“I love hard work. I can watch it all day!” – me to Cadre Andy during GORUCK Revolution 000

Taking part in any GORUCK event is a lot of fun, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself. There is another way to get involved, though, without all that really hard work. That way is to ‘shadow’ the event.

To “shadow” an event is to follow the class while they go through the paces of team building, without really interacting with the class or getting directly involved in the activities.

Why Shadow?

About to take class photo for GRC621 Why shadow though? At first glance it seems lame to follow a class instead of taking part, and that has a little truth to it. That said if you have no interest in the beat down but want to watch your spouse/better half/friend in action, or if you are recovering from an injury, then shadowing can be fun.
Additionally if the class is custom or is part of a special occasion, the class and GORUCK community typically would love a record of the event.

Now if you want to shadow to “see what its like” before signing up? Don’t be a wuss, stop being lame, and just sign up already. I promise you won’t regret it.

A GORUCK event is a big deal, whether its someone’s first, second or twentieth. If you recognize that and treat that with the respect it deserves, as well as provide the class with mementos of the occasion, you will forever be appreciated

Shadowing GORUCK Revolutions, 000 Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO bring a really good camera AND know how to use it (photography tips below)
  • DO take LOTS of photographs. Again, tips for photography are in their own section below.
  • DO come prepared. Be physically capable of walking the distance of the event, and running if necessary. If you cannot keep up with the class, go home.
  • DO wear comfortable clothes, shoes and socks that you can cover a lot of distance in, and apply anti-chafing product (Body Glide or vaseline is okay. Trail Toes is better and not just for the feet)
  • DO be self sustained. Bring any water or food needs and be prepared for changes in weather or temperature. A foot care kit is useful – you are as likely to get blisters as the class.
  • DO be wary of traffic as you shadow. The cadre and class don’t have time to take care of you, so keep your head on a swivel and take control of your own safety.
  • DO introduce yourself to the cadre before the class starts (and to the class on Facebook ahead of time for that matter). Ask if they have an criteria they want you to uphold while shadowing.
  • DO take the opportunity to find out cadre’s story later on (for example when the class is on a movement). Offer to grab them a coffee if an opportunity arises. They have sacrificed much for our freedoms and their stories are worth hearing. Cadre could also often use a refreshment yet rarely have an opportunity to get one.
  • DO shut the fuck up. Its not your class, so treat the class as you would when you watch a play or movie in the theater (unless you are one of those that talks there too, in which case stay home. Always!).
  • DO try to plan to have enough beer at the end for the class and cadre. Budweiser is plenty, and as Jason often says you will go far in life by showing up with a case of beer. I’ve surprised classes with a case of beer and it is always appreciated.
  • DO allow yourself to be a point of contact for family members that want to keep track of progress on their loved one. Also offer up space in your ruck for those participants that need their cell phone or car keys carried for the duration of the class.
  • DO NOT show up drunk or plan to get drunk. I have been in too many classes with a drunk shadow crew that get obnoxious and impact the class
  • DO NOT talk when cadre address the class or such that the class can constantly hear you talking. This is especially true at the initial class instruction (scare brief). If cadre need to yell at shadows to get out of the way, you fucked up. Big.
    Yes I mentioned this above – its important enough to mention again.
  • DO NOT get in the way of the class. Ideally you should be either behind the class by a good distance (5+ yds) or across the street. Of course occasionally you can duck in close to get pictures, but should immediately clear out of the way. Sometimes I run far ahead to be in place for a particular scene too.
    I have made exceptions to this on rare occasions, for example laying down in the middle of two columns of a class doing low crawls for a way better camera angle.
  • DO NOT interact with the class. If you see someone is hurting, a quiet nod to the cadre is okay. A quick smile, or word here and there is okay on movements etc but try and stay an independent observer.
  • DO NOT (if you are GRT) tell the class how to perform a task or worse yet cat call poor form in PT, or exclaim about how much bigger your log was or verbalize any other form of criticism. I guarantee you fucked up plenty in your class(es) too.
  • DO NOT be afraid to get dirty. For a better photograph of the pain or strain on someone’s face, lay down on the ground. Get into the ocean, lake, pond if it makes a better photograph.
  • DO NOT worry about bringing beer for cadre for during the event. Most cadre won’t drink during anything during the events (damn lawyers!!)

