Monday, 11 Feb 2008

US GI Mess kit

This mess kit can be purchased at any surplus store, eBay and many other web sites. I have been using this Mess Kit for many years in the woods. The clamshell design makes it easy to keep the stamped stainless steel knife, fork and spoon inside. The lower half is a bowl, with swing-away handle. The top half is rarely used. Because it is stainless steel, some ultralight hikers may find this set too heavy. It is cheap, sturdy and you can use the lower section to cook on the stove, over the fire, or as your plate.  If you use this to cook over open flame, especially a camp fire, the bottom will get soot on it.  It is easily cleaned with a scrubbing pad, or just wiped off.  After a while, the soot will become a permanent part of our Mess Kit, so keep that in mind.  If you are not a super hardcore ultralight camper, use a stove to heat and cook your food.  It is quicker, cleaner, and more efficient than the fire.  One exception I have to make…  If your camp fire has been burning for several hours, and there are plenty of coals glowing, it is very easy to cook on top of them, and not an actual open flame.  If you “dig in” any pot or Mess kit bowl into the coals, because of the large contact surface, everything is cooks fast and even.

US GI Mess Kit Mess Kit open

18 Responses to “US GI Mess kit”

  1. Fred Says:

    I am not sure how much you know about the USGI meat can that you have pictured here but there is an interesting feature that most people don’t know about. At one end of the divided plate is a triangular ring which, when slid down the handle of the pan portion can create a divided tray. The picture of the opened meat can above is close to the correct alignment, just slide the handle through the ring and snap the hooked portion to the edge of the divider and you have a mess tray. Pretty handy in a mess line.

  2. dirtyduck Says:

    I had just picked up my meat can at a antique store the lady knew nothing about it and i could have it for $5.00 so i took it, and have used it for every thing from camping to heating my lunch at work i love this thing. Now all i need to do is get are the knife,spoon and fork. Oh and the date stamped on the handle is 1944 i asume that is when it was made.

  3. Josh Lake Says:

    I love it, but one complaint - they don’t make ’em like they used to! I had a mess kit from the 50’s (perhaps forties) - the pan was riveted on and it was tough steel, boy. Unfortunately I had to get rid of it - too much rust, but then I ordered one from the 80’s and noticed it’s a cheaper, lighter material, but miles better than the cheapo aluminum crap “scout” kits Coleman & Coughlan’s sell. Still, I could place my 50’s kit down and it wouldn’t tip up the frying pan by the weight of the handle - which Coleman & Coughlan’s do (they also don’t last - do they make ’em from old Coca-Cola cans or what?). I’ll tell ya, it sucks cooking with a tippy frying pan. You take out what’s inside and the thing tips up - it sucks (I’m referring to the Coleman/Coughlan Aluminum kit). The 80’s GI Mess Kit tips up slightly, but nothing like the cheap junk sold in the chain stores. All in all though, The Newer GI Mess Kit is still a very decent unit and compact. And if I had a choice to take a cook kit with me - it would be this one (though preferably a 50’s or before would be even better).

  4. Bruce Says:

    If you worry about the inevitable soot formed on the bottom surface of the mess gear due to direct open fire, pack some amount of heavy-duty aluminium foil with your camping gear. Cut a piece of alu foil big enough to wrap over the outer surface of the pan (Tip: Be sure to wrap the alu foil over the lip of the pan so that it stays stuck with the pan during cooking.). That way, your mess gear is well protected from the soot. Naturally, you’d have to sacrifice a bit more time as the heat conduction suffers a little, but then who cares. The mess gear has also been my favorite cook gear on camping trips and I have tried the mentioned tip quite successfully. It works for me so I’m sure it will absolutely work for you folks too. By the way, mine was stamped 1968, a Vietnam war era mess gear.

  5. dmitry Says:

    Thank you for the comment, glad to hear somebody else shares my opinion on GI mess kits.

  6. Tom Says:

    I have had this same mess kit for years and always forgot it at home when it went camping. This last time i remembered it and it was great! I fried bacon, scrambled eggs, and made home fried potatoes. Put it right on the hot coals. Mine is stamped 1982 but it is really heavy duty. Now im going to have to look for a 40’s or 50’s stamped one to see the difference for curiosity’s sake.

  7. Otis Says:

    if you’re worried about soot, rub some liquid soap on the bottom of the pan before going into the fire.

  8. Hal Says:

    I also own a USGI mess kit just like in the photographs above here. It bears the same exact stamp with “1982” on the outer side of the swing-out handle. I own two other USGI mess kits - one has a 1966 stamp and the other has a 1986 stamp. I also own a reproduction USGI mess kit made by Rothco. Despite what you read above and perhaps elsewhere, and despite even what is actually printed on the box of my Rothco reproduction USGI mess kit, NONE of my USGI mess kits are made of stainless steel - they are all made from just a heavy gauge of aluminum. While the USGI mess kits that were made in the 1940’s and 1950’s might have been made of actual stainless steel, the ones made in the 1960’s and afterward were apparently not. It’s easy to check this for yourself, actually - see if a magnet will stick to your USGI mess kit. (Magnets will only stick to steel, steel alloys, plated steel, and iron, but nothing else.) Anyway, I can say from my own personal experiences that all of my USGI mess kits still work very well for camping and outdoor survival purposes even though they are definitely not made out of stainless steel. The big difference between USGI mess kits and the cheap mess kits that are made by Coleman, Coughlan’s, and other camping gear manufacturers seems to be just the thickness of the aluminum used in their production. While a USGI mess kit weighs about 15 ounces total, the cheap mess kits probably weigh only about two-thirds of that at the most, and thin aluminum is not all that durable, as anyone who has ever crushed an empty beverage can would know.

