15 Preps You Can Score at Military Surplus Stores (and 1 You Should Avoid)

There simply isn’t anything better than quality bargain preps when you are working to fulfill all the items on your survival plan wish list. There are many places to score cheap preps: online, in outdoors stores, flea markets, yard sale… and military surplus stores.

Far too often, folks think only military gear that has been all but used up is available at military surplus stores, but nothing could be further from the truth.

us flag on military coat

Now, I personally wouldn’t want to buy a used gas mask but that would be about the only survival item I would absolutely mark off my shopping list when hitting an Army – Navy store for preps.

The gear that was once destined for military use is made of the best possible quality to keep our heroes safe when in battle – or preparing for it.

Durable military surplus items may be used either gently or intensely or merely deemed obsolete and put up for sale.

Sometimes you can find “new old stock” items that simply sat on a shelf so long other versions replaced them and these effectively new rugged pieces of gear, clothing, and ammo supplies are sold off to the general public.

The available selection of potential preps varies at military surplus stores, some of which even now offer online sales even on conventional sites like Amazon – and of course, Ebay.

One of the biggest and best online military surplus stores is the Old Grouch, the abundance of a variety of survival gear and the constantly updated inventory has made it a favorite of even some of the most notable preppers many of us routinely watch and listen to online.

One of the best things about military surplus stores is how frequently the inventory can change. Unlike regular outdoor stores, the stock does not change on just a seasonal basis.

Shipments come in frequently, making ever trip to your local military surplus store – either virtually or online, a whole new survival adventure every time.

Although a lot of clothing can be found at military surplus stores, a host of other items are regularly available as well – including the often hard to find medical preps.

Top 15 Preps You Can Find at Military Surplus Stores

1. Clothing

You can find fatigues in all different varieties of camo, olive drab, desert tan, and tactical black durable wearables, as well.

Just remember, some military surplus stores carry new clothing that was not filtered through the armed forces. While this clothing may or may not be of top quality, it is not likely military grade and will nearly always carry a larger price tag.

2. Pandemic Flu Kits

The government may not advertise how concerned it is about a pandemic flu causing a major disaster in the United States, but the federal government has definitely prepped for one. A set of four pandemic flu kits typically costs around $13 to $15.

Common items in the government issue flu kits typically include NIOSH rated N-95 respirator masks, surgical masks, an instruction card detailing steps to take to prevent getting infected, and hand sanitizer.

This is not a fancy or in-depth kit, but it has the sheer basics, and is a compact enough size it can be a part of your everyday carry, office or car survival kit.

3. Flashlights

Survival flashlights that are made durable enough for our fighting men and women and offer at least 600 lumens are a true prepping score indeed.

A prepper should never expect the lights to remain on for very long during a SHTF event, no matter what sparked the doomsday scenario.

Treated metal flashlights can last a lifetime, are heavy enough to double as a weapon, and are designed to be more waterproof that most users will likely ever need (but might).

4. Bugout Bags

You could easily spend $100 buying a bugout bag from an outdoor store or an online retailer specializing in prepper needs, but it is doubtful any of these bags can stand up to the rigor even a used military duffle bag or MOLLE bag is capable of withstanding.

One of the many great things about buying preps at a military surplus store are the super cheap bargains on gear that is not in good enough shape to use as a primary piece of survival clothing or bags.

This gear can be picked up for next to nothing to use as patching on the off chance it is needed to repair the like new gear you are also purchasing.

The side gear straps can be cinched down quickly so that the backpack fits more comfortably and the large front zipper pocket provides easy access to the tools I use when camping. This is a great backpack for a three-day hiking adventure.

Fashion and name brand tags are not going to be important during a long-term disaster. Shopping at a popular outdoors store like Cabella’s or Bass Pro Shop for your bugout bag will be far more costly than going to a military surplus store to purchase a bag of likely superior quality.

mess kits
mess kits

5. Mess Kits

On my husband’s most recent trip to a local Army – Navy store he scored multiple sets of military mess kits for half the cost of one commercially manufactured kit sold either at outdoor stores or Amazon.

One of the mess kits still contained several clothes pins. I didn’t understand the purpose of the clothespins, but my beloved explained they were for hanging up the socks you washed so they could dry over an outdoor fire while protected from the flames by the little mess kit pot.

Few mess kits come with flatware, unless you get really lucky. But many military surplus stores have a box filled with mix and match old armed forces cutlery you can purchase separately.

These will be far more durable than heavy duty reusable forks, knives, and spoons sold in the camping section of big box stores.

military surplus canteen
military surplus canteen

6. Drinkware – Canteens

I would trade a commercially manufactured plastic canteen for a metal one from a military surplus store any day of the week.