To sum up the above in a few words, make sure you are

  • Quiet
  • Respectful
  • Unobtrusive
  • Useful

GRC 621 - getting in the water for a unique camera angle

Photography Tips

As mentioned, one of the main reasons to shadow a GORUCK event is to help provide a photographic memory for the class to treasure. There are certain challenges, however, with photographing a challenge. First off, the class will move or perform tasks whether you are there to capture it or not. Second, the majority of most classes take place at night and so dealing with low light is a big concern.

Attached are a couple of albums I put together on a few events I shadowed

Tip 1: Use a quality camera, and know how to use it

I wouldn’t consider shadowing with a point and shoot camera for a number of reasons. Usually they focus and take the picture too slowly, you have almost no control over settings and the sensor doesn’t work well in low light conditions.

For that reason, a good quality SLR is the way to go. Most quality SLR cameras (especially full frame versions) work well in low ambient light.

Knowing how to use the camera is key. In my case, for example, I almost always shoot with auto-focus and aperture priority mode. Sometimes, though, the light conditions don’t allow auto focus. In these cases I need to quickly switch to Manual Focus and know how to dial focus in so I can still get a good shot regardless of not being able to see what is in the viewfinder.

Additionally as lighting conditions change I often readjust the aperture and ISO settings regularly.


Learn how the auto-focus system works. I always use spot focus so I know the camera focuses on the same point. When I take a picture, I focus on my subject first, then move the camera to compose the shot.

Get to know your equipment, practice taking pictures in varying light conditions, and get used to changing the most important settings quickly. ISO and exposure in particular.

Tip 2: Don’t use the flash

I cannot count the number of times I have  been moving along at night, with newly adjusted night vision only to have a flash go off in my face and killing said night vision. It pisses me off, and I am sure pisses everyone else off.

Even worse are cameras that use a pulsing of the flash to achieve focus. More often than not, the picture won’t even take anyway so the night vision loss is usually for nothing.

So don’t use the flash. Ever.


But what if it is dark? Remember that part about the good camera? Here is where it comes into play. With luck your camera is excellent in low light (mine is – see equipment list below), and you have a lens that helps. A prime lens with a large aperture (a 50mm f1.4 or f1.8 works really well) helps here.

There are two exceptions to this.

  1. If you can use an off camera flash (I plan to experiment with Phottix wireless flashes) that is HEAVILY diffused and have someone to hold it in a way that doesn’t interfere with the class or point directly in the faces of the class members then go for it. I was shadowed by a professional team in Portland ME a couple of summers ago and they had a neat unit mounted on a bicycle that gave just enough light for the shot without affecting the class.
  2. If its daylight and you want to use a fill in flash if the sun is behind the subject.

Tip 3: Be vigilant for photo opportunities

This one should be a no-brainer. A GORUCK event is often a tour of the best a city has to offer. Keep an eye out for landmarks, stunning backdrops, etc and position yourself so you can capture the class in all their glory.

Additionally keep an eye out for all the peripheral stuff too. Buddy carries, grimacing faces when switching weights, close ups of special patches, long shots that show the class in desolate scenery, action shots as the class is told to “get wet”. A GORUCK event is a living thing that moves quickly, so be prepared. Always.

Tip 4: Take photos of everyone

People want cool profile pictures for FB, and a means of telling their friends what they did. During the welcome party (a subject of a future post) or PT, log carries, etc, try and get as many individuals photographs as possible – don’t worry about potential duplication of photos.

This is particularly important for the patching ceremony. Try and get a photograph of everyone receiving their patch from cadre. If there are multiple cadre handing out patches, coordinate quickly with other photographers if possible.

