Army/Navy Product Reviews (Spring 2013)
By Jim Lavalley
MTM Ammo Can Organizer
In the last issue I extolled the virtues of the simple design, durability, and outright usefulness of US Military surplus ammunition cans. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine any manufacturer improving on the economical storage capabilities of ammo cans. However, one American manufacturer has come up with a clever addition that is just excellent. MTM Case-Gard™, a firearm accessory manufacturer in Dayton, Ohio, produces a set of ammo can organizer trays. The set turns any humble surplus .50 cal ammunition can into a neatly organized container that is unmatched in ruggedness and protection from the elements. It does so at a low price, too.
For firearm enthusiasts, ammo cans are nearly a standard for transporting supplies, parts, and tools to ranges and other shooting venues. Unfortunately, wasting time by digging around in a big metal box full of clutter is often the case when wielding the gun club standard carryall. As an alternative, anyone can purchase modern toolboxes that include trays for organizing, but they can be expensive, especially those toolboxes that are customized for firearms repair and maintenance. Additionally, why should anyone lug around a hefty container when all one needs for a day at the range or event is the trusty ammo can with supplies and parts?
MTM’s ammo can organizer is a set of three trays made of sturdy black plastic. The trays themselves are engineered to stack on top of each other in any order. The tray with higher priority items can be placed on top, and then moved to a lower tier if another tray later becomes important. The maximum number of trays that will fit in a standard .50 cal ammunition can is three. If you want to use fewer trays, they can to stacked on top of loose, bulkier items. Trays can also be used between multiple cans. The possible configurations are limited only by one’s imagination.
Each tray is slightly over 5 3/8 inches wide and 10 7/8 inches long. They fit comfortably, but not snugly, into any .50 cal ammo can. The space around each tray allows air to escape so that each one can be lowered into and lifted out of the can without resistance, and it eliminates the need to manufacture vent holes in tray bottoms. I also think the slight spacing around the sides helps to account for the varying states of ammo cans. Many cans have been thrown around and dented over years of ownership, so the trays will still fit a can in reasonable shape.
Every tray has convenient lifting rings for two fingers at each end. They are molded to each tray, and can bend inward and down to allow for stacking. The plastic from which the trays and rings are made is relatively pliable, so repeated folding shouldn’t be a problem. Even if a lifting ring comes off over time, a tray will retain its usefulness.
The compartments are two inches deep for each tray. The three trays have different compartment configurations, which is another nice feature of this set. All configurations start with a lengthwise divider separating each tray in half. The first tray has twelve small compartments, grouped into two rows of six. Each compartment is perfect for small parts and supplies and is approximately 1 ¾ inches wide by 2 ½ inches long. The second tray is divided into six compartments, two rows of three. These compartments are twice the size of the small parts tray. The six compartments measure 2 ½ inches wide by 3 ½ inches long. Bulkier items and parts in greater numbers will fit easily in these. Finally, the third tray is configured asymmetrically. One large compartment extends the length of the tray (around 2 ½ x 10 3/4 inches). Another compartment is half as long (2 ½ x 5 3/8 inches), with the remaining two made by splitting the remaining compartment in half (2 ½ x 2 5/8 inches). Larger tools and parts will fit these.
Since they’re low priced, I’d recommend buying more than one set of trays, especially for anyone who has multiple ammo cans. That way, one ammo box could be configured with small compartment trays for just little parts, while others could be used for larger items, using only one or two trays if necessary. No matter how they’re arranged, these clever upgrades, alone or combined with ammo cans, will make a thoughtful gift for hunters, firearm enthusiasts, fishermen, hobbyists, maintainers, and handymen everywhere.
FN FAL Dual 20-round Magazine Pouches
It’s always fun to find out what surplus or military-related product I’ll be reviewing next. Recently I picked up my latest collection of items, brought them home, and sorted through them, deciding which ones would be most appropriate for the Winter Surplus Today issue. I don’t live near a military surplus store, but I love military surplus equipment, so when I do this it’s like Christmas. It’s especially true when I haven’t looked at the stuff yet. Again I wasn’t disappointed, but this time I got the impression that my devious personal Santa Clauses were trying to test my skill in identifying products.In my little pile of pirate’s treasure was a pair of connected leather pouches. I said, “Holy Utility Belt! intentionally paraphrasing a 1960’s-era Burt Ward in his multicolored superhero sidekick ballet costume. However, these particular pouches weren’t quite the Day-Glo yellow accessories that made Adam West a household name. They were black, made of leather, and designed to carry tools that, in my opinion, are far more powerful than those employed by the “Caped Crusader.”
