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Food and Cooking

MREs | Try these handy, long lasting survival meals

A flameless heater allows for a hot meal with no stove, cooking pot or utensils necessary.
MREs | Try these handy, long lasting survival meals

Meals Ready to Eat – like any military ration – are a frequent subject of ridicule. But for a high calorie, long-lasting source of quick energy, they might be just what you need in your emergency gear.

by Leon Pantenburg

I have bought many cases of MREs. I was not paid to do this review.

I ran into MREs as a public affairs officer for the Idaho National Guard during Desert Storm in 1990. I would sometimes accompany troops on training exercises into the desert around Gowen Field near Boise. Meals were MREs, served up in a sealed brown plastic envelope.

Meals Ready to Eat were developed by the military as an efficient ration.

Meals Ready to Eat were developed by the military as an efficient ration.

I didn’t eat MREs every day, so I thought they tasted OK. But I talked with soldiers back from deployment in the Middle East who loathed them. After a month or so, with nothing else to eat, some claimed everything started to taste the same.

I could get MREs by the case fairly cheaply at the Mountain Home, Idaho PX, so I stocked up for elk season. My hunting buddies and I would backpack into remote, hard to access areas, and every ounce counted.

Food was fuel, and MREs supplied the calories to keep going. We always had real food in the truck at the trailhead, so that first meal back was something to look forward to!

Today, MREs are widely available, and they might be a good choice for inclusion in a car emergency kit or bug out bag. They’re also not bad for desert hiking, if you’re in an area where you have to pack water.

A new twist is the self-heating packages. With minimal effort, you can have a hot meal without carrying a stove, cooking pot or utensils.

The flameless heater allows a hot meal, with no stove, cooking pot or utensils necessary.

The flameless heater allows a hot meal, with no stove, cooking pot or utensils necessary.

I checked out the MRE Three-Course Meal, Ready to Eat with the flameless ration heater, distributed by Meal Kit Supply

Here are the specs:

Weight: Each MRE weighs in at 20 ounces in the unopened package.

Size: Each package measures about eight inches by 12 inches, and is about three inches thick.

Includes: Each MRE has an entree, side dish, bread, spread, drink mix, dessert, condiments, instant coffee, spoon and a napkin.

Here’s the good stuff:

Before heading out on a backcountry elk hunt, my brother Mike and I would open the packages, take out the entree, desert, bread (which is a hard cracker, much like Pilot Bread) and the peanut butter. That reduced weight even more. Nobody liked the omelets, so we’d generally leave them in the box. At the end of the season, we had a case of just omelets!

High calorie foods are a necessity when you’re burning several thousand a day doing strenuous activities.

Packaging is designed for extreme situations. The outer envelope is heavy duty flexible vinyl, which appears virtually bullet proof. Every food pack inside is also sealed in thick vinyl. The packaging is waterproof, and will stand up to a lot of abuse.

Donations to hungry people are easy. I won’t give money to that person with the sign on the street corner, but I will give them a MRE. They can save it to eat later, or keep it for future meals. Either way, the packaging assures they can eat when they want to. Want to help the homeless? Always carry several MREs for donations in your car.

Be careful:

The expiration date on many MREs is about five years. Find the expiration date before you order, and make sure you don’t buy three or four year old packages. Order from a reputable distributor, who has high turnover.

High sodium is a given. I don’t know why some food manufacturers must dump high quantities of salt in everything they manufacture. I wish the sodium was just left out. Include salt packets so people can season according to their tastes. For short term use this might not be a problem, but consider other long term food storage if high sodium is an issue.

Like any survival product, MREs might not be for you. Or they could be just what you’re looking for. Try a few before you stock up, and remember, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Get other sources of long term food storage.

Personally, MREs are a part – but not all – of my emergency preparedness food storage. Maybe they will work for you, too.

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View Comments (2)


  1. Leon

    12/16/2015 at 10:54

    These are the latest MREs on the market, so I followed the directions for using. Didn’t know about the chemical reaction – thanks for the feedback.

  2. Duane Hopper

    12/12/2015 at 20:29

    Your review about MRE’s, was a little off. I am a retiree. I have eaten my fair share of the many different forms of MREs over the years. The heating pouch you were talking about isn’t creating steam, it is off gassing hydrogen gas. It is a by-product of the chemical reaction from the material in the pouch and water. You ought to try lighting it, as it makes a beautiful flame. Now, evidently they may have updated the methodology of heating, but the older pouches, we had to place the unopened meal into the pouch, add the necessary amount of water, fold the top over, and slide the whole thing back into the meals original box and wait.

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Food and Cooking

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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