Top 10 U.S. Military Gear For Backpackers

The top ten U.S. military gear for backpackers listed in this article are great options for backpackers to consider.

The top ten U.S. military gear for backpackers listed in this article are great options for backpackers to consider. I am acknowledging at the beginning of this article that most backpackers have their gear choices already set. However, military surplus gear is a favorite among many people. The following list is not meant to suggest that every item be substituted for your favorite gear. By contrast, if you are considering some military surplus gear, the following items are a good starting point for adjusting your packing list. U.S. Army surplus gear is durable, reliable, and available in most military surplus stores.

1. The U.S. Air Force Pilot’s Survival Knife (NSN 7340-00-098-4327)

Some backpackers like to carry a fixed-blade knife with them on the trail. If that applies to you then, the U.S. Air Force Pilot’s Survival Knife tops the list of U.S. military gear to consider for your kit. For those with limitations on their spending, the pilot’s survival knife (PSK) is the best high-quality and budget-friendly surplus item for your next hike. Outdoor and survival experts agree that a knife is the most critical tool that you will have at your disposal in a survival situation. You will not go wrong with this knife.

The knife is currently produced by the Ontario Knife Company (OKC) as the 499 Survival Knife. However, the knife is no longer part of the U.S. Government inventory. OKC sells the knife for around $50-60, in most outdoor stores like Cabela’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse. If you are interested in more information about this knife, you can read my previous article on the history of the U.S. Air Force Pilot’s Survival Knife.

2. Gerber MP-600 (USA) Multitool (NSN: 5110-01-394-6252)

Backpackers can always use a good multitool. One of the best military-issued multitools is the Gerber Gear MP-600. It is made in the United States and comes with a Berry-Compliant sheath. There are many detractors of Gerber products. However, I was issued one of these multitools before deploying to Iraq in 2006 as part of our Rapid Fielding Issue (RFI) load out. This multitool is still with me today, and it is as useful as ever when I go backpacking. It is size does works well with most of my loadouts

The Gerber MP-600 is designed to be a one-hand opening multitool. Its folded dimension is 4.9 inches in length and 1.5 inches in width. Thus, this multitool is about the size of a 3 x 5 index card when collapsed and in its sheath. There are multiple versions of the MP-600 (USA). I prefer the standard needle-nose pliers version over the blunt-nosed version. Gerber advertises the multitool as having fourteen tool options. However, it actually has nine tools in the handles. Some of these tools have a dual-use, such as the bottle opener with a flat-tip screwdriver head. The other options that Gerber counts as tools are the standard and metric rulers on the handles. The military-issued MP-600 has replaceable wire cutter heads. Additionally, the MP-600 comes in an oxide black or stainless steel option. However, the MP-600 that is issued to the U.S. servicemember is the black oxide version.

The MP-600 has been on the market long enough to find written and video reviews of it online. Thus, if you are looking for another multitool option, the Gerber MP-600 (USA) is a reasonable consideration.

3. 1-Quart Canteen Set

Military canteens are favorite items for most people. They are readily available in most surplus stores. The U.S. military 1-quart canteens (NSN 8465-01-115-0026) that are the most common on the market are made of heavy-duty plastic. It is rare to find a U.S. military canteen that is stainless steel. However, there are some companies producing replicas in stainless steel with a narrow mouth. These military canteens represent World War II and Korea War versions.

The U.S. canteen comes with a stainless steel nesting cup (NSN 8465-01-314-4282), a canteen cup stand used as a stove (NSN 8465-01-250-3632), that fits into a canteen pouch (NSN 8465-01-525-0585). I call this a set; however, each item must be purchased separately. The military does not issue these four items as a complete set. Nevertheless, if you are buying the plastic canteen, I recommend purchasing the canteen cup and stove to make it a complete backpacking-worthy kit.

One disadvantage of plastic canteens is that they are more susceptible to getting mold on the inside. Surplus stores, usually, do not clean the canteens out before they sell them. Therefore, after purchasing one, ensure it is bleached out, washed, and dried before putting drinking water in it.

