Choosing a Christmas gift for a Marine should be the last item on your list of worries. Just the thought of being on Holiday Leave and home with family makes us overjoyed.
As a Marine and someone who interacts with Marines on a daily basis, I can say most of us have very simple needs. We like to workout. We like buy tactical looking gear for no reason. And far less often than we should, we spend time developing what General Amos called our “30 Year Old Body and 5000 Year Old Mind.” I’ve broken these gift ideas into three areas: educational, practical, and nice to haves.
Don’t buy memorabilia!
Getting an engraved keychain with the EGA (Eagle, Globe, and Anchor), a coin, or a coffee mug is fine Christmas gift for a parent of a Marine, but don’t waste your money on something most Marines will throw is a box and forget about. Throughout our careers we are going to collect plenty of items to remember the Corps by. I’ve got glasses from every Marine Corps ball for the last 8 years. I have engraved letter openers, decanters, coins, and enough patches and T-shirts to cover a bedroom wall. The last thing I want from my mom is more memorabilia.
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3 Educational Gift Ideas
I’m going to start these Christmas gift recommendations off with a few simple, inexpensive, and EDUCATIONAL items.
Any Book from the Commandant’s Reading List – Less than $20
One of the first things I ask Marines when doing a counseling or mentorship session is what they’re reading. Marines are required to read at least three books from the official reading list every year. Recommended books are categorized mainly by rank, but there are also suggestions based on certain topics such as Aviation and Leadership. Take a look at the books under your Marines’ rank and go from there.
Some personal favorites I believe every Marine will enjoy and learn from:
“Ender’s Game” by O. Card
“Gates of Fire” by S. Pressfield
“Fields of Fire” by J. Webb
“With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” by E. Sledge
“On Killing” by D. Grossman
Audible Membership – $45, $90, or $150
It would be great if every Marine took pleasure in cracking open a book and immersing themselves in the knowledge and experience of others, but the reality is some Marines just don’t like to read. I get it. After a long day of work, hip pocket classes, and getting yelled at reading seems like a chore. The next best Christmas gift for a Marine is to encourage learning through audio. A convenient alternative Marines can use to learn while training in the gym, or driving to work.
Kindle E-Reader – $80 to $120
Although cell phones can be used to read e-books, anyone who owns a Kindle will tell you, “It’s just not the same.” An electronic book reader is a great gift for Marines deployed, or anticipated to deploy. It will lighten the load on their gear pack-up, and the battery on these things lasts insanely long which is convenient when going into an austere environment where power may not be readily available for days or even weeks.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bundle this with one or two physical books. Depending on your Marines’ occupational specialty, they may spend part or most of the day in a workspace where electronic devices are not allowed. Having a spare book packed away is worthwhile.
7 Practical Gift Ideas
Gift a Marine something they’re either going to buy for themselves anyways, or have held off buying because it’s just a “nice to have.”
Running Shoes – $80 to $120
I go through about one pair of running shoes a year. My parents happen to know this and a new pair seems to end up under the tree every year around this time. If this is a gift you are interested in getting your Marine, definitely try to gather some intelligence on the brand and model shoe he or she prefers beforehand. Most of us runners tend to stick to what we like.
Weight Lifting Shoes – $40 to $100
Summer isn’t too far away, and if the Marine you’re thinking of is single they’re probably scheming their way to getting “swoll” for those Tinder photos of them on the beach. Jokes aside, I’m contantly seeing more and more Marines attracted to weight lifting training. Running shoes don’t provide the necessary support to lift heavy weights, and doing so will cause additionally wear to them.
Weight lifting shoes have raised heels which increases range of motion in the ankle.
They allow more force to be driven through the ground allowing for heavier lifts.
Removing shoes is a common approach to the problem of not having a good pair of shoes. However, most of the gyms freely available to us don’t allow Marines to take off their shoes for hygiene reasons. Another alternative I’m seeing Marines use are Chuck Taylor’s which have flat soles and keep feet closer to the ground than athletic shoes.
Top brands of Weight Lifting Shoes
Protein Powder – $30 to $40
If you’ve ever had the chance to visit your Marine at work or in their barracks, you probably noticed excessive amounts of protein powder just about everywhere. I see the stuff in shops, the backseat of vehicles, and neatly lined up on dressers in barrack rooms. It shouldn’t be surprising. As Marines, we maintain a culture of fitness and working for “them gains” has become part of that culture. Other supplements can make a good gift, but your Marine may be on a certain regiment that includes particular items. Protein Powder is going to be a safe bet because it’s usually the first supplement Marines start taking.
