One of the biggest differences between a short- and long-term survival situation is the need for food. You can get through a rough day or two pretty easily without food, but if you are forced to take care of yourself for many days or weeks, you’ll need to find a way to keep yourself nourished. Accordingly, most survivalists and preppers include food rations in their bug out bag.
However, you can’t just go to your kitchen, grab a few items and toss them into your bag. You’ll need to select non-perishable foods which will last until you need them. There are a few different options available, and each has its own pros and cons. There is no perfect food ration for all circumstances, so be sure to consider the conditions you’ll most likely face and pick the best rations for your needs.
Freeze-dried foods are one of the most popular options for modern hikers, hunters, campers and other types of outdoorsmen. They have a number of important benefits, and only a few drawbacks, so they definitely deserve consideration when preparing your bug out bag’s food kit.
Freeze-dried foods are prepared foods, which have had the water removed. Because water is responsible for most of the weight in any fresh food, these freeze-dried recipes are extremely light. This means that you can carry a significant number of calories with you, without unduly burdening yourself with the weight of fresh food.
However, this means that you will have to add water to these food pouches before eating them. In areas with abundant (and safe) water supplies, this provides an elegant solution for traveling light and allows you to forego the need to carry around the water in your food. Additionally, you will need to heat freeze-dried foods to properly prepare and rehydrate them, which means you’ll need a stove or campfire to do so.
Three of the leading freeze-dried food manufacturers include:
1. Wise Food
Wise Foods produces a number of different freeze-dried food options, including single-ingredient bulk bags, containing things like strawberries, bananas or milk, as well as complete meals and mixed-ingredient bags. Because of the variety of single-ingredient packages produced by Wise Foods, it is easy to mix and match ingredients to make your own custom-designed meals.
Many Wise Foods are individually packaged, but you can purchase multi-pack kits, which are contained in a large plastic storage container to help protect your food. You won’t likely have enough room in your bug out bag for these containers, but they make it easy to store these meals at home and grab individual meals quickly. Wise Foods reports that their foods last for 25 years, thanks to the extremely low oxygen levels in their packages.
2. Mountain House
Mountain House produces a number of freeze-dried foods for survivalists, campers and preppers. They offer both single-meal, prepackaged options, as well as 10-pound cans to suit different circumstances and situations. Mountain House offers a variety of different recipes for both breakfast and dinner to suit all tastes and preferences. This includes beef stroganoff and other old favorites, as well as chicken fajita bowls and other modern concoctions.
Mountain House foods reportedly last up to 30 years when stored properly, which means you won’t have to worry about your food going bad in your bug out bag. If you potentially might have to survive at high altitudes, you may want to opt for Mountain House’s Pro-Pak meals, which are vacuum-sealed to ensure that they remain compact at lower air-pressures.
3. AlpineAire Food
AlpineAire Foods are US-made freeze-dried foods that are designed to last (and keep their great taste and texture) for at least 5 years, and several of their products – including their dairy-free “Gourmet Reserve” line foods – are designed to last for 20 years or more. AlpineAire produces an entire line of nutritious food options, which can be customized to suit your tastes and preferences. You simply select the type of food product you want (main course, breakfast, soups, etc.) and then select the protein source you’d like to use (vegetarian and vegan options are available). You can even get AlpineAire Foods that are made without glutens or have no trans fats, if you so desire.
AlpineAire food pouches stand up on their own, which makes it very easy to prepare and eat your meals, even when you don’t have a full assortment of dishes and utensils available. Additionally, AlpineAire provides a number of different food options, including snacks and smoothies, to provide you with nourishment when a full meal is not appropriate or feasible.
MREs: Meals that Are Ready to Eat
MREs (meals ready to eat) are self-contained meals that the US military provides to soldiers in combat or other situations in which traditional foods are not available. They are also distributed during humanitarian operations, such as in the aftermaths of hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. These meals are designed to help keep soldiers or civilians nourished for as long as 21 days.
One of the most helpful things about MREs is their self-contained nature; they contain everything you need to enjoy a warm, nutritious meal. MREs contain foods that have not been dehydrated, which means that they weigh much more than freeze-dried foods of similar caloric value. While this increase in weight is often considered a drawback in many cases, they do not require supplemental water, which is very helpful when fresh, potable water is not available.
Additionally, MREs contain their own flameless heating element, which means you don’t need a stove or campfire to prepare them either.
Most MREs contain an entrée and a side dish, as well as some crackers, a desert, a flavored beverage (usually coffee), eating utensils and a variety of condiments. These accoutrements certainly help make the food taste better and are great for morale, but they can also be removed and discarded if you need to save weight or space in your bug out bag.
Historically, MREs were notorious for being relatively unpalatable, but great strides have been made in recent years, and many are now considered reasonably tasty. You can use MREs to supply the bulk of the calories in your food kit, but they are best used when you can afford to lug around the extra weight they represent.
Life Raft Food
Life Raft foods are another pre-prepared option that are designed to help you survive in a lost-at-sea situation. Although they are designed specifically for use on boats, they also represent a viable option for your bug out bag.
