The best survival foods are shelf-stable, meaning they don’t need refrigeration and have a long shelf-life. Different types of survival food are better for specific survival scenarios. The ideal food for a go-pack or bugout bag differs from emergency food for staying put during an emergency. When determining what survival food to buy, consider the survival scenario.
Because there are so many emergency scenarios, preppers tend to have stored a mixed bag of survival foods.
- Canned Fruit, Vegetables & Meat
- Freeze-dried Pouches
- Survival Bars
- Emergency Food Kits
- Dry Staples
Let’s take a look at the eight types of survival food.
#1 Freeze-Dried Food
Freeze-dried ingredients make excellent food because the process of freeze-drying maintains over 90% of food’s nutritional value and maintains color and texture. Survive eating freeze-dried food with a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, and meats.
Freeze-dried food is of excellent quality. The freeze-drying process retains 97% of food’s nutritional value and removes 98% of the moisture. Preparation is required, but it’s simple. Most meals require boiled water. Eat dried fruits and vegetables dry like a chip—25 to 30-year shelf-life.
Expensive. Purchase from the professionals or DIY at home with a Harvest Right freeze-drying unit, either way. It’s going to cost. Food requires water to prepare.
Some foods can’t be freeze-dried.
Tip: People often confuse dehydrated food with freeze-dried food. They are not the same; freeze-dried is superior in every respect. It has a longer shelf-life and more nutrition, making it easier to reconstitute with water.
Top Freeze-dried foods
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Valley Food Storage
#2 Dehydrated Food
Dehydration is often used to process foods for long-term storage when there is no other way to process them. Many specialty foods like low-fat powdered milk, powdered butter, and drink mixes are packaged this way.
Many dehydrated food products come packaged in #10 cans or food-grade pales.
Dehydrated food only maintains 60% of its nutritional value. The overall quality of food compared to freeze-drying is inferior, but often there is no other way to process food for extended shelf life.
Warning: Dehydrating food at home is less efficient in removing moisture than the professionally packaged types. Foods stored in oxygen-free containers for a long shelf-life must be kept at 10% or less moisture to avoid the risk of anaerobic bacteria like botulism—a rare but deadly food poisoning you can not see, smell, or taste.
#3 MRE Meal Ready to Eat
The military-grade versions are not ideal for emergency food storage. They can only be purchased second-hand, so there is no way of knowing how they have been stored.
100% self-contained, no water required except for drink mixes and heating the main course with a flameless ration heater.
MREs are an excellent choice for a bugout vehicle or stored at a bugout location or a food cache. A Daily ration of 3 MREs weighs 3.375 to 4.875 lbs, which is relatively heavy for a bugout bag. The U.S. military suggests MREs be eaten for no more than 21 consecutive days. Maximum shelf-life of 7 years when properly stored (this is up for debate).
Manufacturers That Make Civilian MREs
#4 Canned Food
Canned food offers an excellent scope of variety, from canned peaches to Dinty Moore stew. Best used for bug-in situations or in limited quantities for vehicle bugouts or stored at a bugout location. You don’t want to be carrying cans in a go-bag.
- Pre-cooked and ready to eat
- Excellent storage protection
- Allows for food variation to avoid pallet fatigue.
- Limited Shelf-life of 5+ years beyond best buy date
- Requires a lot of storage space
#5 Freeze-dried Pouches
Freeze-dried meals in a bag. Popular with backpackers, hikers, and outdoorsmen in general. To eat, pour hot water into the bag, wait 10 minutes and eat right out of the bag.
Outstanding for go-bags or when on the move. Keep you from getting pallet fatigue because you can get different menus like Beef Stroganoff, Beef Stew, and Chicken Fried rice, to name a few. There are no dirty dishes to clean, and freeze-dried food’s quality and nutritional value are outstanding.
Freeze-dried meal pouches are expensive. For me, food pouches are special-purpose. I only use them for bugout bags or camping because I can’t afford to stock up on a year’s supply.
Top Freeze-Dried Food Pouches
#6 Emergency Food Kits
Purchase Emergency food kits from big box stores and online emergency food retailers. They are usually comprised of freeze-dried or dehydrated food. The kit provides enough calories for a specific amount of time for one to multiple people.
Kits are packaged to provide a 20 to 30-year shelf-life, and you don’t have to do any repackaging as you do with dry staples.
Food kits provide enough food for a specified number of people for a specific time frame. Typical time-frames are one month, three months, six months, and a year.
- Calorie Counts Vary
Make sure you know how many daily calories you are getting per person. Food kits are not all created equal.
Top Emergency Food Kits
#7 Survival Bars: SOS Emergency Food Rations
Just type Survival Bars into a search engine, and you’ll find 100 places to purchase these online. One of the more popular survival bars is the SOS Emergency Food Ration used on life rafts and maritime emergency kits.
SOS Emergency Food Rations are “fast and easy” calories for a bugout scenario or natural disaster. One package contains 3600 calories and has a 4-year shelf-life.
To consume, you open the package and eat. These are ideal for a go-bag or bugout vehicle because survival bars require no water and zero preparation.
Not the tastiest food you’ll eat. A practical survival food with no fluff and a shelf-life isn’t ideal. This type of food is often stored and forgotten, so you’ll have to rotate your stock.
Top Survival Bars
SOS Survival Bars
The Survival Tab
High Energy Peanut Butter Bars
#8 Staple Foods
Purchase dry staples at the grocery store or big box stores like Sam’s Club or Costco. Some examples of dry staple foods are white rice, wheat berries, rolled oats, and dried beans. If not convenient, these foods are tried and tested. A majority of the planet survives on these foods.
Staple foods are an inexpensive method of storing a ton of food calories. They can be milled into flour; some are excellent for sprouting greens. They are typically repackaged by the prepper using Mylar Bags, Food-grade Buckets, and Oxygen-Absorbers. Most of these foods will keep for 20 to 30 years.
Dry Staples are the bulk of my emergency food.
- Not Ideal for being on the move in an emergency
- Not as convenient as professionally packaged foods
- Require repackaging for maximum shelf-life (food buckets, Mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers)
- May require processing tools and cooking skills (i.e., milling grain for flour and cooking in recipes)
- Take a lot of water to process
- White Rice
- Rolled Oats
- Dry Beans
Learn more about storing food in Mylar and food-grade buckets. Read the Ready Squirrel article, Mylar Bags For Food Storage: Beginners Guide.