Beware! Some over the counter products may contain substances which can cause a Marine to test positive on a urinalysis.
Marines are recommended to stick only to products found at the Base Exchange (list here). Below are links to the same brands on Amazon.
Muscle Milk – My personal preference. I usually buy the bags from Costco.
Quality Green Undershirts – $25 to $45
Every Marine ends up amassing a pile of worn out, shrunken, and faded green undershirts at the bottom of their seabag. Marines pay $10 bucks for a cheap pack of three at the Exchange and then put them through the stresses of our daily activities. Before they know it that pack of three is ready to be thrown in the trash or used to shine shoes. Do your Marine a favor and get them a few quality undershirts which will last them a while.
Under Armour Men’s Tactical Tech – Marine Green
Quality White Undershirts – $25 to $45
For all the same reasons as above. White undershirts are worn with our Dress and Service uniforms.
Under Armour Men’s Tactical Tech – White
Thompson Tee Sweat Proof Undershirt With Underarm Sweat Pads
Boot Socks – $15 to $20
When faced with a shelf full of sock option, the overwhelming number of options causes panic and we end up just grabbing that pack of three for $8 bucks. A week later we’re looking at the shelf again this time wearing one of those cheap pairs of socks which has all but turned to threads after just one run in boots and a round in the washer. Then we think to ourselves, “I’ll be fine
and walk away. Instead of buying that 12 pack of white socks for that Marine you love, just grab them a couple pairs of quality boot socks and throw them in a stocking. They will love you for it when changing out socks halfway through a 12 mile hike.
The only brand of boot socks I buy nowadays are Thorlos.
Coyote Brown is the primary color authorized for wear. However, Marines can still wear Green and Black socks.
Hydro Flask – $20 to $40
Over the last year, I’ve seen Hydro Flasks become more popular among Marines. I assume it’s simply because the Exchanges started selling them front and center. There are some savings if you use a Hydro Flask to get coffee. Yes, I have seen Marines walk out of the Exchange with 32 oz of coffee. If it helps them get through the day and only costs a few quarters, why not?
3 Cool Gift Ideas
You can never have too much cool stuff. The more it accentuates our Marine Corps issued equipment and amplifies our “tacticalness” the better. I’m only going to list a few items that I think can be of some practical use as well. There’s a lot of stuff like eye protection, googles, magazine pouches, etc. that we already get issued. The recommended items are all things we don’t get issued.
Multitool – $80 to $120
Marines like “shiny things” they can attach to their hardcore martial arts belts. Leatherman and Gerber make great products. These are the brands carried at most Base Exchanges.
I would almost consider this a practical gift. I have a Leatherman which I use fairly often and that’s coming from someone who sits at a desk most of the day.
Knife – $30 to $80
Have I mentioned yet that Marines love shiny things. If you are debating between a knife and multitool, I would definitely go with the multitool. A quality tool like those recommended already have great knives attached. But, if you know your Marine already has a good tool a nice knife can be a great alternative.
I recommend sticking to a folding knife which is easy for us to slip on to our belts in the morning.
Columbia River Knife and Tool M16-10KZ 3-Inch Black Folding Knife
BLACKHAWK! CQD Mark I Aluminum Handle Manual Folding Knife – Plain Edge
Tactical Gloves – $40 to $80
The Marines Corps recently changed it’s uniform policy so Marines have to purchase their own gloves rather than get issues them. I’ve never seen a Marine wear standard issue glove anyways, so it won’t have much of an impact outside of improving the Marine Corps supply chain.
Thank you for this awesome list! My son is just about to finish his MOS training and won’t be able to come home for Christmas so I’ve found several things on your list I know he’ll appreciate and I won’t feel like I’m wasting money on things he doesn’t really need right now.
Are there any restrictions on how large the knife may be?
There won’t be any restrictions carrying on base, or during exercises. If you want to get them something they can carry out in town, I’d recommend looking at the local laws for the area.
Thank you!! Finally some quality ideas! Everywhere else I looked said to give items that said Marine on it. He already KNOWS he is a Marine. He wouldn’t want any of that other stuff. Thanks for these ideas!