Saturday, February 27, 2010

What to Bring to the Army

See checklist at the end.

With another crop of conscripts heading for the army in a few weeks (Israeli combat soldiers draft three times a year: March, August and November), now seems a good time to add my two cents to a question soldiers--and their concerned families and friends--likely are asking: What should I bring to the army? That is, what gear and goods does a combat soldier need beyond the uniform and odds and ends he/she receives from the army?

Having just wrapped up basic training, here is my answer--with the disclaimer that the following list reflects my own experience serving in the Nachal Brigade in the winter of 2009/2010. I should add from the start that, as is obvious from what follows, I am a fan of quality over quantity. In other words, less is more, pack good gear, travel light and enjoy the benefits. Oh, and store everything you have in, and bring along extra, plastic bags.

Lets start with clothes. At Bakum, the central military induction center all soldiers report to on their first day of service, everyone receive several pairs of (what I hope are new) underwear, socks and running shorts, plus two sets of alefs, army slang for the dress uniform soldiers wear when not on base. Once soldiers arrive on base, three faded green uniforms (pants and shirts), three or so green long-sleeve and short-sleeve undershirts and two pairs of white woolen gatkes (long underwear) are doled out. With all that cotton and polyester, the basics are covered for folks who are satisfied with the less than ideal gatkes and socks, not to mention the sky-blue thong-like army underwear. If you have the means, however, my advice is ditch everything you get save for the uniforms and obtain the following:

(a) 3-4 pairs of Under Armour-like underwear. 3-4 because combat soldiers will rarely switch clothes more than once or twice a week. And with laundry waiting on free weekends that come nearly every other week, it is not necessary to have extra briefs taking up valuable space. Ex-Officio is my recommended brand but the key is underwear that is warm and comes with as many odor free and anti-chaffing bells and whistles as possible. Get a cheaper pair and chances are you'll just end up investing the extra monies in Goldbond anyway.

(b) 4 pairs of thick hiking socks, Thorlos or the like [update: my expensive Thorlos have not been up to par so take any recommended brand names with skepticism]. Plus two pairs of plain socks for sneakers. If you are only going to drop dough on one item, socks would get my vote. The logic is simple: In the army, feet take most of the punishment and one of the best way to avoid blisters and many other painful dilemmas are with good, thick socks. Like underwear, most soldiers will rarely change socks more than once or twice a week so four pairs is generally enough for a two, even three week span.

(c) 1 thermal long-sleeve green undershirt, plus one of the undershirts issued by the army, will keep you warm during the many cold days and nights to come. Similar story with long underwear: ditch the gatkes and invest in an Under Armour-like pair that will be a godsend on freezing nights in the field.

Everyone needs one white t-shirt to wear underneath their dress uniform when leaving base Friday mornings. Having an extra white t-shirt on hand is a good idea for Krav Maga sessions, which sometimes require everyone to wear white tops. Some guys may advise packing a t-shirt and shorts for exercise runs but considering soldiers receive standard running shorts and t-shirts, bringing from home is not necessary. Finally, a sweatshirt and sweatpants--or whatever you prefer to wear to sleep on a cold winter's night--are a must, for nighttime and for shabbat.

Another must is a broken-in pair of running shoes. Leave the fancy basketball sneaks at home and if you have never done so before, check out what kind of feet you have (arch, pronate, etc) and buy the matching pair of running shoes. I also recommend getting a serious pair of orthotics (midrasim, in Hebrew) from a knowledgeable physical therapist or the like. Even more than socks, orthotics will help protect your legs and entire body from the grind that awaits. A different sort of protection for your feet is necessary in the grimy showers. Solution? Pack shower shoes.

The shoes on your feet most of the time are the boots issued by the army. They require daily polishing and so a brush and a can of shoe polish (black or brown depending on your unit) are critical. A spare pair of 120 cm long black shoe laces is also a good idea.

In addition to a sturdy winter jacket, the army provides gnarly woolen gloves that I found sufficient. A woolen hat and neck warmer (cham tzavar, in Hebrew; snood according to the English) are necessary, though I am not sure if lone soldiers need concern themselves with buying the latter since they seem to be the preferred gift from multiple lone soldier assisting organizations (I have two myself!). A final cold weather extra that can be nice to have on hand is a light blanket.

A swiss army style knife set, called a lederman in the IDF after a popular brand, is good to have. More important is a head-light and a permanent black marker for marking all your gear. And absolutely critical is a sturdy watch with an electric timer. Casio G-shock watches are all the rage in the army. While I prefer a lighter watch, the reality is that the only requirement for your watch is an electric timer. Equally critical, so necessary it seems almost silly to mention, is a big backpack. The army issues a 'lil backpack on induction day but the pack you'll heft back and forth on weekends off will be your own.

I won't go into details on what sort of bathroom and medical gear to pack. In either case, the basics are a good idea and smaller containers are preferable. Do not forget a roll of toilet paper, very necessary for the days when the on base supply is lacking. Remember that serious medical needs will be handled by the medic or even doctor on base. Foot powder (TALC), band-aids or creams for muscle soreness are what to consider for personal needs.

