The Best Emergency Food


After eating out of survival kits for a week, our tester’s family of four has ranked the best emergency food. With easy-to-prepare dinner and breakfast items, the Mountain House – Just in Case 3-day non-perishable kit tops the list for shelf life while still offering excellent convenience and taste. If you’ve got extra space and are willing to keep tabs on how old your supplies are, military surplus meal ready-to-eat (“MRE”) pouches from suppliers like Western Frontier and Ozark Outdoorz are good for up to five years and very convenient. For more space-efficient rations you could keep in a car or boat, check out the Datrex – DX2400F three-day supply.

Our Top Choices

For Long-Term Storage


Mountain House

Just in Case

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Best Ready-to-Eat


Military Surplus MREs

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Best Ration Bar


Datrex

DX2400F

See Price at Amazon

Budget Pick


Augason Farms

Variety Pail

See Price at Amazon

After eating out of survival kits for a week, our tester’s family of four has ranked the best emergency food. With easy-to-prepare dinner and breakfast items, the Mountain House – Just in Case 3-day non-perishable kit tops the list for shelf life while still offering excellent convenience and taste. If you’ve got extra space and are willing to keep tabs on how old your supplies are, military surplus meal ready-to-eat (“MRE”) pouches from suppliers like Western Frontier and Ozark Outdoorz are good for up to five years and very convenient. For more space-efficient rations you could keep in a car or boat, check out the Datrex – DX2400F three-day supply.

Important features to consider

Our researcher and tester for this project has taken Outdoor Education classes in the Canadian wilderness, so he’s familiar with the basics of emergency-food needs and priorities in a survival situation. We also checked guidelines from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross to see what’s recommended for civil emergency situations in urban environments.

We’ve tested essential food-preservation equipment before, including the best multi-purpose food slicers and the best food dehydrators, and it’s well worth considering the option to make your own preserved food from home-grown produce. For many families it’s not going to be worth testing and rotating out dried food stocks every year when commercial options are so readily available.

After checking other guides and discussions on Reddit’s r/preppers, The Prepper Journal and mysurvivalforum.com, we carefully compared the most popular picks with official guidelines and put together our list of criteria for a home or car survival kit. Here are the top concerns you should be aware of when shopping:

Water: If you’re preparing for an emergency, you also need to have a plan for storing drinkable water. You can probably live for weeks without food, but you’ll die after three days without water. FEMA has excellent guidelines for preparing emergency stores of water. Remember that you’ll need extra water for preparing dried food, about 24 ounces per person per day. Portable water filters, like some of our picks for the best filtering water bottles, can also purify dirty water you find in an emergency.

Calorie counts: You should try to always have enough food on hand for a three-day catastrophe, but how much food is that for your household? If you’re packing your car, remember that when working to build shelter or walk to safety, you should count on consuming around 4,000 calories per person, per day. If you’re sedentary you may only need half of that, but in any case you should know how much food you have in your kit, and plan for how long you’ll be able to make it last.

Stability in high temperatures: If you’re keeping an emergency food supply in your car or attic, remember that high heat will reduce the stable shelf life of anything that has water in it. Even uncooked wheat won’t last five years above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, if you can keep your kit in a cool, dark place, everything will last significantly longer.

Predictable shelf life: You need to know how long your emergency stash is guaranteed to stay fresh, then make sure to use and replace it before that time. As an example, commercially freeze-dried foods are usually guaranteed for decades, but MREs and canned food will need to be replaced every few years depending on how hot your storage location gets.

Efficient preparation: In an emergency situation, simmering your supper for twenty minutes to get the best texture might be a waste of precious fuel. We tested meal kits under the expectation that we’d have some way to boil water in an emergency, but we also tried samples prepared with just cold water to see how they’d fare in a no-power-no-fuel situation.

Heat packs: MRE pouches often — though not always — contain water-activated chemical heaters so you can enjoy your processed meat or re-hydrated beverage hot rather than room-temperature. These heaters add to the price of a military-surplus MRE, so if you have a plan to store a fuel supply and stove with your emergency cache you can economize by buying civilian-oriented kits that leave them out.