Having been a field soldier and an aviation survival officer, I am familiar with the wide variety of shapes and materials that comprise pouches designed to secure equipment to a warfighter’s gear. Modern designs are more likely to be made from nylon fabric than the leather these were made from. The suppleness and wear of the heavy duty leather gave me a clue that these were made in a different time, but like a favorite pair of leather boots, they had just gotten better with age. The pouches boasted riveted steel securing hardware, a feature of leather craft now nearly extinct. Since I had never seen this particular design before, I did what any expert (I hope) would do first; I looked at the retailer’s tag. It read “FM Leather Pouch, Sturm.” “OK”, I thought, “these pouches were for radios.”
This really didn’t make much sense to me, since portable FM radios of this size didn’t come into use until the late 1980’s, and these pouches were obviously older than that. Why would anyone carry two of the same radio, anyway? The Internet came to the rescue, showing me the error of my ways and the typo in the tag. After searching, I found that these pouches were designed to carry 20-round magazines for the European FN (not “FM”) FAL 7.62mm rifle. A staggering number of them have been manufactured and surplus pouches of this design are easy to buy and economically priced.
These pouches are Austrian, with a flat bottom on each pocket, as opposed to the also-common German version with slanted pocket bottoms. Two pouch pockets are sewn with heavy gauge thread to a common piece of 6 ½ inch by 7 ½ inch leather. The two pockets are both 3 ½ inches tall and 3 ½ inches wide. The pockets will accommodate any item up to about one inch deep and a bit deeper if the item is narrower, since the pocket will stretch slightly. Each pocket has a leather flap cover with a riveted securing strap. The straps feature holes for securing over the steel posts that are mounted to the bottom each pocket. Two 4-inch long belt loops were riveted to the back of the pouch assembly, which work for just about any belt width, including the widely available nylon Army pistol belt, which is 2 3/8 inches wide. Finally, a very sturdy metal ring is riveted to the top rear of the assembly, between the belt loops.
The pouches themselves can be used for almost any item that will fit into the compartments, provided it fits snugly. Obviously, this set of pouches is a must-have for any owner of an FN FAL rifle with flat-bottom magazines. Online, some message boards post comments that owners of M-14 carbines have also used these pouches to hold magazines for their rifles. As an experiment, I tried some of my M-9 pistol magazines and found that three will fit upside down in each pocket. I’m sure the pockets will hold all kinds of other items, too, such as tools, retail bar code scanners, radios, personal electronics, and notepads. The assembly could even function as a motorcycle or equestrian saddlebag attachment.
These pouches are a bargain. The sheer toughness of the materials guarantees that this item will outlast any textile product being manufactured today. For very little cost, the set provides a terrific value.
Big Blue Barrel
The Armed Services buy all sorts of material and supplies that come in containers, it’s no surprise to see the more durable containers get reused. Compared to the cost of buying new, military surplus containers are usually a much better bargain in terms of durability and price.
My latest item isn’t the typical, olive drab container. It’s a moderately-sized, industrial, blue plastic barrel without dents or defects. Cylindrical, it has a slightly beveled bottom and a flared, jar-like mouth. It weighs only 6 pounds, stands 28 inches (2 feet, 4 inches) tall, and is 16 inches in diameter at its widest. There are two black plastic handles on each side, just below the mouth of the container. The lid is black plastic, secured to the flanged mouth with a metal seal clamp. The clamp and lid are easy to remove.
A search online revealed that these barrels are designed to hold 60 liters of fluids. The tag for mine reads an equivalent 16 gallons, which also translates into a bit more than two cubic feet of solid contents. I can only think of about a hundred uses for a big blue barrel, especially in a camp or shop setting. Rain barrels, driveway salt or fertilizer storage, planter inserts, and raft floats (using four or more sealed barrels) were the first ideas to come to my mind.
Whatever your purpose, check each barrel prior to purchase for cleanliness and serviceability. If nothing is wrong with it, a barrel like this should be a worthwhile bargain.