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 brick and mortar 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.
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.
These like new items are still rugged and ready pieces of gear, clothing, or ammo sold off to the general public at a steep discount compared to what you might pay for such an item new from the factory.
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 survival gear, best prices, 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.
You can find fatigue shirts 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 below 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.
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.
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 use as a search and rescue or perimeter breach alert device base”
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.
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.
12. Portable First Aid Kit
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.
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.
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.
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.
16. Ammo Cans
Far and away one of the single most useful items you can score at any milsurp outlet. These used to be far more common than they are today, some years back, but you can still reliably find them in most military surplus stores.
You can expect to find plenty of U.S. and NATO pattern cans of all sizes, from the convenient 7.62mm cans to the iconic .50 cal versions, and potentially even larger stuff for linked 40mm grenades or even mortar rounds. With a little luck you could even see some from foreign militaries in entirely different sizes and styles.
These cans, as you probably already know, are incredibly useful and multi-purpose. They work wonderfully for their original intent, keeping ammo safe and dry in all weather conditions, but they can be put into action as toolboxes, cache containers, and more.
Every prepper needs some, and they are only going to get more expensive and hard to find over time as the military releases fewer and fewer to civilian hands through surplus auctions.
Get them while the getting is good, or you’ll be stuck buying more expensive (and inferior!) commercial versions.
Call them BDUs, field uniforms or just “cammies”: These are another surplus store classic, and while they may not be as common as they used to be you can still find them in many stores.
Most people think of the blousy BDUs that were standard in the 80s and early 90s when they hear “cargo pants” but these days the militaries of the world have moved on to more streamlined and effective designs.
You can find Spanish CIRAS style pants, British PCS trousers, and even American ACUs and A-Ts in many stores.
Cargo pants are incredibly useful for preppers for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they have a ton of pockets.
This may not seem like a big deal but being able to quickly access things like your flashlight, notebook, or map without having to dig through a backpack while in the field can be a boon.
They are also built for tough use and made to last. They will protect you from thorns and branches when you are out hiking and exploring and can take a beating without falling apart.
Lastly, they are easy to mend with a needle and thread if you have the skills, making them a great choice for general use.
Even if you don’t think you need cargo pants right now, pick up a pair or two anyway. They are relatively cheap and you never know when you might need them.
This is a broad category but military surplus stores typically have a good selection of firearm accessories and parts, usually generic attachments that can fit anything with a picatinny rail interface or components for common, US military pattern firearms and their commercial equivalents.
From muzzle brakes and flash hiders to grips, stocks, cleaning kits and more. If you need some replacement furniture for an aging and worn rifle, or like to upgrade your favorite AR with a quad rail from yesteryear, you can probably snag it at a well-stocked surplus store.
True, most of the components will be well used but they should have plenty of life left in them, and even though they won’t get you brownie points among the Instagram gun scene Stars, they are a great way to upgrade any weapon in your prepping arsenal.
As always, caution is justified before you modify any of your firearms.
Make sure you understand all applicable state and federal laws regarding what attachments and components are and are not legal. just because an institution can legally sell a given part or component does not mean it is legal for you to have it on your particular weapon.
Field manuals are an often overlooked item at military surplus stores, but they can be a real goldmine of priceless information for preppers.
Many of these manuals are dated or technically obsolete, replaced by more current printings in active service, but that doesn’t make them any less useful.
You never know what you might find in these manuals, from general survival tips to information on edible plants to instructions on how to use various types of military equipment.
Probably the most useful all around for preppers are manuals on fortification, concealment, small unit tactics, communications methods and land navigation, so make sure you keep an eye out for them. The topics should be plainly marked on their covers
Even if you don’t think you need a field manual right now, pick one up anyway. They are relatively cheap and you can always count on paper to remember info that you might forget.
You can find all sorts of tarps at military surplus stores, from the small and light “pup tents” of bygone eras to the massive camo covers and cargo nets that were used to cover loads on trucks or small structures. These are all potentially useful for preppers, depending on your specific needs and situation.
The smaller tarps can be used as ground covers, shades, water catchers or to make impromptu shelters, while the larger ones can be used to protect supplies or as camouflage for vehicles, camps and other large equipment or installations.
No matter what kind of tarp you are looking for, you are likely to find it at a military surplus store. They usually have a good selection of sizes and styles, and you can often find them very cheaply compared to buying the same size at a commercial hardware store.
Just make sure to check for holes and tears before you buy. pay particular attention to the grommets and make sure they aren’t tearing out or beginning to fray or they are attached.
This is one item that is often used hard and put up wet in the military, so you should expect to use a little more diligence when hand picking one that will serve you well for years to come.
E-tools, or entrenching tools, are small, usually collapsible shovels that have been used by militaries for generations. Convenient, portable and capable, these are one of my hands-down favorite surplus store buys and all make great additions to any prepper’s toolkit.
Considering the US pattern entrenching tool, these folding shovels are small and light enough to carry with you almost anywhere.
You can easily fit one in your backpack or on your belt. This makes them perfect for carrying on long hikes or when you are bugging out on foot.
They are also very strong for their size and can be used for all kinds of “field” tasks. You can use them to dig trenches, latrines, or hide sites.
You can use them to build improvised shelters or clear debris. You can do light chopping or sawing with them. You can even use them as brutal melee weapons in a pinch.
The best part is they are cheap and easy to find out of all proportion with their usefulness. You can often find them at military surplus stores for less than $30. Consider these an essential item for anyone serious about survival and preparedness.
