Gift-giving is hard enough as it is – now a few thousand miles, holiday shipping deadlines, limited storage and weird base rules. That’s where we come in!
This year, I huddled up with some of the other veterans writing for The Military Wallet to put together this list of fun, functional and affordable gift ideas for deployed military members.
Gift Guide for Military Members
Deployments usually mean shared living quarters. At best, your service member is probably sharing a bathroom with someone. At worst, they may be bunking with four or more other military members in a small shared area. Either way, they’re probably hearing a lot of sounds they’d prefer to live without. Help them find a moment of peace with a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
In the military, fitness is part of the job. Depending on your service member’s job, they may find themselves with a good amount of time to spend in the gym. Help them quantify their hard work at the end of deployment with a fitness tracker! Just make sure whichever tracker you pick allows the user to turn off location settings. (Many deployed bases require this).
Amazfit’s Band 5 is an affordable fitness tracker with all the bells and whistles you’d expect to find on a comparable Fitbit, just at a much lower price. Amazon reviewers love its long battery life – a plus in a shared room with limited outlet space.
The Halo View is Amazon’s new fitness tracker. It includes movement assessments with its accompanying app and delivers personalized exercise programs to improve overall wellness.
Fitbit’s Inspire 2 does all-day activity tracking, including sleep tracking. It also comes with a free one-year trial of Fitbit Premium, which provides personalized insights and workout regimens.
A Clip-On Music Player for Long Runs
No one wants to lug their phone around on a long run. (And depending on where you’re deployed, your phone might have become a glorified alarm clock as soon as you hit the ground).
Make your service member’s workouts a little more enjoyable with a compact music player they can clip to their shirt.
You’ve seen these before, probably about 10 to 20 years ago. But, they’re classic for a reason – they’re durable, small and easier to carry around on the gym with you than a cell phone. SanDisk players have gotten a few upgrades in recent years, however, like bluetooth connectivity and bright LCD screens.
I’ll be honest – this is the first I’d heard of this handy gadget. You can synch it to your Spotify or Amazon playlists when you’re online. Then, when you go somewhere without wifi, you can still access about five hours of your favorite music and podcasts.
A Nice (But Not Smart) Watch
If your service member works in a secure environment, such as a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), there are probably rules about what they can and can’t bring to work with them. Phones, smart-watches and other personal electronics are usually prohibited. Few experiences are more disorienting than sitting in a SCIF with a broken wall clock (or no wall clock) and having no idea what time it is. Help them count the minutes ‘til they come home.
This watch is equal parts practical and thoughtful. You can get the back engraved with a sweet message or quote for your loved one to keep close while they’re away.
This watch is also engravable, but not by Amazon order. You’ll have to take it to a local Fossil store (or another jewelry engraver near you) to get it done.
Here’s a recommendation straight from the managing editor (yours truly!)
I got a box of 500 of these before my last deployment (they didn’t come in this convenient 50-count box at the time).
These little packets of Tony’s are mess-free and fit flatly in your OCP, NWU or or MARPAT shoulder pocket.
They have enough seasoning in them to zhuzh up two to three meals. I’d put one in my pocket before breakfast and use it all the way through dinner. They also make great conversation starters during meals.
“Did you just whip a packet of seasoning out of your pocket?”
“Yep. Want some?”
Deployment conditions are often austere, to put it nicely. Flies, mosquitoes and other pests of various size and annoyance come with the territory. Send your service member a pest control option that may improve their marksmanship score – or at least lead to some unforgettable barracks shenanigans!
A whole lot of deployed military housing is made of metal: conexes, containerized housing units (CHUs), quonset hut-style barracks… even if it’s not made of metal, it’s probably got something metal in it that your loved one can use to store their stuff. These handy neodymium magnet hooks can hold up to 22 pounds, and may even stick to the ceiling in some housing units (I used mine to hang a plant from the ceiling of my CHU during my last deployment. They really can handle a lot of weight!)
Amazon Kindles are super handy for reading on deployment. Service members can access more than a thousand digital books on a small, space-saving device. You can also download the Kindle app for the iPad/iPhone, Mac, PC and other tablets and sync your book progress across multiple platforms.
Sure, you could swing a rock and hit 10 soldiers who would love to say “I’ve got a multi-tool” when you need something fixed. But do you really want to be the guy that has to ask for one?
Let me tell you from experience, government-issued sleeping surfaces are rarely comfortable. Between a rough night’s sleep and variable day-to-day working conditions, aches and pains are common on deployment. Stretch*d offers virtual group classes, one-on-one and custom stretch sessions to help your service member work out the tension.