Variety: While a balanced menu is important for long-term health, in a short-term emergency kit a bit of variety also helps stave off anxiety and despair.

Don’t forget a plan for rotating out older food: An annual emergency-preparation drill is a good way to make sure you don’t neglect your emergency kit. Even if your food supply has a good chance of being edible for a decade past the expiry date, the whole point of emergency food storage is to eliminate extra risk when the odds are already stacked against you.

Our list

After examining the variety of ingredients and the cost-per-calorie of three-day survival food kits offered by the best-rated suppliers, we selected three dry food kits, six MRE options and three emergency ration kits. Our test family ate meals out of these kits over the course of a week, and after their first-hand experiences preparing and eating them, they ranked the best emergency food as follows.

1

Mountain House - Just in Case

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If you need your food to be ready-to-eat quickly, but you don’t want to deal with rotating out expiring food every couple of years, the Mountain House – Just in Case emergency food supply kit is our top pick. Freeze-dried provisions are easy to use, and this kit is guaranteed to taste great for at least 30 years in storage.

Mountain House is the best-known brand of freeze-dried food we found, with meal pouches that are popular among backpackers and preppers alike. All the food in this box is cooked before freeze-drying, so you can prepare it quickly — even if all you have is cold water.Read more…

If you had to eat out of these pouches every day, it would be a bit salty and too rich for sedentary life. There’s not much fiber on offer, either. But if you’re just preparing to get through a few days of trouble, the balance of high-calorie staple ingredients and flavor-enhancing sauces and seasonings is the best we tried.

Pros

  • Easy to prepare, even cold
  • Guaranteed to taste good after 30 years
  • Tastes good
  • Pouches can be re-sealed if you only want to make small portions

Cons

  • The most expensive option
  • Requires boiling water for best taste
  • Still only 1–2 grams of fiber per meal

2

Military Surplus MREs

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If you want an emergency meal that you can keep in a bag and eat anywhere, a military-surplus Meal, Ready-to-Eat or “MRE” is your best bet. We bought a random lot from Western Frontier and a few individually selected (and package-date-guaranteed) meals from Ozark Outdoorz. These pouches are packed with an average of 1250 calories each, so two pouches per person per day will be more than enough food if you’re just waiting out a storm.

The downside to ready-to-eat food is that it’s heavy, and it doesn’t last as long on the shelf. These meals make the most sense as just one day worth of your emergency supply, with dried food making up the rest. That way you have something on hand if you get really stuck, but you’re not dragging around extra weight.Read more…

Compared to canned soup or pasta, MREs are far more expensive, but they offer a more balanced meal and they’re easy to open. The downside is that a reliable place to purchase them is tricky to find: Amazon and eBay have dozens of sellers with cases of surplus military cases, but you’ll pay a premium from sellers like Ozark Outdoorz if you want date guarantees or to pick and choose which menu options you want. We looked at “civilian label” MRE suppliers, but most of the biggest companies are selling less-complete MREs at higher prices than we paid for hand-picked surplus.

The shelf life of an MRE is good, but you should still eat these and replace them every five years to avoid the risk of something going bad, and every three years if it gets hot where you store them.

Pros

  • Truly ready-to-eat
  • Some MREs include heat packs
  • Good variety of items for a complete meal

Cons

  • Availability is sometimes inconsistent
  • Menu selection is random unless you pay a premium
  • Shelf life isn’t as long as dry food

3

Datrex - DX2400F

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If you want the most compact, energy-dense food possible, ration bars are a simple answer. The Datrex – DX2400F multi-purpose ration bars will keep for five years (or longer) and are very easy to store in a car, boat or cabin. They’re the easiest ration bars for small kids to chew, a bit powdery but otherwise like shortbread.

If you’re in a situation where you don’t know how long it will be until you find food again and you need to keep moving or stay warm, this is basically as good as a ration can get. Each individually wrapped bar inside the package contains 200 calories of fat and carbohydrates, so an entire package of 12 should keep a person going for three days.Read more…

You wouldn’t want to subsist on this for longer than those three days, but rations are only designed to give you the energy you need to find shelter, then water, then a more sustainable food supply. You could keep a box of slightly more-palatable rations on hand, but everything we tested in our review of the best protein bars would need to be replaced annually.

