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By May 31, 2012 Read More →

Survival kit tin cup provides weight, bulk solution

Survival gear doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Some of the best items are common, easily-found products you may already have. One of those items is a large metal cup. Here’s why you need one. (Check out the video below.)

Freeze Dry Guy: food security for uncertain times

by Leon Pantenburg

I slogged along in the ranks, Springfield slung over my shoulder, headed toward the sound of the guns.  As an embedded journalist in the Confederate infantry, I was covering the battle of Champion Hill re-enactment between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi.

military tin cups have a place in a survival kit

The Civil War replica, left, and the more contemporary military canteen cup have many uses in a survival kit. (Pantenburg photos)

Except for the Nikon and ballpoint pen hidden in my haversack, all my accouterments and weapons were authentic.  It didn’t take long to form opinions.

The heavy wool uniform was like wearing a sweatsuit.  The small kepi offered virtually no protection from the sun.  The canteen was too small, the leather shoe soles were slippery and the authentic food really sucked.

But several common items proved invaluable.  My cotton bandana was soaked in water and worn around my neck to cool and protect it from the fierce sun.  A flint and steel kit could stand up to the hard marching and campaigning, whereas matches didn’t last in the heat and humidity.  Hardtack was durable, but tasteless.

But the large quart tin cup was a stellar performer.  It served as my mess kit, and worked really well for boiling coffee and heating rations over a campfire.  Water stations were set up all over, and we’d stop frequently to hydrate, replenish canteens and pour water over our heads. But the most appreciated use came as we were marching back after the battle.

A sutler set up along the line of march, and would fill any cup with cold beer for a dollar.  He would take an IOU, and he did a land office business.

I’ve included a tin cup in my gear for many years.  When I hiked the John Muir Trail in 1976, I carried a metal Sierra cup on my belt.  At every running stream, I’d use the cup to get a drink.  I also mixed instant oatmeal in it, and used it for just about everything.

That was my first wilderness trip where a tin cup proved its worth.  Give some thought to adding one to your survival gear.

Here’s what I have used a metal cup for:

boundary waters enamelwarer tin cup

This 40-ounce enamelware cup went along on a nine-day canoe trip through the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. It was used for everything.

  • Mess Kit: I used a 40-ounce blue enamel cup and a plastic spoon as my only eating utensils during a nine-day canoe trip through the Boundary Waters.  Weight was critical because of the frequent portages between lakes. During that trip, the utensil was also used for picking blueberries, dipping water out of the lake for purification, brewing coffee, rinsing off after a sweaty portage, and various other tasks.
  • Cooking: I typically carry an aluminum can alcohol stove in my 24-ounce metal cup, along with four ounces of alcohol in two small plastic containers.  That is just enough fuel to last a day of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or elk hunting.  I put the metal cup directly on top of the alcohol stove, and brewing up a hot drink is quick and easy.  If you have to warm up a hypothermic person, this tool can be a lifesaver.
  • Campfire cooking:  Save your stove fuel for emergencies.  Time permitting, you can make a small fire and purify water or cook a hot meal over the flames.  And it looks and feels really cool to do that!
  • Bathing: NEVER pollute a water source by rinsing the soap off your body into it.  Instead, fill your cup with water, get a good distance away from the source, wet yourself down and lather up.  Rinse off the same way.  You can also use the cup to hold water for brushing your teeth.

The cup can also be handy for dipping water out of suspicious source before purifying.  In a pinch, you could also dig with it, but I wouldn’t waste my time digging a hole to make a solar still!

The tin or enamelware cups are cheap and can be found anywhere.  Include one in your survival gear and you’ll be surprised how useful it is!

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6 Comments on "Survival kit tin cup provides weight, bulk solution"

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  1. Another great article Leon! I completely agree. LOVE my little canteen cup too.

  2. garry_f_owen_trooper says:

    My old set-up was a camp cup with a Nalgene bottle nested in it. I also use a lid from a can of Hanover Green Beans as a lid for my cup/pot. My Army experience helped me see that a covered cup will boil faster. Two small snips about an inch apart folded back to vent steam and I was set. The brand of beans worked well because the underside was enameled and the larger than standard size fit my cup perfectly. Outdoor Research has an insulated carrier that allows the user to put boiling water into a Nalgene bottle, seal it in the carrier and have hot water all day long in the field.

    My new set-up is much the same; the old camp cup has been replaced with a solo titanium cook set by Sno-Peak. I now carry an alcohol penny stove by Tranga. All of this, plus a small bottle of alcohol and a Steri-pen UV water purifier all fit into a water bottle carrier I ordered from Cheaper Than Dirt. The entire set-up weighs only slightly more than the Nalgene alone.

  3. Ron says:

    Good ideas! Going to go looking for those old enamels I put away.

  4. Tim says:

    I can’t find an inexpensive 40 oz cup locally and I’m not going to pay +13 shipping, so I’ve found a 24 oz and piked up a sierra cup as well. The poltergeist in my home has snitched my army canteen, cup and  stove thing. 

    • Leon says:

      Hi Tim: I don’t know where you are located, so I can’t help you. But I did find several 40-ounce cups at the my local surplus store, and at various sporting goods stores. Here is a link to a 40-ouncer on

  5. Tim says:

    Thanks Leon, The link you provided was one with free shipping. I ordered the cup. Thanks very much. I hope that you received some recognition through Amazon store or something. Keep up the good work!