Best Emergency Foods: Get Nourishment in a Crisis
Be prepared for unexpected events with these top emergency foods
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON October 12, 2019
You can’t go wrong with an emergency food supply, especially if you’re a frequent camper. If you find yourself lost when hiking, you can rely on food to keep your energy up before help arrives. Backup food provisions are also key for preppers and survivalists. Consider including the following emergency foods to your must-have survival supplies.
- Best OverallMountain House Essential BucketSummarySummaryA 12-pack of emergency survival food rations, all very nutritious, delicious, and high in calories.ProsProsNot only do these meals reach the highest standard for MRE flavor, they’re also extremely easy to prepare. Hot water is all it takes to make everyone ready to eat. The plastic food storage bucket is extremely efficient and can be reused. Each ration is a full-size serving with all the calories you’ll need.ConsConsReal shelf life isn’t as long as advertised, since the food is often already several years old when purchased. Meant to feed one person, not a crowd.
- Best ValueSOS Food Labs Emergency Food RationsSummarySummaryNine ready-to-eat bars of fortified food, each containing 410 calories with a shelf life of five years.ProsProsEach bar is rich in vitamins, minerals, sugar, and protein. Affordable. High in energy. Can sustain you for three days before help arrives. A great cinnamon flavor that’s non-thirst-provoking. Compact packaging. It can survive through extreme weather changes.ConsConsLess nutrient-dense than most emergency foods. It contains wheat gluten.
- Honorable MentionNorthWest Fork Gluten-Free Emergency Food SupplySummarySummarySix-packs of highly nutritious, 30-day emergency food that offers 90 servings.ProsProsIt contains a variety of flavored food, including pinto beans, green peas, oatmeal, and black beans. Gluten-free. Vegan diet. Full of flavor. Has a shelf life of more than 10 years. The freeze-dried meals are easy to prepare. It comes in thick and resealable bags. The bags can be easily divided into smaller portions. Not hard to bite or chew.ConsConsExpensive. The shelf life may be reduced if the bags are left open. High bean content.
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Benefits of Emergency Food
- Easy storage. In your everyday life, you need a whole pantry and fridge to hold all the food you need. Your emergency kit won’t take up nearly as much space. You can fit all the food you’ll need for a trip in your backpack, or in a plastic bucket in your house in the event of an emergency.
- Long shelf life. Emergency food is made to last for a ridiculously long time—some of it keeps for up to 30 years. During that time, you can use it for outdoor adventures, emergency situations, or even just a snack. One thing to remember: No matter how long the shelf life, emergency food is perishable and goes bad much faster once opened.
- Compact and lightweight. Nutrient density is the first goal of emergency food kits—how to get the most calories out of the least weight. This means that in addition to emergency food storage being simple, it’s also very easy to transport, and can be tucked into a backpack or even a pocket.
- Tasty and nutritious. Don’t believe all the talk about MREs and nutrition bars taste like cardboard! There have been a ton of advances in ready-made food, and plenty of freeze-dried meals are now good enough to eat anytime—not just in emergencies. Emergency food is also growing more sensitive to dietary restrictions, with products suitable for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets.
Types of Emergency Food
MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)
These are entire meals that come freeze-dried and vacuum-sealed in bags. MREs can encompass a pretty impressive range of cuisines, from the classic chili and mac ‘n’ cheese to veggie-rich Russian cuisine. Preparation almost always involves boiling water and tipping it into the bag or combining the contents and water in a pot, if you have one.
Emergency Food Bars
These wrapped bars are even simpler and more calorie-dense than your average MRE. They usually taste a bit like cookies and are heavy on nutrient-rich ingredients, making them a solid portable choice for emergencies.
No bunker is complete without shelves of canned food, but is it can-preserved the best way to go in case of a disaster? The canning process renders it safe from bacteria, and canned food often tastes better than other types of survival food. However, once you open a can it’s no longer shelf-stable, so make sure you eat all of it.
Dehydrated Fruit and Nuts
The world’s oldest emergency foods still pack a powerful nutritional punch. Dried fruit, nuts, and granola are the least shelf-stable option on this list, lasting only a couple of seasons, but they’re great to have on hand for short-term emergencies or just camping trips.
Mountain House got its start making survival food for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, helping the military improve on the C-rations that were common during WWII. The company is proud of its long history, during which its meals have been eaten on the world’s highest mountains, at both poles, and even on the moon. Some of its best-selling products include multi-serving pouches.
Wise combines freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients to improve the flavor and quality of its ready-to-eat meals. It is known for the versatility and 25-year shelf life of its meals, and claim that many customers even enjoy them as time-saving work lunches. Wise sells its meals in both long-term buckets and packs of individual entrees.
Family-run Augason Farms started by producing a popular powdered milk in 1972, and has been committed since then to preparing Americans for unexpected disasters by selling high-quality, non-GMO emergency food. Its website notes that individual Augason kits, such as the 72-hour buckets, exceed the federal government’s recommendation of 2,000 calories per day.
Emergency Food Pricing
- $5 to $30: In this price range, expect to find over-the-counter energy bars, trail mixes with fruit and nuts, and individually packaged freeze-dried meals.
