How to Find Real Military Surplus & Avoid the Knock Offs

Be aware that many websites and retailers are advertising: “Military Style”, “Military Grade”, “Mil-Spec” and will use other similar military-style wording.

This is designed to trick us, consumers, to avoid letting you and me know that the items are simply not Genuine Military Issue or fake military surplus!

Read here about these FAKE Military Surplus Items that I found and how you can avoid this type of product as well.

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  Beware of FAKE Military Surplus
      The Rise of Fake Military Surplus
      The Dangers of Using Fake Military Surplus
      Be Careful When Buying Military Surplus

Beware of FAKE Military Surplus

I had purchased a stainless steel “Military Style” GI cup from a retailer on the internet. When the cup arrived, it was made of some suspicious metal with a sparkly grey powdery coating. This was definitely not stainless steel, and I’m not sure it’s even safe to drink from it.

To make matters even worse, there is a label on the bottom that says “Made in China”. I’m pretty confident that our military supplies are typically made in the United States of America.

Here is a side by side picture of a genuine stainless steel G.I. Cup, beside a Chinese knock-off version.

Fake Military Surplus
Left: Genuine; Right: Fake
 Fake Military Surplus
Right: Notice the Made in China Sticker!

Made in China, shoddy construction and sketchy looking materials/coating, that’s 3 strikes.

This cup in non-usable for me!

Luckily for us, there are ways to identify real military surplus.

Identifying Genuine Military Surplus

Military products are identified by a label on some articles such as fabric (ponchos, etc,). The label is silk-screened directly on the fabric.

NSN TagThe NSN label contains:

  1. The NSN # (National Stock Number)
  2. A description of the article.
  3. The name of the manufacturer.
  4. Other information such as laundry instructions (not required)

If you don’t see at least the first three items listed there, then it is a very good chance that it’s not military.

gi cup stamped US
Stamped “US”

Now there are exceptions. For example, you can’t put a pretty silk-screened fabric label on a stainless steel GI cup that will end up exposed to heat and fire.

Military quality usually exceeds similar products of commercial quality. Military-grade tends to look and feel very rugged.

For example, on genuine US Military Surplus “Army” Boots you can see the thread stitching. You can tell that it’s military and will last forever. if the stitching on the soles appears to be molded into the rubber, it’s commercial grade and the stitching is only decorative, and probably won’t last nearly as long.

ROCKY Men's 8" S2V Tactical Boots
ROCKY Men’s 8″ S2V Tactical Boots

The Rise of Fake Military Surplus

You can still find army surplus stores. In fact, there’s probably one near you.

However, if you take a really close look, you’ll notice that they aren’t the same type of army surplus store you went to when you were still a kid. There are probably fewer products, particularly actual and real military surplus.

There are two possible reasons for that:

One is the changing nature of war these past few years. The conflicts these days required fewer soldiers as compared to the large scale wars before.

And then, there’s online shopping.

Army surplus world - online shop for military goods
Army surplus world – online shop for military goods

More and more people prefer shopping online because it’s more convenient. You wouldn’t have to leave your home just to buy the products you want.

Considering those two factors, there are now fewer military surplus products to fill and keep shelves stocked. So, what sellers do is buy and import knock-off products or items that are meant to look like military surplus.

Another solution these shops have is to add other items or dilute their stock. Some of them offer airsoft gears and camping tools. Others offer survival kits just to attract enthusiasts.

Some stores turned themselves into antique shops, particularly those that carry 20th-century military gears. These items are considered vintage by some collectors who are willing to pay a huge sum of money for them. 

The Dangers of Using Fake Military Surplus

Your number one concern when using fake military surplus is your safety. Since the materials used to create them aren’t guaranteed to be safe, you could be compromising your health and wellness in using them.

American Army carrying gears

Then, there’s the issue of durability. True military surplus items are supposed to last long. Fake ones, however, are generally made with substandard and low-quality materials. These could either leave them unusable or they won’t be able to keep up with long-time use.

Be Careful When Buying Military Surplus

A few years ago, the police were able to scoop up-armored vehicles, M16s, grenade launchers, and other types of military equipment which was were declared as surplus by none other than the Department of Defense.

They were also able to haul simulated pipe bombs and rifles, night vision goggles, and items that could compromise the public’s safety if they were modified using commercially available items.

kevlar helmet used by military

All of those items were seized through a fake federal agency that was created to test the safeguards of the Defense Logistics Agency’s excess property program.

With fictitious names and information, the investigators were able to apply to the Law Enforcement Support Office Program. They also created a fake email and website to support their “agency”.

As part of the approval, the fake agency was required to prove its authorizing statute. By citing fake authorizing provisions, they were easily confirmed.

military gear from unsplash

There was no phone call or even a proper visit to verify everything they presented.

