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.
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!