Sure, sometimes you must scrub away a bit of rust under the cap, but the durability and secure closure of the old metal canteens are worth the effort.

Collapsible metal cups are also great finds. The most recent ones we found were actually vintage Girl Scouts ones, so the quality was not an excellent at old Army gear, but they still beat the heck out of the plastic collapsible ones.

7. Boots

There is a massive difference between hiking boots or tactical survival boots you can buy from even a quality retailer and military combat boots. Military grade boots are the toughest footwear on the planet.

They were built to withstand environmental and movement challenges commercially manufactured substitutes simply were not.

The men and women who wear military combat boots demand footwear that is not going to fail them, cause them pain, or allow stepping on sharp metal or a striking snake slow their roll.

The combat boots you will find at a military surplus store are almost always going to be used – unless you luck into a shipment of discontinued or slightly flawed gear.

Even boots with some type of flaw that will not allow them to pass military quality controls are superior to commercially manufactured boots in nearly any instance.

Look the boots over carefully, and not only try them on but walk around the store in them for a while, rolling back on your heels, standing on your tiptoes, and stepping up onto a chair or bench to test them out before purchasing.

If the only thing really wrong with the condition of the boots involves laces or a food pad, those can be easily and economically replaced.

Military-grade boots will protect your feet, keeping them both warm and dry, far better than pricey hiking boots from an outdoors store.

These boots are typically comprised of a nylon mesh upper to allow your feet to breathe but make the boots more durable over time, with the bulk of the remainder of the boots being comprised of a thick and durable leather.

stainless steel survival knife and fishing kit

8. Knives

The knife section at military surplus stores is one of my personal favorites – you just never know what you will find there. Knives will range in not just style but size and intended use as well.

The recent find pictured included a quality compass top that unscrewed with a well in the handle large enough to store a little kindling finger saw, some emergency fishing line, sinkers, and hooks, as well as some “waterproof” matches.

unscrewed knife handle and compass

There are combat knives that once belonged to Marines and Airmen that were built to hold and edge and kill – but not necessarily created for incredibly long term use.

The military knives comprised of carbon steel are more durable and are combat enough (about a 5 inch blade, typically) to be easily concealed as part of your everyday carry kit.

Tactical knives often abound at Army – Navy stores, with a varying amount of use on each one. Most of the knives that have dulled over time can have their edge brought back with a proper sharpening – but skip any knives that have a nick in the blade, they just will not be trustworthy enough in a survival situation.

Incredibly durable sheaths purchased either with a knife or separately are yet another weapon accessory I often search for at military surplus stores.

A military grade knife sheath fastened onto a MOLLE bag or vest will remain dry and ready to use when needed.

trip illumination flare

9. Perimeter Defense – Surveillance Gear

Can you ever have enough flares and tripwire in a survival situation? I think not. This legal to own military grade flare and its accompanying trip wire is new old stock that was discontinued from use and found its way (in great abundance) to military surplus stores.

This item and others of the same type and quality are hit and miss at such stores, but usually some type of off grid non-lethal perimeter defense supplies are always in stock.

Shotgun flares like the ones shown below are not deemed military grade. but as some of the cool non-lethal ammo you can buy to use as a search and rescue or perimeter breach alert device base.

shotgun flares
shotgun flares

10. Sleeping Bags

If you want to be prepared to spend the night outdoors – or longer, during a SHTF event, a military surplus store is where you should shop for a sleeping bag.

Quality sleeping bags are available at outdoor supply stores and via online big box retailers, but you will be paying a lot more for likely a less durable and warm product.

Military grade sleeping bags usually boast a temperature rating down to negative digits, which is far better than the three season or highly priced four season down to 25 degree sleeping bags sold at camping stores.

A four piece modular bivy bag rated down to negative 30 degrees is waterproof, oversized, and made of both a durable and breathable fabric.

Purchasing a bag that includes a removable liner and a carry bag is an added plus. Even if it takes the price up a notch I doubt you will pay in excess of $200 survival and camping supply stores charge.

waterproof matches

11. Matches

The best waterproof matches you can find are often sitting in a box on the counter at a military surplus store.

These low priced items come in a tight sealing waterproof container that is designed to be attached to a MOLLE vest or bag, or to similar style gear.

first aid pouch

12. Portable First Aid

Sometimes you luck out and find a still intact military first aid kit. Other times you simply find these durable bags to fill with your own first aid items. Either way, this is a cheap prepping military surplus store score.

These bags never seem to show any wear and tear no matter how old they are – with still functional snaps in nearly all cases.

