What is Military Surplus? How Does It Work?

Blog Written by JOHN COTTON / Fact-checked by LOGAN MILLER

what is military surplus

Whether you passed by a military surplus store or saw a garage sale with a sign “military surplus” you’re probably curious about what they’re all about. What is military surplus, exactly?

In general terms, military surplus refers to a set of items that are put up for sale when they are no longer needed by the military. Business-minded people then buy these items from the military and resell them as “military surplus” in stores or online.

Read on to learn about the legality of military surplus, where you can find them, and if these shops are open to the public.

How Does Military Surplus Work?


What is considered Military Surplus? For your information, unused, whether new or old military stuff can be considered military surplus, as long as the military no longer needs them and have to dispose of the items.

Who buys them?

Military surplus stores go to government auctions to purchase the goods. Sometimes, they visit military branches such as the Air Force or Marines directly when an announcement of a surplus sale has been made.

Usually, the items these surplus stores get are in bulk—for example, a truckload of camouflage jackets. Once the deal has been made, surplus stores would go sorting. Depending on the type of items, 10% of these would be unusable, 20% repairable, and the rest good to sell as is.

Sometimes, the bigger places that buy the bulk surplus sell the good-for-sale items to other smaller surplus stores. If not, they sell directly at their own shops.

How to Buy Military Surplus?

If you want to purchase military surplus, you can visit online stores, including:

  • GovPlanet
  • Military Surplus World
  • Army Surplus World
  • GSA Auctions

You can also visit Surplus Personal Property Sales to see the locations of new auctions and sale places.

Things You Can Buy at Military Surplus


Everything made specifically for the military was manufactured following the highest standards. After all, one malfunction could lead to the loss of a soldier’s life. That is why the demand for buying military gear continues to this day.

Here are some must-have things to get at army surplus stores:

  • Clothing – Any Army surplus store is filled with various coats, pants, and shirts in different sizes, styles, and branches of the military. Socks are great finds here as well, and they’re usually unused but stocked.
  • Accessories – If you love hunting or going on adventure trails, tactical belts, other army-style belts, military backpacks, and bags offer a ton of pockets that are practical, adjustable, and durable.
  • Hats and helmets – The military has a wide range of hats (for the cold or hot environments soldiers have to withstand). Helmets are more standard and designed with specifications fit for the field or war. If you plan to wear them, make sure you try them out first since military helmets are adjustable.
  • Boots – One of the most popular items you’ll find in these surplus stores is military boots of all types. The US Army issues 1-2 pairs of boots for basic training. The Navy gives boots replacement every two years. Other branches of the military also replace boots in a few months to 2-3 years.
  • Camping Tents and stoves – Military-issued items such as their tents are some of the best tents you can find. Not only can they fit up to 10 soldiers at a time, but they’re also designed to be used in a wide range of harsh elements. If you buy a tent as big as these in retail stores, it would cost you a lot. And while you’re at it, try to find fuel/alcohol stoves as well.
  • Protective gear – Look out for bulletproof vests, Kevlar sleeves, knee/elbow guards, and other military PPE (personal protective equipment). These are sold in surplus stores, but only in limited quantities.
  • Tools and gadgets – Survival knives, military compasses, shovels or entrenching tools, buckets, container jugs, and other tools are not really what people think about when they go into a surplus store, but they are some of the coolest items to buy.
  • Medical supplies – Every household should have First Aid kits, and there’s no better resource to get medical kits than in a military surplus store.
  • Tactical gear -From something as simple as camouflage tarps, rope and ponchos to night-vision goggles, smartwatches, and other tactical gadgets, you can find military surplus equipment like this if you do a little digging.
  • Books – If you’re exploring survivalism, military books and field manuals can be pretty useful (even those that were released 50 years ago).
  • Decor – Do you love military signages, patches or other items that would serve as decorative pieces? For military-themed homes or business establishments, you’re in for a treat finding trinkets and treasures in a surplus store.
  • Vehicles – Although rare, military surplus vehicles exist as well. If you’re lucky, you can buy them from the surplus store

MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are manufactured for military personnel assigned in places where traditional food cannot be cooked. These meal packs are usually available in surplus stores, but they’re likely from the contracts that supply MREs to the military and not from the military directly.

Firearms are generally not sold in military surplus shops, but firearm accessories are available.

Note that the price of these items would vary completely. Surplus doesn’t necessarily mean everything sold in a military surplus shop is cheap.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is it illegal to sell military surplus items?

Most military surplus items are legal, as long as they weren’t stolen and lawfully released by the military. Note that ready-to-eat meals, military weapons, and weapon systems are not allowed to be re-sold.

If US military items are sold in another country other than the US, the destination’s local and national laws would have to be considered as well.

Where do military surplus stores get their merchandise?

Military gear stores purchase overstock military gear from the following:

  • Individuals. Retired military members sell their stuff either online or in person.
  • Auctions. Military branches with a lot of items to get rid of conduct auctions.
  • Military. If the store is a contract holder, they might be invited directly by a military branch to purchase the items.

What do military surplus stores sell?

These surplus stores do not just sell camo clothing, boots, and helmets. Sometimes, you’d be lucky to find military-grade hammers or indestructible telescopes that you can’t purchase anywhere else.

Can anyone buy military surplus?

Yes, anyone can buy clothing, supplies and equipment from a military surplus store.

Does military surplus mean used goods?

Not necessarily. Surplus can be a mix of used military gear and new ones that have never been used, made obsolete due to new standards, or just simply got leftover because of overstock.


Some states with military bases have multiple surplus stores, while others do not. If you wish to buy it in person, just Google “army navy surplus stores near me.”

If you live in an area without one, you can always buy from a military surplus store online. Even traditional sites like eBay can be a good source.

Because military-grade equipment, clothing, tools, vehicles, and other items are built to withstand decades of use, shopping from military surplus is always a good idea.

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