4. Watch Cap

The military watch cap has been part of the winter clothing for servicemembers for many decades. Watch caps were made of 100% wool. However, in recent times, the bulky wool and acrylic watch caps have been replaced by the synthetic fleece watch cap. I have been issued both types of watch caps during my military service. Both caps are exceptional clothing items to consider as you prepare for your next outdoor adventure. My personal preference is the wool watch cap. However, for those wanting to save space, the fleece watch cap should be your consideration.

Wool is an efficient clothing material for field use. It retains its ability to keep you warm even if it is wet and also dries quickly when wet. However, some people have allergies to wool. Consequently, the U.S. Army phased out wool material in favor of synthetics such as acrylic, fleece, and Gore-Tex. Moreover, I have provided two options for the watch cap: 100% wool (NSN 8405-01-006-1074) and synthetic fleece (NSN 8405-01-524-2671).

Additionally, remember that national stock numbers are assigned to different colors and sizes of military-issued clothing items. The stock numbers, here, are for the black watch caps. If you desire to have a different color, then follow the links to the vendors. The stock numbers, here, are just a reference for your further investigation and knowledge.

5. Military Cravat Triangular Bandage (NSN: 6510-00-201-1755)

One of the most versatile gear items issued to the military is the triangular bandage. In Vietnam, the infantrymen of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps called it the “drive-on rag.” Many service members in Vietnam also began to use them as head wraps.

Their dimensions are 37 inches by 37 inches by 52 inches. They come folding in a compact, vacuum-sealed plastic bag that measures 3.5 inches by 3 inches by .75 inches. Two stainless steel safety pins come with each bandage. The size of the folded triangular bandage makes them ideal for backpackers.

The military cravat is primarily a medical first-aid item. However, because it is made of 100% cotton, there are many other survival uses for this item. It has multiple ways it can be utilized as a bandage, head wrap, face mask, camouflage aid, or making charred cloth for making fires. It is larger than a standard bandana. Therefore, it is a better item to carry with you on your next backpacking activity.

6. 3H Lensatic Compass (NSN: 6605-01-196-6971)

Land navigation on the trail is a must to ensure that you arrive home safely. Many backpackers love the Garmin® GPS devices and smartphone applications like All Trails to navigate hiking trails. However, these electronic means of land navigation can fail in the middle of a hike. The analog version for land navigation is a paper map, compass, and map protractor.

The U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps still train using the analog method of land navigation. The compass they use is the 3H Tritium Lensatic Compass produced by Cammenga. The full designation of this compass is the M1950 Lensatic Compass. If you are interested in military compass development, you can read my article on the short history of the military compass. 

The conversation about preferences concerning compasses is varied across the internet. I have found that those who have had a bad experience with the military lensatic compass, usually, do not recommend its use. My spending many hours and days on military land navigation courses reveal that the ex-military people who shy away from the military lensatic compass most likely had a hard time passing the land navigation task using this compass.

However, if you are curious about the use and function of the military lensatic compass, the Cammenga 3H Tritium Compass is one that you should consider for your next backpacking adventure.

7. Gore-Tex Bivy Sack (NSN 8465-01-416-8517)

Another surplus item to consider for your packing list is the Gore-Tex Bivy sack from the military modular sleep system (MSS) produced by Tennier Industries. There are two versions available on the market, woodland camouflage and Army Combat Uniform (Foliage) camouflage. I prefer the woodland camouflage version. However, the camouflage pattern does not matter because the bivys are identical except for the coloring. As of this writing, I am not sure if Tennier is producing an operational combat uniform (OCP/Multicam) version. 

Gore-Tex is an excellent material for the field as it is waterproof, windproof, and abrasion-resistant. That does not mean that it is immune from tearing. It means that it will last a long time before any holes or tears appear with proper use. Furthermore, the bivy can be used as a hasty shelter in an emergency in conjunction with an emergency blanket or bivy. Thus, as a piece of survival gear, you will not be disappointed by the Gore-Tex bivy sack from the military modular sleep system.

