Designed to keep soldiers on their feet day after day, MREs are the ultimate convenient survival food. They require zero food prep and are nutritionally balanced, calorie-dense, and can be eaten hot or cold.
The downside is they’re expensive to buy.
Finding cheap MREs requires a lot of shopping around. We’ve done some of the hard work for you and compiled a list of the top places to buy cheap MREs online.
Prices change frequently, so if you’re on a tight budget, it’s worth shopping around, but our top picks will give you a great starting point.
Scroll down to the bottom if you’re searching for low-cost alternatives to MREs.
Comparison Table of Cheap MREs
What About Amazon and eBay?
You can buy MREs from sellers on Amazon and eBay, but prices are hugely variable. At the time of writing this article, prices are generally much higher than the retailers listed above as there’s a significant demand for emergency food.
However, it’s always worth checking as prices change frequently.
It’s also worth checking the product description carefully. Lower-priced crates may only contain entrees and not full MRE packs.
We’d recommend shopping on Amazon rather than eBay for two reasons:
1) It’s easier to return items or get a refund if your MREs get damaged in transit or are not as described.
2) Amazon offers free shipping, saving you a lot of money when ordering crates weighing 20 pounds or more.
If you want to buy a single MRE to see if you like them before committing to a crate, you can purchase individual packs on Amazon.
Why Buy MREs?
MREs are expensive, have a relatively short shelf life compared to freeze-dried meals, and can do nasty things to your digestive system if you eat them too often. (It’s not recommended to live on them for longer than three weeks.)
So why buy them?
Well, MREs fill a very specific niche in your emergency food supply.
- They are completely self-contained
- They don’t require any extra equipment to cook or eat with
- They contain a lot of calories – read about how many calories are in an MRE
- They don’t need to be rehydrated, so you can save your precious water supply
MREs are the food you want to hand when the SHTF and you need to grab and run.
Civilian MREs vs. Military MREs
MREs were designed for military use, but as demand from preppers and other civilians grew, manufacturers began to make civilian versions of their MREs.
The contents of civilian MREs are almost identical to military supplies, though some companies have broadened their offerings. For example, XMRE offers MREs with different calorie counts, plus halal and kosher crates.
Buying Military MREs
It’s not usually clear where these have come from, and often they’re older boxes that the military has discarded because they’re past their inspection date or considered unfit for use. In the past, MREs provided for disaster relief have also ended up on eBay or Amazon.
Use our MRE date calculator to check the date of manufacture.
Army surplus stores are a more ethical source of military MREs but are often expensive.
The two significant downsides of buying military MREs are that they are older meals, and you don’t know what conditions they’ve been stored in. We go into this in more detail in our guide to how long MREs last, but as a rule of thumb, MREs have a 3-5 year shelf life in standard storage conditions.
They might only be good for a year or less if they’ve been exposed to high temperatures, such as in a desert environment.
Buying military MREs is a risk. You may open up a packet only to find the contents inedible and, in most cases, they’re brought “as seen,” so you won’t be able to get a refund. This could have serious consequences if you’re storing them for emergency use and find them unfit to eat.
Buying Civilian MREs
The advantage of civilian MREs is that you buy them new. If you store them properly, they should last for at least three years, possibly longer.
You also don’t have to worry about the ethics of your purchase or whether the MREs have been obtained illegally.
The downside is that these rations can be a lot more expensive. But if you’re not in a hurry to buy, you can shop around or wait until there’s a sale to stock up on cheap MREs.
If you’re buying civilian MREs, always check the product description to ensure it includes everything you need. Unlike military MREs, the contents of civilian rations can vary. For example, they may not come with flameless heaters or all of the condiments.
Civilian MREs might also have a lower calorie count than military MREs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – most people don’t need to consume 3,600 calories a day, and “lite” MREs may be healthier and lighter to carry – but you want to know exactly what you’re getting for your money before you buy.
Cheap MRE Alternatives
Prices can quickly escalate if there’s a high demand for MREs, such as after a major disaster. Civilian suppliers run out of stock fast, leaving stores such as Amazon as the only option, and sellers may double or triple their prices to take advantage of the situation.
That’s one reason why it’s safer not to rely on MREs as your only long-term emergency food.
So, what are the alternatives?
We recommend freeze-dried meals for longer-term (5+ years) emergency food supplies.
They require more preparation than MREs and are less calorie dense, but they work out cheaper, particularly if you buy in bulk.
As they have a shelf-life of up to 20 years, you won’t have to buy fresh meals every few years. Unless you regularly buy MREs for daily use, freeze-dried meals are cheaper.
We’ve reviewed the top survival food companies to find the best deals for you.
Make Your Own MREs
You may find it’s cheaper to make your survival food at home. This may be your only option if you follow a specialist diet or have allergies, but it also means you can make meals you know you’re going to want to eat.
No more fighting over who has to eat the Thai Chicken!
Dehydrating your meals at home is easy and cheap, though it takes time and organization. If you want to store food even longer, you can freeze dry your meals. Freeze dryers are expensive but can be worth it if you’re drying large quantities or can split the cost with another family.
Check out our guide to making your own survival food for more information.