Tip 5: Edit and publish the photos soon

People are itching to show their friends/families/coworkers what they did this weekend, so if you take the time to photograph the event also make sure to take the time to quickly convert the pictures to a Facebook, Flickr or Picasa album rather than sitting on them for weeks or months.

My equipment

See Load Out below

Posting Tips

When posting, be sure its on a site that supports easy viewing and downloading of the pictures. I usually use Flickr, and more recently starting cross posting to Picasa. If you Geotag your pictures, you can overlay the photos to a Google Map of the class route. For example, GOREV 2014’s route can be seen here.

My “Shadow” Load Out

    The only bag you’ll ever need. Large enough to stash foot, water, foot care, clothing layers, and all my camera and other equipment.
  • Camera equipment:
    • Canon EOS 6D (buy here)
      This camera is SUPERB in low light with low noise all the way up to ISO 25600. I can take pictures with just a single street light and have them come out as if in daylight.
    • Canon battery grip (buy here)
      One battery might just get you through a challenge, but not a heavy. Especially with GPS turned on for geotagging all pictures. Plus the battery grip makes portrait aspect picture taking more comfortable.
    • Canon 50mm f1.4 (buy here)
      The wide aperture compliments the high ISO of the 6D for amazing quality in extremely low light.
    • Canon 100mm f2.8  (buy here)
      I typically use this during the day for close up shots of poopy faces
    • Canon 24mm f2.8 (buy here)
      Amazing lens for when space is limited or to capture class alongside monuments or significant scenery. Especially good for close-ups that still give a sense of ‘scene’
    • Memory cards
  • Garmin GTU-10 GPS tracker
    Used so “part-time” shadowers can locate the class. Sadly a discontinued item.
  • Mophie and PowerRocks external battery packs
    Used to keep iPhone and GPS charged
  • Nalgene for water
  • Klean Kanteen for bourbon
    This is less obvious when in public than a hip flask
  • GR1 Field pouch
    Attached to inside MOLLE of GR1 to store and protect lenses not being used, and store spare memory cards
  • Radio Field pouch
    Loose inside ruck, and holding all power leads and external battery packs, etc
  • Foot care kit
    GORUCK foot care kit, plus trail toes ultra foot and body anti-chafing cream.
  • Extra clothing layers
    You won’t be as active as the class, and need to dress accordingly.


Shadowing is a fun experience, and sometimes a good change of pace from taking part (especially if you are injured, as I am at the time of writing).

As long as you are respectful, quiet, and unobtrusive PLUS you take lots of amazing photographs you will always be welcomed and sometimes requested as a shadow.

3 thoughts on “Lurking in the Shadows (Shadowing a GORUCK event)

  1. This post was so, so helpful. I shadowed this weekend, and this was great to have.

    I did pack a first aid kit, and the easier items were all used: advil, band-aids, blister packs etc. I was really glad to have brought it, and happier still that the more serious stuff wasn’t needed.

    I deeply regret not getting a better camera body for the event. I looked into some of the gear listed above and the cost was prohibitive, but my older SLR wasn’t able to keep up in the dark (which I expected, but it was so much worse). If you’re going to chase your badass buddies around all night, really, get the right gear. Rent it, borrow it, whatever. Too much goes into this struggle; it’s important to capture it well.

    Bourbon in the kleen kanteen delighted everyone it met. Brilliance.
    Thank you!


  2. I’d add this photography tip: try to get a shot of every person in the class getting their patch from the Cadre. Talk to the Cadre first and let him know so he’ll give you time to get the shot. Every patch is a big deal but that first one is the pretty special and it’s cool moment to capture.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m guilty of getting in the way and I still feel bad about it. During the GOREV, I ran across the street to get out of traffic and immediately fell asleep standing up… with a log aimed at my head. Sorry guys!
    But I’d like to see more shadows carry small first aid kits. You don’t even need to know how to use it; just be able to quickly hand it to a cadre. I’ve been in a situation where, as a participant, I really wish someone had a first aid kit and a situation where, as a shadow, I’m glad I had my first aid kit.


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