needs if you need to fight. Your third line is your “ruck load,” which contains the rest of your gear. Taking it a step further, fourth line gear is what you have at home or possibly what you have hidden in a cache somewhere. We could probably qualify a bug-out location as a fifth line but I don’t want to get carried away. The idea is to prioritize your gear and be able to increase or decrease your equipment as needed. For instance, if you were out in the field with all your gear but needed to kick down a door and clear a building for some reason you would obviously want to dump your third line ruck somewhere so you would be lighter and faster. In combat situations you would want to keep your second line as long as it was still useful. If you are not in the fight anymore it’s possible that you might dump your second line but you would never dump first line gear. Your first line is kind of like your last life-line or your emergency survival kit.
First line gear is basically survival equipment. Everyday Carry (EDC) equipment is another way of saying “everyday first line gear.” This is what you should get used to carrying every time you leave the house. This is what special ops guys and a lot of cops and other alpha males do whenever they leave home. It usually includes a wallet with some cash in small bills, a fully charged cell phone, a concealed pistol with an extra magazine if you have a place to put it, and a folding pocket knife. A paracord bracelet is also a popular thing to have on your wrist as is a decent watch. A high powered flashlight (at least 800 lumens) is a great addition and so is an ESC of your area. There are a lot of cool concealable products made specifically for EDC. Most people drive when they leave home so keeping some things in your vehicle is a no-brainer. This would be a good place to have a small survival kit and other first line gear like a go-bag or 72 hour kit if you are far from home. In a combat situation, your first line might focus more directly on survival items like fire starters, a water purification system, a map and compass, a fixed blade knife, an emergency blanket and things like a small fishing kit and a signaling device depending on your environment.
Your second line should include a “black rifle” and extra magazines loaded with ammunition. Nine or ten, 30 round magazines is a standard load usually mounted on a chest-rig or a plate carrier (for body armor) with four mags on each side and one mag in the weapon. My personal rig also includes a medical kit, a dump pouch, a handheld HAM radio with extra batteries and an extended antenna. I also have a water bladder attached to the back. It’s important that you load everything up, put it on and make adjustments as necessary. It’s also important that you train with it (sometimes I run with mine) and learn where everything is and make sure you can do things like shoot, run, crawl and get in and out of a vehicle. You also need to make sure your second line is compatible with your third line simply by putting it on and making sure everything meshes together and rides on your body properly. Go on a ruck march to find out.
Third line gear is everything in your ruck. It will have all your extra food, water, clothing and sleeping equipment. Since so many things are rechargeable now I try to make sure all of my electronics have that capability or at least take rechargeable batteries. Hand crank or solar chargers are nice and many of them can recharge via USB. I also think a rechargeable shortwave radio is a must have. Of course, always waterproof important equipment and dip test everything to make sure it floats. This is explained in greater detail in the “water crossing” section of the ESC. While you’re on that ruck march turn it into a camping trip. Try out your gear and decide what works best for you. No two situations and environments will be exactly the same… but remember the soldier’s adage coined by General George Patton: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”