With the recent arrests of civilians posing as US military personnel, it is a common question whether civilians can wear military gear. Understanding the law and where the line is drawn is useful information for those considering purchasing military equipment such as flashlights, hardware, and even uniforms for their personal use.

The Law

Kids Camouflage Soldier CostumeWhile there are various state laws, it is against federal legislation for civilians to pose as active-duty military personnel. The law is quite clear that pretending as the active-duty military will subject the offender to fines and possible prison sentences depending on the circumstances of each case.

The purpose of the law was to primarily stop those intending to get into military bases and acting as soldiers or officers for nefarious purposes. Recently, the law has been applied to individuals who have posed as soldiers to take advantage of what active soldiers receive in the civilian world, such as discounts on travel and other amenities.

However, no law is being broken if there is no intent to pose as a military soldier or officer. This is an important distinction between trying to pose or pretend to be a soldier and directly using military gear regarding camping, hiking, or even working outside. There are also exceptions to the law for those who were formally part of the army, which means that they can wear their uniform for parades, recognized events, and the privacy of their home.

Use of Military Gear

In the US, military gear has been sold for civilian purposes for well over a century. The famous Army Supply stores, consisting of privately-owned businesses selling surplus military gear, hardware, and even uniforms, have existed for many decades. Carrying military gear, using hardware, and wearing boots, tactical pants, shirts, jackets, and headgear is acceptable under the law if the intention is not to deceive. So, there has never been any offense or shame in using military gear for civilian purposes.

Theatrical Exceptions

In addition, theatrical productions are listed as exceptions to the law. So, a person performing in a play, on television or the movies, or even as part of their Halloween costume is not breaking the law. In many cases, individuals wearing a considerable amount of military gear will also wear something obviously not military to avoid being mistaken as active duty.

How to Pack a Military Backpack?

Remember that even if you identically pack a military backpack to an active-duty US soldier, you are not breaking any law if you are not posing as a soldier. So, no one will arrest you for the appearance of your military backpack if you wear jeans, a t-shirt, and a ball cap.

You’ll want to pack the backpack with the heaviest items at the bottom so that your hips carry most of the weight, not your upper back. Ensure that your clothing, blanket, and tent occupy the backpack’s center. Put items that you need to get quickly on the attachments and small pockets.

Remember that if your intention is not to cheat, you should have no issue wearing a military backpack, especially when combined with civilian gear.


My name is John Winger, I was born and raised in Virginia. I spent a good part of my early adult life in the US military, namely the Army and served in Iraq. I saw my fair share of combat missions and thanks to that experience I have a better understanding and appreciate for what my country means to me and the world.