Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Barbara Hauck here, managing editor for Black Bag Confidential. If, like me, you grew up in the Delmarva area, then you probably remember the local Army surplus store, Sunny’s Surplus. You can find similar stores all over the country — no matter where you live — often in older strip malls.
If you’ve ever been inside one, you can conjure up the distinct smell of metal and canvas that permeates the air, as well as the image of clothes, tools and military gear crammed into every available inch of space.
Many years ago — before online retailers and big-box stores — surplus stores were the go-to place for camping and outdoor gear. And while they may be harder to find these days (all 55 Sunny’s locations shuttered their doors years ago), they’re still worth seeking out.
Below, Jason discusses a few types of survival gear you can find great deals on at military surplus stores. If you’re prepping on a budget, these stores are a great place to start.
Just be sure to heed Jason’s parting words…
Your Army Surplus Shopping List
One of my favorite military surplus stores happens to be in Utah, called Smith & Edwards. It’s a massive emporium. In fact, their slogan is, “We have everything you want, if we can find it!” This is exactly the type of store in which you can spend a lot of time and find some great survival gear.
If you happen to have a Smith & Edwards type of store near you, here are the specific items I would look for to round out your personal stash of survival supplies…
1) Gear Bags: You can find several different kinds of bags at military surplus stores, including backpacks and duffel bags for carrying camping gear. Many of these bags are made from waxed canvas or waterproof fabric that will keep your gear dry in wet weather and other survival conditions. These bags are also tough and can really take a beating. They’re an excellent option for storing your survival supplies so you have a bug-out bag that’s ready to go.
2) Clothing: Clothing is often overlooked when it comes to prepping, but the truth is quality clothing is critical in survival situations and a military surplus store is the perfect place to find the items you need. And contrary to popular belief, military surplus clothing is not always camouflage. You can buy decent-looking, durable clothes for everyday wear as well. For instance, you can find clothing that’s made to be quick-drying or rip-resistant or able to tolerate extreme temperatures. So if you need to add a few articles of clothing to your survival gear, definitely check out a surplus store.
3) Knives, Axes and Machetes: The key thing to remember when purchasing these items is that you need to make sure they are actual military surplus, not cheap knockoffs. Actual military surplus is designed by the U.S. military to be used by soldiers in hostile areas. These tools must be made with quality materials so they don’t fail when they’re needed most. Sure, you can find similar items at other outdoor stores or even online, but for pretty much the same price, you will get a far superior product if it’s military surplus.
4) Footwear: Any surplus store worth its salt will have a huge selection of military boots in nearly every size imaginable. Since boots are an important part of every soldier’s gear, they are made to withstand the toughest combat conditions. You can even find surplus sneakers in some of these stores. And don’t forget to look for quality socks!
5) Camping Gear: From tents to sleeping bags and lanterns to radios, you can find inexpensive, quality camping supplies at a surplus store — even MREs and eating utensils. The versatility of this equipment makes it especially valuable because you can use it for camping as well as an emergency.
No matter what you decide to purchase from a military surplus store, the most important thing (again) is to make sure you are buying actual military surplus — not imitation gear made overseas. In a survival situation, you want the best gear you can possibly buy, and mil-spec equipment is made to hold up in harsh conditions over time.
Over the past few years, military surplus stores have begun to change. Unfortunately, nowadays you’ll often find many nonmilitary items for sale. However, the next time you drive past one of these stores, stop and see if they have any surplus items you can add to your survival gear.