Military surplus stores are some of the most interesting and unique places to shop. Where else can you pick up a pair of high-quality boots, a high-grade camp axe, a gas mask, and a bulletproof helmet that are battle tested and proven to be capable of withstanding virtually anything you can throw at them? Military surplus stores may appear on the surface to be hangouts for old soldiers and anti-government types, but the reality is that they can be a great place to find a good deal on products that will last you well beyond the typical warranty offered by civilian merchandise.
A good military surplus store will offer a wide variety of products that are suitable for everyone from campers to geeks and all points in-between. Be it clothing, bags, travel gear, or survival equipment — you might be surprised just how much one of these camouflaged stores carries.
Here are five reasons military surplus stores are great for geeks.
Clothing Made to Last
Contrary to popular belief, not all military uniforms are camouflaged. In fact, much of the military-grade clothing sold in surplus stores across the US and Canada look exactly like civilian attire (minus the brand logos). Most of these products are made from durable and functional materials that offer rip protection and longevity through a wide range of environments. In fact, military uniforms (especially those from Australia in my experience) can be extremely comfortable.
One material commonly used is a nylon, polyester, or cotton blend material called Ripstop. Ripstop looks like any other material except a square weave pattern is used that stops rips and keeps them from spreading to larger portions of the material. Loose threads, snags, and other common clothes-tearing occurrences are of little concern to someone donning an outer layer made with Ripstop. If you look very closely, you can identify Ripstop material by a small pattern of uniform squares that span the area of the material.
Another benefit to military-grade clothing can be found in the wide variety of coats and jackets that are both modular and protective. Made for troops in active combat that may find themselves stuck outside in a variety of different environments, this outerwear is made to last. Not only that, but a lot of this clothing looks an awful lot like certain name brand jackets that sell for tens or hundreds of dollars more, and are generally made from less durable materials.
It’s no secret that geeks love cargo pants. Military groups all around the world agree that they are functional and essential to any equipped solider. As a result, you can find a wide variety of different cargo pants and shorts that are reinforced and built to stand up to any physical activity you can throw at it — even if that activity is playing World of Warcraft non-stop for 16 hours.
Any geek who carries more than just a smartphone with them knows the value of a good bag. Cheap, civilian-grade bags often burst at the seams, rip, and provide little or no actual protection against the elements to the contents within. The bags you’ll find at a good surplus store are battle tested and proven durable in situations that civilians never have to deal with in any foreseeable circumstance.
A good Alice pack, range bag, paratrooper bag, or rucksack can make a big difference in how you think about packing for a trip. These often-modular packs are durable and usually have enough pockets to hold virtually anything you can conceivably need during a trip. A modular bag allows you to add pouches, which expands overall capacity as you pick up more items on your journey. In fact, there is a large variety of TSA-approved military bags that provide more protection and similar storage capacity to brand-name luggage that costs three and four times as much. A good MOLLE bag will hold your laptop, iPad, smartphone, chargers, cameras, clothes, and toiletries with room to spare.
One item in particular that might appeal to geeks is the military map case. This shoulder bag is typically made to spec at just the right size to fit an iPad and a variety of different accessories. Not only that, but you can find them in a variety of fashionable colors. Typically made out of a cotton canvas, these bags are both lightweight and durable.
When it comes to camping gadgets, few places have better equipment at better prices than a military surplus store. I have put my camping gear through the ringer over the years, and there’s nothing more depressing than having something you need fail on you while you’re out in the middle of a forest in darkness. Being a soldier out in the field where every piece of your equipment is essential to your survival means having the best possible equipment at your disposal at all times. Military surplus stores make this gear available to civilians at a great price.
Camp axes, fire-building gear, field rations, knives, machetes, axes, and virtually anything else you could need on a camping trip can be found at a military surplus store for pennies on the dollar of what you’d spend on lower-quality consumer products at a trendy sporting goods store.
People spend a small fortune on tents and mattresses only to discover that they’re rarely as portable or durable as they had hoped. Cots, sleeping bags, hydration systems, canteens, shovels, water purification tablets, and tents are all available. You can find a good two-man tent that is built to last through years of use for less than $70.
Geeks going on camping trips will probably appreciate gadgets like the SCP601 Multi-Functional Solar Charger that charges a variety of different electronic gadgets when no outlet is readily available. Oh, did I mention you can find it for less than $50?
Did you know that militaries all across the world issue their soldiers sneakers? Did you know that many of the shoes you can find in stores today are almost indistinguishable from their military counterparts? You can even find sandals and flip-flops at most large outlets. Footwear made available to civilians at military surplus stores is, like everything else mentioned in this post so far, durable and inexpensive. Tactical boots are great for everyday wear, motorcycle riding, and camping.
One footwear-related accessory that I’ve found a lot of use for are elastic blousing garters or “boot bands” that are typically about 6″ long, made of elastic, and have a hook on either end that can be interconnected to form a secure hold. These bands are perfect for packing gadgets for travel in a way that prevents bag travel which can result in damage should the bag be dropped or face any sudden impact. These bands are also great for tying off and securing cables without having to break out zip ties.
Geeks love gadgets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought (or wanted to buy) a multitool, flashlight, or other pocket gadget just because it seemed extremely useful or functional for day-to-day package opening, computer repair, or other activity that requires more than two hands to accomplish.
Unfortunately, the world of retail has inflated the price of these products while significantly decreasing the quality. How many pocket knives have you owned that feature paper thin blades that would twist or bend at the slightest torque? If you want a good functional multitool at a reasonable price, you might want to consider stopping by your local or online military surplus store.
Tools used by law enforcement and EMS services such as seat belt cutters and emergency window punches are especially useful during emergency situations that may arise on the road. If you come across someone in danger, waiting for help isn’t always an option. It’s never a bad idea to have something available to you in the event that someone desperately needs assistance right away. After all, wouldn’t you be thankful that someone was prepared if you were in trouble?
I’ve always equated being a geek to being a Boy Scout. Both excel when they are prepared, and each of them rely on a basic understanding of the tools of their trade in order to get through whatever challenges they come across. Any soldier out in the field will undoubtedly tell you that the gear they rely on has to be better than the mass-produced consumer-grade products available on the market. Their lives may depend on any one piece of equipment working reliably each and every time it’s needed.
Shouldn’t you trust your laptop, tablet computer, or other gadgets to products of the same standard?