One of the biggest mistakes many people make (including myself) when getting started in reenacting is rushing off and buying every bit of kit they think they need, when most of it will end up being incorrect. When I joined the group I made the same mistake and ended up with several bits of kit that were no use to me at all!
Here I'm going to discuss what sort of kit you are best buying to start with and then what things you should consider getting that are original items.
Probably the most useful tip when buying gear is always ask before you buy. You should always ask for advice before purchasing anything, everyone in your group will be there to help and advise you on whether you're getting the right thing or not. This was another mistake I made, buying gear I did not know was incorrect without asking other members of the group first, so this would be my best advice for buying gear.
What to buy first?
One thing to remember when getting started is that you will not be expected to rush out and spend hundreds of pounds on everything you need. You can quite easily just buy a couple of basic items of your uniform and just keep adding to your collection over a couple of years. There is no rush, reenacting is as expensive as you make it yourself, you can piece together your impression over a few years or a month if you've got enough spare cash!
When you get started into reenacting, here are the first basic parts of gear that I would recommend buying first.
M1 Steel Helmet + Liner
The M1 helmet is, without doubt, the most iconic symbol of the WW2 U.S soldier. This is an item where you should only buy the correct, original wartime helmet. There are a lot of post-war, foreign made M1 helmets out there so it easy to pick up the wrong one. There is an excellent article on eBay on what to look for when buying your M1 helmet, you should read this and ask advice on buying your helmet as it is an important part of your kit. The article can be found HERE.
The M41 jacket is probably the second most iconic part of the WW2 GI. There are plenty of good repro M41's around (Soldier of Fortune, Epic Militaria, At the Front). I would suggest always buying a repro M41 as originals can go for ridiculous prices online and I wouldn't want to go ruining an original M41 at an event after it's cost a large amount, so always buy repro M41 jackets.
M1937 wool shirt, OD
Like the trousers, the wool shirt is another essential part of your uniform and another item that if you can find original shirts in your size, will be cheaper and last longer than buying repro shirts. The trick is to keep checking online and be patient, but if you are struggling to find one in your size, go repro.
M1937 Wool trousers, OD light shade
The wool trousers are an essential basic part of your stand up gear. You can buy repro pairs of trousers from many places online (Soldier of Fortune, Epic Militaria, At the front, etc.), however, if you can find original pairs of trousers on eBay and militaria shows, always buy original trousers (just check with the group that they are the lighter shade of OD), originals will last whereas repro trousers won't. Repro's are great if you can't get originals in your size, but if you can they are a must. In my experience, they have always worked out cheaper than buying repro trousers anyway if you look in the right place you can save a lot of money.
M1938 canvas Leggings, dismounted
Another necessity in your basic gear for the U.S GI. When buying leggings you should always look for originals, and NEVER buy Repro's. There are plenty of original leggings out there and they will fit you (most common size 3R, smaller legs are 2R). Repro leggings are always the wrong colour and look far too new. Original leggings will be cheaper, if not the same price and will last for a very long time.
Shoes, service, reverse upper (Roughout boots)
These boots are the next piece of gear in the list of gear you should get first. When it comes to buying these boots, I would say you are best buying repro boots because originals are harder to find and will be very expensive, it's also not worth ruining a pair of original boots! There are many good pairs of repro boots available from the retailers mentioned above.
These are the parts of your uniform that I would recommend getting first as these will be the things you wear and use more than anything else. This does not mean you have to panic and buy it all together at once, but I would suggest getting all of these items before anything else. One other thing to mention is socks, Whilst I don't expect you to rush out and buy original socks, make sure you get OD green, cushion sole socks, repro or modern military issue, just don't turn up to an event wearing white tennis socks!
Whilst I would recommend buying original equipment over repro, don't feel forced into it if you can't find original kit in your size, it will be perfectly fine. Originals are just usually cheaper and better quality than repro, and they are also guaranteed to be correct, where a lot of repro bits of uniform aren't quite right.
Once you've got your basic GI uniform, it's time to start getting your webbing and field gear. It is also very important to know what to buy original here and always to ask for advice before you commit to buying any gear! I may be getting a little repetitive with that, but it's really worth remembering if you're new to reenacting.
When it comes to field gear, like your webbing, haversacks, canteens, etc. I would suggest you always buy original. You may be thinking that buying original items would be a very bad thing to do in case they get damaged or broken, but you will find that original items are excellent quality, and I have never damaged any original items I own, whereas many repro pieces of gear have broken after only one or two uses.