- $30 to $60: This price range will include short-term buckets, typically with enough food to last up to 48 hours. Water purifiers and other supplies are likely to be included at higher prices.
- $60 to $300: Longer-term buckets, such as the Augason Farms 1-week bucket, fall within this range. Some companies, such as Wise, sell survival food kits that can last for years, running well over $1,000.
Vitamins are key nutrients that perform critical roles in your body. It’s important to make sure that any survival diet be high in vitamins in order for you not to feel sick or impaired when you most need to be fit and healthy. Many survival bars are enriched with vitamins.
Calories are the other thing any emergency food supply needs. They’re what stave off hunger and give you the energy to keep going. When deciding how much emergency food to buy, base the calculation on how many calories you need per day.
Shelf life is a complicated feature, as manufacturers sometimes over-report it or leave out key information. Before you get awed by a 25- or 30-year shelf life, keep in mind these numbers only work until the food is unsealed, and that several years might have already passed since the survival kit was first put together.
- Calories Per Day. The average person needs 2,000 calories per day to maintain stable body weight, but most people aren’t average. People walking long distances or doing heavy labor will need many more calories, while older individuals with slower metabolisms require less.
- Emergency Food Storage Methods. Make sure to store your survival food somewhere cool and dry. Hotter temperatures can take years off a ration’s shelf life.
- Allergies and Intolerances. Even in an emergency, people with food allergies or intolerances need to be careful about what they eat. Make sure you’re choosing emergency food without ingredients that will put you in danger.
Best Emergency Food Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Best Overall: Mountain House Essential Bucket
This is a 12-pack of emergency food rations, all very nutritious, delicious, and high in calories. Not only do these meals reach the highest standard for MRE flavor, but they’re also extremely easy to prepare. Hot water is all it takes to make every meal ready to eat.
Each sealed bag is a full-size serving with all the calories you’ll need. The plastic food storage bucket is extremely space-efficient and can be reused to hold other supplies, including water.
Don’t forget that this is a food supply for one person—not a whole family. You’ll need more than one of these to feed more people, or one person for a long time. Another drawback is that these essential buckets often sit on the shelf for years before shipping, reducing their stated shelf life.
Best Value: SOS Food Labs Emergency Food Rations
This emergency ration consists of nine ready-to-eat bars of fortified food, each containing 410 calories with a shelf life of five years. Each bar is rich in vitamins, minerals, sugar, and protein. They’re affordable, high in energy, and can sustain you for three days before help arrives.
In addition, the delicious cinnamon flavor won’t make you thirsty, and compact packaging hardly takes up any space. These bars can also survive through extreme weather changes.
Unfortunately, while lighter than other emergency foods, these bars lack the same nutrient density. They also contain wheat, so those with gluten allergies have to look elsewhere.
Honorable Mention: NorthWest Fork Gluten-Free Emergency Food Supply
This 30-day supply contains a variety of flavored food, including pinto beans, green peas, oatmeal, and black beans. It’s gluten-free and vegan, with a starting shelf life of more than 10 years.
The freeze-dried meals are easy to prepare with only hot water, and come in thick and resealable bags that can be easily divided into smaller portions. Perhaps the best thing about these meals is that they feel good to eat—none of the usual freeze-dried toughness here.
However, this kit is also more expensive, and carries the same risk of a reduced shelf life for any pouch opened early. It also relies heavily on beans for protein.
- Cater to the special dietary needs of your family. Be aware of food ingredients that may trigger allergic reactions. Also, do not forget about pets and infants. Buy food that’s easy and safe for them to eat.
- Make sure everyone understands that the emergency food should be left untouched unless there’s an actual emergency, no matter how delicious it may appear.
- Come up with a feeding plan for the family. Look into how much food you have and how many days you can stretch it out while keeping your energy.
- Avoid foods that will make you thirsty. Salty and sweet foods can make you dehydrated, especially if you don’t have access to clean water.
- Pack several bottles of clean water. Store a few bottles at strategic points of the campsite where it’s easy for you to remember. You can strap one bottle to a thick branch.
Q: Do I need to refrigerate emergency food?
A: You shouldn’t buy emergency foods that need to be refrigerated. Emergency foods are typically dried and can last for over 20 years without refrigeration despite changes in the weather. Simply store the food in dry sanitary conditions.
Q: Will emergency food still be fresh after being opened for a week?
A: Try and store the food unopened if you don’t have to consume it. If you open it, the dry food may lose its taste within a week. You can store it in plastic bags or containers to preserve the taste.
Q: Does food go bad after the shelf life has passed?
A: Most emergency food products don’t go rotten or have a foul smell after the expiration date. However, you may notice a change in flavor or texture of the food. Some foods contain preservatives and still taste great past the expiration date. It depends on the brand.
Q: Do dried foods lose their nutritional value?
A: Typically, no. The nutritional value of dried foods is almost the same as fresh food. The drying process only removes water from the food content, which causes the food to rot. Other than that, all the nutrients are preserved.
Our pick for the best survival food is the Mountain House Essential Bucket. It’s a large food bucket with numerous portions that will keep you healthy for weeks if you follow the meal plan.
The SOS Food Labs Emergency Food Rations is a cheaper alternative that will give you a calorie boost for a few days.