Picking the Right Bug Out Bag Food


Bug out bag food – you gotta have it.  If SHTF, throw what you’ve got in your fridge and go, right?  “Clean out the pantry and let’s go”, right?

Don’t be a Dennis.  Don’t bring the Butterfingers.  Seriously, if you’ve seen Jurassic Park (a favorite of mine) you’ll know that guy blew it when it came to making correct decisions in the face of pressure.  Because of him, every child of the 90’s missed out on their dream of visiting a theme park with live dinosaurs.  I know I did.  Jurassic Park was based on a true story, right?  Moving on…

In reality, the human body needs water well before it requires food.  While a person will need water within a few days to survive (as an extreme), the need for food is less vital, especially in a bug out scenario (of 72 hours).  I would counter this point with the following:

  1. In a bug out scenario, an individual on the move may be burning many more calories than is typical.
  2. Strength may be paramount, and nourishment subsequently is of increased value.
  3. You may be traveling with more at-risk individuals (ie. young children).
  4. You are building a bug out bag, so you’re already keen on preparedness – why would you leave food out of the equation?

Food is worthy of inclusion in any bug out bag – the difficulty is in selecting the right stuff.  Remember, choosing food that has a long shelf life means you’ll be replacing it less.  Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to fill this need, and you may already have some of these options.  Let’s check ’em out.

Freeze-Dried Food
Backpacker's Pantry Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

First we’ve got the freeze-dried option.  As far as bug out bag food goes, there are several positives.  First, as the food has been nearly completely dehydrated, the carrying weight is very light.  This also means not having to deal with the muss and fuss of hydrated food – I like to think of what happens if I keep a banana in my backpack too long, or if I have an active day with it on.  No thanks.  As far as preparation, all that is needed is hot water, and most meals are ready in 5-10 minutes.  Then there’s shelf life, ah shelf life.  Most of these products offer a shelf-life of more than 20 years – the Louisiana Red Beans & Rice is 25 years, which is more the rule than the exception.  If you stick with Backpacker’s Pantry, you’ll find plenty of flavors, many of which I quite enjoy.  Katmandu Curry, Jamaican Jerk Rice and Chicken, even Spaghetti and Sauce – all available in multi-serving packages that are good for a week after opening.  Personally, I buy smaller, individual servings, but that’s because I often end up eating them when I’m camping – just add boiling water.  Individual portions are available in three day kits, or single.  Word to the wise; if you buy the individual packages, they come with a shelf life of just six years.  Still a decent length, but much less than the bulk options.  The only true downfall to freeze dried food is the need to prepare it.  Yes, it only needs boiling water (and a camp stove, like the Solo Stove, BioLite Campstove), but there are other options that come ready to eat.

Mountain House Turkey Tetrazzini
Mountain House Turkey Tetrazzini

There are many freeze dried food options – the other I’d like to focus on is Mountain House.  While offering a great range in meals, they are also able to provide sizing for any size group, meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re feeding yourself or a large family.

Despite the high sodium you’ll often find in these meals (seems to be standard), I have stuck with Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House because they offer enough tasty variety to keep me from feeling like I’m eating out of a bag.  Although I don’t have children, I know how picky they can be when it comes to food.  If traveling with a family, you don’t want to be worrying about whether they’re eating or not.  With these meals you don’t have to worry, as they will have something your kids will enjoy.  They even have dessert products!


  • Good selection, with a wide range of breakfast, dinner and dessert options (good for kids)
  • Great shelf life (usually 5-25 years)
  • Lightweight
  • Serving sizes range from individual to large family


  • Can be pricey, but I’ve found reasonable deals online from time to time
  • Often high in sodium
  • Takes time and boiling water to prepare (10 minutes and boiling water may not seem like much, but can be a drawback compared to other options)
Emergency Calorie Food Bars

If you need calories in a survival situation and it doesn’t matter where they come from, an emergency food bar could be the answer.  A ready-to-eat, high calorie bar has several benefits.  As a bug out bag food, they can be thrown in and left until needed, as they often come with a five-year shelf-life.  As they are high-calorie products, the bang-for-your-buck is great – the ER Bar weighs 18 oz. per bag.  Inside each resealable package are six lemon-vanilla flavored bars, 410 calories each.  The 2460 calories represent a 3 day supply in an emergency situation.

Datrex 3600 Calorie Emergency Food Bar for Survival Kits
Datrex 3600 Calorie Emergency Food Bar for Survival Kits

I’ve never had the ‘pleasure’ of living off of these high calorie food bars, only of trying a little piece at night after paddling all day.  As an experiment, a friend wanted to see if he could get by exclusively on these food bars, and packed only them.  He seemed a little perturbed that we were enjoying a hot meal while he munched on his food bar.  Fortunately, I had too much Katmandu Curry that night for myself anyways, so I could help a buddy out.  These food bars have value, but I’d ideally use them as a supplement to my meals, or as something I could eat on-the-go.


  • Lightweight (good calorie to weight ratio)
  • No preparation necessary
  • Designed to prevent dehydration through consumption
  • Good shelf life (usually 5 years)
  • Can be eaten on-the-go


  • Bland, if not initially then by the 4th or 5th bar

Meals Ready-to-Eat are exactly that – well, maybe Meal, Almost Ready-to-Eat is more appropriate.  Popularized by the United States military, they were originally intended for use in the field as balanced nutrition in locations where other options aren’t available.  Here’s a video of a gentleman reviewing a civilian ravioli MRE.  If you give it a watch, notice the heater included and the time it takes to prepare the meal (about 15 minutes in this case).

MRE’s usually have a shelf-life of three years, but some advertise a life up to five, depending on storage conditions.  MRE’s are tricky however, and I’d suggest looking into a number of options before settling on one.  Some things to consider:

  1. Sure-Pak MRE Meals Ready To Eat Case Pack
    Sure-Pak MRE Meals Ready To Eat Case Pack

    Look for a production date – if an MRE was produced three years ago with a four year shelf-life, is a 12 month window worth the purchase?

  2. Who’s the supplier – if the MRE is a civilian issue, is it made by producer’s of military MRE’s?  For example, SoPakCo and Sure-Pak by SoPakCo seem to be reliable names.
  3. Does it include a flameless heater?  A heater will be necessary in preparing parts of each meal.
  4. How has it been reviewed?  Overall, has the product received favorable reviews from people who have previously purchased the product?

When purchasing MRE’s don’t look at just one source of information before you buy (yes, even here).  The aforementioned four points are just to aid in your research.

Trail Mix, GORP, Sidekicks, KD, etc.

The least expensive option is the one you likely already have in your pantry.  Lightweight, easy to prepare meals and snacks that have moderate to high calorie levels can easily be used as bug out bag food.  Sidekicks, Kraft Dinner and other pasta options are great for carbs, and are easy to prepare.  Trail Mix or GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) are great sources of fat and protein and make for a great snack food, especially for kids.  What I’m trying to say is that while high calorie bars and MRE’s are great choices for bug out bags, you can’t go wrong with throwing in some inexpensive items that won’t weigh you down and offer good variety in your diet.  If you’re building an inexpensive bug out bag (like I did here), I don’t think you can ignore these food choices.

Are there options I’m missing?  Have a specific bug out bag food of choice?  Let me know in the comments below!  Or add it to the forum!