Helmets and Body Armor
Now we are getting to some real surplus store gold. You can find all sorts of protective equipment, from simple steel armor plates to kevlar vests and helmets, and perhaps ceramic armor.
Obviously this stuff is going to be more expensive than your average surplus item, but if you are serious about protecting yourself and your family it is worth the investment.
Helmets are far more common than armor vests throughout most surplus stores, but any well stocked military gear emporium shouldhave a selection of both, and potentially even brand new commercial armor for sale.
Just be aware that surplus armor may have seen better days. Soft body armor in particular has a limited lifespan and needs to be replaced every few years or after exposure to the elements to remain effective. Steel armor on the other hand, can last indefinitely properly cared for.
Either way, make sure you inspect any armor you are thinking about buying carefully before you commit to a purchase.
Buckets may not seem like the most exciting item on this list but believe me, they are incredibly useful in a survival context.
The great thing about buckets is that they are so versatile. You can use them to carry water, store grain or other food items, start a fire, grow plants, wash clothes, and much more. In a survival situation they can even be used as an indoor or outdoor toilet when your usual toilet is out of action.
Even better, these large, 5 gallon buckets are often sold with what is called a gamma lid, a special type of screw on lid that will tightly and completely seal the contents of the bucket against moisture air. it doesn’t take much imagination to see how useful this sort of capability is for a variety of purposes.
So next time you are at a surplus store, pick up a few buckets and gamma lids to stash away. You never know when you might need them.
every prepper must buy now understand the value of good cordage and all kinds of disaster and emergency situations.
Be it rope, string or webbing, high quality cordage is another item that you can find in many military surplus stores. You can use it for a million different things, from building shelter to making traps or improvising repairs and more.
What’s great about military surplus cordage is that it is almost always truly high quality stuff.
It has to be tough enough to stand up to the rigors of combat use, after all. That means that it will definitely be capable of handling anything you throw at it.
Whether you need 50 feet of paracord or 500 yards of webbing, you can usually find several varieties of cordage on gigantic spools in a milsurp store.
Just be sure to check the condition of the cordage before you buy it. This is one item you’ll often find sold in brand new, unissued condition. I’d recommend you buy it accordingly; you don’t want to end up with a bunch of dryrotted and useless cordage.
MREs, or “Meals Ready to Eat” are the meals that soldiers eat in the field when traditional cooking or food service is not an option.
These pouched meals come in a variety of flavors and types, from the classic spaghetti or beef stew to more exotic options like Thai chicken curry. You can find them in most military surplus stores, although the selection will vary depending on what brand the store has in stock.
MREs are an excellent addition to any prepper’s food stockpile. They are designed to be shelf-stable for years and can withstand a lot of abuse from rough handling or extreme temps.
They are also easy to prepare since they are, as advertised, ready to consume right out of the bag. For a hot entrée, MREs come with a flameless ration heater that is either air or water activated depending on the generation of the MRE.
Either is capable of providing you with a hot, or at least warm, dinner and just a couple of minutes no matter where you are.
If you are looking for a way to add some variety to your food storage, or just want an easy meal option for camping or power outages, pick up a few MREs the next time you are at a military surplus store.
Another great score you are sure to find at almost any surplus store.
Tactical gear is a catch-all term that means different things to different people, but generally encompasses items used to carry ammunition and other components of your “fighting” kit. It might be as simple as a good belt and flap holster that will carry your handgun around the farm.
For others, it might be a full vest or chest rig with pouches that will hold multiple magazines, first-aid supplies and all their other gear in an efficient, ready-to-use manner.
Compared to the latest and best examples available for purchase freely on the commercial market, much of this gear will be old, outmoded and musty.
It definitely isn’t going to win you any style points on the Internet or at your next competition or practice session with the group, but so much of this gear is more than capable of doing the job it was originally designed to do, and doing it effectively.
If you aren’t a high-speed, snake eating door kicker consider if you really want to be spending several mortgage payments on the latest and greatest tactical gear. you are probably just as well served and financially better off buying surplus.
Most of this gear will be issued and used hard, but still in good enough condition to be well-worth your money, and it can be had for a fraction of the price of buying new.
Of course, you should always inspect used gear carefully before purchasing to make sure it meets your standards for durability and that it can reliably serve your needs.
But if you take the time to do that, you can outfit yourself from head to toe in full “battle rattle” while saving a bundle.
Cold Weather Gear
One of the very best types of clothing you can often find at surplus stores is cold weather gear. This can include anything from simple wool socks and gloves to full-on parkas, jackets and snow pants.
If you live in a colder climate, or even if you just want to be prepared for the possibility of being stranded in a winter storm, this gear can be invaluable.
Compared to name brand civilian stuff or modern, top of the line technical apparel, much of this gear won’t be particularly attractive looking.
But US military cold weather gear in particular tends to be quite effective. If you want performance and cost savings over aesthetics, this is a best in category by for any prepper who might be making a go of it in cold weather.
And again, because it is military surplus, you can usually find it for a very reasonable price compared to those other options that I mentioned. I will tell you this though, if you want this gear, you need to make it a point to regularly check and see if it is in stock.
Many current and previous generation cold weather jackets in particular are highly desirable among users and collectors, so competition might be fierce.
Visit a Military Surplus Store Today
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, scoring great preps will save you money and perhaps even one day save your life.
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.