Q:

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
Outside Magazine
ALICE Military Pack

ALICE Military Pack

A:

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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