Eating chipmunk, snake and the occasional wild bird egg might keep you going in a survival situation. But it’s far better to plan ahead and take emergency foods into the field with you. What should you take? After you’ve built a fire, erected an emergency shelter, located a water supply and started your signaling routine, what you need next is high-energy food. When selecting a survival food, keep these four criteria in mind.
Don’t haul junk food into the field. Study the nutritional information on packaging and avoid foods that list sugars (corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose) as the first–and therefore most abundant–ingredient. These give you a “sugar high” that is followed by an energy depression. High calorie content consisting of protein, complex carbohydrates and fats is what you need in survival mode.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, but not all carbs are the same. Simple carbs (sugars) don’t provide sustained energy levels; complex carbs supply more energy over a longer period of time. Look for foods that are high in carbohydrates but low in sugars. Those are the foods loaded with complex carbs.
2. Shelf Life
You don’t want your emergency food supply to go rancid. When you shop, look for the most distant “use by” date. Rotate your inventory by eating and replacing items periodically, even if you’re not faced with a survival situation. That will keep the supply fresh.
Survival food should have lightweight, compact, durable packaging. Cans and bottles filled with wet foods weigh too much to carry around, so look for foods with packaging that is easy to open and weighs little. Your emergency food supply should be small enough to fit in pockets or a fanny pack and packaged to protect the contents in any situation. You don’t want a wrapper that falls apart just because the humidity rises, or disintegrates from being tossed around in a pack or pocket.
If the food tastes good, that’s a bonus, but flavor is at the bottom of my priority list. Compared to grub worms and bitter greens, just about anything you bring from home or the store will doubtless taste like a feast in a survival situation.
Our Favorite Survival Foods
Assorted Energy Bars
Widely available in countless flavors. Roughly $2 at grocery, fitness and health food stores.
Nutrition: 190-230 calories, 10-19 grams of protein and 2-50 grams of carbs per bar.
Shelf Life: Six to nine months.
Packaging: Tightly sealed in thin but airtight plastic wrappers; lightweight and compact.
Taste: There are a million and one different flavors, but nobody buys these things for their taste.
“Meals ready to eat” are made for combat zones and can be eaten cold right out of the bag or warmed by a variety of methods, including a heat pack. $5 to $10 online or at military surplus stores.
Nutrition: Each MRE provides about 1,200 calories.
Shelf Life: Five years or more when stored at or below 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Packaging: Very durable, but somewhat heavy due to wet content.
Taste: Tastes like coagulated chicken noodle soup. Might be better warm, but it wasn’t too bad cold.
Hooah Energy bar
Developed for the military, these high-energy bars are now available to the public. $21 for 15 bars at hooahbar.com.
Nutrition: 280 calories per bar, with 60 percent complex carbohydrates and a blend of vitamins, proteins and electrolytes.
Shelf life: One year.
Packaging: The military version is encased in a heavy-duty trilaminate foil pouch that’s designed to withstand an 8,000-foot fall. The commercial version employs a thick metalized polypropylene wrapper.
Taste: Surprisingly, it actually tastes like chocolate.
Mountain house freeze-dried camp meal
Preserved through a combination of freezing and dehydrating to maintain nutrients and eliminate the elements that cause food to spoil. From $3 to $5 from mountainhouse.com.
Nutrition: A single serving of spaghetti with meat sauce provides 490 calories with high carb and protein counts.
Shelf Life: Five-year minimum while stored under cool, dry conditions.
Packaging: Durable, lightweight and compact. Requires water for rehydrating.
Taste: Bland, but at least it was hot.
Final Frontier Beef Jerky
Out-of-this-world dried meat, literally: It has gone into space with astronauts. $26 per pound at beefjerky.com.
Nutrition: A 1-ounce serving provides 80 calories, 770 milligrams of sodium, 1 gram of carbs and 17 grams of protein.
Shelf Life: Three months from date of purchase.
Packaging: Vacuum-sealed in a resealable transparent bag.
Taste: Tougher to chew than the stuff you get at your local convenience store, but very flavorful.
Bear Valley Pemmican
A 3.75-ounce fruit-and-nut bar made of all-natural ingredients including wheat germ, raisins, walnuts, wheat bran, pecans, grape juice, honey, corn, barley, soy flour, soy oil and nonfat milk. $2 at mealpack.com.
Nutrition: One bar provides two servings, each of which contains 210 calories, 29 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein.
Shelf Life: Six months.
Packaging: Tightly sealed in a transparent plastic wrapper.
Taste: The texture is rather dry, but the flavor is complex. Also available in a carob-cocoa variety, which is more like a brownie.