Is Military Surplus Worth It For Preppers? Tips to Save $

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According to a Finder’s survey, over a third of US adults consider themselves “preppers.” However, many people aren’t spending that much money on prepping. For instance, the average prepper spent around $146 on food and water and only $65 on survival gear annually.

It doesn’t take much internet exploration to find many voicing concerns about the financial burden of acquiring supplies. We all want to be prepared, but our bank accounts may say otherwise!

Is Military Surplus Worth It?
Kristin showing some military surplus gear
Military Surplus is a great way to save money

As a longtime prepper myself, I understand this struggle!

But what if I told you there’s a way to equip yourself with affordable, high-quality tools for emergencies and survival? Military surplus can answer many of the financial difficulties of prepping.

But is Military Surplus worth it? While some may consider surplus to be outdated or cheaply made, properly selected surplus gear from reputable retailers can be a game-changer.

I’ve bought tons of military surplus items over the years. Some have been great! But some haven’t. I’ve found that how the surplus was inspected and treated matters a lot. That said, many people still show hesitation towards military surplus.

Keep reading to find out what to look for and for our discount code that will save you 10%!

Table of Contents

Dispelling Myths: Quality and Value in Surplus

I’ve bought and used a lot of military gear in my time. Our team also has a military veteran, Blake, who is well-versed in military gear. Let’s tackle the two biggest misconceptions: outdated equipment and flimsy construction.

First, yes, military surplus gear can be old. The military is always updating its gear, but not everything gets updated. Basic military gear, like boots and tents, hasn’t changed much in decades. It may have gotten more streamlined in some cases, such as the upgrade from ALICE packs.

Kristin showing some Military Surplus Clothing
Military Surplus clothing is usually a great buy

That said, most military surplus is not old. Most items are only a few years old! Therefore, they’re often very similar to what the modern U.S. military is using.

Sometimes, people misinterpret “surplus” to mean cheap and low-quality. After all, military surplus is “used,” so doesn’t that mean it’s likely to be broken and worn down?

No, not particularly. It’s true that the lowest bidder makes military gear. However, the military requires all gear to meet certain specifications and then chooses the manufacturer that can meet those specifications for the lowest price. That means military gear is made to last and is typically high quality.

We’re talking about ripstop canvas and high-denier nylon – they’re built to endure abrasions, rips, and the elements. So, when you find a surplus item, you’re getting something built to tough specifications, not to meet a target price point for a casual consumer.

Kristin showing the various cold weather layers of clothing
The military is great at designing a layer system for cold weather

They may have been “made cheap,” but that’s largely because of bulk ordering and competition – not because it’s made with cheap materials.

Our expert, Blake, uses his silk-weight thermal top and thermal bottom any time it gets cold outside, even when he isn’t heading out on a hike. They’re incredibly warm and make a great base layer. He’s used them for years, and they still look brand new.

Kristin showing Military Surplus Plate Carriers
Plate Carriers are another great Military Surplus option

The truth is that surplus gear offers incredible value for money. You’re getting high-quality, long-lasting equipment at a fraction of the cost of its commercial counterpart. This allows you to focus your prepping budget on other essentials or acquire more gear altogether, making you better prepared for whatever situation you encounter.


Building Your Prepper Kit with Military Surplus

Now that I’ve convinced you that military surplus is worth it let me offer one caveat: not all military surplus is worth it! Some military surplus is overpriced for what it is or just not as good as civilian options at the same price point.

Kristin showing her Military Surplus bug out gear
All of my gear, ready to bug out

Many people purchase military surplus because it “looks cool.” However, to be the most prepared, you need to purchase the best tool for the job, not just the one labeled “military.”

