Army surplus stores have always been a good place to find camp basics like first-aid kits and water bottles. More recently, they’ve also become a great place to buy steeply discounted gear from Gore-Tex and Polartec, both of which supply apparel to troops. I recently visited my local surplus store and came away with these top eight finds.
G.I. Silkweight Pants ($10)
This long underwear is built from Polartec Power Dry—my favorite next-to-skin fabric, thanks to its gossamer weight and moisture-wicking abilities. Several mainstream outdoor brands use the exact same material in their baselayers, but those products cost five times as much.
Army Combat Temperate Weather Boot ($100)
Sure, it's the most expensive item on the list, but that’s because this boot is built to take a beating, with a waterproof Gore-Tex liner and burly Vibram rubber soles. Comparable outdoor boots usually cost twice as much.
Parachute Cord $5
P-cord is good for everything from fixing tents to hanging your food from a tree. And five dollars for 100 feet of 550-pound P-cord is a pretty good deal. Bonus: the massive color selection.
Ammo Can $11
Every serious whitewater rafter (or road tripper) owns at least one ammo can. These rigid, waterproof containers will keep your valuables and first-aid kit dry and safe while paddling—even if everything else goes in the drink.
Vinyl Poncho $4
Vinyl ponchos are essentially over-engineered plastic bags with zero breathability. But they're 100 percent waterproof, very lightweight, and come in handy during sudden downpours at camp. Plus, it's hard to argue with a $4 insurance policy.
G.I. Mosquito Head Net $4
This inexpensive net is the most important item in my pack when I'm camping in mosquito-infested areas. Sure, it looks ridiculous, but there’s no better way to protect your face and neck from blood-sucking bugs.
Travel Kit $8
There’s no included carrying case, but this is by far the best-stocked beginner’s first-aid kit for the price. Army surplus stores also carry more advanced kits for people with real medical training.
Proper Boonie Sun Hat $11
We’ve tested technical sun hats that are better at wicking moisture, but this cap has three things going for it: it's cheap, durable and provides plenty of sun protection.