Bug Out Food List: What To Pack In A B.O.B.

bug out bag food MREEvery bug out bag should have some sort of food to keep you going during your bug out situation. Today’s post is our bug out food list, giving you some great ideas about what kind of food you should think about packing in your bug out bag.

With so many bug out food choices out there, how does one decide on what makes the best food for you bag? We’ll take a look at a few different options based on size/weight, prep time, and most importantly – calorie intake and nutrition.

Let’s start with calories…


Calories For Survival

Calories are your body’s main source of fuel to keep you alive. Whether ingested (food), or burning your emergency fat reserves – your body burns 60% of your daily calorie needs just to keep your brain working and heart beating. Just sitting around and doing nothing can require 1,500+ calories a day just to keep you alive. Add in the strenuous activity of active daily survival (hiking to your bug out location, hunting, wood gathering) at even a moderately active person would need 2,500 or more calories just to maintain your current body weight.

When you don’t provide enough calories from food, your body begins to harvest calories internally. It’s the basic formula behind losing weight – eat less calories than your body consumes. Sounds great, right? Survive and lose a few pounds from those love handles…what could be better?

In short doses, burning body fat is ok. But what happens if you’re already fairly lean, or just run out of stored fat reserves? When there’s no stored fat to consume, the body begins to break down muscles to consume for energy, leaving you weak and listless.


Bug Out Food

When you’re talking about only things you plan on tossing into a bug out bag for short term emergencies, you generally think of a few qualities that make for good bug out food:

  • Light in weight means you can carry more food per pound of carried weight.
  • Easy to eat foods that are able to be eaten as-is, or with very minimal work
  • Nutritious food that provides not only calories, but essential fats, proteins, and vitamins

MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat)

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MRE’s are a staple survival food source for most preppers. An army marches on it’s stomach, so they say, and MRE’s are the US Army’s standard issue field food ration. A self contained meal in a bag, MRE’s typically contain a main entree, side dish, dessert, and flavored beverage mix in a roughly 1,200 calorie single serving pouch that typically weighs in at a little over 1 pound per meal. Many people field strip the MRE pouch before packing in a bug out bag to remove some extra items (plastic spoon, wet wipes, etc). For a 72 hour bug out kit and 3 meals a day, that’s between 9-10 pounds but would contain everything one needs for calorie intake over that period.

MRE’s can be eaten directly out of the bag, or warmed with an included chemical warming system. Standard shelf life of MREs is 3 years, though can be stored longer with some degradation of food nutrition and flavor.

Dehydrated Survival Food

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Dehydrated foods are standard individual ingredients that have excess water removed (up to 94%) for a long shelf life and decreased weight. Dehydrated foods are typically created by passing hot air around the food, causing the original food to “sweat” out any moisture which then is evaporated, leaving a dry food with a long storage life. The disadvantage to this hot cooking method is that food items often lose some amount of it’s original nutrition value in the dehydration process.

While some dehydrated foods (such as jerky or fruit leather) can be eaten straight, most dehydrated survival food must be reconstituted in water for a period of time to get back to it’s normal taste consistency. Dehydrated foods come with most of the benefits of freeze dried, such as dramatically decreased weight at the expense of some nutritional value and need to combine ingredients.

Freeze Dried Survival Food

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Freeze drying involves a complex process of removing water from food using extremely cold temperatures and vacuum pressure to pull up to 98% of water from the original food providing for extremely long shelf stability (up to 30+ years) with up to 90% decreased weight. Freeze dried survival food can come as individual ingredients like dehydrated foods, or as complete meals that have been fully dried after the meal has been prepared.

This method preserves almost all of it’s nutritional value, leading to food that looks, tastes, and smells as close to the original as any food preservation method.

Canned/Pre-Packaged Food

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Canned and pre-packaged foods are that somewhat middle ground in shelf stability between an MRE (3 yrs) and Dehydrated (15+ yrs). Canned food can easily last 5-10 years with minimal degradation in taste and consistency and can be eaten directly from the can, but does come with some drawbacks.

