Had an interesting conversation with a nice couple I met while browsing the camping gear section at a Mills Fleet Farm store…for those of you that live in the mid-west you are probably familiar with Mills Fleet Farm, commonly called the “man’s mall”. Anyway, the conversation was about selecting quality foods for camping that were easy to carry and that had a good shelf life. While the couple did not come straight out and say they were preppers, I keep getting indications from their chosen words that they were more interested in foods they could store for long periods of time then foods that they would be using to camp with. They were also concerned about foods that would be easy to pack up and travel on foot with, while that is a valid concern of a hiker/camper, it is also a valid concern of any prepper putting together a bug out bag (BOB). This couple sensed I had some knowledge on the subject and kept asking questions. I decided to put together a few things on the subject points we talked about below.
Let’s take a look at calorie consumption. An average person needs about 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day that does activities considered light on the cardio scale. Someone who is exerting themselves, such as laborious work, walking most to all of the day to a retreat location, or anything that causes any level of increased cardio for extended periods of time may need 3,500 to 4,500 calories per day. Your calorie intake should be taken into consideration when planning your survival food needs, as well as your survival water needs. A person walking cross country carrying a bug out bag or working out in their garden at a retreat location is going to need more water and food than somebody sitting on the couch watching TV.
1) MREs. Each MRE contains about 1200 calories and is relatively good to eat. They do not require water to eat the main entry as they are packed pre-cooked, but having water and a MRE heater can make the main entry of an MRE more enjoyable. The cooler you can keep an MRE the longer it will last in storage.
MREs are good for bug out bags as they are a great self contained meal system, but you will want to have 2-3 per day to keep up your energy if on the move. If putting together a BOB with three days worth of food supplies, having nine MREs can take up a lot of space.
2) Regular canned food, such as beef stew, raviolis, and chili to name a few are easy to come by at the grocery store. They can be cheap to purchase and can last a long time on your shelf. They are a good source of calories as well as protein and carbohydrates. Just start buying a few extra items when you go to the store and place them on your shelf. If you occasionally eat some of your canned food be sure you pull product that was first in your pantry (FIFO, first in first out). Also, most canned food is packed in water, so you get a safe source of fresh water with each meal, though the amount of the intake mixed into the canned food may be low. Don’t forget that certain can foods like beef stew and chili gets cooked as part of the canning process, so you normally can eat it straight from the can without heating if you really have to or have no way to heat it up. Canned food also has a shelf life far beyond MREs that are kept at average indoor temperature of 70 degrees. MREs will only be good for about 4.5 years at that temperature, while your canned food such as the beef stew is indefinite as long as the seal remains intact. However, you may notice a loss in flavor over the passage of time.
Canned food is not necessarily easy to carry in a BOB, but it can be done. It does however store well in the pantry at your home or retreat location.
3) Freeze-Dried Camping Food (I’m more familiar with the Mountain Home brand). Freeze-drying is a process of flash freezing food to temperatures 50 degrees below zero to remove the water; this is not to be mistaking for dehydrated foods. The nutrition of freeze-dried Mountain Home foods seems to be very good, with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, although the fiber content is still a little low. I have tested the Mountain Home brands in their #10 cans and found it to be very tasty, and the shelf life of their freeze-dried food is up to around 25 years, which is a great thing when stocking a pantry for long term storage. They also sell pouches of food that are just as good to eat and have a shelf life of about 5-7 years. The only drawback for me is that they do require water to prepare. So you need to be sure you have a good water source if you plan to store away freeze-dried food.
While the cans are great for the pantry, the smaller pouches can be good for the BOB. If setting up your BOB with the pouches be sure to keep an eye on the calorie intake from each serving in a pouch.
4) Energy bars. Energy bars, such as Clif Bars or Power Bars are carbohydrate laden and sugar laden supplements that are intended to give you a boost after exercise and not intended to be real food. They are inexpensive (about $1.50 for 240 calories) but have a very short shelf life. Also, they normally lack fiber. You’ll want some dietary fiber in a sustained emergency.
Please note: these are not meal replacements and should only be used to supplement your survival food when a little extra boost in your energy is needed. Always a good idea to have a handful on hand in your BOB, but don’t forget they will need to be rotated our on a regular basis before they go bad.
5) Emergency ration bars. Ration bars, such as Datrex, ER Bar or Mainstay, are relatively light weight and are able to accept temperature changes. A 2400 calorie bar may help keep up your energy and keep you alive for a while, you will notice that one 2400 calorie bar is going to leave you hungry when you split it into thirds over the course of the day to simulate meals. It is not recommended you rely on these bars for more than a day or two at a time before switching back to more filling foods. You are not likely to eat these for the taste, and after 4-5 years will need to throw them away for replacements.
These bars certainly should have a place in a BOB and can help sustain you until you get to a better food supply, such as your retreat location.
Other: While the products/brands mentioned above I am familiar with, I usually do not come out and make any hard recommendations on this blog. There are other great manufacturers of foods and survival related foods that are worth checking out. You need to find what you like and with what you are comfortable with. Price and having the space to store food needs to be considered. Another brand worth checking out however, is WISE COMPANY foods. They sell actual “bucket kits” of freeze-dried/dehydrated foods that hold various quantities of food. These buckets are great for being stored away in a closet or pantry, and they are good for 25 years.
Don’t forget to include survival seads in your prepping plans.