P-38 Can Opener


The greatest Army invention

I have carried a P-38 since I first encountered one about 40 years ago in my introduction to US Army combat rations during Basic Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.  Each case of combat rations had a dozen or so P-38s or more officially “OPENER, CAN, HAND, FOLDING, TYPE I”.  The older P-38s were made of steel and the later ones of aluminum.  In either case the P-38 folds flat and attaches easily to a key ring.  In addition to opening a can, I personally have used it many times over the years as a screwdriver, lever, and knife.

— Steven Cochran

I have always carried a pocket knife. The current one is a slim Schrade two-blade model, small enough not to wear holes in my pocket. And I have a Leatherman tool in a belt case for days when I have multiple chores.

But my other every-day carry item is an Army surplus P-38 can opener. It opens cans, of course, since the old C-rations and K-rations used cans, while the more recent Meals-Ready-to-Eat rations do not.

It scribes lines. It opens envelopes, after a fashion. It cleans fingernails and serves as a small scraper. And it has tightened hundreds of loose screws.

The P-38 can opener: a mark of competency since 1940 or thereabouts.

— Chas Clifton

I was issued my P-38 in the summer of 1960, and it has always been on whatever keychain I had in pocket since then.  It seems as if I have had the occasion to use this simple device at least twice a week. Breaking through the sometimes impenetrable packaging that seems to cover everything we buy these days, to an ideal fingernail cleaner, and, occasionally a great can opener.  There is nothing out there that is as light, inexpensive, durable, and useful as my trusty p-38.

— Casey Goeller


(We've reviewed the P-38 in the past, but it's a tool review we get sent so often and with such enthusiasm that it seemed overdue for an update. Here's an article (or two) for those interested in the story behind the P-38. --OH — editors)