M1923 Cartridge belt, dismounted
This is a must for your basic rifleman loadout. You should only buy original cartridge belts, which can sometimes be in a little rough shape, but they are still far better quality than any repro belts. I would recommend looking on eBay.com for these, although the shipping will be a little more expensive from the U.S, I have found that the items are usually cheaper in the U.S than over here so it usually works out at about the same price.
Another part of your basic loadout, the haversack is the 'backpack' you should be looking to buy. Do not buy a musette bag or anything other than the haversack, as the infantry were not equipped with them. Again, you should only try and buy original haversacks as the quality will be far better than any repro item. If you can, try and find one with a meat can pouch.
M1910 Canteen, cup & cover
When looking to buy a canteen, you're best bet is to find a stainless steel, original, canteen as these will not oxidise like an aluminium canteen. With regards to the canteen cup, you should also get original kit, as they are not expensive and easy to find. The canteen covers pop up quite often on eBay and you should look for an original cover, as many repro covers will not fit onto an original cartridge belt.
This is about it for your basic infantryman impression. Getting the items listed in the above uniform section, along with these items of field gear should be the very first things you aim to purchase. From here you can add countless items to your collection of gear, many things you will buy will be quite essential to your impression, such as cutlery sets, meat cans, sweaters, raincoat, etc. This is really a hobby where you will find that you never really do stop adding gear to your impression, there are just countless things that you want, but don't necessarily need.
One other thing worth mentioning is that it would be worth adding a lightweight gas mask bag or GP bag to your impression, as these can be very useful for storing spare socks, scarves and food that can be easily accessible. My own GP bag is actually a repro bag that was used in the monuments men film. Buying movie props can be quite good when it comes to items like GP bags and jackets because they are usually weathered to look worn and used.
It is always worth talking a little bit about E-tools, because you will eventually need to get one. Out of your choices, you can either get a folding M43 E-tool, or the earlier T-handle M1910 shovel. Both are fine as they were both widely distributed amongst troops by D-Day. The T-handle is what you should buy if you wish to do an early war impression, but anything from mid-1943 onwards will be fine for both E-tools.
You can pick up original M43 E-tools and covers a little cheaper than an original T-handle shovel and cover, but there are repro Shovels available, but I would steer clear
of repro E-tool covers, I bought one not long ago and it's far too big for the E-tool and is of poor quality.
It's worth remembering that, other than the items mentioned in this article, you are 99% of the time better off buying original items over brand new repro, as the quality will surpass any repro item you can find, and you won't have to worry whether the item is correct or not. Don't worry about ruining original kit, trust me it takes a lot to do! It is there to be used, not gather dust or be eaten away by moths (watch out for those little sods).
Once you have gathered the basic gear as mentioned above, you can start adding different bits and pieces of gear from different stages in the war such as M43 jackets (buy original, they're cheap as chips!), Buckle boots (buy repro), bayonets, blankets, pup tent, etc. There is no limit to what you buy next, just make sure you ASK other members before you buy!
One thing that us reenactors can't help is getting carried away when it comes to getting our hands on some guns! Unfortunately, buying yourself a weapon should be the last item you purchase (after your basic uniform and webbing setup). A lot of people go out and buy a rifle first thing, and then have no money left to buy the correct kit.It is much better to make sure you have invested your time and money into purchasing accurate, good quality kit. It is very tempting to run out and get yourself a weapon to make your loadout feel better, but you should resist and concentrate on your gear before anything else.
When it does come to buying yourself the relevant weapon for your loadout, you have the option to purchase either a replica firearm or an original Deactivated weapon. I owned a Denix replica M1 Garand, which are very good once you've got all your gear but can't afford to invest in an expensive Deactivated rifle, These will do you just fine. However, if you have the patience and money to save up for your own Deactivated weapon, I would say this is the best investment you can make. I recently bought myself an original Deactivated M1 from 1943. An original rifle will be much stronger, more reliable and will have all the correct features that the weapon should have, so they really are worth the money.
I hope that this article was of some use to you, and you can get a rough understanding on where it is best to buy repro, and where it is better to buy original.
The best source for original kit is eBay and militaria fairs (Malvern, Stonleleigh in the UK). The best source for repro gear is At The Front, Soldier of Fortune and Epic Militaria.