Most elite military units have some obscure term to describe marching with combat equipment. The infantry, in particular light infantry, bear the brunt of ‘foot slogging’. After Marius’ reforms Roman legionnaires were know as Marius’ Mules because of the amount of gear that they had to carry. Little has changed over the centuries. The gear may have modernised but it still needs to be ‘humped’ from A to B. In the British Army most talk of doing ‘battle marches’. The Royal Marines Commandos call their equivalent ‘yomping’. Others call them ‘load carries’.
The Parachute Regiment calls it ‘tabbing’. The term comes from WW2 vernacular when British Airborne troops referred to it as a Tactical Advance to Battle – a TAB. In essence this meant leaving the dropping zone and assembling into formed sub-units and units and advancing with full kit as rapidly as possible to seize an objective and make contact with the enemy. A very high standard of fitness and endurance was required to carry these loads.
In the modern day Parachute Regiment tabbing is an essential element to honing fitness and to a large extent has lost its tactical element. As a vehicle to developing fitness in an individual and a body of soldiers the activity concentrates on speed and keeping everyone together. During the Parachute Regiment’s Pre-Parachute Selection 10 mile test a recruit was expected to run and speed march with a 40lb bergen (back pack), rifle and belt order and complete the distance over hills in under 2 hours to pass. If the recruit was to gain the full ten points for the test it had to be completed in under 1 hour 45 minutes. Speed and going the distance were the key to this type of loaded speed marching. Tabbing is the bread and butter of the Parachute Regiment.
Tabbing and yomping were tested to the full in the Falklands War where a lack of helicopters and all terrain vehicles meant that men of the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marines Commandos had to carry loads well in excess of 100 lbs as they advanced across the boggy and broken ground of East Falkland to attack Argentinian forces dug into the mountains surrounding Port Stanley.
The term has now more generally become associated with any load carry over any distance, even when it’s for fun, at which point it becomes a gambol – ‘an act of running and jumping around playfully’. In 2014 a band of former Parachute Regiment commanding officers formed a hiking group called The Fools, as in Fools on the Hills. They plan 7-14 day hiking trips called ‘gambols’, frolicking across the best of Europe’s mountain ranges. Tabbing4Fun is an evolution of The Fools.