Much could be written about all the minor extras one should also bring to the army. The hour is late and so I'll sign off with three final comments. First, bring a book for reading on shabbat in the army. Second, head to your closest Ricochet-like gear store and buy some thin and thick black electric tape and string so you will have extra tools on hand for fixing your gear. Add two lighters and a small scissors to your fix-it kit and you will be the man during the many hours devoted to touching up gear. Finally, snacks will be your manna more times than you can imagine. So do not stint on the granola bars and dried fruit, or whatever comfort food you crave.


Items soldiers receive from the army that I recommend using, like the running shorts and plain green t-shirts, are not included on this packing list.
Some of these items, like winter-wear or thermal items, squads often try to find an outside sponsor for and purchase for everyone after a year or so in service. That said, it is still worth having your own gear from day one, especially if you draft in November with winter on the horizon.
The gift packages lone soldiers receive now and then from Friends of the IDF, Garin Tzabar, Nefesh b'Nefesh or the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center tend to include the same basic items: neck-warmer (cham savar), snack food and toiletries. As a result, there is no reason to ever buy a cham savar as a lone soldier. Ever!


__ 3-4 pairs of quality underwear (anti-chaffing,anti-odor, etc.), brands like Ex-Officio or Under-Armour. Include at least one pair of serious boxer briefs for maximum warmth and protection.
__ 4 pairs of thick hiking socks (for boots). Any color, though darker colors are preferable.
__ 2 pairs of running socks (for sneakers).
__ 1 thermal long-sleeve green undershirt, by a brand like Under-Armour.
__ 1 thermal long underwear, by a brand like Under-Armour.
__ 2 white undershirts (for dress uniform/krav maga training).
__ 1 sweatshirt & sweatpants (winter PJ and Shabbat wear essentials)
__ 1 woolen hat (winter) (a neck warmer is critical but is a very common gift from lone soldier charities)
***Uniforms, dog-tag (diskeet), running shorts and t-shirts are provided by the army. That, and a gun...***


__ 1 pair of broken-in running shoes
__ 1 pair of shower shoes, like Crocs or basic flip-flops.
__ 1, preferably 2, pairs of custom-made orthotics (midrasim, in Hebrew), from your local physical therapist. Two pairs are preferable in order to place one in army boots and a second in running shoes. This is necessary since for most of training, soldiers are given minimal time to dress for runs, not enough time to switch orthotics from boots to sneakers. Two pairs is also economical, since the orthotics will take a beating in the army and likely need to be replaced eventually anyway.
__ 1 can of shoe polish (brown or black, depending on your unit)
__ 1 shoe polish brush
__ 120 cm black shoe laces (backup for ripped shoe-laces on army boots)


__1 big backpack (for lugging your stuff to and from base, and storing gear within on base).
__ 1 watch with electric timer. Casio G-shock are common but only criteria for watch is that it is sturdy and has an electric timer.
__ 1 head light
__ 1 bathroom bag, filled with basic toiletries: shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, electric shaver and charger and electricity adapter as necessary. A roll of toilet paper is essential, since bathrooms tend to be poorly stocked.
__ 1 small bag, filled with basic medical supplies: foot powder (TALC), Goldbond (anti-chaffing powder), creams for muscle soreness, band-aids, anti-allergy pills as necessary.
__ 1 small bag, filled with tools for fixing up gear, the most common task in the army: permanent black marker (for labeling all your gear), 2 pens, 2 lighters (not for smoking, for working on gear), thin and thick electric tape plus black string (from a hardware store or army-surplus store like Ricochet), swiss army style knife (Leatherman is the most common brand), small scissors as necessary. During navigation training, a set of thin colored markers is essential.
__ 1 light blanket (use as a pillow, sheet, etc.)
__ 1 eye cover (a basic slip-on makes for ideal naps on buses and in the army. No need to splurge on any of these dandies)
__ 1 spare kippa
__ 1 traveling/protective case for tefillin (religious). Include pocket siddur in tefillin case.
__ 1 laundry bag
__ 2 books (Shabbat and downtime reading)
__ MP3 and earphones (downtime, bus rides, etc)
__ Snacks, whatever kind get you going, though dried fruit and granola bars are my recommendations.
__ 5-10 plastic bags, for storing dirty shoes, wet gear and general organization.


  1. Great post! I'm gonna have to sift through this when I go back for miluim.

    Just one pointer - the swiss army style 'lederman' knife is also known in the States as a Leatherman. I love when that happens :)

  2. Hey Sammy its Ronit
    I'm not exactly sure why, but as I'm reading thru ur posts, this is my favorite so far. I think it may be because I've always had this strange fantasy of gathering and using the strangest things as resources for myself in pressured sittuations. So for some reason Im getting a thrill from this
    -ur bud, Ronit