After approval, the fake agency then requested for a controlled property. It consists of pieces of equipment that were too sensitive to be released to the public.

Just a couple of days after that, they got the approval and more than 100 items were transferred. Their value was estimated to be around $277 to $600,000.

Now, what does this mean?

Simply put, it’s not just fake military surplus you have to be careful of. Even if you’re buying authentic items, you may need to inquire about their source. This is to make sure that you aren’t breaking the law.

Ammo Ammunition photo taken from unsplash


We’re not saying that anything that is not true military surplus is or is not good. I am sure there are “Military-style” items for sale that are amazingly awesome. If you are looking to buy genuine military surplus then be aware that fake military surplus is out there, and do some checking to ensure you are getting a legitimate military surplus!

If you don’t have a reputable Military Surplus store in your area, has tons of military surplus.

14 thoughts on “How to Find Real Military Surplus & Avoid the Knock Offs”

  1. Bravo! This is a great explanation. We’re surplus fans, of course, but I think Rothco products are well made too. I hope you were able to get a refund for your purchase on Amazon. I tried to get a refund once but no luck.

  2. Please be warned about whom you “buy” military surplus from!
    I recently purchased a large ALICE pack from Allegheny Surplus Outlet in PA.
    The pack was listed as being in “Very Good to Excellent” condition.
    When I received this item – the kidney straps were cut, the retaining strap was so old it had “cracks”.
    The bottom of the top three pockets were ripped out at the bottom. This item was a POS for my $55.00.
    The bottom of the frame was so beat and worn the metal legs weren’t even the same length.
    I took pictures and sent them to Allegheny Surplus Outlet.
    Was told I had to send the pack back at my expense as they had to verify it was one of “theirs”…..
    Your kidding right?
    Never heard from or received a response since then.
    My recommendation would be to avoid them at all costs.
    Horrible people.
    This is from a “Nam” vet – 63 years young.
    I know what I’m talking about – I wore these “In Country”.

    • One of our friends has purchased many items from Allegheny Surplus Outlet in PA and has had nothing but great things to say. I guess it depends on which employee fills the order and who takes the RMA call. It only takes 1 bad apple to spoil the bunch.

      Also, smart move, Bob, for using Hushmail! Glad to see someone taking their privacy seriously! OpSec is key!

  3. Excellent article and let me pile on one more reason to buy true milspec when it comes to field equipment, ponchos, outergarments, etc.

    If you’re concerned about IR signature the milspec equipment was designed and treated to present the minimum IR signature possible…now with use and improper cleaning (like using detergent with ‘optical brighteners’) it can wear off…but at least it started off as IR resistent.

  4. There are a lot of imitation stuff out there and even military supplies are also imitated. We just have to be careful about buying military stuff. There are a lot of legit stores out there and even on the internet. We just need to do a little research and read reviews about them to avoid fake ones.

  5. Standard issue military equipment is generally good equipment, but bottom line, it’s the *cheapest* equipment that can pass the various requirements necessary in testing. In other words, it’s the most cost effective. It is not, by any means, the best. Ask any service member, and they will tell you that have purchased out of pocket some other brand of boot, tactical gear, gloves, etc., because their issued equipment didn’t hold up like it they needed it to (although it did hold up like it was supposed to). Before spending your hard earned money on military surplus equipment, do your research, and ask veterans or service members that have experience with that equipment whether it’s worth getting or going for a civilian equivalent, and how to use it properly. Most of it is excellent, some of it is overpriced garbage.

  6. I agree that military products and garments are very durable and long lasting, but I also believe that some military style products can be as durable and as rugged as authentic military products.

  7. A company that is great for selling ‘ military style’ surplus is Sportsmen’s Guide. Beware of their description of slightly used. Translated = worn out. Their surplus government issued military ammo is made in Mexico. It took me four weeks of hard work to convince them that false advertising was a crime. All US military ammo is sealed with a waterproof red color sealer. I had to send them photos of what real US military sealed ammo looked like. They has since gone back to selling real military surplus ammo. I dropped my membership with them.

  8. The most disgusting thing, to me, is when a surplus store, claiming to be veteran-owned, markets foreign-made garbage, and hides point of origin in the description, sometimes with words like ‘military style’, or ‘enhanced version’. No reputable veteran would sell bogus surplus goods, at least not without putting them in some kind of bargain bin, with the truth in plain sight.

  9. Wow, it’s interesting that you can find fake military surplus from other places. My brother told me that one of his friends was looking for military equipment in memory of his friend that serve the army. I’m going to let him know about making sure he doesn’t end up buying fake stuff.


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