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Deciding what type of food to go in your bug out bag is really important. The amount of calories you can carry in a bug out bag and stay mobile is going to vary a lot depending on what you put in your bag.
Food supply is the main limiting factor in a bug out situation.
Water is number one but if you have a water filter and surface water, you can take care of that need with a lightweight filter.
Food is heavy and takes up space.
Even the best-packed bug out bag is probably only going to allow you to have about 2 weeks worth of food.
While that is a long time to be camped out, it doesn’t give you much time to find alternative means. Hunting and fishing is not guaranteed and should not be a main part of most people’s plan. The vast majority are in no position to survive in the bush for a long period of time nor do they live in areas where game is very plentiful. During hard times wildlife populations can plummet if too many people start hunting. It can happen faster than you might think.
Here is the criteria that bug out bag food should meet:
When you bug out you are probably going to be on the move a lot. Food needs to be nutritionally dense so that you can eat a lot of calories in a short amount of time.
Some people say that you should plan on consuming 25% more calories per day to maintain body weight if you plan on bugging out and walking a lot. If you wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds then you could just plan for your regular caloric needs but at the same time, packing extra food does give you a cushion if you stay out longer. Better to have a bit more than you need than risk going hungry.
You also will probably not have time to cook big meals every time you get hungry so it is important that some foods are simply open and eat with no special utensils required.
Lightweight for the number of calories offered
You can only go so lightweight with food. Freeze-dried is the lightest but also the most expensive. Some may choose to fill their bug out bag with freeze-dried food and that be the only freeze-dried food they have in their preps. There is an argument to be made for not skimping when packing a bag that is your main source of survival for a moderate to long length of time.
How long you want to plan for matters. A bug out bag that is meant for 3-4 days is different than for the person that plans on staying out for weeks.
Freeze-dried also makes for easy preparation as long as you have some water available and the ability to cook in a small pot over a fire or small stove.
As nutritionally complete as possible. Protein and fat are very important.
You need a good level of protein and fat to perform at your best and keep your immune system in good shape. Make sure foods have a good balance. There are some fats that are healthier than others.
Good Foods For Bug Out Bags
I like our homemade Biggers MREs. Creating your own MREs can help you plan out how many calories you have for each day and it makes you think about creating balanced daily rations. The downside is that these weigh a lot more than freeze-dried food. It would be difficult to pack more than a week’s worth our MREs due to all the other things that are needed in a bug out bag.
I do not recommend military-style MREs for a bug out bag. The Warfighter MREs only average 1250 calories per meal. They are bulky and contain a lot of waste. If you have to eat a special diet or have a food allergy then they are not a good option. I reviewed a few MREs earlier this year. Here is a link to that post.
Some military people that I have talked to said that the MREs used to be near 3,000 calories so if that is how you remember them being, I can tell you that there is no such version like that available to civilians. You just have to make your own as we did.
There are about 680 calories in a single cup of trail mix. If you can eat peanuts it is an excellent option. The tropical trail mix is good for those that cannot eat dairy. I love GORP but milk chocolate is not something I can eat.
Protein is important. Dried meat like jerky is satisfying and helps keep your body toned. Freeze-dried meat is even better because it is higher quality and lighter weight. The downside is that it is expensive.
You can make your own jerky with an inexpensive food dehydrator. You have to cure the meat briefly before drying in order to prevent bacteria from forming. If you are new to making jerky, then you might want to just get a kit that goes with a dehydrator and follow the instructions carefully next time you catch a deal on meat or have a successful hunting trip.
You can get SPAM in single foil packs. This provides the most calories of any meat pouch we have been able to find. 240 calories in a single pouch is pretty good.
Fish or Chicken Pouches
I am including these but I have to say that they are not the best deal for the calories you get. They only weigh a few ounces though and they provide protein and flavor. The calorie count is usually in the 70-100 calorie range unless you buy something fancy like yellowfin tuna in a pouch.
I did find a single bigger chicken pouch from Sweet Sue that has more calories in it. The pouches are 210 calories and 7 oz.
Justin’s Peanut Butter packets are part of our homemade MREs. You can get some tasty varieties like peanut butter with honey. These come in boxes of 10 and provide a lot of protein and fat on the go. You can even just eat them by tearing open and pouring in your mouth.
I advise rotating these out of your bug out bag occasionally because peanut butter will eventually go rancid. The peanut butter that is in military MREs has additional preservatives that are not included in the packets you can buy.
Not all granola bars are the same. Make sure to take a good look at the ingredients and nutritional profile of any that you are considering for your bug out bag. We prefer KIND Breakfast Protein Bars for overall flavor, value, and calories offered. The protein content is pretty good at 8 grams. If you add in a peanut butter packet, you have a calorie and protein-dense breakfast that you can eat without any special utensils or stopping for a long time.
I am not a fan of the taste of pemmican but as far as calories, how well it keeps, and keeping you on your feet, it is hard to go wrong with pemmican. There are many different variations to the recipe. Here is a link to my post on “How To Make Pemmican“.
The recipe for hardtack is really easy. Basically you are making a hard cracker that never goes bad. If you had hardtack and pemmican on hand, you could stay on your feet for a long time.