  9. bob Says:

    Another interesting camp feature is that you can use it like a pressure cooker. Just put your meat or whatever in the pan, put the plate over it and lock it and then put the whole thing on the coals. Pretty neat way to cook fish, among other things.
    [Edit: That’s an awesome suggestion for cooking fish! Thanks for that.]

  10. Benjy Says:

    Back here in India, the rural people mix some soil with water and smear the mud in a thin even layer on the bottom and sides of the cooking pot (even for pressure cookers!) This washes off/breaks off quite easily and the soot with it. I regularly see cooks using the same method on big aluminium vessels as they cook for banquets & weddings whenever they use a wood fire.

  11. Bill from Ont. Can. Says:

    My mess kit was made in 1965 by Carrollion Mfg. Co. - DSA-4-055579-TR530. Not sure what all the numbers mean, but are most likely the Government Contract Number.

    The unit is a respectable heavy gauge stainless with the oversized utensils (all stamped U.S.). I often camp solo off my ATV or boat in the Georgian Bay area and I rely on this mess kit, along with a small Optimus Hunter 8R Naptha Stove, and a large (2 cup) porcelain coated steel mug. This is all the kitchen ware I need when out for several days. By the way, the mug serves as both a kettle and a drinking mug at the same time (works great). If I am out for longer, or with others, I then take a camp kitchen.

    The mess kit does more than cook, it stores the utensils, dish soap, salt and pepper, hand sanitizer (which I use to preheat the Optimus, great fire starter too) dish cloth etc. It has a superior geometry to the standard round kits, as it will fry a good sized bass filet or steak/pork chop with equal aplomb (steaks and fillets aren’t round). The shallow divided half serves to hold entrees and utensils whilst the deep half does the fillets and or beans. The long handle and depth of the pan is a bonus, especially when I’m deep frying those fresh beer battered bass/walleye fillets. I intend to try the Bob’s tip about using the mess kit as a pressure cooker (never thought of this, thanks Bob).

    The utensils slide over the handle, along with the divided half, allowing you to hang the whole rig up to dry in the sun. Less time drying, more time fishing (or having that beer?).

    My kit has done it’s time over open flame too. The best way to clean it is to put it in the dishwasher with a good charge of powdered chlorine dish soap (it will make any stainless-steel sparkle).

    I really like this rig as described above, after years of continuous camping, I find that this is all you need.

    This is the life your living, go out there and live it (W.R. Larson).

  12. James Says:

    I’m looking to buy 2 or 3 GI mess kits.I was woundering were I could get them.I’m in New Kensington Pa area.

  13. Jim Says:

    GI mess kits made in 1941 or later are stainless steel. No, a magnet won’t stick to them - food service grade austenitic stainless steel does not attract magnets. Manufacturers of consumer stainless steel appliances have started putting sheets of ordinary carbon steel under the stainless in response to customer complains about refrigerator magnets not sticking.

  14. Hal Says:

    I would like to retract what I previously wrote above in my comment at #8. What I have since learned is that there actually are methods to make stainless steel which is not magnetic. Such types of stainless steel are usually made with the element and metal, nickel. The American nickel five cent coin is made from a nickel-copper alloy, and it’s easy for anybody to see that a magnet will not stick to this coin.

    Anyway, I still love using USGI mess kits and USGI canteen cups (They seem to also be made from this same type of non-magnetic stainless steel.) on all of my camping and hiking trips. USGI mess kits and USGI canteen cups are usually much more cheaper than all of these camping cookware pieces made from titanium. Sure, they do weigh more than titanium cookware, but to me, it seems by not even all that much.

  15. Joe Says:

    Dmitry,
    Many thanks for putting this site together! It’s really comprehensive, and your knowledge of survival gear is impressive. As far as cooking gear goes, I was curious as to your opinion on the Swiss volcano stove. I picked up one from CTD recently along with a fitted Molle pouch, some wet tinder and trioxane tabs, and am looking to augment it with additional mess gear. I’m trying to avoid mixing and matching mess gear, but I’m willing to experiment…any ideas?

    [EDIT: From what I have read on various forums the volcano stove works great for boiling water, plus there is usually something to burn around you, no extra fuel required. If you have to cook a meal, the volcano stove would not be my to choice. I think a wider pot would work a lot better for making actual meals. That being said, I carry a JetBoil PCS for all camping trips, and we use it to boil water for tea, soups and re-hydrated meas. When something has to be cooked, we use another stove and a stainless pots set. Both the JetBoil and the stove use IsoButaine fuel canisters, so they are interchangeable.]

  16. Kalvy Says:

    Okay, so I’m still not clear on the Rothco replicas… yes or no? I read some reviews and several have complained about them being cheaply made, not sturdy, etc. Is there another company that does better at making replicas? I look forward to your responses! Thank you.

  17. dmitry Says:

    I have a Rothco woodland camo “ranger” vest and it’s quality is just fine. The fabric is a 50/50 polyester-cotton mix. It’s not as thick as GI Issiue pants or shirt, but still good for fishing or light-duty wear.
    Rothco quality is not bad, it just seems to be lighter-weight fabrics. Check out whatever you intend to buy at a surplus store or gun/knife show beforehand.

  18. theguyfromplt Says:

    For those worried about soot on the bottom of your stainless mess kits: a little ash from the fire pit and just enough water to make an abrasive paste will remove the soot with very little effort. Follow up with soap and rinse and it’s as good as new. 😉

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