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Ammo Cans Aren’t Just For Ammo

Posted by Tom Miller on 9/16/2015 to Ghillie's Corner
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One of my favorite containers to use for prepping is a good ol’ ammo can. They are so handy and can just about be used for anything, not to mention they are super tough. In addition to being extremely sturdy, ammo cans close tightly with a rubber gasket which make them air and water tight, feature a removable lid with lever (to assist with easier opening), have a convenient fold-flat carry handle, and will even float (if not loaded down with too much weight).

In all fairness, an ammo can is not an indestructible storage container, but it is real close. The greatest threats to the integrity of an ammo can are rust and the gasket that creates the awesome seal on an ammo can deteriorating. The way your ammo cans are stored is usually the greatest contributing factor in how long your investment will hold up.

As an example, I have a .50 caliber ammo can that I originally got in 2003 and twelve years later it is still in perfect condition. This was done through intentional maintenance (I have never allowed the metal to be exposed, it always remains painted) and proper storage (my ammo can has not been left outside, been allowed to be soaked with liquid for any extended period of time, etc.).

There are only two materials that are used to make ammo cans, plastic and metal. Plastic ammo cans are sometimes lower in cost but they are also not as durable. Metal ammo cans are much more durable. As a firsthand witness to their durability, I have seen a metal ammo can (with ammunition in it) roll down the side of a rocky hill and other than a few dings and scratches, the ammo can and the ammunition inside of it was fine. Furthermore, I have seen a military Humvee that caught fire with ammo cans in it and, although the paint burned off, the can and the contents lived to see another day. I don’t believe that you would be able to say the same about plastic ammo cans.

When it comes to metal ammo cans, the military surplus cans are the best. I have seen some metal ammo cans that were not military surplus but what I noticed is that you do not typically get the same quality and durability of a metal ammo can that is not built to military specification. Some sellers list ammo cans as meeting military specifications but my confidence is in actual military surplus cans. When evaluating military surplus ammo cans for suitability to use for preparedness, consider the different grades that are available:

Grade One: Typically in excellent condition, if not brand new. Usually no noticeable damage, dents, or spray paint spots. May have minor scratches. Gasket is in good condition.

Grade Two: Good to very good condition. Expect to see obvious signs of use that may include dings or dents that may still be present or repaired and spray paint spots from repairs are common. It is also common to see minor rust (small spots only) on the exterior of grade two cans. The interior is typically free of rust or damage. Gasket may show obvious use.

Grade Three: Barely serviceable to fair condition. You should expect to see surface rust that may include the corners and other potentially vulnerable areas. There will likely be multiple dings and dents that may be repaired or not. Spray paints spots are usually present. Gasket will likely have a limited amount of use remaining.

***Never buy a military surplus ammo can that does not have a grade listed with it. That is a definite way to get ripped off!

While sometimes elusive, grade one ammo cans are the prime choice if you can find them. It is not as ideal to get a lesser grade ammo can but it is possible to take one and with some time and effort put into it, fix it up to a level closer to grade one.

The uses for an ammo can are essentially limited to your imagination but here are a few of my favorites:

Vehicle Emergency Kit - One of the challenges of putting together an emergency kit for a vehicle is determining what threats or challenges you will most likely face as you travel. Luckily, a vehicle kit can be several different things depending on what your needs are. Some of the things that are well suited for use in a vehicle might include battery-operated flares, work gloves, extra fuses, hose clamps, zip ties, emergency tire inflator, duct tape, a couple of rags, and a few basic tools. There should also be enough room left for a few emergency blankets, small first aid kit, etc.

Office Emergency Kit - Similar to a vehicle kit, an emergency kit for the office can be for one specific purpose or a hybrid kit to serve multiple purposes. The biggest difference that should to be incorporated into an office kit are considerations for a disaster around the office like an earthquake that causes lots of dust to be thrown into the air or may even cause entrapment because of falling debris. To counter these threats, ensure that you include items like dust masks and whistles, along with anything else that will serve you well during an office emergency like a multi-tool, flashlight, batteries, snacks, bottled water, etc.

First Aid Kit - You will not likely be making a first aid kit that is meant to be taken on a backpacking trip in an ammo can. What you can do is put everything you need for a basic trauma/first aid kit into an ammo can. Always pack according to the most likely threats you face. Remember that band-aids will not fix everything. As an example, if you are at risk of breaking something, make sure that you have splinting materials.