8. Military Rain Poncho/Woodland Camouflage (NSN 8405-01-100-0976)

Shelter considerations are a focus for backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The military rain poncho is one that some people have found to be a shelter solution on the trail.

The military rain poncho has been with the U.S. military at least since the U.S. Civil War when they were made of oil-penetrated canvas. However, most people are familiar with the military rain poncho used during the Vietnam War. These ponchos are made of rip-stop nylon. They will fit in the large center pocket of the ALICE rucksack when folded and rolled correctly.

A military rain poncho has several uses in the field. Its primary function is as a piece of wet weather clothing to keep you and your get dry. A secondary role is that it can be used as a tarp shelter or cover after the hood is tied off to prevent leaking. There are many sources of information on using tarps for shelters. These tarp configurations also apply to the military rain poncho. Other options that a military poncho can be used for is a hasty litter, game hauler, or hasty sleeping bag when used with the poncho liner.

9. Military Poncho Liner/Woodland Camouflage (NSN 8405-00-889-3683)

Another versatile piece of military gear for backpackers is the liner for the military rain poncho. The poncho liner is, in essence, a light microfiber-filled blanket. However, it is more than a liner for the rain poncho. It can be used as a liner for your sleeping bag, a hasty shelter, or a blanket. The poncho liner is lightweight and measures around 82 inches by 62 inches. Some poncho liners that you can buy have a zipper that allows you to fold them in half and zip them up for a hasty sleeping bag or sleeping bag liner.

A drawback with the poncho liner is that it does not come with its storage mechanism. Those who want a little more organization to their packs will want to put this in a cinch sack or mesh bag. Another way to store the poncho liner is to roll it up and secure it with a couple of gear straps from Sea-To-Summit or Redpoint. Additionally, the rain poncho also can be stored using a cinch sack or gear straps.

If you are looking for a quality piece of military surplus gear, the military poncho liner is your solution to keeping warm while bivouacking on the trail.

10. M-1966 Jungle Hammock (NSN 8460-00-935-6397)

An interesting military surplus item is the jungle hammock. Many backpackers like to use hammocks. If your shelter and bedding preference is a hammock and tarp, you might want to consider the M-1966 Jungle Hammock. You have to be careful when looking for this item as some people will sell the larger M-1965 Hammock system as the hammock we are discussing in this article. The M-1966 Jungle Hammock is comparable to the Warbonnet Traveler hammock.

It is a little bulky compared to most commercial hammocks, such as those sold by Eno. However, if you are curious about a military hammock, then the M-1966 Jungle Hammock is a great military surplus item.

Final Thoughts

As backpackers, we are all curious about different gear options. Military surplus field gear has been in use for generations. These ten gear options are excellent items to think about substituting in your pack. As mentioned above, these gear recommendations are not intended to swap out any of your preferred items completely. However, if you are looking from some military surplus items to add to your packing list, these surplus items are a place to start thinking through what you want.

Also, when looking for U.S. military surplus make sure that you check it for proper labeling. Genuine issued military surplus gear will have the national stock number and nomenclature on it somewhere, either as a tag or stencil. There are many knock-offs out there on the market. If you want to get the real stuff then you should inspect it before purchasing it.

Remember that you have already purchased U.S. military field gear indirectly through your federal income tax. Part of your federal income tax goes to purchasing this rugged and reliable gear for our military service members. You will not go wrong adding some of this excellent gear into your packing list. It has stood the test of time. It is reliable, practical, and will continue to last if it is properly maintained.

Can These Awesome Items Make A Great Backpack Loadout?

Can these awesome items make a great backpack loadout? Yes they can. Here is my list of recommended equipment should you consider as you restock your kit for the spring hiking and backpacking season.

