Soldier's Load: How Much Ammo to Carry

Continuing our look at the soldier’s/survivor’s load, I will return to the subject of ammunition.
Regular readers will know that I am not ashamed to draw inspiration from unusual sources. They will also know I am partial to the occasional video game.
I was playing a western-themed game and came to a point where I was offered a chance to buy some ammunition. I looked at how much ammo I had collected for the weapons I used the most and decided I did not need to buy any.
What was interesting was that I had something like 80+ rounds for the repeater carbine, my primary weapon. Granted that in the game there is a mechanism to make you a deadeye shot and slain enemies generally drop useful ammunition, but if it was in real life 80-100 rounds for a Winchester would seem an ample amount.

Historical Examples

The typical soldier in the American Civil War carried a cartridge box with 40 rounds ready for immediate use.
Yesterday I was reading about World War One trench raiding. Troops did not wear “equipment” (webbing) for these raids but the men carrying a rifle and bayonet carried 50 rounds. Other men carried ten grenades instead. “Marching load” for British soldiers was 90 to 110 rounds.
An account of a World War Two British platoon had each rifleman with 50 rounds and two to four magazines for the Bren gun. How much ammunition was carried in practice may have been more.
German soldiers of the same period are noted for being frugal with their rifle ammunition and letting the machine-guns handle the bulk of the offensive and defensive fire. I’ve encountered 90 rounds as the ammunition allocation for a Mauser rifle. The issue belt pouches only hold 60 rounds as twelve 5-round chargers so the remainder may have been in the pack if 90 rounds were carried.
The Japanese soldier carried 120 rounds. Twelve 5-round chargers were distributed between two frontal belt pouches and a further 60 rounds was in a “reserve” pouch at the back.
The American soldier in World War Two was issued with an ammunition belt with ten pouches, each for an 8-round Garand clip. In his famous study of the soldier’s load, SLA Marshall claims that soldiers generally carry more ammunition than is needed and suggests six clips (48/96 rounds) be carried instead.
If we look a little later in history, the American soldier in Vietnam was instructed to carry 330 rounds for his M16. Other sources say 14 magazines. Bear in mind, a loaded 30-round magazine weighs around a pound each. 880 rounds was allocated for each M60 so the riflemen probably helped carry some of this too.
The British soldier with a 7.62mm SLR was expected to carry five 20-round magazines and a 50 round bandolier or belt for the MG. With the switch to 5.56mm weapons and a rifle capable of automatic fire came a suggested load of 330 rounds: six 30-round magazines and 150 rounds in a bandolier.
In a previous post, I have discussed appropriate and inappropriate use for fully automatic fire with rifles.
If you have a semi-automatic or manual action weapon this is obviously not a concern.
How ammunition is carried may have an influence on the quantity a shooter carries.
Give a soldier two belt pouches that each hold three magazines and he will probably carry at least seven magazines. Three in each pouch and one ready in his rifle.
Give him a single pouch that holds four magazines and he will probably carry five. Give him a claymore mine bag instead and he may fill one pocket with magazines and use the other for other useful items.

A few posts back we looked at the Viet Cong chest rigs. If a wearer decides to carry six AK magazines, he has around 180 rounds.
An AKM 30-round magazine weighs about 1.8 lbs, so six loaded magazines weighs 10.8 lbs.
The equivalent load for an SKS would be eighteen 10-round chargers. Each of these weighs 0.4 lb loaded, so 180 rounds would weigh only 7.2 lbs.


Several of the examples given earlier carried their ammunition in chargers (aka stripper clips, but calling them “strips” reduces confusion). The Garand took ammunition in true clips.
Contrary to what TV shows, video games and some supposedly expert gun writers will tell you, a clip is not a magazine.
A clip is a device that fits inside a magazine.
A charger/stripper-clip/strip remains outside a magazine and unloads its rounds into the magazine
Carrying ammunition in chargers rather than magazines constitutes a considerable saving in weight.
Unfortunately. there are not that many modern semi-automatic rifles that can be loaded directly with chargers. The SKS and M14 are probably the only ones you are ever likely to encounter.
Canadian FALs could have their magazines topped up with chargers while the magazine was in place. When Canada switched to the AR-15, this capability was not continued, probably because of the carrying handle.
Many modern AR-15-type weapons no longer have the carrying handle and a replacement receiver top that can take chargers may be possible.
The SKS has an integral 10-round magazine but this can be replaced with a 20 or 30 round capacity part. Since the chargers hold 10-rounds, it is possible to top-up such a magazine when it is only partially empty.
The capability to use chargers is just one of the advantages an SKS has over a semi-automatic AK-type weapon.
While most semi-automatic rifles cannot be loaded directly with chargers, chargers can be used to quickly reload magazines when they are not fitted to a weapon.
For some designs of magazine, a device to facilitate this may be needed. Carry a couple. It is practical to have just a couple of magazines and carry additional ammo as lighter chargers.

A Realistic Load

So how much ammunition is a realistic load?
We are talking personal load here. If you are mechanized, carry additional ammunition in your vehicle.
If you operate in a given area, establish a number of caches with additional ammunition and other useful items.
As a rough guide, if you are a hunter or outdoorsman, aim for 80-100 rounds and two or three magazines, including the one in your rifle. You can probably find pocket room for two magazines without needing a belt pouch.
There are chest-rigs and pouches that have just three single-magazine compartments. Such a rig could probably fit comfortably under a light jacket.
A pouch for a single magazine on your rifle-stock is not a bad idea, given that ammo is of only limited use if you are separated from your rifle.
If you are in the habit of loading 27 rounds into a 30-round magazine then three magazines still gives you 81 rounds.
Nine-round chargers would be very useful in the above case. Nine-round chargers would be useful for general use. They would allow more opportunity for magazines to be topped-up before they are fully emptied.
81 ready rounds will probably be ample for a semi-automatic weapon. Additional ammo can be carried as chargers.

Six and Six

If you are military, you will probably want to carry more ammunition.
Many soldiers weight themselves down so much that they become waddling targets.
Here it is important to distinguish between what is carried and what is worn.
For the ammunition carried on your webbing, set a sensible upper limit. Do not try to carry everything you have on your webbing.
If you must carry more ammunition than the suggested limit below, carry it in a pack, a claymore bag, pulk, handcart or vehicle. Then, at least, you can occasionally put it down if you need a rest or need to move fast.
How much to carry in your webbing? A sensible limit is what I call “six and six”.
For simplicity, I will only consider riflemen. Rifle-grenades, mortars, grenade launchers and machine-guns I will save for another day.
No more than six rifle-magazines/180 rounds and the equivalent of six (standard-sized) hand grenades (c.3 kg), for example: four frags and two smoke-bombs.
This is the ammunition permanently carried on the body and immediately accessable. With the magazine loaded in the rifle included, you have 210 rounds.
If a handgun(s) is carried, the reloads for these are in addition to the six rifle-magazines. A common recommendation is to carry two reloads for a handgun. If your handgun is your primary weapon, more might be prudent.
The six rifle mags and the grenades can be carried in a chest rig, belly rig, equipment belt or across a combination of these.
Add to this load four shell/first-field dressings. Some of these may be carried around the back over the kidneys.