Offer to Pay for Their Barracks Wi-Fi
Government contracts being what they are – most deployed environments have a single wi-fi provider, and rates are usually sky-high. Sometimes roommates will go in on a wifi contract, but often, service members will just go without it. Call up your service member and ask them if you can cover a month or two of their subscription for Christmas.
Gift Cards for Deployed Military Members
If you’ve ever been deployed to a base with fairly reliable mail but not a lot of local shopping opportunities, you know Amazon is king of the mailroom. Service members can use Amazon gift cards to order anything they miss from home. They can also use them for audiobooks, e-books and other virtual pastimes that don’t take up duffel bag space.
If you don’t have time to purchase and mail a plastic gift card, Amazon also offers print-at-home gift cards. For immediate delivery, you can opt for a virtual gift card (and even personalize it with a photo!) that your service member can start using as soon as it arrives by email.
Military Exchange Gift Cards
Some deployed bases have a full military exchange store, some don’t – usually you can at least find a shoppette. But, if you can’t, you can still place orders online. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service offers physical and virtual (e-mail) gift cards. The Navy and Marine Corps Exchanges offer them too.
Gaming Gift Guide for Deployed Military Members
Gaming is a time-honored barracks pastime. These days, there are more options than ever for consoles, PC and tabletop gaming. I asked a bunch of soldiers about their favorites. Here’s what they said.
Treat your service member to a one or three-month Xbox Game Pass membership with access to Xbox Live Gold and over 100 games to play with their friends on Xbox consoles, PCs, cell phones, and tablets.
Right now, 12 months of access is just $40 on Amazon. Memberships include downloadable games every month they can play alone or with friends.
If your service member has a Nintendo Switch, you can help them battle it out with other switch players with Nintendo Switch Online games. Nintendo’s online library also includes more than 70 NES and Super NES games for people like me who never managed to beat Super Mario.
I’m going to be real honest here – this crazy thing looks like something that could detonate an IED. I have never seen this before in my life. But, several young service members recommended this set-up for X-Box gameplay with a comfortable controller when the only screen and console you’ve got is your cell phone.
All the fun of the classic Settlers of Cataan strategy game, in a compact, foldable format. This version can accommodate three to four players – perfect for a four-man bunking situation.
I have yet to be assigned to a military environment without a club for some kind of classic d12 game or d20 game (usually Dungeons & Dragons). If you’ve ever played in a campaign, you know some folks get superstitious about their dice, setting them aside when they roll poorly too many times in a row. That’s easier to do when you have six extra sets.
Subscription Boxes Shat Ship to APO, FPO, DPO Military Addresses
If your service member still has several months to go, give them a gift that keeps on giving by helping them count down the months with a fun surprise. Here are some subscription boxes that ship to APO and FPO overseas addresses.
Food, Coffee and Cigar Subscription Box Gift Guide
- Black Rifle Coffee Club I pulled a few shifts in the mail room during my last deployment, and I remember Black Rifle Coffee boxes being second only to Amazon. You can choose whole bean coffee, grounds or k-cup style coffee pods in various blends and flavors. (Our shop loved the Choc!)
- Cigar of the Month Club I’m not typically a smoker, but cigars were a social activity on my last deployment. A few officers received monthly cigar shipments from this company and shared them with the unit after work. Those periodic cigar breaks were a fun chance to chat with coworkers outside of the military office environment.
- Harry & David Harry & David has been sending Moose Munch bars to troops since 2010. Now you can send your troop a monthly box of Moose Munch popcorn, cookies or other classic Harry & David treats while they’re deployed!
- Love With Food boxes are exactly what they sound like – a way to show love with food! Each box comes packed with snacks for your service member. (They even have a gluten free option!)
- Southern Cigar Company If your loved one is the type to enjoy an occasional cigar, Southern Cigar Company will send them a four – guaranteed to be delivered fresh with a humidity pack. Each shipment comes with an informational pamphlet, a butane lighter and a cigar cutter.
- Victory Coffee Victory Coffee makes estimating how much coffee your service member needs easy. When you order, just tell them how many cups per day they’re drinking and they’ll send a custom sized box each month!
Books, Comics and DVD Subscription Box Gift Guide
- Literati is a book club in a box. For $25 per month, Literati will send your service member a new, bestselling book of their choice. It also comes with an app where readers can discuss their books each month.
- Loved Again Media DVD If your service member is deployed in an area without good wifi, DVDs are probably traded like currency. Send a box of affordable, gently used DVDs to make the time go faster.
