The Value of U.S. Military Ammo Cans

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What a used U.S. Military Surplus Ammo Can typically looks like.

Basic Definitions

First off, technically these are ammo boxes. Let's get that out of the way.

Popular convention compels me to refer to them as cans, as this is what they are mostly called on the Internet.

But a can, by most definitions, is disposable.

And the fact these cans are instead fully reusable has allowed them to become one of the most popular, indeed one of the most stable, reliable products available for purchase in the military surplus world.

Note: I've been told by basically everybody that these are unequivocally cans, not boxes. But I don't know, they still seem like boxes to me. I think the rest of the world will just have to be wrong on this one.

Structure of an Ammo Can

The modern ammo can was perfected at the beginning of the Cold War, as NATO forces looked for better ways to protect and transport large amounts of ammo in case of conventional war with the looming Soviet Empire.

Today's modern overall design eliminates many of the problems encountered with the older riveted steel cans used previously during WWII, and makes each can into a practical redoubt against wear and tear in the storehouse or on the battlefield.

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The inside of the lid, showing the rubber gasket.

The top is flat and relatively featureless, to prevent build up of moisture which could eventually cause corrosion over years of storage. All seams are welded to provide a strong water and air-tight seal. No matter the model of Can, most identical models can be stacked on top of each other thanks to indentations on the top and bottom. Finally, the lid of the can latches shut securely, with a rubber gasket to prevent movement of air and moisture in or out.

The Use and Abuse of Military Ammo Cans

Most true Military Surplus Ammo Cans are used. And they are really used.

These probably were full of ammo, and may have been packed full of other things, and then retired in a dusty, dirty storehouse for a decade or more.

<Image of Multiple Used Cans on Desk Here>

Starting at top left, we have the .30 Cal (M19A1), the Fat 50 (PA108), the 40mm (PA120), and finally the standard .50 Cal (M2A1) cans.

All are coated in a thick layer of mummy dust from sitting around in less-than-ideal storage conditions. I should also note that all are just as dirty on the inside. While each has a rubber gasket to keep out water and dust, ammo cans are often stored for long periods with the lids disassembled, exposing the interior of the can to whatever conditions are present overall. Once we get the cans, they are re-assembled into their present condition. But the dirt often remains.

How Durable is an Ammo Can?

In your daily life, an ammo can should be relatively indestructible. You can knock them together. Drop them. Stand on them. They are designed to hold up to regular stuff.

The .30 cal can I found had a mild cosmetic ding that had unfortunately allowed a little rust to form. But not that big of a deal.

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Typical Imperfections.

You will also find a lot of spray paint.

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This can once stored explosives.

Especially with larger cans such as the 40mm show above, ammo cans are often repurposed even in the military for the storage of tools and equipment. The covered-over orange diamond indicates there were once explosives in this box, most probably 40mm grenades. But since that time, it was used to store something else. It's anyone's guess what, as the 40mm can is an exceptionally handy size for the storage of shop materials. Perhaps welding rods.

Cleaning Ammo Cans

For getting the dirt and grime off most ammo cans, the only thing you really need is some soapy water.

And because ammo cans are watertight, you can actually use a dirty can as its own cleaning bucket. How's that for value?

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In the parking lot, washing out ammo cans. A perfectly normal activity. It should be noted I forgot to take the lid off. Most lids are fully removable.

This also illustrates one of the many practical uses for an ammo can in an emergency: in an environment without a lot of easy water storage solutions, an ammo can can hold water for washing (but not for drinking).

Once you've got your can all toweled off, you should have a dirt-free can, ready to use for all sorts of storage tasks.

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.50 cal can, all cleaned up.

A good ammo can has 1,001 uses. It's a favorite of survivalists and preppers (and other smart people) for the storage of not just ammo but also emergency supplies, fire-starting equipment and medical gear.

All that's left for me is to start tossing in stuff and see what kind of kit I can put together. The best part of these cans is you can use them over and over again.

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How much stuff can I throw in here?

Good luck with all of your own custom projects.

Some further ideas on what to do with ammo cans:

Sensible Prepper's Youtube Video

For storage of supplies

Instructables ammo can projects