By Jim Lavalley

When perusing the wonderful of world military surplus products, few items give us men the reason to plunk down a little hard earned cash like ammunition boxes do. Generally speaking, “ammo” boxes, also known as “ammo cans,” enjoy the distinction of probably being the most useful of the thousands of military surplus bargains to be found throughout the country. Instantly functional, ammo boxes can be found in a huge variety of sizes. The variety of these steel containers in retail surplus establishments mirrors the sheer numbers of ammunition containers that the various military services employ.

Guys like ammo boxes for several reasons.

  1. Versatility – The types of items can fit into these containers is almost unlimited. Tools, nuts and bolts, spare parts, supplies, fishing tackle, ammunition, spare change, etc. – the list is almost unlimited. Multiple ammo boxes are also stackable; the indented channel in the bottom of each can fits neatly over the handle of the box below it and keeps the two from sliding around.
  2. Durability – Made entirely of heavy gauge steel, ammo boxes are engineered to endure the conditions that the military services encounter all over the world. They’re far tougher than the majority of toolboxes you can buy, which are often made of lightweight plastics, thinner metals, or fabrics.
  3. Weatherproof – By design, military ammunition boxes are water resistant, owing to the rubber seal around the inside of the lid and the securing latch, which clamps the lid down to keep the intended contents from corroding or spilling out. Unlike most commercial containers, they’re perfect for anything that must be protected from the elements.
  4. Simplicity – Some containers have a bewildering collection of organizers and attachments. What could be easier than a box with a hinged lid?
  5. Economy – A quick survey online will confirm that ammunition boxes cost a fraction of a comparable toolbox or storage item. As mentioned previously, they’re also easy to find at military surplus venues everywhere.
  6. Securable – Several types of locking kits are available add-ons for ammunition boxes, which can be easily adapted to accommodate a number of locks. For the industrious types, securing a simple hasp will do, but drilling holes or welding may compromise the waterproof capabilities of the box unless care is taken to seal it.
  7. Masculinity – Quite simply, there is something inherently manly about owning a few boxes that once carried ammunition.

For this review, I was given a standard, rectangular, olive drab steel ammunition box. I recognized this particular box as the usual size for 100 rounds of linked .50 caliber ammunition, confirmed by the stamped “M2A1” on the hinged side. This was the standard size box for ammunition for the venerable M2 .50 caliber machine gun. It was about twice the size of either of the two .30 caliber boxes I have at home, both inherited from my Army career. Like most ammo boxes in my experience, the hinged lid featured a handle that extended from two wire attachments. The securing latch on the lid folded down over the front of the lower box to seal the lid. Beneath the securing latch was another wire handle, which is most often used for pulling the box out from a shelf or vehicle.

The dimensions of this box were:

Handle 4 inches long 1.5 inch clearance
Lid 11.75 inches long 6 inches wide
Container 11 inches long 5.35 inches wide 7 inches tall

In the military, the M2A1 ammunition box is used for a wide variety of ammunition types, not just .50 cal. Stenciled in yellow ink on the side of my sample were the box’s true original contents. In this case, it had once held 840 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition in 10-round clips, most commonly used in M-4, M16, and M249 series military weapons. This box had also been painted orange over each end. It’s often the practice of military units that reuse ammunition boxes to paint them in order identify their use for some other purpose. Some boxes get painted repeatedly.

When buying an ammunition box, it’s important to check the general condition if possible.  My sample was in good shape. It was clean. There weren’t any dents, and there was no rust. The rubber seal inside the lid showed no signs of wear. The lid opened, closed, and latched smoothly without lubrication, and the detachable hinge allowed for the removal of the lid from the lower container. The handles were intact. The price tag on the box was $12.95 and would be sold at a retail surplus store. The price for this box was less expensive than many I found online, considering shipping and packaging. It cost a whole lot less than the price of toolboxes and weatherproof boxes I researched..

Provided they’re in good shape, I recommend buying at least a few ammunition boxes to anyone who needs to tame that collection of tools or parts in the garage. They’re a great gift for any outdoor sports enthusiast or handyman, too.