The first and most obvious disadvantage is weight. With all the moisture still in the food and can weight (along with the possible need to carry a can opener), canned food takes up more room and weight in your bug out bag than most foods. The second issue with canned food is that it is often much less nutritious than dehydrated food. Added preservatives of chemical nature, as well as typically very high sodium content make this great for emergencies when there are no other options, but not a great option for carrying around in your pack.

Emergency and High Protein Bars

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Preference on these vary widely, as there are a number of options that can be quite tasty – but lacking in overall nutrition, and a number that are very specifically loaded with calories (but not so much taste) that are designed only to provide the minimum calorie needs for survival.

From a weight perspective, emergency rations and protein bars pack the most calories and nutrition per serving, making them great choices for bug out bags. With a 5 year shelf life, they’re fairly stable and need minimal rotation, though storage temperature (such as when kept in a get home bag in your car in extreme heat and cold) can potentially cause shorter lifespans, though that should be the case with most bug out food options.


Calories By Weight

For our weight comparison, we looked at weight per 1,000 calories. In a survival situation requiring about 3,000 calories per day, this equates nicely to 3 square meals. Since each product individual meals carry different calorie counts, we took a random sampling of a few meals and averaged out the calories available per bag and weight.



Weight: 18oz

Calories (Avg): 1250

Calories Per Pound: 1111


Weight: 9.28oz

Calories (Avg): 550

Calories Per Pound: 948 


Weight: 15oz

Calories (Avg): 280

Calories Per Pound: 298

Emergency Bars

Weight: 1.5lb

Calories (Avg): 3600

Calories Per Pound: 2400

In a runaway vote, Emergency rations easily pack the most calories for the punch, with MRE’s in a distant second. Though field stripped to remove even an ounce or two from the MRE pouch would drastically improve it’s score.

Ease Of Use/Prep Time

Again, emergency bars are the clear winner, as unwrapping your favorite bar takes minimal effort and time and can be eaten on the go without any need for utensils. MRE’s and canned food can both be easily eaten out of their respective containers, though both benefit greatly from being properly warmed. Canned food gets a slight edge as there’s only 1 container to open. Dehydrated/freeze dried foods both need to be hydrated and typically warmed for a more pleasant experience.

Other Factors

Let’s face it – emergency bars are fairly bland, and while they might taste reasonable for a day or two – living on them for any period of time just plain isn’t stomach friendly. We crave the foods we eat every day, and I doubt most of us are living on fairly plain ration bars.

MREs are a unique change of pace in that they are complete meals, from entree and a side to dessert and drink mix. For an ‘everything in one pouch’ level of convenience, along with a higher than most calorie to weight ratio, this makes a great all around pouch if you’re going to rotate them out after the shelf life and keep temperature swings contained.

Canned food — it’s just not worth it unless it’s the only thing you have. Taking a few cans on your way out the door in an emergency is better than not having any food at all, but it’s obvious you’d need 2x the number of cans to maintain proper calorie intake. In a 3 day survival situation, you’ll survive, but your back will thank you for choosing a better option.

Dehydrated food is pretty much middle of the pack. Most of it tastes pretty decent and it’s certainly light weight. One major complaint for many is the fairly low calorie count on a per-pack basis. At around 550 calories per bag, you may need to prepare 2 bags per meal per person, which can make things slightly more inconvenient. The fact that they suggest each pouch is a 2 serving container – the thought of living on only 275 calories per meal really wouldn’t be sustainable if you shared one bag with a partner three times daily.

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TheSurvivalDad is a prepper, head gear tester, primitive skills enthusiast, and lead writer at SurvivalSupplyHQ. He lives with SurvivalWife and SurvivalBaby at their bug out location and homestead in Northern Maryland.
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About TheSurvivalDad (49 Articles)
TheSurvivalDad is a prepper, head gear tester, primitive skills enthusiast, and lead writer at SurvivalSupplyHQ. He lives with SurvivalWife and SurvivalBaby at their bug out location and homestead in Northern Maryland.

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