You shouldn't do your holiday shopping from a company because it's owned by a veteran — you should buy because it's a great product that you know will make Santa look good.
From small stocking stuffers to under-the-tree surprises, here are some of our favorite military-grade, veteran-made gift ideas.
Fashion & accessories
Combat Flip Flops
War-zone-built leather footwear, Claymore mine-inspired bags, Cover & Concealment Sarongs and a new line of made-in-Afghanistan Shemagh scarves, all from a company run by two former Army Rangers who believe that good business, not bullets, is what ultimately transforms combat zones.
Repurposed ammo turned into necklaces and bottle openers, made by two former Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal divers. They've also got a killer line of T-shirts, hoodies and hats. A portion of all proceeds goes to military-focused charities.
Sword & Plough
Two sisters — both Army brats, one an active-duty military intelligence officer — make backpacks, handbags, totes and accessories from tent canvas, parachutes and other surplus materials. "By recycling and repurposing military gear with a fashionable touch, and working with veterans, we create sturdy and sophisticated products, whose sale will empower veteran employment, reduce waste and strengthen civil-military understanding," say Emily and Betsy Nunez. "In this way, our bags are rugged, refined and relevant."
Let the civilians wonder who this Oscar Mike guy is when you're sporting these phonetically coded "on the move" tees. Created by former Marine Cpl. Noah Currier, paralyzed in a car accident just days after returning from Iraq, his full line of adult and kids T-shirts inspires and motivates. Even better: 10 percent of all proceeds go to help disabled veterans stay on the move as well.
Yaz — Are You Living?
Blending the laid-back flair of South Padre Island, Texas, with military-infused functionality and know-how ... that's the idea behind this clothing label from Jaime "Yaz" Ysaguirre, a veteran of both the Air Force and Navy. The ladies' hot pink lace hoodies ($30) are rad.
What started as a T-shirt-making hobby in 2006 has turned into a military and mixed martial arts clothing empire for former Army infantry officer Nick Palmisciano. OK, maybe empire is a little strong, but still, Ranger Up puts kickass back into ass-kicking with its ever-expanding line of clothing, packs, leather goods and accessories.
Sports & fitness
Shorthand for Knights of the Air, KOTA is an appropriate name for a longboard company launched by a former Navy F-14 pilot in 2012. With deck styles drawing their names from World War I aircraft, each board is handcrafted from American Hard Rock Wisconsin Maple with an innovative finish that jettisons the need for grip tape, leaving all the room for KOTA's distinctive graphics. Boards start at $214, but service members and veterans get a 10 percent discount, and a portion of all proceeds goes to help veteran's groups.
Follet Boarding Co
Producing handcrafted all-mountain, freeride and freestyle park-and-pipe snowboards, Utah-based Follet Boarding Co. is owned by former Army infantryman Andy Follett. Boards start at $375. A portion of proceeds on all military-themed boards — including the World War II vintage-styled "Bomber" — goes to the Wounded Warrior Project.
There's jump ropes, and then there's CrossRopes. The difference, says CrossRope creator and active-duty Navy pilot Lt. Dave Hunt, is in the design and durability of his detachable handle system and weighted ropes, starting at $39.95.
The brand that launched the suspension training revolution got its start with a Navy SEAL stuck aboard a submarine looking for a better way to work out during long deployments. More recently, TRX added the "Rip Trainer" ($189.95) — a staff and resistance band device — to its arsenal; plus a new line of pink suspension trainers (195.95).
Food & drink
Jim's Jarhead Jerky
When Jim Ewen wanted to send a care package to his son-in-law in Iraq in 2009, the former Marine knew from experience that nothing beats a little taste of home. That 2-pound package of his signature beef jerky quickly turned into a full-time business. The 12-pack of .38-ounce cans ($18.50) would make a great stocking — and belly — stuffer. Or try his new spicy pickled sausage ($10.50 for a 3-pack).
Lock N Load Java
With blends such as Charlie Don't Surf, Sniper's Choice and Warrior Select, you probably won't be surprised to learn that Lock N Load Java was started by a 21-year Army veteran. Retired Lt. Col. Carl Churchill and his wife, Lori, launched the brand on Sept. 11, 2010. Since then, Lock N Load has racked up more than a dozen coffee blends, as well as two lines of cocoa, not to mention some killer mugs and other swag.
Since launching in 2009, Heroes Vodka has taken top honors in several regional and national competitions, including a gold medal in New York City's "The Fifty Best" Domestic Vodkas taste-off. The owner, former Marine and Army reservist Travis McVey, donates a portion of all proceeds to veterans assistance programs.
Tech, toys & tactical
For the smartphone photographers and selfie shooters on your gift list, consider the pocket tripods, mounts and Bluetooth remote triggers from Square Jellyfish, owned by Navy veteran Jim Chun. The new "Jelly Legs" micro tripod ($9.95), married with the spring-loaded gripper mount ($14.95), will hold even phablet-sized phones steady.
Coins For Anything
Who says only the top brass can hand out challenge coins? With Coins For Anything — launched by a former Marine while he was still deployed downrange — you can get coins for, yeah, just about anything. Whether it's one of the hundreds of pre-minted varieties or a make-your-own-design — "family unit" coins anyone? — Coins For Anything makes it easy with a wide range of customization options.
Vet Corps USA
Los Angeles-based veterans employment training program Vet Corps USA hopes "challenge bears" will inspire kids and adults alike to take up some kind of challenge to better their communities. Challenge yourself or a friend to tackle a beach or park clean-up, or maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen. Then take pictures of you and your bear making the world a better place and post them online.
Take the best parts of horseshoes and bocce and you've got Rollors, a game hatched by Air Force Lt. Col. Matt Butler while deployed downrange. Men's Journal tagged it among "The Best New Spring Gear of 2014."
When legendary sniper Steve Reichert wanted a custom knife, he turned to fellow Marine veteran Craig Burhart, owner of Skallywag Tactical, to build it. Burhart offers a line of five knives, including Reichert's signature blade, ranging from $225 to $425. "We've got a few new designs we're trying to get out before Christmas, including an everyday-carry blade we think is going to be pretty successful," Burhart says. All service members and vets get a 10 percent discount, and portions of all sales go to help veterans causes.
Whether you're a special-ops ninja downrange or a Boy Scout on his first camping trip, you'll love Litefighter's tents for their rugged, water- and bug-proof design. A service-disabled, veteran-owned family business, Litefighter offers a range of ruck-packable shelters and gear bags.
"Put it on the Sleigh"
Special Forces Lt. Col. Curtis Hubbard used to take his guitar on deployments downrange to keep his spirits up and entertain his teammates through downtime. Now retired, Hubbard and his "Collaborateurs" want to entertain you and your family this holiday season with their 14-track Christmas album. All money raised goes to Gathering of Mountain Eagles, an outreach program for wounded warriors.