The bag we most recently found still contained its original emergency first aid gear. It is impressive how much stuff one of these little bags can hold and still remain lightweight.

first aid pouch open

The military first aid kits can be placed inside of a bugout bag, attached to webbing or MOLLE Velcro, or tucked into most coat pockets.

I like to pick these kits up to give as gifts, especially to non-preppers, to help introduce the importance of preparedness in daily life, and then later launch into my “top 100 reasons why you should be a prepper” speech.

suncream and other first aid items

13. P-38 Can Openers

These military grade can openers are simply too handy and too cheap not to pick up a handful of during a visit to a military surplus store. They can slip right into a front jean’s pocket they are so thin and lightweight.

p38 can opener

P-38 can openers are made of cold rolled steel, and have a plethora of uses during a survival situation. These military can openers can be used as either a flathead or Phillips screwdriver, toothpick, box cutter, splinter remover, bottle opener, and that is just to name a few.

14. Thermal Blocking Camo Netting

For about $25 of less you can purchase thermal camo netting at a military surplus store. The ULCANS netting might come as one huge tarp of a 3X5 or so piece cut from a larger tarp that was no longer deemed of use in the Armed Forces.

This is a durable material, and can be cut down without fraying that degrades quality.

Thermal blocking camo netting comes in an array of camo designs, and will not only help visually obscure someone from view but also block the detection of a thermal signal, as well.

Hiking the survival livestock on your land from detection could be a life-saving action during a SHTF event.

This type of netting is designed to block between 85% – 90% of a thermal signal, and will blend in with the signature naturally being put off by the vegetation that surrounds it.

15. Wool Trigger Finger Mittens

These babies will keep your hands and fingers warmer that most commercially manufactured glovers on the market (if not all), and are designed especially with squeezing a trigger in mind.

Wool trigger finger mittens will run you about $20 to $25 – even used. That “high” of a price tag should indicate to you just how warming, durable, and usable these milsurp mittens truly are… and why you should consider working a few pairs into your prepping budget.

Wrap-Up

There are literally hundreds of quality and inexpensive preps you can find at a military surplus store.

The 15 featured here are some of the most vital types of gear that could increase your longevity, while decreasing your chances of succumbing to illness or injury during a SHTF event.

As long as your take the time to look over the effective age of the clothing, jackets, boots, and other gear purchased at a military surplus store, and don’t get so excited at all the finds your overtend your budget, scoring great preps will save you money and perhaps even one day save your life.

military store preps Pinterest image

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.

7 comments

  1. Avatar

    High Grade Cast Iron Cookware is much less expensive at a Military Surplus store than anywhere else.
    If you have to cook over a fire or in a Sun Oven, Cast Iron is the way to go. Get a set and season it before putting it away. It will last for generations. I have pieces that belonged to my great-grandmother back in the 1850’s.

  2. Avatar

    I checked out the Old Grump site, but see that it doesn’t offer much online.

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    A source that I like for both foreign and domestic surplus is https://www.midwayusa.com/military-surplus/c?cid=23343

  4. Avatar

    https://www.sportsmansguide.com/

    They have a huge mil surp section, international. I have bought many things here. Very dependable.

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    Loved the article. Many a good tips were found. However, the knife that you pictured is crap. The blade is held in the handle with a nut. I had one back in the day, so I know it’s crappy. The blade will come loose with almost any pressure.
    The concept of a hollow handle survival knife is good, for the most part. Just not that particular knife.

  6. Avatar

    Hollow handled knifes are not reliable. They are very prone to breakage. A knife with a minimum of a 3/4 tang, and preferably a full tang, is best. You need the strength more than you need a small storage space. For a good fighting knife, or tactical knife as some call them, a K-Bar knife is tough to beat. Forget using a hollow handled knife for batoning wood for fires.

    Metal canteens. You should always have at least one metal canteen. The old GI metal canteens are nice, but there are more modern versions available that work just as well. Why should you have a metal canteen? For heating water, either for rehydrating freeze dried foods, for boiling water for drinking purposes, or just plain thawing out some water when you’re out in the winter. Plastic canteens and Camel-Baks don’t like fires for some odd reason. When I was in the military, I always carried one metal canteen I bought at a surplus store as we were just issued plastic ones. This was a tip I got from an old Marine staff NCO. Good advice especially if you are going to be out in cold weather or if potable water supplies are poor. Note that using iodine tabs or bleach tabs in cold water will take a lot longer to do their germ killing thing than in warm water.

  7. Avatar

    I’d recommend the P-51 Can opener. It work the same way that a P-38 one does. But the part you hold onto is longer. So it’s easier to use.

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