Field Gear: Identifying The All-American Makers

My Mac’s e-mail in-box is stuffed full every morning. I plow through dozens and dozens of e-mails. After a glance, most of them get a perfunctory “delete” click. In addition to the inevitable SEO Optimization. V*agara, and Nigerian scam letters, I also get a lot of grammatically-garbled e-mails that begin like this one: “Hi friend, Greeting from Ceina. Compoka,China–Headphone manufacturer. What kind of headphones and earphones are you collecting now? Hope we can do some help for you….”

This constant barrage of e-mails are a sign that mainland China is gaining global dominance in manufacturing of consumer goods.

One of my frequent topics of discussion in SurvivalBlog is generically called “field gear.” This includes tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, military load bearing gear, compact stoves, canteens, knives, fire starters, first aid kits, and so forth. While the limits of this category are nebulous, I like to think of field gear as just what a foot soldier would carry on his back, or what a backcountry guide would load on his packhorses.

Surprisingly few brands of field gear are now American made. Sadly, the vast majority of field gear-making has moved offshore to mainland China. Rather than just be depressed about this situation, I have resolved to do something to counter this trend. I urge all of my readers to do the following:

1.) Don’t just blithely purchase merchandise without first checking on its country of origin. Take the time to LOOK at labels! When buying from mailorder catalogs or online, take a minute to call and ask, before you order. If a product listing says “imported”, then the odds are now better than 80% that it is made in mainland China.

2.) Beware of the words “style” and “type.” With field gear, the most common euphemism for Chinese-made garbage is “G.I. style.”

3.) Be sure to thank the management of these companies for keeping their production in the States, and tell them that they earned your business because of it.

4.) Read the codes. (See the following discussions.)

Decoding UPC-A Bar Code Numbers:

Universal Prices Codes (UPCs) are a complex subject, so I’ll defer to linking to a couple of fairly definitive sources: Wikihow and Snopes.

But generally, if the first 3 digits of the number beneath the bar code are between 690 and 695, then the country in which the code was registered was China. But if the codes are between 000 and 019, or between 030 and 039, or between 060 and 139, then the country in which the code was registered was the United States. But remember that this indicates the country that issued the code rather than the country of origin of the product! A list of country codes can be found here.

Decoding NSNs:

For military surplus, get smart about NATO Stock Numbers (NSNs.) A typical NSN looks like this: 8465-01-254-575 . The second group of numbers is the Country Code. If the Country Code is 00 or 01, then it is American made. The code 99 designates the UK, and 20 designates Canada. A complete list of codes can be found here.

By the way, the Defense Logistics Agency has a public web search page, called Web FLIS. There, you can look up even a company name and locale, by searching its CAGE code.

Remember the American Brand Names:

I’m sure that I will miss many companies, but here is a general list of field gear companies that sell all (or nearly all) “Made in USA” products:

Knives deserve their own category, since this is one of the few industries where there is still a large number of American makers. We can maintain this presence by only buying from these makers:

Note: There are thousands of smaller custom knife makers in the United States–too many to list here. (See: The Official “KnifeMakers Database” for a detailed list, with links. Most of these are home-based businesses that do custom work.

Formerly Made in USA: Many knife and multitool makers have moved part or all of their manufacturing offshore. Gerber is typical of this trend. Not only are they owned by a foreign company (Fiskars of Finland), but more than half of their knives are now made in China. On a similar note, I still have readers recommend Marbles brand knives. They were all made in Gladstone, Michigan until a few years ago. But they’ve started importing them from China. 🙁

If in doubt about the origin of a product, then contact,, or

Also note: I didn’t even attempt to list the hundreds of American-made brands of guns, clothing and boots. I tried to stick to just field gear.

I’m sure that I will get a lot of suggested additions to the foregoing lists, via e-mail. Once I do, I will expand this post and turn it into a static reference page.

And by the way, I plan to compile a companion piece on American-Made Tools, later in July. Please e-mail me links to the web sites of tool makers that have 100% U.S. made tools that you recommend. Thanks!