The Most Brutal Obstacles That Elite Military Guys Must Survive


Sometimes referred to as “confidence courses,” obstacle courses are something that all members of the armed forces must navigate through to be successful in basic training. When it comes to the elite special operations forces units of the military (Navy SEALs, Rangers, PJs), the physical element of the obstacles are magnified. Some of them are extremely daunting and can even cause serious injury. These are some of the most brutal obstacles that these trainees must accomplish if they wish to become the best of the best of the U.S. military. 

The video below, courtesty of the Official Navy SEAL and SWCC scout team, shows the first few obstacles in action. Click through the slides to learn more about each one, plus more!

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Dirty Name

Seen at [2:40] in the video above, The “Dirty Name” is one of the many brutal obstacles on the O-course at BUD/S school, where sailors train to become Navy SEALs. The “Dirty Name” is a set of three logs spaced roughly 5 feet apart and arranged at heights roughly five feet taller than the next. Students must jump off of the first log and onto the second, followed by a final jump to grab and move over the third log. According to Brandon Webb, a retired SEAL, this obstacle has been known to break many ribs in its infamous history. 

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Slide for Life

At [4:12], The Slide for Life is one of the most grueling obstacles on the Navy SEAL O-course. Students must climb a four-story tower by grabbing onto the above platform and hoisting themselves up. The obstacle is so brutal for students because once they arrive at it, their forearms are beyond burned from previous wall climbs, rope climbs, and parralell bars. Once at the top of the tower, students mount and descend an angled rope that stretches 100 feet to the ground. When new to the course, students descend the rope upside down, with the legs wrapped around it. Once experienced, students crawl down the rope on top of it, head forward. Many students have fallen from the rope, oftentimes resulting in injuries that sent them packing, if not “rolled back” to the incoming class, where they would have to start all over again. 

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The Spider Wall

Check out [5:58]—at this forearm-trashing obstacle, students must shimmy across a wall that only has 1.5-inch thick blocks of wood to grab on to. It is the ultimate test of finger and toe strength, says Webb

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50 Meter Underwater Swim

Most of us can’t imagine swimming 50 meters under water on one single breath. But students at BUD/S (basic underwater demolition/SEAL) must complete this nightmarish task if they hope to keep their dreams of becoming a SEAL alive. It’s 25 meters to the wall, and 25 meters back. There is no “push-off” or help of any kind at the start—students jump into the pool and perform a somersault, then begin the long swim. It is considered such a dangerous test that prospective students are discouraged from practicing it before BUD/S and should instead leave it until they’re under watchful guidance of the BUD/S instructors, according to Stew Smith, C.S.C.S, a former SEAL and fitness author.

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Drown Proofing

Drown proofing is yet another extreme event that sailors and airmen must accomplish while training to become SEALs and Pararescuemen (PJs), respectively. According to Stephen Templin, a former SEAL and New York Times bestselling author, it starts when students have their wrists and ankles tied together, and jump into the deep end of the pool. They must bob up and down to get air and must demonstrate total comfort underwater. Next, the students must swim across the pool while still tied up. Finally, they must dive into the deep end to grab a facemask sitting at the bottom of the pool by using their teeth. Once at the surface, the event is complete. 

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The Worm Pit

During the first phase of Army Ranger school, known as the Benning Phase, or the “crawl phase,” students must navigate the infamous Malvesti Obstacle course. One of the most brutal obstacles on this course is the “worm pit,” a cold, murky, disgusting shallow water covered with knee-high barbed wire. Students must crawl through the pit several times either on their bellies or on their backs. 

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The “Darby Queen” Weaver

The weaver is one of the toughest obstacles at the nearly two-mile long obstacle course, The “Darby Queen,” that students run during the Benning phase of Ranger school. Students must navigate the obstacle by “weaving” over-and-under bars set at an incline on the way up to the peak, and on a decline on the way down. 

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Water Survival Assesment

This legendary Victory Pond event, which also must be completed during the Benning Phase of Ranger School, is specifically designed to test the student’s comfort with heights and water. First, students walk across a log suspended 35 feet above the water. Then, they transition to a rope crawl, and plunge into the water. While submerged, they must ditch all of their gear before surfacing. Students who show hesitation or cannot calmly complete the obstacle may be dropped from the course. 

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