Military Canteen

In military terms, 'canteen' was not originally a piece of equipment. The word referred to a place where refreshments and entertainment were provided for members of the armed forces. Remember the Stage Door Canteen from World War II? But at least by the 19th century, canteen also came to mean a portable container for water, carried by infantry.

One of the most common items of individual equipment for ground troops is the military canteen. With the high level of physical activity that is normal in military operations, every person needs a significant ration of water on a regular basis. This need is accelerated in warm climates, but does not disappear even in quite cold environments. The canteen and its accessories provide the vital link between the unit's water supply and the individual soldier on the move.

Soldier wearing typical early WW II gear, including aluminum one quart canteen in canvas carrier, Edgewood Arsenal, MD, 1943
Soldier wearing typical early WW II gear, including aluminum one quart canteen in cotton canvas carrier, Edgewood Arsenal, MD, 1943.

Today in WW II: 20 Oct 1941 In reprisals for losses to Yugoslavian partisians, Germans troops kill thousands of civilians in Kragujevac and Kraljevo [20-21 Oct].  More 
20 Oct 1944 Philippines invaded by Allies at Leyte, joined by Filipino guerillas.
20 Oct 1944 Gen. Douglas MacArthur Returns to Leyte, Philippine Islands.
20 Oct 1944 Belgrade, Yugoslavia liberated by Russian Red Army aided by Yugoslav Partisans.
Visit the World War II Timeline for day-by-day events 1939-1945! See also WW2 Books.

Modern History of Military Canteens

Marines refill canteens using canteen cup and jerry cans delivered by an M416 trailer, Operation URGENT FURY, Grenada, 25 Oct 1983
Marines refill canteens using canteen cup and jerry cans delivered by an M416 trailer, Operation URGENT FURY, Grenada, 25 Oct 1983.

This section of collects much of what is known about U.S. military canteens from the model of 1910 onward. For such a simple item, there is a surprising amount of detail and development history that is available.

In the U.S. military, the modern era of individual water canteens began with the decision by the Infantry Equipment Board to adopt the aluminum one quart canteen, along with a matching cup and canvas carrier. The M1910 design evolved through WW I and WW II, including a change to stainless steel, different caps and variations in the cup and carrier, but the basic design elements were constant:

  • Canteen body, one quart capacity, with a curved "kidney shape" cross-section
  • Screw-on Cap attached to the canteen body by chain, lanyard or strap
  • Insulated cover that attaches to belt or pack
  • Metal cup with folding handle that nests with the canteen body, used to prepare coffee, drink mix, soup or other rations

The second wave of design evolution led to the 1962 adoption of the M1961 olive drab polyethylene plastic canteen. Although the plastic canteen was almost identical in size to the metal ones, a new nylon carrier was issued to be compatible with the ALICE load carrying system then coming into use. With minor variations, and a new MOLLE canteen carrier, the one quart plastic military canteen remained in use into the 21st century.

The wars in the hot, dry areas of Southwest Asia (OIF/OEF) and advances in medical understanding of military hydration requirements led to new approaches that antiquated the individual canteen. The CamelBak, bottled water, and enhanced logistics for field water supply have revolutionized the process and equipment used to supply Soldiers and Marines with the water necessary to keep them in top condifion under all circumstances.

U.S. Military Canteens

Part of every soldier's basic equipment is his canteen. From World War I, with the M-1910 standard, into the 1990s, the basic U.S. Army canteen (also used by the other armed services) has been 1 quart (.95 liter) in volume. Two quart canteens or larger volumes have been issued, but the almost universal canteen remained the 1 quart size. The design of the canteen cover, also standardized as the M-1910, remained nearly constant for many decades.

In the 1990s, canteen practices began to change with increased use of two quart canteens, CamelBak hydration units and other alternatives to the individual canteen.

More information on specific models of canteens and related individual equipment used by the U.S. military is on these pages:

General Precautions Regarding Military Canteens

Some rules developed from experience will help avoid problems with your canteen:

  • Always use the water from canteens in or on your rucksack before using water in the canteens on your belt. This will ensure a supply of water should you ditch or lose your rucksack.
  • Use your canteen for clean water only. Pouring drink mix into a canteen full of water is prohibited according to doctrine. Use the canteen cup or another drinking container for mixing.
  • If using water from a source that has not been approved for drinking, treat the water with water purification tablets before drinking any.
  • In below freezing temperatures, water in plastic canteens will become ice very quickly. Keep the canteen inside your clothing to avoid freezing. Place the canteen upside down so water will still be available even if a layer of ice forms. Do not fill canteen over 2/3 full.
  • Keep the canteen insulation wet in summer to help cool by evaporation, and dry in winter to help prevent freezing.

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

For good results, try entering this: canteen army OR military. Then click the Search button.