Written by 9:03 pm Survival Gear

The P38 can opener

P38 can opener

The P38 can opener, a small but mighty tool, has a rich history and enduring presence, from its military origins to its current status as a beloved item among collectors, survivalists, and outdoor enthusiasts. This article explores the P-38 can opener’s design, history, usage, and its continued relevance today.

The Birth of a Legend: The P38 Can Opener

Developed in 1942, the P38 can opener was a response to the need for a compact and efficient tool to open canned rations for U.S. soldiers. Measuring just 1.5 inches in length, this tiny device was designed to be lightweight and easy to carry, fitting perfectly on a keychain or dog tag chain. Its name, “P38,” is often thought to be derived from the 38 punctures it makes around a can’s circumference, although some believe it was named after the Lockheed P38 Lightning fighter plane for its quick performance.

Design and Functionality

The P38 is known for its simplicity and effectiveness. It consists of a short metal blade that acts as a handle and a hinged metal tooth used to pierce the can lid. A notch under the hinge point keeps the opener hooked around the can’s rim, allowing the user to “walk” it around to cut the lid out. The larger version, the P51, offers easier operation due to its size. Interestingly, the handle can also double as a makeshift screwdriver.

Military and Beyond: The P38’s Journey

Originally issued with K-ration and later C-ration packs, the P-38 was a staple for U.S. military personnel in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Despite the discontinuation of canned rations in the 1980s, the P-38 remains in production and is sold worldwide. It’s not just a tool for soldiers; it’s also used in disaster recovery efforts and is distributed alongside canned food by rescue organizations.

The P38 in Civilian Life

Today, the P38 is celebrated for its durability and utility. It’s a popular item among collectors, survivalists, and outdoor enthusiasts. Websites like Amazon and Best Glide ASE offer various models of the P38, emphasizing its historical significance and practicality. The P38 is ideal for camping, hiking, and fishing, proving its worth as a reliable tool in various situations.

Cultural Impact and Legacy

The P38 has earned a place in American cultural history. It’s affectionately known as the “John Wayne” in the U.S. Marine Corps, a nickname supposedly originating from a WWII training film featuring the actor. This little opener has become a symbol of resourcefulness and resilience, qualities deeply valued in military and outdoor communities.

Our best selection :

GI P-38 Can Opener (5-pack) on Amazon: A Blend of Practicality and Heritage

The GI P-38 Can Opener available in a 5-pack on Amazon is a remarkable blend of practical utility and historical significance. This product, while simple in design, carries with it a legacy of reliability and efficiency that has stood the test of time.

Link to Amazon.


The P38 can opener, a small piece of stamped metal, has left a large imprint on history. From its humble beginnings as a military tool to its current status as a cherished item among various groups, the P38’s journey is a testament to the enduring value of simplicity and efficiency in design. Whether used by soldiers in the field or by adventurers in the great outdoors, the P38 continues to be a reliable companion, a reminder of the ingenuity and resourcefulness that define the human spirit.

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