The Surplus Life: Alive, Well, Living Free

Over at the NRAFamily blog, Jeff Johnson recently took a deep dive into the typical corner military surplus shop. The sights and smells he describes are authentic as all-getout, plus there’s some good tips for the types of stuff to watch out for. I thought I would give my own spin on his points and take a look at this new surplus world the Internet has given us.

The Classic Woodland Camo Jacket

The official woodland camo used by G.I.’s since the 80’s, dubbed M81 U.S. Woodland, has been slowly retired from official uniforms in favor of more advanced digital patterns.

Fox Tactical make-up of the legendary M65 Jacket
Fox Tactical clone of the famous M65 Jacket


While you don’t often see woodland camo anymore on U.S. military clothing (we have a few things), you do see it everywhere else. It’s certainly one of the most popular “camo” patterns used in the fashion industry, visible front and center lending rugged military style to young people who, a couple decades ago, might have been looking in those corner surplus shops.

To make up for the shortfall, legions of clothing makers out there are manufacturing copies of vintage U.S. military clothing. Most are pretty good quality, especially if you just need a fashion accessory to keep you warm at the bus stop, or while smoking a cigarette at the carnival.

There’s also plenty of similar patterns still in use by modern militaries: try British DPM, European CCE, or Italian Vegetato.

The U.S. Military Extended Cold Weather Clothing System

Called by lots of different names, but mostly known as the ECWCS, this 7-component clothing system is an awesome way to maintain correct, comfortable, body temperatures in environments ranging from grilling duty in the blazing Sahara to handing out the popsicles at the next North Pole meetup. You can find each component available individually, and you only have to grab the ones you need for your mission. Long underwear, rain jackets, snow parkas and more can be found under this one military-tactical umbrella.

U.S. Military ECWCS Cold Weather Parka
U.S. Military ECWCS Cold Weather Parka


Jeff’s right about this: you can get an ECWCS Cold Weather Parka for an amazing price. All the same chill-busting insulation and waterproof GORE-TEX as popular civilian outdoorsman jackets, and this one’s decked out in authentic U.S. military 3-color BDU desert camo. You might wonder at the wisdom of putting desert camo on a cold weather uniform, but this type of camo is also very effective in mountainous steppes, basically anywhere there’s a lack of bright green vegetation. Including fall foliage in more temperate zones. Making this a primo late-season hunting coat in some areas of the country.

Modern German GORE-TEX Jackets

If you’re interested in waterproof rain gear the whole country of Germany is practically a one-stop shop. Since Reunification and the end of the Cold War, just about every article of German outerwear is printed in one of the hottest camo patterns in the public eye, the ubiquitous “mottled” pattern known as Flecktarn.

Jacket with Flecktarn camo pattern
German Flecktarn


While the U.S., U.K. and many other militaries around the world have adopted variants of digital camo for their uniforms, Flecktarn remains a distinct, highly effective alternative for many modern militaries in Europe and beyond.

For keeping rain from spoiling your parade, check out this GORE-TEX Rain Jacket, which we’ve offered practically forever.

Shipping Containers

Looking for a way to transport your gun? Or how about 12 guns? Or maybe just some range gear or other equipment you want to keep safe. If there’s one thing the U.S. military knows how to do, its ship things around the world. The surplus market will probably never run out of rugged hard-sided padded containers in all kinds of weird sizes. Usually as soon as we sell out of one kind, another slightly different version shows up so you just need to look around.

Hardigg Waterproof Case
Legendary Hardigg construction


This Shipping Container is a great example. Authentic U.S. military issue and each has received a vigorous pre-testing. I’m sure there’s a little history in every scratch and dent. A nice benefit, especially when it saves you a pile of cash on the side.

Lots of Paracord

Paracord remains the number 1 survival accessory you need to stay prepared for an uncertain future. Mostly because it’s just so darn handy. Construct a world of survival tools using just your bare hands, not mention fix other equipment and even start fires.

Bulk Paracord, in lots of colors
Bulk Paracord, in lots of colors


Do we have paracord? We have a little bit hanging around. And we’re willing to share.


The worlds of military surplus and camping have lots of overlap. While troops in the field aren’t enjoying the wilderness by choice, both need to stay comfortable and hopefully come out the other side in the best shape possible. Take a look at military backpacks and you’ll see top-quality manufacture, HUGE carrying capacity combined with slick organization, and sturdy support for serious all-day hikes.

U.S. Military Main Pack
U.S. Military Main Pack with support Frame


Modern Backpacks typically come in two main types. A Main Pack can carry everything a soldier needs for days of action marching in the wilderness. Complete with various support frames so your back isn’t destroyed in the process. While an Assault-style Pack has just enough room for immediate gear used during the current patrol or mission.

Ammo Cans

If there’s one thing the U.S. military will never run out of, it’s Ammo Cans.

U.S. military Ammo Can features
The classic Ammo Can storage solution


Somehow beautiful in its basic utility. Made from heavy-duty steel. Sometimes a little rusty. But always strong and long-lasting for stowing emergency essentials, important documents, gold doubloons and even…gasp…sometimes ammo for a “rainy day” or a range day.

While the prices have risen higher than a “few dollars” these authentic all-steel Cans are still pretty competitive. Especially if you consider most of them are waterproof and can take hard knocks all day that would put a standard civilian plastic case in its grave. Check out this U.S. Military .50 cal Can and enjoy.


It’s true that online gun sales require plenty of extra paperwork on our end. Plus the U.S. military isn’t exactly keen to ship out fully-automatic select fire rifles out to customers. But you can find plenty of guns similar to the U.S. military real deal. And when there are some gently-used surplus guns from around the world, we try to offer them too.

Think it’s hard to buy a gun online? Here’s how we do it.

The Sights and the Smells

Jeff talks a lot about the sights and smells of a corner Military Surplus store. Our pictures try to be as descriptive as possible. But, unless you come down to our outlet store, you won’t be able to hold anything in your hands until it arrives on your doorstep.

Every piece of military surplus carries a “condition” line that specifies brand new, used or like-new with some storage issues. Our products come to us from lots of difference sources, but we try to correctly identify what you are getting so there’s no surprises. But here’s the worst case scenario: if you receive a product with a condition less than expected, the Guide still carries a 100% satisfaction guarantee. We try to make it easy for you to painlessly send it back.

Finally, there’s the smells. I’ve spent a lot of time handling fresh surplus items, and I can personally guarantee the smell of today’s “used” military material rescued from long-term storage is the exact same as the smell you first encountered on that last trip through the corner store. Some things never change.

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