Military Can Opener

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Your survival gear checklist can be really extensive. And for a reason: to be prepared for any survival situation, one may require a long list of survival products to back one’s survival skills. Survival food, water, cookery, and so forth are great to put in your survival bag. But what else does one need?

Army’s greatest invention, as some may call it, a military pocket cans opener, is one of the essential survival items that one can think of. Developed back in 1942 by the Subsistence Research Laboratory, an army pocket can opener has met extensive use ever since. 

For many years already, it has been an irreplaceable item not only for the United States Marine corps but also for millions of customers worldwide, resulting in an insane quantity of produced items.

What is an army can opener?

  • A military/army can opener is a small metal item with a sharp folding blade originally used by soldiers for opening canned field rations. Today, anyone can have one of those to complement their emergency or hiking set, with the most popular products being a P-38 can opener and a P-51 can opener by U.S. Shelby Co.
  • This is a tiny tool that takes up little space, so you can put it in your pocket and won’t even notice it’s there. Another popular solution is to carry it on a key ring or a dog tag chain using a little hole in its body. 
  • Should you need to open cans while on a hiking trip or a picnic, a P-38 can opener or a P-51 can opener will make your life a lot better – you’ll get the job done in no time and with minimal effort.

This device is small, easy to carry and pack, great for multiple functions, and requires no electricity, which means you can use this handy tool anywhere and at any time.   

P-38 and P-51: what’s the difference?

The P-51 Can Opener is a military-style tool with a sharp blade meant for opening cans. Its predecessor was the P-38 can opener, which has been around since World War II when soldiers used it. The P-51 and P-38 are called such because they are 51 and 38 millimeters long, respectively. The P-51 is easier to use because of its larger version size since it doesn’t require as much thumb pressure and requires fewer turns to open a can. Because of this, the P-51 was often used by mess hall cooks to open larger cans.

At a full two inches long, the P-51 is lightweight yet durable. There is a hole in the top to easily add it to your keyring; always have it handy. The blade used to open cans folds back against the body when not in use, making it safe and compact. To use, flip out the blade and place the tip on the top of a can. Hook the notch on the side against the side of the can for leverage. Apply thumb pressure, and the opener should easily puncture the can. Repeat this step, moving in a circular motion around the can until the lid is removed.

Why do I need a P-51 can-opener?

Kit De Supervivencia

  • Having an emergency can opening tool is important for every bug-out bag you own. If you find yourself without a proper tool, you may try using other tools, such as a knife, which can easily lead to injury. 
  • The P-51 is small and lightweight so that you can carry it with you at all times. It is a great tool for camping and hiking because of its small size, and its sharp blade makes it multi-functional.
  • They are so useful, in fact, that when P-38 openers were issued in the mess kits, the soldiers would keep them and reuse them. The soldiers found many good uses for the tool. The most popular uses besides the can opener includes a cutting tool similar to a box cutter and a makeshift flat-blade screwdriver. 
  • Other uses alongside canned field rations opening included a scraper, fire starter, sinker, finger splint, and rope cutter.

Where to Buy a P-38 or a P-51?

1 Pcs Rojo Kit De P-38 and the larger version, P-51, are available in virtually any shop that sells survival gear or army items. Rescue organizations, army soldiers,  and popular mechanics have adopted this kind of food can openers. There are plenty of such shops, both online and offline. If you choose to purchase either a P-38 or a P-51 online, you will first have to register in an online shop to be able to make an order. Search through the catalog for the model that you need and put it in a shopping cart. Buy a product by following a number of steps, including filling in personal information (full name, email, address), choosing the item quantity, and proceeding with payment.

Both P-38 and P-51 are manufactured by the U.S. Shelby Co.


The P-51 is an excellent emergency tool and should be a part of everyone’s bug-out bag. Its size and portability also make it great for activities such as camping, hiking, and fishing. On a typical camping or hiking trip, I would not plan on bringing any cans because of their weight. However, aside from being a c-ration can opener, it makes a pretty nifty cutting tool that can have multiple uses if you are crafty. It can serve as a backup cutting tool or simply your only cutting tool if you are planning to travel ultra-light. It is a standard tool for any homesteader and outdoorsman, and for such a good price, it should be a part of everyone’s bug-out or bail-out backpack.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What’s the difference between a folding P-38 and a P-51?

A P-38 and a P-51 are the two versions of one and the same device. The difference is the length. A P-38 is 38 mm long, whereas a P-51 is a larger option and has a length of 51 mm. Due to this fact, a P-51 can be used for opening larger tray rations or canned c rations. With this model, it is also easier to open regular canned food since its size provides more leverage.     

Why is a military can opener called a P-38?

Search results give several answers to the question. The first one is that a P-38 got its name thanks to its length, which is 38 mm. But the problem is that P38 was developed for an American army, and people in the US don’t use the metric system. Another version is that P38 got its name because it took 38 motions to open a C-rations can. Finally, there was a posting saying that the name’s origin may have something to do with a Lockheed P38 fighter plane or the Walther P38 pistol. Fun fact: in the past, the item was used by the US troops and was also referred to as John Wayne because the actor starred in an educational film where he used a P-38.

Are military can openers safe?

P38 and P51 are relatively safe as much as a cheap great-blade tool can be safe. This means that using this item will require some learning. So don’t get upset if you’re unable to open your first can – practice makes perfect. But mind safety!


A former USA Army sergeant and a highly educated survivalist and prepper with a degree and interest in Engineering and Electronics, Mike Millerson applies his extensive expertise in survivalism, homesteading, backpacking, hiking and hunting, spreading his deep knowledge about handling emergencies and prepping for them reasonably and effectively.




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