Here are my favorite military surplus items that are worth it:

  • Clothing and Footwear: Tons of military surplus clothing is exceptionally high-quality and much cheaper than civilian options. You can find very warm layers for under $20, while the same thing on the civilian market would cost a hundred or more. If you only buy one thing through military surplus, make it your clothing. Blake particularly recommends the ECWCS level 7 system.
  • Bags and Packs: The military makes some great backpacks and rucksacks in many sizes and configurations. They work great as bug out bags. There are many military surplus backpacks out there, but I particularly recommend anything with the MOLLE system. ALICE packs were before the MOLLE system and aren’t as comfortable.
  • Sleep System: The military sleep system is as good as it gets for surviving cold weather. The ECWCS sleeping bag system is my favorite. It keeps me warm down to -20 °F or even -50 °F with proper clothing, too. Honestly, it’s probably one of the best things the military makes.
  • The Humble Poncho: I couldn’t write a military surplus article without including the famous military ripstop poncho. Surplus ponchos are typically constructed from heavy-duty waterproof materials and can be used for a variety of purposes – creating a quick shelter, collecting rainwater, or even signaling for help.
  • MREs: MREs are one of the military surplus items. We have a whole guide on the best MREs to buy, including the exact ones to buy and which flavors are the best. They aren’t the best for very long-term food storage, but they require no preparation and are great for a quick meal on the go.
  • Lensatic Compass: Almost everyone knows that compasses are one of the most basic pieces of survival gear. No matter what you’re prepping for, you need one! Military Lensatic compasses go a step beyond the average compass, though. They’re exceptionally durable and built for rugged conditions. The Miliary compass is one of our top picks for the best survival compass.
Military Surplus Sleeping bags are one of my favorites

If you’re in the market for any of these items, I recommend managing your resources wisely and considering military surplus options. However, locally sourced military surplus can be hit or miss. You’ll need to use an online source for many of the best military surplus items.

Purchasing online can sometimes be sketchy, as you can’t see the item you’re purchasing beforehand. For this reason, it’s important to look for items that have been certified as real surplus and inspected. Which brings us to…


Finding the Right Military Surplus

Not just any military surplus will do. You want the good stuff. Now, where do you find it?

It’s important to shop at only trusted stores and retailers (that includes staying off of eBay). A trusted company will prioritize genuine military surplus that isn’t damaged or extremely worn. Shopping at retailers that only deal in certified military surplus helps ensure you aren’t getting cheap knock-offs.

Kristin showing some of her Military Surplus gear
There are a lot of great options for preppers with Military Surplus

All certified military surplus will have an NSN (National Stock Number) or similar identification number.

Look for stores that are upfront about the condition and history of their surplus items. You should know the condition of the item you’re purchasing. “Used” and “like new” can mean different things to different people, so be sure to read the full description.

Retailers that inspect their items are the best bet. However, that’s only the first stage of the process! You also want a retailer that offers returns or some sort of repairs (or both)!

While I’ve purchased from several retailers (both in person and online), Army Navy Outdoors is one of my favorites, as they inspect all of their gear twice. They also offer returns and lifetime repairs on certified military surplus (when it’s fixable). You can rest assured you aren’t getting ripped off when a retailer offers these services.

You can save 10% off of your first purchase as Army Navy Outdoors with our discount code “SURVIVE10”!

An Army Navy Outdoor Associate making repairs

Is Military Surplus Worth It?

Military surplus can either be really good or really bad! Some items made for the military, like clothing, are about as good as it gets and much cheaper than civilian options. Other stuff really isn’t worth it. Don’t buy overpriced Condor gear, and I’d recommend looking elsewhere for survival water filters.

My list above should help you see through all the camouflage and find items that are both durable and inexpensive.

Of course, where you purchase from is also important. While I recommend Army Navy Outdoors, there are other quality places online, too. Just ensure they offer returns, sell certified military surplus, and inspect all gear before shipping. If the gear doesn’t have an NSN, run away.

Now be sure to read our full How to Start Prepping guide. It covers everything you need to know to be prepared and we are always adding new guides. Sign up for our Newsletter to stay up to date!

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Kristin is a fulltime writer with an obsession for being prepared. She spends much of her time working towards making her family self-sufficient, including homeschooling her children. When she isn’t writing, she’s shooting with her husband or homesteading.