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I get it: military pay isn’t great and sometimes making do with issued gear is the name of the game. Hand-me-down equipment from the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has its limits, though, and I’ve learned that there are times when buying your own field gear is totally worth it. Our team of word-slinging U.S. service members and veterans here at Task & Purpose agrees, and we have some choice recommendations that earned a special place in our hearts by saving our asses in the field and on deployments. 

So, here’s a toast to everyone who’s had to drink from a plastic canteen that tasted like chicken broth and hot chocolate; to everyone who’s found unidentified bodily substances in their sleeping bag; to everyone who got their ass handed to them by a land nav course when their military base suddenly turned into a portal to Narnia. We hear you, we see you, and we have a cure for what ails you.

The items on this list are some of the best purchases we’ve ever made to improve life in the field or deployment. And if you’re buying on a budget, check out some of the best gear under $25 to make life in the field suck just a little bit less.

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If your unit’s comms plan is worth a shit, it’s going to call for way more batteries than are actually needed. It’s obviously better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. That means someone is going to be lugging around a lot of excess power – power that could be charging your phone, GPS watch, or headlamp. Make friends with that person, and you can use those batteries instead of your own power bank that you may or may not be too cheap to own.

This adapter allows anything with a USB cord to charge from a BA5590 or BB2590 battery. It’s cheap, it’s effective, and it might come in really handy.

Product Specs
  • Compatible batteries: BA5590, BB2590
  • Charging port: USB
PROS

Turns military radio batteries into a power bank

You don’t have to carry a separate power bank

USB port can charge virtually all handheld devices

CONS

Subject to battery scrooges

Making friends with the comms guys (results may vary)

Need to kill about 30 minutes? Ask someone in the military to talk you through their favorite multitool. We sound like a bunch of eight-year-olds explaining why Legos are the best and vegetables are gross. The Leatherman brand has become synonymous with multitools, and this is the best-selling multitool it offers. The Wave packs 18 tools in a compact package (compared to other multitools) that’s easy to slip into your pocket or mount on your gear. It’s made from stainless steel and has a black oxide coating, so it should last years in the field. Almost all the tools can be accessed from the outside – a must for multitools if you ask us.

I could go on and on about the individual tools in the Leatherman Wave, but I’ll keep it simple by saying that it’s worth spending $100 to never have to ask to borrow a multitool again. It’s a solid piece of gear that everyone should own. It’ll come in handy during field exercises, deployments, camping trips, and house projects. I bet you’ll wonder why you ever suffered through life without one.

Product Specs
  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Tools included: 18
  • Closed dimensions: Four inches long, 1.2 inches wide, 0.7 inches thick
  • Weight: 8.5 ounces
PROS

Leatherman’s best-selling multitool

Tactical, protective black oxide finish

Comes with a MOLLE-compatible case

CONS

Might be undersized for big jobs

People will always be asking to use it

Call it a woobie, call it a poncho liner, call it the greatest military invention ever — whatever you call it, call it yours.

Product Specs
  • Temperature rating: Negative infinity degrees Fahrenheit to infinity degrees Fahrenheit
  • Material: Nylon, polyester, magic
  • Size: 65 inches wide, 88 inches long
PROS

Probably the most beloved military item of all time

Looks issued so no one can say it’s unauthorized

The most comforting blanket ever, according to legend

CONS

There are no cons

How dare you

If you think about the life your issued sleeping bag has led for more than five seconds, a new sleeping bag will probably be at the top of your shopping list. The North Face’s Blue Kazoo has been a camping icon for years. It’s light, soft, warm, and probably packs down a lot smaller than your issued bag. In addition to high-quality down insulation, you’ll get oversized zipper pulls, fitted hood, draft collar, and zipper baffle to keep you warm and comfortable.

In most regions, this 15-degree (Fahrenheit) sleeping bag is all you’ll need for field exercises and camping trips. Just remember that its bright colors aren’t anywhere near tactical, so you’ll need to keep it tucked inside your bivy sack.

Product Specs
  • Temperature rating: 15 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fill: 700-fill ProDown
PROS

Lighter and softer than your issued sleeping bag

Hasn’t been slept in by untold numbers of people

Available in a range of sizes and zipper styles

CONS

Relatively expensive

Not tactical, so keep that bivy sack handy

Sometimes people forget about traditional GPS devices in the age of color touchscreen displays, customizable apps, and Bluetooth convenience features that come standard in a lot of GPS watches. That just means that people who want a simple GPS device for land nav can pay a fraction of the price compared to cutting-edge tech. Several of our writers have sworn by the Foretrex 601 and its predecessor, the Foretrex 401, in the field and during deployments. Allegedly one even used the Foretrex 201 in Iraq but that was during the ancient times so we can’t verify it.

High points include intuitive controls, waypoints using MGRS and latitude/longitude, a big screen, night vision compatibility, and fantastic battery life. On the downside, it’s hard to shoot a true azimuth without a sighting mechanism, the strap isn’t the most comfortable, and the screen can get scratched easily. It’s also not as accurate as military GPS units, but for $200 can you complain?

Product Specs
  • Navigation: GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, compass, altimiter
  • Display size: Two inches (200 by 128 pixels)
  • Weight: 3.1 ounces
  • Batteries: Two AAA
PROS

Affordable, high-quality, wearable GPS

Meets MIL-STD-810G standard for durability

Optional Applied Ballistics software

CONS

Bulkier than a GPS watch

No way to aim the compass azimuth

Travel is part of life in the military, and not all of it involves a bivy sack on the ground. Your service will probably include stays in questionable hotels and base housing. Hell, your barracks room might be pretty substandard. One way to seriously upgrade your quality of life is to use a Tempur-Pedic mattress pad. This one can make a cheap mattress way more comfortable so you wake up rested and ready to take on the day. It even comes with a pillow and travel case.