Can these awesome items make a great backpack loadout? Yes they can. The spring outdoor season is here. The snows are beginning to thaw, temperatures are warming, and the outdoors are exploding with vibrant colors. Spring also brings a time of refreshing and renewal. The traditional spring cleaning period is part of this time of the year. As we ready our gear and load-outs for the season, we sometimes exchange older stuff for the new. Here is my list of recommended equipment should you consider as you restock your kit for the spring hiking and backpacking season.

 

1. Kelty ZYP 48 ($169.95 MSRP)

 

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The Kelty ZYP is the newest line of backpacks from a reputable gear manufacturer. Kelty produces some of the highest quality outdoor gear on the market. The Kelty ZYP line continues that tradition. If you are looking to change out your current pack with something different, a Kelty ZYP could be an option to consider.

Kelty ZYP 28/38/48 Video

2. Morakniv Garberg (Stainless Steel) ($79.99 MSRP)

 

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The Morakniv Garberg (Stainless Steel) is one of the highest quality, yet budget-friendly, fixed blade knives that you can possess. Morakniv manufactures some of the finest cutlery presently on the market. The Garberg is Mora’s contribution to the full tang, fixed blade knife genre. If you are looking for a quality, durability, and practicality, you will not go wrong purchasing the Morakniv Garberg (Stainless Steel).

Morakniv Garberg Video Review

3. Victorinox Swiss Army Huntsman Wood ($68.00 MSRP)

 

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The Swiss Army knives by Victorinox have a long history in the outdoor world. These are some of the most versatile pocket knives on the market. The latest version of their Huntsman pocket knife comes with wood scales. The Huntsman is one of the best pocket knives that one can carry into the field. Although some consider the knife a multitool, it is, in reality, a pocket knife with some added capabilities. There are many great folding knives currently on the market. However, the Swiss Army Huntsman is one of the elites in the pocket knife market.

4. Leatherman® Heritage Rebar® ($69.95 MSRP)

 

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Leatherman® products are favorites among outdoor enthusiasts. The company has built a great heritage of multitools that incorporate quality and durability along with practicality. Recently, Leatherman has re-issued their first favorite multitool, Rebar. It is called the Heritage Rebar. Leatherman’s great multitool that set the industry standard for multitools comes again for another generation of outdoorsman to enjoy.

5. Ontario Knife Company 1-18 Machete ($27.95 MSRP)

 

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The OKC -1-18 Machete is a wood chopping and brush clearing instrument. It was in use with the U.S. military for sixty years. The 1-18 Machete is a versatile and practical tool made of 1095 carbon steel. If you live in areas where an ax is impractical, then the OKC 1-18 Machete may be the solution that you are looking for to tackle your chopping and clearing needs.

OKC 1-18 Machete Video Review

6. Sigma 3 Fire Kit ($62.95 MSRP)

 

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The Sigma 3 Fire Kit is one of the best pre-made fire kits that a backpacker can include in their loadout. It comes with a versatile array of items with which to make fires. It comes in a compact zippered pouch that fits well into any size backpack. If you wish to know more about this product, you can read my review of The Sigma 3 Fire Kit.

7. MSR® 2 Person Mess Kit ($34.95 MSRP)

 

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MSR® products are some of the finest that one can purchase in the mountaineering market. However, many of their products are favorites with hikers and backpackers. One of the more innovative mess kits on the market is the MSR 2 Person Mess Kit. It is an excellent addition to your bag if you are an ultralight backpacker. Moreover, this kit can fit just as well into your pack if you are on a hunting expedition in Alaska. 

MSR 2 Person Mess Video Review

8. Sigma 3 Water Kit ($89.95 MSRP)

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The Sigma 3 Water Kit is another innovative product by the Sigma 3 Survival School. This kit is a one-stop kit to meet your water carrying and processing needs. This kit includes a Sawyer Mini Water Filter kit, Aqua Water Purification tablets, and a 32 ounce single-walled Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle. If you want to know more about this product, you can read my review of the Sigma 3 Water Kit.