Range Box - Store all of your range accessories in one place. From hearing protection to tools, cleaning supplies, and everything in between; an ammo can will hold most of your regular range supplies quite nicely. You can even use the ammo can as a bench rest at the range.

Fire Kit/Emergency Fire Pit – You can fit a ton of fire making materials into an ammo can. There is enough space to fit several fire starting methods (lighters, matches, magnifying glass, flint striker), multiple sources of tinder (jelly balls, dryer lint, wood shavings, Live Fire Sport), and plenty of other materials, you could probably even include some kindling. If the need came up, you could also use your ammo can as an emergency fire pit. The fire would not be big, but it would be shielded from the wind.

Grill or Stove – By placing a piece of grill material or grating over the open top of your ammo can it can be used as a grill or stove. There are obvious limitations with this approach because your flame can only be so large. You won’t be cooking for large groups this way but it can get the job done in a pinch.

Cooking Container - While there are better containers to cook in, you could use an ammo can if you had no other option available. At a minimum, you could use the can as a way to heat water for bathing or hygiene, a luxury if the SHTF.

Cache Container - If your plans for your ammo can include using it to hold a cache, there are a few things to keep in mind; the metal is susceptible to damage from the elements and a metal ammo can be picked up by a metal detector. To minimize the chances of this being a problem, it is best to seal everything in a bag with a desiccant packet and try to bury your cache in an area that either will not likely be searched or if detected, will possibly be written off as junk or some sort of buried hardware.

General Storage - There is always a need for a sturdy storage that is capable of protecting its contents well and an ammo can fits the bill well.

Commo Box - If you have made plans for having emergency communications as part of your preparedness efforts, the protection that an ammo can offers your communications equipment from the water, dust, and outside forces is ideal. Whether it is a handheld ham radio, a CB, or family band radios, your ammo can will hold any or all of them along with some batteries.

Fishing/Hunting Box - Any outdoorsman will tell you that things can get a little stinky from time to time. Having an ammo can to keep some of your fishing and/or hunting gear in can be pretty handy. Fish bait and hunting attractants come to mind immediately because of the smell that can be contained by the great seal that an ammo can has. An ammo can is also just a great way to keep all of your key fishing or hunting gear in one central location.

And of course….

Ammo Storage - It’s what ammo cans are made for so it only makes sense that you could store ammo in them! Just make sure that your ammo isn’t stored in a manner where it could unintentionally be set off. This can best be accomplished by leaving ammunition in stock containers and then ensuring that there is corrugated cardboard in between each layer of boxes, around all four sides, in the bottom, and on top. All the cardboard may be overkill but I personally would rather err on the side of caution.

In addition to the 12 uses mentioned above, an ammo can makes a good storage container for:

  • Junk silver coins

  • Fired brass to be reloaded

  • Loose magazines

  • Spare gun parts

  • Tools

  • Hardware

  • Electrical components

  • Firearms cleaning kit

  • Food

  • Food and water collection

  • Micro solar set-up

  • 12V power supply

  • Flammables

Other potential uses for your ammo can might include using it for:

  • An emergency toilet

  • Pistol storage

  • Emergency document storage

  • Bail-out kit/Grab box

  • Charcoal or char-cloth making

  • Emergency repair kit

  • A lunch box

  • Document storage

  • A seed vault or to store a seed vault you already have

  • Motorcycle saddlebags

  • A lock box

One of the factors that makes an ammo can so durable is the fact that each one is made of heavy-gauge steel so it does not bend or break easily. All of these qualities contribute to the suitability of the ammo can as a part of any preparedness plan. You can also expect to get a fair amount of functional space when you use an ammo can for storage.

The approximate dimensions of the typical ammo can that is sold through military surplus are approximately:

Outside: 11.75” Long X 6” Wide X 7.5” Deep

Inside (Usable Space): 11” Long x 5.5” Wide X 7” Deep

That’s a total of 423.5 square inches of internal storage space, enough to store everything required for a complete kit on a small scale or a specialized kit as part of a larger preparedness strategy. I really like the idea of both options but also think that they each have their place. Regardless of whether or not your thoughts match up with mine, there is one thing that cannot be disputed…ammo cans are so versatile that everyone can find a use for one in their lives.

So what are you waiting for? Get your ammo cans now!

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