Gifts that are actually useful to gift your veteran this holiday season

8 gifts that are actually useful for your service member

When it comes to shopping for service members, there is a unique challenge: They usually just buy whatever they want. What do you gift someone who shops for themself the moment they got back from deployment or an extended op?

Here are some gift ideas that are actually useful to gift your service member this holiday season.

Field Chair

A field chair is very similar to a standard lawn chair except that the color pallet is camouflage and usually in a tripod leg set up. They are small, quickly collapsible, and fit neatly on the side of a pack. The best part is these chairs sometimes last years and they are usually competitively priced around $20. I recommend buying one without the back or cup holders. Remember, this chair is to be disassembled and reassembled at a moment’s notice so the less moving parts the better.

Sleeping Mat

sleeping mat gifts for veterans
The Z- Fold Cascade Designs Sleeping Mat.

Remember the green ISO mats that had terrible green ties that also made you feel every single rock on the ground from here to the center of the earth? Those aren’t issued anymore and the new generations get the Z- Fold Cascade Designs Sleeping Mat, which lets you feel every rock from here to the center of the earth but in style. This new mat is lighter than the green one but it is still uncomfortable. The biggest game changer for me was when someone brought an inflatable mat. It was like someone invented fire before my very eyes. This is one of the gifts I would most push you to buy. It won’t replace the new ISO mat but combined with it will improve quality of life in the field tremendously. Check out this one on Amazon (not an affiliate link – we just like it).

Drinking containers

Everyone is issued two canteens and a Camel-Bak but those canteens are gross. Unless I was issued a brand new one I didn’t like drinking from a canteen. Nether did anyone else I know, it was just something that ‘it is what is’. They’re hard to clean, impossible to see into, and they look identical to everyone else’s. In the field troops are allowed to bring different gear as long as they have the complete gear list packed regardless whether it is issued or not. As long as something is tactical in blending in with the surroundings with the correct woodland/desert color scheme, you’re good to go! Having a good container for water is at the top of the list for any troop regardless of military occupational specialty.

Note taking gear

I almost never recommend brands but Rite-in-the-Rain gear is practically issued to every troop for a reason: the products work. I have tried competitors and it’s never the same. Rite-in-the-rain notebooks also provide information within the first few pages regarding common knowledge, how to make a range card, and other useful information to have on hand. Having note-taking gear is a requirement for the Marine Corps at all times and is the perfect excuse to haze train new boots a lesson about readiness. This gift can also save your troop’s butt when they realize they’ve used up their last page. Even the act of borrowing a page or two attracts unwanted attention, especially if you’re new to the fleet. While it is not the flashiest give one can give, it’s one I guarantee will be put to good use.

notepad gifts for veterans
Photo courtesy of Rite in the Rain.

Light source

Anything that can illuminate at night that can recharge via solar power is clutch. While the Marine Corps and other branches issue flashlights that get the job done, there are situations when you just want to see quickly without having to dig through your bag for it. No one carries a flashlight during the day and the high-speed, low-drag one issued at CIF makes my heart skip a beat at the thought of losing it at night. Yes, that sidewinder flashlight is like $120, do not lose it. Unless you need to use the IR function I recommend using something else that isn’t worth half an enlisted car payment.

Reusable Eating Utensil

Every Meal-Ready-to-Eat comes with a surprisingly sturdy spoon but a good gag gift is a reusable eating utensil. Sometimes you just can’t beat a good ol’ fork and knife. I knew two Marines who carried around their personal cutlery and, yes, they were the gear collecting aficionados.


I personally have used both Gerber and Leatherman multi-tools while I was active duty in the infantry. I would say the Leatherman is more for garrison side use and the Gerber is better for the field. I base this off of the fact that Gerber has a smoother feel when deploying or retracting the specific tool you need while in the mud. Both perform well at the same exact jobs but that’s just my personal preference based on my experience.

Solar Shower

This was a game changer in Afghanistan. I honestly do not know how much worse my deployment would have been without these. We weren’t in a fancy F.O.B. with all the amenities. We were in a patrol base in the middle of nowhere trying not to step on I.E.D.s, we would not have had a proper shower for the duration of the entire deployment if it wasn’t for these. They are light weight, they warm up the water during the day and you can take a hot/warm shower when you return from patrol. The best part is you can hang them up like a real shower, just be sure to turn it off between lathering up because the water will run out quickly if you don’t.

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