9. Warbonnet XLC Hammock ($235 MSRP) and Super Fly Tarp System ($140.00)

 

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The Warbonnet XLC Hammock System is one of the best that you can buy on the market. It offers a wide variety of features. This hammock system has some accompanying options for consideration: closed-mosquito net and hammock quilts. The hammock works well with the Warbonnet Tarp. If you are looking to upgrade your hammock system, you can not go wrong with the Warbonnet XLC Hammock. If you want to know more about this hammock, check out Rob Allen’s review of the Warbonnet XLC Hammock on YouTube.

Warbonnet XLC Hammock System Video Review

10. Survival Emergency Solutions (SES) Survival Compact First Aid Kit ($35.95 MSRP)

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The SES Survival Compact First Aid Kit is one of the best that you can buy to upgrade your personal first aid kit needs. This kit overflows with organization. One drawback with this kit is that it does come with a tourniquet. So, if you are looking for a first aid kit that comes with a tourniquet, then you may have to search the military surplus stores for U.S. Army IFAKs. Otherwise, you will not be disappointed with this kit.

SES Promo Video

Final Observations

The spring outdoor season his here: camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, and boating depending on where you live. The spring also motivates some clearing out of old stuff and making room for new things. Your backpack and outdoor loadout may need a change or upgrade. The items that are listed in this article are a combination of personal use or recommendations from credible sources. The discussion about backpacking gear is one that generates a lot of preferences. For example, some prefer Leatherman® multitools over Gerber® ones. If you want to continue to investigate and research the above items, check out the links throughout this article to help you make better and informed decisions on the gear. Remember to stay safe, stay prepared, and eventually, I want to see you out on the trail.

3 Outstanding Survival Knives For Backpackers

What are the 3 outstanding survival knives for backpackers?

What are the 3 outstanding survival knives for backpackers? The backpacking world has many trekking methods. There is thru-hiking, ultra-light hiking, multi-day hiking, day-hiking, and rucking. All of these styles of backpacking have their associated gear. The common gear items among them is a fixed blade knife, multi-tool, and folding blade knife.
The subject of the best knives or tools for outdoorsman is a matter of opinion and experience. Most articles that one reads reviewing knives and tools often reflect the personal preferences of the authors. Arguments are given for the various reasons as to why a particular knife or multitool gets top billing. Ultimately, settling on the best knife or tool is up to you, the consumer and end-user of the products that are on the market.

Criteria For Selection

The following list of budget-friendly knives reflects my personal use of these knives and my experience with them in the field. There are three basic levels of cost for purchasing knives: budget-friendly or low cost, middle range cost, and high-end or expensive. In this article, I will cover the best budget friendly survival knives for backpackers. The criteria for the selection of the individual knives is: cost (less than $100), quality, and practicality for hiking or backpacking.

1. The Light My Fire® Swedish Fire Knife® (Stainless Steel)

 

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The Swedish Fire Knife is one of the best knives that a backpacker can carry on the trail. The knife is a collaborative effort between Light My Fire® and Morakniv®. This knife is a Morakniv. Morakniv produces some the best budget-friendly knives on the market. Many of the outdoor and survival experts agree that a Morakniv product is a wise choice for those with limited resources. The Swedish Fire Knife is one of the more versatile of the Mora knife products.

 
This knife produced by Morakniv for the Light My Fire® company is a versatile and durable knife for backpackers. Unlike bushcrafters, backpackers carry most of their needs on the trail. Primitive skills or bushcrafting skills are an added bonus if a backpacker has these skills. However, most backpackers carry gear that addresses their needs. Therefore, a standard bushcrafting knife might be overkill for most backpackers. The Swedish Fire Knife is perfect for the needs of the backpacker.

Overall Impressions

There are several great qualities with the Swedish Fire Knife that backpackers should consider. The first positive with the knife is its blade. The blade is made of stainless steel with a satin finish. However, there is a carbon steel blade version of this knife. The characteristics of the blade allow for ease of maintenance in the field. The knife will stay sharp and will not rust or corrode. These qualities in the blade make it an ideal knife for backpackers, especially day-hikers and weekend backpackers.

