Monday, May 25, 2015

The Timeless Masterpiece: The NATO Jerry Can

Proper NATO Jerry cans are back, available to all 50 states including the People's Republic of California.  For some time these cans were illegal for all states because of the federal adoption of CARB requirements.  As a result an inferior version of the "Jerry can" were sold.  Thanks to Wavian and their introduction of a CARB compliant spout, the traditional Jerry can is now available.  This does mean each cans bought from now on must include a spout whether or not you already own one and thus increases the price per can $20-$30.  I suppose it's a small price to pay for proper fuel storage.  In days past surplus NATO cans could be had for as low a few bucks; those days are long over.
Not long ago I wrote about the Opinel knife and how it was named by New York Museum of Modern Art as a design masterpiece.  I don't know what criteria MOMA used to judge what constitutes "design masterpiece" but they left out the German Jerry can. It truly made no compromised to either form or function.
Fuel storage containers in some form have been around long before the Jerry can but it was the Germans, specifically an engineer named Vinzenz Grunvogel, who perfected it.  Developed for Blitzkrieg warfare, the Jerry can is truly an ingenious design.  The Jerry can has now become useful for hunters, explorers, offroaders, preppers, and collectors.
Each can is made with two stamped pieces of metal welded together.  Unlike American counterparts with rolled seams, Jerry cans' welds are continuous and where the two pieces of metal met it is recessed ensuring the can will not leak from the welds weakening from constant abuse and impacts from rubbing on the ground or stacking. The recessed gutter also allows the can to expand in changing pressure or hot environments.
To optimize space, the can is designed to be stack-able for easy transport and storage.  The wall sides are flat and reinforced with strengthening ribs that are indented into the steel so not to inhibit stacking.
Another unique feature the three handle design.  Unlike previous fuel containers with single handles, the three handle design allowed more flexibility of carry.  One man can carry each can from the middle handle.   The outer handles made it possible for one to carry two empty cans at a time with one hand or allowed two people to share the weight of a full can.
The lid mechanism is a closed via a cam lever that unlike threaded counterparts do not leak fuel nor do they escape vapors.  When pouring the lid will not fall and impede or interfere with the pour.  Another noteworthy feature is the internal breather that not only prevents gurgling and splashing but increases the speed at which the container can be emptied.  As a safety precaution on most commercial cans a pin prevents accidental openings.
The Jerry can is an iconic and timeless design.  Anyone who ventures away from civilization should own one whether for holding fuel or water.  I own several both fuel and water Jerry cans.  Fuel and water versions have different gaskets and linings.  Water versions have food grade linings and gaskets.
A word of caution for buyers of Jerry cans, beware of imitations.  Very poor imitations.  Most come from China and are not worthy of your hard earned money.  You do not want fuel leaking in your truck, so buy legitimate NATO cans.  One tell tale sign is the recessed gutter and continuous welds (not spot welded).
Not too long ago the US army adopted plastic Scepter cans.  I'm not sure why the went this direction but it maybe the fact that plastic doesn't explode in fire.  Scepter cans are threaded and therefore will leak.  Not only that but in changing barometric pressures the cans can seize up and will require a wrench tool to pry it open.  I have some Scepters as water cans, they are okay but steel NATO cans are superior. 


  1. I own a number of jerry cans and can say they are absolutely fantastic. I have had them in an enclosed vehicle, for a short time, and had absolutely no fuel smell whatsoever. The quality is excellent. I would highly recommend Lexington Container if a person is interested. These cans are not cheap but put every other can on the market to shame. In short, you get what you pay for.

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  3. I have some 50s era NATO gas cans with a wide mouth and I need a nozzle for such any ideas on where I can purchase haven’t had any luck