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:
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.
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.
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:
- US Palm – MOLLE Gear, AK magazines, body armor, and more
- America Stone – Knife sharpeners. (A SurvivalBlog advertiser.)
- DMT – Knife sharpeners.
- Mystery Ranch – Outstanding packs, now issued by several SOCOM units. (In Montana.)
- T3 Gear – MOLLE gear, hydration packs, plate carriers.
- BDS Tactical Gear – MOLLE gear, slings, plate carriers, packs, and gear bags
- Wiggy’s – Maker’s of America’s best sleeping bag, and one of the very few brands that still does their manufacturing in the United States. (A SurvivalBlog advertiser.)
- Tactical Tailor – MOLLE gear, ghillie suits, packs, guns cases, hydration packs, and more.
- US Grunt Gear – Vests, MOLLE gear, slings, etc.
- Olongapo Outfitters – A variety of pouches and assorted “grab and go” web gear with a special emphasis on M1 Garands and M1 Carbines. This is quality web gear individually made by a former Marine. His M1 Garand stock pouches are amazing.
- Kifaru – Backpacks. Made in Colorado.
- Duluth Pack – Backpacks and luggage.
- Tough Traveler – Packs. (Unfortunately most of them are in bright colors.)
- Tom Bihn – Packs, laptop bags, messengers bags,
- Mountain Ridge Gear – Pack, pouches, and more. Made in Colorado.
- Fireforce Tactical Gear – MOLLE gear, hydration packs, load bearing vests, pouches, packs, and belts.
- SpecOps brand – All sorts of pouches and web gear, including a fantastic buttstock pouch that holds a spare magazine. (A SurvivalBlog advertiser.)
- Infidel Body Armor – Plate carriers, full vests, etc. (A SurvivalBlog advertiser.)
- Counter Assault – Bear Spray/Pepper Spray. (Made in Montana)
- LaRue Tactical – Excellent scope mounts, made in Texas.
- Buck’s Bags – Shooting Bags, day packs, horse tack, gear bags and duffle bags. Made in Idaho.
- Cowboy Tactical Gear – Rigger Belts and “Gun Caddy” combination pouches. Made in Kentucky.
- Dale Fricke Holsters – Kydex holsters. Made in Montana.
- American Pride Leather Company – Holsters.
- Ozarks Holster Company – Kydex and Leather/Kydex hybrid holsters. Made in Missouri.
- D. Eric Desmond – Kydex sheaths for folding knives. A fledgling company.
- Garrett Industries – Some innovative holsters
- Multi Holsters. Made in Michigan
- J. Bossart Custom Gun Leather – Holsters from cowboy to tactical.
- Blade-Tech holsters – Kydex holsters. Made in Puyallup, Washington.
- Milt Sparks holsters. – My favorite maker of leather holsters. Made in Idaho.
- Ace Case Company – Pistol rugs, rifle cases, etc.
- Butler Bags – Sleeping bags, bedrolls, tents, and gear bags. Made in Utah.
- Survival Solutions – Waterproof containers, packs, sheaths, webbing, and rain gear.
- MagPul Industries – Now in the process of moving out of Colorado, to plants dispersed in several relatively free States.
- Dalton Tactical – Slings (Made in Texas. Note that their model’s “SurvivalBlog Green” fingernail polish is not included.)
- CSM Tactical Gear – Packs, load bearing vests, medic bags, and drop pouches.
- Lester River Bushcraft. – Makers of Boreal Shirts.
- Specter Gear – Slings and MOLLE gear.
- Emberlit – Compact stoves.
- Commence Fire! – Emergency stoves. (A SurvivalBlog writing contest sponsor.)
- Littlbug Enterprises – Compact stoves that burn wood or alcohol. Made in Minnesota.
- Deadwood Stove Company – Rocket Stoves. Made in Texas.
- ZZ Manufacturing, Inc. – Sierra Zip Stoves
- Alpha Innovations – Kubatons and other molded plastic products.
- Italian Gun Grease. – Lubricants and desiccants. (Not made Italy!) They also now make long term storage kits for guns.
- Rothco – Parachute cord. (Sold by Camping Survival and other Internet companies.)
- Gladding Braided Products – Parachute cord, rope, and more.
- Survival Straps – Paracord bracelets
- Springbar – Backpacking tents and wall tents
- Sheridan Tent & Awning – Wall tents, teepees, luggage, sleeping bag covers, and tarps. Made in Wyoming.
- Extreme G3 Slings
- Montie Gear – Sling shots, shooting rests,and gun racks.
- FirstCare – Bandages. (Their “Israeli” battle dressing are actually made in the US.)
- Quik-Clot – Hemostatic dressings. (Sold by Ready Made Resources and other Internet companies,)
- The Vest Guy – A great selection of magazine pouches and other MOLLE gear. Made in Utah.
- Aqua Rain – Water filters
- Sawyer Products – Water filters
- Platypus water filters
- Portable Solar Power
- Surefire – Flashlights and suppressors
- Mag Instrument – Makers of the well-known Mag-Lite flashlights
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:
- Bear & Son / Bear Ops knives. Made in Alabama.
- Becker Knife and Tool
- Blade-Tech knives – Made in Puyallup, Washington
- Blind Horse Knives
- Buck Knives (in Idaho)
- Calico Forge Knives (in Idaho)
- Case Knives
- Continental Divide Knives (in Arizona)
- Dogwood Custom Knives
- Fiddleback Forge Knives (Made in Georgia, USA. They also make a fantastic machete.)
- Fletcher Knives (Made in Georgia, USA. For now, this is still a small “made in batches” maker with a small line, where you get on a “dibs” list, to order.)
- Knives of Alaska
- Leatherman – The original multi-tool. Made in Oregon.
- Montie Gear – Tactical tanto ultra-lightweight knives
- Ontario Knives. Because of their name they are often mistakenly thought of as a Canadian company. They are actually south of the Canadian border, in upstate New York.)
- Randall Knives (Note: They have a multi-year order backlog.
- ESSE Knives. (Another Randall family, not related)
- Shadow Tech Knives
- Sniper Bladeworks
- StatGearTools – EMS rescue knives. (A SurvivalBlog advertiser.)
- TOPS Knives (in Idaho)
- Zero Tolerance Knives (Note: This a subsidiary product line of Kershaw, but not all of the parent company’s knives are American-made.)
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. 🙁
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!