 
The next positive aspect of the knife is the blade length. The length of the blade is just under 4 inches. The blade length makes the knife ideal as a belt knife that will not be cumbersome around the waist when wearing a backpack or mounted on the shoulder strap of your backpack.

 
Another great quality with the knife is durability. The Swedish Fire Knife has both a stainless steel blade and a rubberized handle. The implications are that Morakniv designed the knife to last in the field under normal use. I have also noticed that the rubber handle reduces slippage on the hand when the knife is being used in wet weather. That is a great quality when you are trying to set up your bivouac area when it is raining.

 
A third great quality of the knife is its practicality for use with backpacking, hiking, and other recreational outdoor applications. The knife has a fire steel (ferro rod) built into the handle. The feature allows for a fire making tool that is not attached to a knife sheath or on a separate lanyard. Because the knife has its own fire steel, the blade is ground to a sharp 90° angle. This blade feature allows for scraping tree bark or using with a larger ferro rod. Additionally, the knife blade is thin enough for processing fish or small game.

2. Morakniv Garberg (Stainless Steel)

 

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The Morakniv® Garberg is Mora’s full tang knife. It was initially marketed with a stainless steel blade. More recently, Mora began offering the knife with a 1095 high carbon steel blade. The stainless steel blade seems to work best for those who spend limited amounts of time outdoors. Therefore, the Garberg with the stainless steel blade is recommended.
Furthermore, Morakniv also offers two different sheaths for the knife: leather and polymer. The polymer sheath is called the Multi-mount Sheath. It allows for a traditional belt mount or PALS mount configuration for MOLLE gear. The Garberg is a great full-tang knife option for those wanting a more traditional, yet budget-friendly, bushcraft survival-type knife.

Overall Impressions

The Garberg is very versatile in the tasks that it can be used for in the field. It can help with making wooden stakes or toggles for setting up your tent or tarp. The knife is good for processing wood for making fires. This knife also is useful for processing fish or game. The blade spine is a robust 90°. Therefore, it is excellent for striking sparks from a ferro rod or scraping tasks to make tinder.

3. Ontario Knife Company® Air Force Survival Knife (499)

 

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The Ontario Knife Company® Air Force Survival Knife (499) is another outstanding knife for backpackers. The Air Force Survival Knife has been around since the late 1950s. It was the standard survival knife issued to U.S. military pilots for almost fifty years. The longevity of the knife’s use by the U.S. military is a testament to its quality. The knife saw its most extensive use in the jungle warfare of Vietnam in the 1960s. Later, it was adopted by many recreational outdoorsman in the 1970s and 1980s. The Air Force Survival Knife is a great addition to your kit if you are looking for a quality, budget-friendly fixed-blade knife. If you want to know more about the Air Force Survival Knife, you can read my article The Short History Of The Air Force Survival Knife.

Overall Impressions

The Air Force Survival Knife is a great knife for backpacking. The blade is not too long. Yet, the blade is made of 1095 carbon steel. This steel allows for making sparks with flint rock. The notched spine is excelling for small notch making tasks. The flat part of the spine near the hand guard is ground to 90°. This feature makes it compatible for use with a ferro rod. The fine edge on the blade makes for ease of sharpening in the field with the accompanying sharpening stone.

One drawback with the knife is that its sheath is only compatible for wearing on a belt. Therefore, for those wanting a MOLLE compatible sheath for a fixed-blade knife will have to seek one from another company. Some critics make complaints about the hand guard between the handle and blade is not necessary. However, those who make that criticism are seeking a bushcrafting knife. The Air Force Survival Knife is not a bushcrafting knife.

Final Thoughts

Backpackers love the outdoors. As such, it is wise to carry a fixed-blade knife with you. There are many great knives on the market at various prices levels. Those wanting to stay within a budget will find that these knives meet that criterion. These are quality knives and will not let you down when you are on the trail. Therefore, consider wisely the knife that you carry on your next adventure.