Is military surplus gear comparable to brand-name gear?

I live in an Army town where my choice for outdoor gear is fairly limited to military surplus products. Relatively cheap ALICE packs and woodland co Gore-Tex abound here. Is military-issue gear comparable to more expensive brand-ne gear? Jeff Lawton, Oklahoma

Aug 21, 2007
Outside Magazine
ALICE Military Pack

ALICE Military Pack


Well, aside from the fact that woodland camouflage may be to your disadvantage if for any reason a search party is looking for you, there s absolutely nothing wrong with military surplus gear. These days the military is exceedingly savvy about outdoor gear, and you ll find all the current fabrics and designs: Gore-Tex, Polartec fleece, and reasonably good synthetic fills in sleeping bags. It s all thoroughly tested at sites such as the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass.

What s worth the money is what fills a need for you. If an ALICE (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) pack that you can get for probably $75 does a better job for the money than a $150 pack you buy on the Web or at an outdoors store, then by all means buy it. Same for military-style boots, underwear, gloves, and so on. You might look a little odd hiking around the hills in camo gear, but nobody is going to laugh at you. Quite the opposite someone might buy you a beer.

Besides, there was a time when military surplus gear pretty much defined the outdoor industry. Certainly in the years after World War II that was the case, with a few civilian exceptions such as the Trooper Nelson pack frame. I remember when the REI store the one REI store still sold military surplus. As I recall, the Air Force summer dress-wool pants were a hot-ticket item. They were lighter and snappier looking than the Army wool pants. But both were pretty good for cold-weather climbs such as on Rainier.

Which, of course, reminds me: In this day and age you re hardly forced to stay with local choices only. Gear from REI (rei.com), Campmor (campmor.com), Cabela s (cabelas.com), Northern Mountain Supply (northernmountain.com), Sierra Trading Post (sierratradingpost.com), and L.L. Bean (llbean.com) (to name a few) is just a mouse click away. We have two surprisingly good outdoor stores in my little town of Port Townsend, but I still do a fair amount of shopping online, just for the sake of selection.

You ve seen our picks for 2007 Gear of the Year, and now the entire Outside Summer Buyer s Guide is online. Check out this year s more than 400 must-have gear items, including backpacks.

Filed To: Backpacks

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