Pros

  • Ultra-compact and lightweight source of energy
  • Five-year guaranteed shelf life
  • Inexpensive compared to other bars

Cons

  • Eating dry cookies for days isn’t fun
  • Not a balanced meal
  • Water might be a better use of limited storage space

4

Augason Farms - Variety Pail

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Finding the best value in a ready-to-use meal kit was tricky, but the Augason Farms – Breakfast and Dinner Variety Pail is our pick at a cost of about $1 per 400-calorie serving. This kit includes a balanced set of menu items inside, and you even get some mood-boosting treats like milk and chocolate pudding.

The downside to a budget-friendly kit like this is that the meals are just uncooked pasta and parboiled rice with a sauce mix mixed in. You could eat this stuff after soaking in boiling-hot water — that’s how we tested it — but you need to simmer them to get the best texture. It’s about as appetizing as the ready-to-cook side dish packets you’d find at the grocery store for a similar price.Read more…

If you want to DIY-assemble a kit like this one, you could include a custom selection of dishes, but you probably won’t save money unless you really load up on plain grains and generic macaroni-and-cheese boxes. Like most grocery-store options, these pouches aren’t resealable, so you’ve got to plan on eating your supplies one pouch at a time or finding a way to clip the pouches closed and keep all moisture out of the pail.

Pros

  • Excellent shelf life
  • Wide range of menu options included

Cons

  • Price is high for dry food you could buy separately
  • Need to simmer most dishes
  • 4-serving pouches don’t re-seal

5

S.O.S. Food Lab - Emergency Ration

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Like the Datrex bars, the S.O.S. Food Lab – Emergency Ration bars are a reliable source of easy-to-carry calories for situations where you have to keep moving. Unlike the individually-wrapped Datrex bars, the S.O.S. rations come pressed together in one big chunk that you need to pry apart with a knife. You should definitely pack these inside a resealable bag so they don’t get dirty once the foil-lined pouch is open.

The S.O.S. rations are closer to shortbread than the powdery Datrex rations, and they come in either cinnamon or coconut flavor. Our test-toddler couldn’t figure out how to eat them, though; he just sucked on the chunks we gave him.


6

Wise Company Freeze Dried - Wise Company – Emergency Food Supply

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Halfway between the basic uncooked food from Augason Farms and the tasty freeze-dried options from Mountain House, the Wise Company – Emergency Food Supply pail claims you don’t need to cook these entrees, and the sauces are on par with brand-name side-dish pouches you’d buy at the grocery store (at a similar price — about $2.50 per 400 calories.)

You’re not saving any money buying dried food this way compared to a DIY collection of sides, and you don’t get breakfast or dessert options the way you do with Augason Farms. That said, the Wise Company entrees have thicker sauces and are slightly better-tasting when you’re just adding water and can’t simmer the food.Read more…

This food still isn’t as palatable or easy to prepare as the offerings from Mountain House, but it’s nice to have a middle ground that you could use to supplement other emergency supplies. The pouches don’t re-seal, so this kind of kit is best for a family or group that plans to eat four servings at once.


7

Survival Tabs - ST-96T

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The Survival Tabs – ST-96T emergency ration is one more option for easy-to-store emergency food supplies. Unlike the Datrex and S.O.S. bars, this is really the most basic form or caloric intake you can find, just sugar, oil and milk solids with some mineral supplements pressed into a capsule. They’re surprisingly tasty, and very compact. The pouches contain 24 loose tablets, which you’re supposed to eat at a rate of one per hour when you’re walking or working to get shelter.

Surviving on these would be better than starving, but for most people that would take weeks; remember that storing some water should be a priority above raw calories. The Datrex bars are a bit easier to handle and more economical to stock up on, but Survival Tabs are a viable alternative.


Daniel Jackson, Writer

Daniel is a Canadian farm boy who grew up to be a nerd with a literature degree and too many hobbies to count. He emigrated from Canada to California in 2013, and now writes for Your Best Digs full-time. Daniel remains unapologetic about Canadian spelling, serial commas, and the destruction of expensive travel mugs.

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