HOW TO PACK, WHAT TO TAKE
Everyone develops his or her own methods of packing for an embed. I’ve developed mine over 25 years as a war correspondent. But it’s not gospel, and I urge those reading this to make adjustments to fit their own traveling style and preferences. Moreover, when you sign up for an embed, the military provides its own list of items it recommends be packed (visit the “Checklist” tab, above).
The one military requirement is that you purchase a Level 4 vest. This is the highest rating for body armor, designed to stop armor-piercing rounds. I recommend that you also buy a blunt trauma pack, which is a sort of internal pillow designed to absorb the tremendous force of a bullet hitting the vest.
Your helmet should come with an internal foam impact liner, which is designed to reduce the impact of a bullet hitting the helmet.
I have a rule against taking more than two packed bags for mobility’s sake (although I do take along a third — a laptop backpack — stuffed inside one of the others. I explain why below). That’s a luxury I have as a print journalist.
One of my bags is a very large hybrid backpack/duffel bag — a “mother bag” of sorts — in which I pack the big stuff , such as clothes, washing supplies and other personal essentials, including a Camelbak water carrier. (I bought this bag in Kabul and I haven’t been able to find something similar online that I can include a picture of or link you to).
The “mother bag” has numerous large pockets along the sides, top and bottom that are convenient for carrying some of the smaller items that I will recommend taking below. It can be used like regular luggage by securing the backpack straps with smaller straps or using it as a backpack by using the backpack straps. It has four zippered pockets on each side, each about the size of a shoe and a larger zippered pocket on each end. So, it has lots of spare room to carry shoes, laundry bag, and other spare items.
My second bag is a smaller, military-style field pack (made by Blackhawk) that I can use to carry gear on operations outside of the main embed location. While traveling to the location, I stuff inside the field pack a third bag — a slightly smaller backpack to haul the tools of the trade: a laptop, a BGAN satellite, notebooks, pens, headlight, batteries, digital recorder, camera and other such items. (The laptop bag is like this one). This way, I can leave my largest main bag — with most of my stuff inside — in my dwelling at the main base and take only what I need for an operation in the field pack.
For the field pack, I purchased extra straps to secure a sleeping bag to the two bottom ring straps and to secure my sleeping mat to the top. I strap my Camelbak water carrier on to the back of the pack. When not in use, I also hang my helmet from its chin strap on the field pack.
If it’s a vehicle mission, I have the choice of also taking my laptop backpack. But if it’s a foot patrol, I will take just the field pack, with a change of underwear and socks, washing gear and perhaps the laptop, BGAN and extra batteries if I am planning on filing. That way I have room to carry Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
Other supplies and considerations
As noted, many of the items that you need, such as the disposable red LED night lights, can be purchased at the stores on the main U.S. bases. These stores also sell everything from towels, underwear, shampoo, talcum powder, backpacks and boots to blankets, sleeping bags, running shoes and candy bars. But there is no guarantee that they will have what you need — or in your size — in stock so it is best to buy whatever you need before leaving home.