At nearly 20 pounds, this duffel probably isn’t going into the field with you. It’s more for upgrading a cot or mattress in a more established sleeping situation. Play your cards right, and you might even be able to bring it on a deployment – that would be a total game-changer.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 79 inches long, 27.5 inches wide, 1.5 inches thick
  • Weight: 19.4 pounds
  • Firmness: Firm
PROS

Get quality sleep on a crappy military mattress

Includes a mattress pad, pillow, and carrying case

Removable cover is machine-washable

CONS

Big and heavy

Expensive

We can make fun of people for having the latest and greatest tech, but that doesn’t make Garmin’s current hotness any less legitimate. The fenix 7 offers a lot of the features that come in the tactix series at a much more accessible price. Is it as capable? No, but most people won’t miss anything. This edition comes with a super-durable sapphire crystal and solar charging to extend battery life to almost three weeks when used as a smartwatch. Turn off features you don’t need in the field to get more than a month out of a single charge (if you refuse to take our advice on buying the battery adapter and making friends with the comms guys).

Dropping $900 on a watch is significant, but it’s a fair price for what this one can do and how long it’ll last. Our team has put Garmin GPS watches through hell and can vouch for their effectiveness. If the Instinct series is just a little pedestrian for you and the tactix is out of reach, this is the GPS watch for you.

Product Specs
  • Navigation: GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, compass, altimeter, gyroscope, accelerometer
  • Display size: 1.3 inches (260 pixels)
  • Weight: 2.6 ounces
  • Battery life up to 18 days in smartwatch mode, up to 40 days in expedition mode
PROS

Multi-band satellite navigation offers worldwide accuracy

Includes a sapphire crystal and solar charging

Full-color touchscreen display

CONS

Expensive

Instinct 2 Solar – Tactical Edition is a tempting alternative

Jetboil camp stoves are one of the first things people buy when they’re buying gear for a camping trip, and this one should be in your pack if you plan on staying in the field for any length of time, too. The powerful stove can bring one liter of water to a rolling boil in less than two minutes, and – unlike those pesky MRE heaters – it isn’t reliant on a rock or something. The insulated cup is safe to handle when hot so you can scoop it right up and chow down as soon as your meal is ready.

The only drawbacks are the cost of buying fuel canisters and the space they take up in your pack. Each one can be used a few times, but they’ll add up quickly if you’re foot-mobile in the field for more than a few days. The benefits outweigh this, though, and you can get tons of use out of your Jetboil when you camp, fish, or hunt.

Product Specs
  • Fuel: Isobutane propane blend (canisters not included)
  • Capacity: One liter
  • Weight: 13 ounces
PROS

Insulated cooking cup can be held by hand

Can boil water in 100 seconds

Heat indicator changes color when water is hot

CONS

Fuel canisters add up on longer trips

Not exactly compact

How could we forget? You can also use your Jetboil as a portable coffee maker with this French press attachment. It’s simple, light, and cheap so it’s a no-brainer for coffee drinkers. It isn’t quite as good as something like an AeroPress and you can expect a few grounds to sneak through if you’re not careful, but this is an easy way to get even more use out of your Jetboil. In fact, if you do a good job and are willing to share, you might be able to score some favor with whoever is carrying those radio batteries.

Product Specs
  • Compatible camp stoves: Jetboil Flash, Jetboil MicroMo, Jetboil Zip
  • Diameter: 3.7 inches with a silicone seal
PROS

Cheap way to convert your Jetboil into a French Press

Simple, sturdy, and light

Breaks down for storage

CONS

Takes some practice to keep grounds out of your coffee

Get used to being the squad barista

If the Tempur-Pedic luxury-in-a-box system isn’t for you, it’s still possible to get a better night’s sleep in the field. One of our contributors swears by this travel pillow, and it can make all your field time, flights home, and (if you’re stealthy) safety PowerPoints a lot more comfortable. It comes in a few different sizes, rolls into its own cover when you aren’t using it, and is machine-washable.

Product Specs
  • Materials: Polyester cover, urethane foam filling
  • Size: 14 inches long, 18 inches wide, four inches thick
  • Weight: Nine ounces
PROS

Compact and easy to carry

Made from Therm-a-Rest mattress foam remnants

Machine wash and tumble dry

CONS

Not as firm or compact as inflatable camping pillows

Takes some time to fill out after being compressed

The combination of a map, GPS device, and lensatic compass is pretty tough to beat, but it can be added to. Clipping this little compass to your non-GPS watch or pack strap is a great way to keep an eye on your heading without breaking out the whole land-nav ensemble. It’s also a wise addition to your get-home bag since all you’ll need it for is to guide you home to the actual compass that’s in your go-bag.

Product Specs
  • Diameter: Approximately one inch
  • Variations: Northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere
  • Rotating bezel precision: 10 degrees per click
  • Lume: Glow-in-the-dark paint
PROS

Easy addition to your watch, pack, or map

Quick-reference backup to your primary compass

Easy to travel with

CONS

Difficult to use with precision

Reflects the $20 price tag

This bulk order comes with 864 total wipes. If you’re eating MREs, the first one should last you a week and the remaining 863 will last through the following day.

Product Specs
  • Wipe count: 72 per package, eight packages total
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Flushable: No
PROS

Buy in bulk and save a few bucks

Gentle on skin with no alcohol, dyes, or perfumes

Thicker and softer than regular Pampers baby wipes

CONS

The baby wipes are good but we give the bathroom zero stars

Dispenser top could be better

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