Most life raft foods are roughly similar to granola bars, although they are rarely as tasty – most are pretty bland. However, that is partly by design: Because life raft foods are designed to be used in situations in which fresh water is scarce, they are formulated so that they do not cause you to become thirsty while eating them. These emergency-ration bars rarely contain a significant amount of protein, but they are full of carbohydrates to help fuel your body as you try to survive.
Most life raft foods are packaged in water-proof materials, which can help protect them during inclement weather, and they are often guaranteed to last for several years without degrading. They are also quite compact and take up very little space for the number of calories they provide.
While you probably don’t want to rely exclusively on life raft foods to help you survive, they represent a valuable component of your food kit and deserve a little space in your bug out bag. Because they require neither water nor heat to prepare, they are an excellent emergency option for those times when you don’t have access to these resources.
Even if you have plenty of freeze-dried meals or MREs in your bug out bag, you may want to include a few other supplemental food sources. Variety not only helps provide some protection against problems, but it will also give you different food options to suit your preferences at different times. This will help keep your morale high, which is an important aspect of any survival strategy.
Some of the other things you may want to stuff in your bug out bag include the following:
Trail mixes have been keeping hikers, campers and hunters fed and full for decades, and there’s a good reason why: They are a tasty, nutritious and require no preparation to eat – simply scoop up a handful, chuck it in your mouth and enjoy. There are thousands of different trail mix blends available, but you can make your own if you prefer. In either case, try to select a trail mix that contains nuts or seeds, dried fruits and bits of candy, so that you will obtain plenty of protein, fat and carbs to keep you going.
Jerky is a great non-perishable protein source that is both easy to pack and lightweight. Beef jerky is perhaps the most familiar variety, but many different meats – including poultry and pork – can be processed into jerky too. You can purchase ready-to-eat jerky or you can make your own jerky with the help of a food dehydrator.
Canned meats are an excellent source of fully hydrated protein that can be stored for very lengthy periods of time. You can find a variety of different meats in canned form, including fish, beef, pork, poultry and shellfish, so be sure to select a few different varieties for your bug out bag. Don’t forget to bring a can opener if you are relying on canned meat (your multitool should have a can opener). Canned meats are heavy, thanks to their high water content, so you may want to limit the amount you pack in your bag to keep the weight down.
A variety of companies now make 2-ounce energy drinks, which are designed to keep you alert and provide a quick boost of energy. These recipes vary widely from one product to the next, so be sure to pick one that suits your needs.
While these energy drinks are slightly heavy (they are essentially water), they can be very helpful when you need a little help keeping your focus or finding enough energy to complete a task.
Candy bars may not be the healthiest food in the world, but they are a great source of sugar and fat (as well as protein, if you choose a variety containing nuts). Candy bars not only provide an abundance of quick energy, they also help provide a little morale boost, thanks to their rich taste. However, be careful that you don’t rely too heavily on candy, as it can cause you to crash a few hours after eating it, which is counterproductive to your survival needs.
In addition to food, you’ll also need a few other items to help you prepare and eat the food you bring. Minimally, you’ll want to pack the following items in your bug out bag:
A small pot is imperative for boiling water and preparing some foods, and it can even be helpful for carrying small amounts of water from a creek to your campsite. Be sure to select a pot with a matching lid and handles that won’t melt if you have to use it over an open fire.
Unless you want to stir your dinner with a stick and eat it with your hands, you’ll need some eating utensils in your go bag. As long as you have a pocket knife to cut foods, you needn’t bring anything other than a spoon, but a complete fork-knife-spoon kit doesn’t weigh that much.
Some ultralightweight campers prefer to use chopsticks rather than forks to save weight, and this method can work for survivalists too.
You’ll need to wash your pot and cooking utensils to keep things clean and germ-free, so be sure to pack a small sponge in your kit. The best types will feature a scrubbing surface on one side, to help you scrape off stubborn bits of cooked food.
You will probably want to pack a pot holder in your kit to help you handle hot pots. However, if you are already planning on bringing thick gloves, you can probably use these instead of a dedicated pot holder.
Aluminum foil can help you cook or heat just about anything over a campfire or stove, and it makes sense to keep a small roll in your bug out bag. In fact, aluminum foil can also be used for a variety of other purposes, such as transporting hot coals or keeping cooked food hot. You can even use the shiny side to signal rescue crews or catch the eye of passing aircraft.
You don’t want to get sick while you are already in a tough spot, so be sure to pack a little bit of soap inside your food kit. Choose an unscented liquid soap to avoid attracting bugs; if you can find a concentrated soap product, you’ll be able to pack a lot of soap into a very small package.
You may want to bring a few other items in your food kit, but just be sure that you avoid over-stuffing your bug out bag. After all, you’ll have to lug this thing around through, and you may be traveling over extremely rugged terrain when you do. Try to keep your food kit as scaled down as possible (without leaving out any of the imperatives), and try to pack everything in your pot so that you can find everything quickly and easily.