is it good for hiking?

If you’re not in the military or a related field, you’ve never heard the term military surplus before. For decades, the United States and other militaries around the world have been recycling and reusing any unused or like-new equipment instead of throwing it away. Not only does this practice avoid waste, but it means that hundreds of specially designed outdoor items, such as tents, sleeping pads, boots, coats and even goggles, are available at the purchase for the public. However, determining if military surplus is the right choice for your next gear purchase can be a challenge. Even if you decide you want military surplus, sifting through all the options can be a bigger challenge than the hike ahead! Keep reading this military surplus guide to find out if it’s right for you.

Military surplus refers to equipment and materiel that the military no longer needs. Once equipment and materials are designated as “surplus”, they are made available to the public through various channels such as wholesale auctions, retailers and online stores. Military surplus runs the gamut, from backpacks and off-road shoes to gas masks and Kevlar vests. Although military surplus may include military weapons in some cases, you won’t have to worry about finding anything of this nature at your local military surplus retailer or online store. In most cases, military surplus stores offer useful durable pieces of equipment at affordable prices. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find unused gear at a fraction of the original retail price. Something to consider before buying anything is the fact that some items can be used while others are unopened; be sure to check all labels.

Use military surplus as hiking gear

Hiking gear can be expensive and, in some cases, unreliable. Nothing is worse than hitting the trail only to find your gear hasn’t prepared you for the elements. This is where military surplus can come in handy: Most military surplus gear is designed to withstand incredibly harsh conditions, and you can find items designed for specific environments, such as the desert, mountains, or Forest. Certain items, such as backpacks, are an excellent choice of military surplus because they are an essential aspect of most military kits and have therefore benefited from years and years of research and development. Additionally, military surplus is almost always less expensive than branded alternatives. However, it’s not completely without its downsides either. Before deciding whether or not to buy military surplus for your hike, you need to weigh the pros and cons.

Benefits of Military Surplus

Military surplus is durable and affordable. Additionally, it is popular with hikers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts due to its functionality. If you like to carry a first aid kit, rope, or small utility knife with you on your hikes, chances are your military surplus gear will come with specific compartments for essentials like these. Plus, you can even get smaller gear like utility knives, camping stoves, and first aid kits from military surplus suppliers, which means integrating your gear is easy.

Another advantage of using military surplus as hiking gear is the fact that you can find very specific gear. For example, if you have a winter hike coming up, you can get a military reconnaissance reflector or an avalanche beacon designed to withstand colder and harsher conditions than standard commercial models. Or, if you need a really waterproof lightweight bag and only plan to use it occasionally, you can save some money by choosing military surplus.

military surplus vs.

Military surplus products are no-frills, which can be a serious drawback for intense hikers or those who prefer high-end gear. While military surplus is functional, it’s meant to be cost-effective, which means you’re unlikely to find high-end extras like a built-in solar charger in your backpacking pack. In this vein, military surplus products will not always be designed to be easy to use. For example, military packs, especially from the army, are often made of thick canvas. Although it is a durable material, it is quite heavy, especially compared to materials like nylon or gore-tex.

Another thing to consider before purchasing military surplus products is the aesthetic design. Although many people love the look of military gear, it’s certainly not the most exciting. Don’t expect to find bright colors or eye-catching patterns on surplus military gear.

Great military surplus items to use as hiking gear

United States Marine Corps (USMC) 3L Hydration Bladder and Carrier

USMC Military Surplus hydration carrier with 3L bladder, new

military surplus


At under $45, this great hydration bladder is half the price of its name brand competitors. Staying hydrated during exercise is paramount to your safety, and a simple hydration pack makes it easy. This bag easily clips onto most US military surplus backpacks and can easily be inserted into another backpack. In addition, the straw that comes out of the bladder has a durable canvas protection to prevent tearing.

United States Military Canteen Cover and General Purpose Pouch

US Military Surplus 1-Qt.  Canteen cover and general purpose pouch, used

US Military Surplus 1-Qt. Canteen cover and general purpose pouch, used

military surplus


Whether you’re using a military surplus canteen or not, this handy little pouch is a great accessory for under $6. With plenty of attachment points, including buttoned straps to go around a belt, a buckle, and a standard carabiner, you can stick this little bag just about anywhere. Although it is advertised as a canteen pouch, there are two side pockets where you can store things like water purification tablets or a pocket knife.

French military spare bed with mosquito net

French military spare bed with mosquito net, used

French military spare bed with mosquito net, used

military surplus


While it’s not the lightest backpacking gear, if you’re venturing into bug-infested areas, it’s a great alternative to a bulky tent. With room to sleep one, plenty of ground clearance (thanks to its flip-up legs), and a built-in, yet easily detachable mosquito net, this bed does everything you need and more. To top it off, the mosquito net has interior blinds that help block morning sunlight or let in a cool breeze.

Red Rock Assault Pack

Red Rock Outdoor Gear Assault Pack

Red Rock Outdoor Gear Assault Pack


Don’t let the name fool you: this backpack is nothing more than a standard hiking backpack with a few very functional additions. First of all, this pack is almost universally compatible with all other USA accessories, such as a canteen pouch, hydration pack, or sleeping pad. With padded shoulder straps and four independently expandable compartments, this bag is comfortable and versatile. It also has compression straps on the sides and can be carried by the shoulder straps or by handles located on the side and top of the bag.

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