- The Comic Garage For the comic book lover! Your service member can select their favorite comic book characters and each month, The Comic Garage will send them 10 to 24 new comics!
Outdoor, Tactical and Survival Subscription Box Gift Guide
- Cairn delivers full-sized products geared toward outdoor enthusiasts, but some of the snacks and other items may also come in handy on long patrols and field exercises.
- ClubTac delivers a monthly bundle of outdoor and tactical gear tested by Marines and survival specialists.
Personal Care Subscription Box Gift Guide
- Dollar Shave Club makes keeping within regs cheap and easy with monthly deliveries of razor blades, shaving cream and more.
- Fabletics delivers workout clothes like sports bras, leggings and tank tops.
- Duke Cannon Supply Drop Good smells are hard to come by in most operating environments. Duke Cannon’s Supply Drop boxes are full of soap, deodorant and other items to help your service member wash the day off.
Brave Crate is a monthly subscription box for military spouses featuring products, challenge cards and exclusive access to webinars and other community materials to help you count down the days until your loved one comes home.
Virtual Gift Guide for Deployed Military Members
Keep in mind that whatever you send to your service member, they will have to figure out what to do with it when they come home. If duffel bag real estate is in short supply, consider giving a virtual gift, like a digital subscription, virtual learning plan or some virtual fitness coaching
Consider paying for your service member’s Amazon Prime membership. With a prime account, service members can access thousands of entertainment options, including movies, television shows and music, plus free shipping on many Amazon prime purchases.
Another great option from Amazon is an Audible membership. Audiobooks are a great way to fill the silence while working out, cleaning weapons or preparing for inspection.
Netflix offers unlimited access to thousands of movie and TV titles that can keep a service member entertained. Or, if your service member already has Netflix, you can get them a gift card to use to upgrade or renew their subscription.
Hulu is another great streaming option, but it’s different than Amazon or Netflix in that it offers several awesome add-ons, including Disney plus, ESPN, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and HBO. You can also pick ad-free and live TV options.
If your service member is somewhere with reliable cell service or wi-fi, Spotify Premium would make a great gift. Spotify premium gives service members unlimited access to ad-free music and podcasts on demand. All they have to do is search for what they want to hear.
Virtual Gifts for Military Members Gifts – Skills, Languages, Music and More
Many service members begin deployment by setting a goal they can work toward during their spare time. If your service member is trying to learn a new skill, language or musical instrument, help them out with some virtual classes.
If your service member is trying to pick up a musical instrument or learn to sing, BNB virtual music lessons can give them a leg up. BNB courses cover voice, guitar and piano music on platforms your loved one may already use, like Skype and Google Hangouts.
Coding, programming and computer science is a burgeoning field with a growing number of well-paid civilian and military contracting opportunities. More than one person I met on my last deployment was trying to pick up coding in their downtime. If that sounds like your service member, consider supporting their goals with a Code Academy Pro plan.
Duet remote music instructors teach voice, guitar, drum, brass, woodwind, piano and string instruments. Classes are live and streamed in high definition on multiple cameras with professional sound equipment, to give your service member the closest experience to an in-person class as possible.
Masterclass is an online learning experience featuring classes by the world’s top experts (even celebrities!) in food, design, arts, music, entertainment, business, writing, science, government and more. With a Masterclass subscription, your service member can learn about cooking from Gordan Ramsey one night and take a storytelling class with Neil Gaiman the next.
With a Pimsleur e-gift certificate, your service member can start learning one of more than 50 languages online through the “The Pimsleur Method.” This language learning approach has been helping people learn languages through independent study since the 1960s.
Skillshare features online classes focusing on the creative arts. Classes cover subjects like illustration, design, photography, video, freelancing and more.
With a Rosetta Stone online activation code, your service member can access language learning resources for 24 languages. Three months of access costs just $36 on Amazon!
Wondoirum is another online learning environment, but it features more classes on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), though it also includes classes for art, music and more.
Gifts that Remind Service Members of Home:
Don’t forget a personal touch!
Here are some things to include to add a personal touch to your Christmas gifts this year.
- Pictures of family
- Handmade cards, letters and drawings from children
- Local or regional food items (non-perishable only)
- Hats, jerseys and gear for their favorite sports team
- Handmade items such as scarves, quilts and helmet liners.
Make Gift Shopping Easy this Year with Amazon Lists!
This year, you can make holiday shopping easy with Amazon Holiday Gift Lists!
You can use this helpful feature to create, manage, and share one list of gifts ideas for everyone on your list (or share your own wish list!)
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!