Ammo Cans: The Army’s Trash Is A Prepper’s Treasure

One of the problems with being a prepper is storage.  For ammunition, the most popular solution is the military style ammo can.  These come in a variety of sizes with 50 cal. and 30 cal. being the most common.  These cans are so popular that they became unobtainable during the post-Sandy Hook panic.  I doubt that people were worried about metal cans being banned along with AR-15s, (assault cans?) but everyone who was buying up ammo needed ammo cans for their newly purchased ammo.

What makes these cans so popular?  Basically, it is their durability.  My father got a couple ammo cans back around 1960 and tossed a bunch of hand tools into them.  He still has those cans knocking around his garage and they are still full of hand tools 50 years later.  The cans will outlast him.  If you buy standard ammo cans they are likely to be part of your Prepper Estate.  Since durability is the appeal, I do not recommend the plastic ammo cans that compete with the standard metal ammo cans.  They just don’t strike me as being as durable.  Have I run any tests?  No.  Check YouTube if you are interested in that.

This brings me to my next point:  You don’t have to limit your use of ammo cans to ammunition, though they are great for that.  In fact, they are great for any preps that will fit in them.  With a little luck, you won’t experience a disaster requiring those preps for a long time, so they are going to be stored.  What could be better for long term storage than an ammo can?


Of course, the first use most people have for ammo cans is ammunition.  Personally, I like the 50 cal. cans.  They are heavy when loaded, but not so heavy you can’t pick them up and move them.  The amount of ammunition they will hold is dependent on the caliber, whether you remove the ammunition from its packaging before placing it in the ammo can, etc.

Since Sandy Hook, many gun owners, particularly those who go to the range regularly, want to keep more personal inventory.  Keeping enough to cover regular range use for a couple years is a natural reaction to the price and inventory swings that occurred at that time.  Not only preppers, but typical gun owners, now want to have some ammunition on hand so that when their favorite caliber doubles in price, or becomes completely unobtainable, they don’t have to give up their hobby.

Since these cans are both air and water tight, they can be stored in any temperature controlled room, and the ammunition inside will remain stable for decades.

Ammo Can Liners

If you don’t feel confident with only the can for air and water tightness, you can try ammo can liners.  These are heavy duty zip lock style bags in exactly the right size and shape to line an ammo can.  I find them a bit pricy, but will use them on cans that I expect to remain unopened for an indefinite period, while skipping them for cans where I expect to use the contents in the near future.

Ammo Can Labeling

Once you start to use ammo cans for storage, especially if you use them for other things like Faraday cages, Geiger counters, or anything else that fits, you quickly get to where you need to label them with the contents in order to tell which can has what you are looking for.  You can just use a Sharpie but many like to do something a bit classier.  On YouTube, you’ll find videos of people painting stenciled lettering like the military uses, but that has always struck me as a lot of trouble for a simple metal can, especially if the contents may change.  For instance, you used up ammo in the caliber that was in it and now want to use the can for a different caliber.  Now you need to re-stencil the can.  ☹  Recently I ran across a solution for this issue, although again a bit pricy, Ammo Can Magnets.  I’ve tried a few and they work great.

Ammo Can Magnets are similar to refrigerator magnets that come with advertisements, calendars, etc. on them.  They are available in the standard olive drab background color, with stenciled labels that look similar to the military stenciling you’ll see on used military cans.  If you change the contents of the can, you just remove the magnet and put on a different magnet with the correct label.

You could even use them on your refrigerator if that appeals to you.  My refrigerator is labeled 6.5 Creedmoor.  😊  My wife uses the magnet to hold up her “Honey Do” list on our refrigerator.

Used Ammo Cans

Traditionally ammo cans were a military surplus item, but they have become so popular that the stocks of surplus cans really were drawn down post-Sandy Hook and new cans seem to be more popular at the moment.  With the public using more and more cans, there aren’t enough used military surplus cans to take care of everyone.  In addition, Chinese knock offs are available new.  They seem to be decent, but I personally prefer to buy American.  If you find some used ammo cans at a good price, you can often bring them to like new condition with a can of Rustoleum to freshen the paint, (avoid painting the gasket) and a little silicone grease for the gasket.  Some will need a bit of cleaning first.  I’ve seen a bunch of suggestions, but I just use Windex.  There are YouTube videos on painting them in camo patterns, etc.  Some folks get quite artistic with their paint jobs.

How to Make a Ammo Can Faraday Cage

Faraday cages need to surround the protected contents with insulating material and conductive material.  Multiple layers work best.  Since this is a discussion of ammo cans, I am going to discuss only the layer made out of the ammo can.  You can achieve the multiple layers with either anti-static bags, or larger metal containers.

To turn a .50 caliber can into a Faraday cage, line it with corrugated cardboard, cut to fit, and place the electronics to be protected inside.  The cardboard provides the insulation layer.  Close the can.  Your remaining problem is the gasket breaks the conductive layer.  Of course, any Faraday cage will require an opening to place the electronics inside, so this is to be expected.  I use Metallic tape to seal the ammo can.  It completes the conductive surface if you seal all the way around the lid.  Other solutions exist, but this is what I have done, along with the multi-layer approach.

I recommend using lots of cans, so if one fails, others may prove adequate.  If you have an individual item that won’t fit in a .50 caliber can, use a bigger can.  😊

Other Uses for Ammo Cans

I have seen ammo cans used for storing almost anything that fits the size fits the can, e.g. shoe shine kits, first aid kits, tools, electronic components of all types, caches, and stoves have been made from them.  When searching online, I came across a photo of motorcycle saddle bags made from 20mm  ammo cans.

Ammo Can Stove

I have used them for Faraday cages, tools, first aid kits, and general purpose storage of items that fit.  If what you want to store doesn’t fit, get a larger can!  😊

What you can store is limited only by your imagination.  If it is time to upgrade from cardboard boxes to something durable, my recommendation is ubiquitous metal military style ammo cans.

Paranoid Prepper


  1. Good info, I have several ammo cans I am planning on re purposing. I’d like to hide a firearm, perhaps a HiPoint 9mm somewhere on my property (we have some wooded land), but I haven’t looked into cosmoline-type stuff yet.

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