Have you ever actually paid attention to how many calories are in a pint of roasted and salted sunflower seeds? It is crazy just how calorie-dense they are. They are also an excellent source of good fats and oils. You can eat them while walking and the salt can help out if you are sweating a lot.
Campbells makes a variety of meals such as Pace Ready Meals and Prego Ready Meals. Tasty Bite offers Indian cuisine in an easy to eat pouch. There are many types of these meals out there and they are a main part of many of our homemade MREs. They can be a bit salty so that is something to be aware of.
I don’t like the taste of these but they will keep you alive. These are often found in emergency kits or on board boats. They are basically wheat, oats, and something like coconut oil with a little salt and vanilla flavor. You may be able to get some that are higher quality than those typically found in a survival kit. They do have a very long shelf life and are sealed in mylar as well.
This is another item that goes in some of our MREs. A single pack boasts 260 calories that you can eat without any special utensils. I know there are a lot of Nutella fans out there. The problem with these is that they are hard to not just eat when you get to craving a snack so make sure you pack them away in your bug out bag so they are not so easy to get to.
These come in many flavors and if you combine them with a meat pouch, you will have a pretty tasty and satisfying meal. Uncle Ben’s 4 Cheese Rice is a favorite that has more than 400 calories per pouch so if you add in 100 calories worth of meat, you will be doing alright.
Dried Instant Beans
These require just a little bit of hot water which is something that you should be able to manage with bugging out. We like the Frontier Black Beans or Pintos that come sealed in 1 lb mylar bags. These just have to sit in water and then be stirred. Even if you just get the water to a boil and turn off the heat and stick a lid on your pot you will get good results.
Plain mashed potatoes are okay if you have spices or cheese powder to mix in. You will probably be better off getting the fast cooking mashed potatoes that already have additions such as cheese powder or dried butter, chives, etc. Some of the flavored varieties come in more reasonable sized packages for the average single person or couple that is bugging out.
Hard candy keeps well and can be sucked on for some quick sugar. For those that need to regulate their blood sugar, this may be a very important item to have.
Cliff Bloks, Caffeine, or Ginseng
During a long emergency, having some stimulants in with your food may be helpful, especially during those times when you must push yourself the most. Caffeine or ginseng pills are a few that come to mind. I have written in the past about Cliff Bloks. I usually don’t use caffeine supplements but Cliff Bloks are not made with a bunch of garbage.
They are cane sugar, fruit, and caffeine. Even the coloring agent is plant-based. They taste like good fruit flavored gummy candy so they are a bit of a treat. You don’t get jittery from them either since a whole pack is just like a cup of coffee. Since there are 200 calories in a pack of 6 blocks, you also get some calories to run on until you can eat better.
Hydration, Hygiene, and Nutritional Additions
A bug out bag should include a supply of vitamins. Two weeks’ worth of a multivitamin doesn’t weigh much and it will keep you healthier. The last thing you want is to get sick when you are trying to rough it or don’t know if any medical care will be available to you if you need it.
A multivitamin will bridge any nutritional gaps that could occur just eating the foods that you have in your bag. If you find yourself low on food but still have some vitamins, you will do better.
Gum for cleaning your teeth
Even those that have stringent brushing habits are probably going to have to deal with brushing less when bugging out. Gum can help clean your teeth. I am not a fan of the artificial sweeteners that are in a lot of the gums but it is better than not cleaning your teeth at all.
Sweating a lot can lead to a situation where you become low on salt. This is often not a problem with those eating survival foods because they are so salty anyway but it is worth having a little extra salt on hand.
If you manage to catch any fish or kill any game to supplement your food supply, you will want some salt for flavor. Remember that salt can prevent meat spoilage. A good coating of salt can help keep flies away from meat.
Running low on electrolytes is another hazard of bugging out. It can make you feel awful. Matt and I have found ourselves running low on salt and electrolytes when working hard out in the field or woods during our Southern summers. We cook meals from scratch so our diet doesn’t contain the massive amounts of salt that is found in a lot of the processed foods that people eat so often.
Emergen-C mixes come in a lot of different flavors so if all you have had is the orange variety you are missing out. Some formulas have extra things added to help with immunity. Remember that even filtered water may have some odd flavor to it unless you have a filter that has a charcoal section. Plus who wouldn’t get tired of just water after a few days?
Companies and Brands I Recommend
The folks at KIND are great about producing granola and fruit bars that people on some restricted diets can eat. All their bars are gluten-free and some are made without any dairy products as well.
Cliff Bars come in many varieties. They are made with good ingredients and there are plenty of bars that are fine for those on special diets. It is best to buy them a whole box at a time for the best price although they are often sold individually at stores which is a good way to try out different flavors before buying in quantity.
Valley Food Storage
Valley has a lot of individual foods, entrees, and specially designed buckets of survival food for people to choose from. People that are tired of the excessive salt content in survival foods or that cannot eat specific foods should take a look at Valley’s selection.
Practically everyone I talk to that has eaten camp or survival food has at least tried the Mountain House line of products and liked the flavor and convenience. They are a company that is very easy to find and try out. Wal-Mart, Amazon, and many camping and hiking stores have their products. For the best selection, I recommend visiting their site.
What foods do you have in your bug out bag? Do you make any of your own survival rations or meals? I would also be interested to hear what people on specialized diets are choosing to put in their bug out bag. Please share in the comments below!