With summer season in high gear, surplus shops offer a mind-boggling inventory of supplies, clothing -- and a few surprises -- for just about any outdoor adventure. And the rock-bottom prices can make vacation-shopping almost painless.
A word of caution, though about some so-called "surplus" stores, where expensive new denim jeans, jackets and gleaming new sports equipment have taken over the space once reserved for such authentic items as flak jackets and camouflage gear. The price tags in these places -- where the merchandise is brand new -- may be the same as those at Woodies, Sears, Montgomery Ward.
One store which calls itself "surplus," for example, carries a Eureka "Riverside" tent, which sleeps four to six, with three side windows and a zipperscreen door. Price: $269.95. You can get a comparable model for about the same price as Sears or Wards. A goosedown, sleeping bag is priced at $150; you'd pay about the same at a commercial outfitter.
Cooking equipment, such as enamelcoated dishes for about $2 each and pots and pans, $7 to $9 each, costs about the same as Sears'.
In old-style places, however, like Sunny's Surplus and others, the pickings are surplus-priced. For example:
A simpler version of that "Eureka" tent, albeit less grand, starting at $29.99.
Sleeping bags (that work at 20 below) for $16 to $30.
Navy hammocks made of heavy canvas for $7.99 (compared to luxary models that run in the hundreds elsewhere).
Jungle boots with real canvas tops for under $20.
A camping knife with saw, corkscrew and marlin spike, for $7.99.
Chow sets (stainless steel utensils) for 99 cents each and collapsible drinking cups for 49 cents.
Kerosene lanterns with bright red enamel finish for under $5.
Man-sized air matresses for under $10.
And these other last-minute musts for any camping trip: shower sandals, 69 cents a pair; 7-ounce can of Sterno, 69 cents.
We have to go with the times and be flixible, because availabilities do vary." says Louis N Nehman, the graveelly-voiced president of Sunny's since 1952. "But one thing we do aim for is the kind of stuff that generally won't turn up at Sears."
Though shortage of surplus items is a problem at other stores, Lehman said he dosen't expect any cutbacks from his chief wholesaler, the Department of Defense.
Another source of authentic -- and cheap -- military surplus is Benning Road Classic Clothing in Northeast Washington. One entire floor of its three-story building is devoted to surplus gear to outfit the whole family for a camping expedition.
And at Georgetown Classic Clothing you can mix bargains and fashion with such things as silk stockings, claimed to be left over from World War ii. They may not be exactly what you'd wear on a long hike, but they come with seams, hand-painted designs or sequins and sell for about $9.