For the average American, “survival food” means having a stockpile of some canned goods, cereals, and a few other non-perishables in their pantry. While these foods might hold you over during a 3-day blizzard or short power outage, they aren’t exactly the best choice for a major disaster (see which disasters are most likely).
If you are serious about emergency preparedness, you will need to have more than just store-bought non-perishables stockpiled. There are 5 main types of survival foods, and each has its pros and cons. Here is a guide to the types of survival foods to help you decide which ones to start stockpiling. Also check out our survival foods checklist.
This includes foods like canned fruits, veggies, and meats, crackers, powdered and condensed milk, dry beans, pasta, and rice. You can find these foods at your supermarket.
The main benefit of using non-perishables as your survival food is that they are readily available and cheap. However, the benefits stop after that. Many non-perishables require extensive cooking, such as the 1+ hour it takes to cook dry beans. In a survival situation, you aren’t likely to have water to spare, and fuel will be limited with off-grid cooking.
Another disadvantage of non-perishables as survival food is that they take up a lot of space and are very heavy. These are not foods that you want to have in your Bug Out Bag! Also be warned that non-perishables don’t last forever. Check the expiration date and constantly rotate your stockpile.
- Readily available
- Short Shelf Life: 1-3 years when properly stored
- Shelf Life Once Opened: Only lasts about 8 hours without refrigeration
- Preparation: May require extensive cooking
- Taste: Eating canned foods is boring!
- Size and Weight: Requires extensive storage space
- Nutrition: Nutrition tends to wash out in the water of canned foods; often contain many preservatives
Because of the limitations of non-perishable foods, they are only suitable for short-term survival situations such as blizzards or power outages.
These are some of the best survival foods you can have because they last so long, do not lose nutrition, taste very good when rehydrated, are easy to prepare, and all types of food are available. The only real downside to freeze-dried foods is that they don’t shrink much or at all in size (though they do become lighter in weight). A freeze-dried pea is going to be the same size as a fresh pea. Also, freeze-dried foods can be very pricy. However, we do have some really good deals on freeze-dried survival foods.
- Shelf Life: Lasts up to 25 years
- Shelf Life Opened: Once the package is opened, they still last 2-5 months
- Weight: Are very lightweight
- Preparation: Can be prepared by just boiling or adding water, or eaten as-is
- Nutrition: Nutrients are kept intact during freeze-drying process; no preservatives needed
- Selection: All types of foods are available in freeze-dried forms
- Taste: Most freeze-dried foods taste just like they do when fresh
- Cost: Are one of the priciest options for survival food
- Size: Freeze-dried foods don’t shrink so they take up a lot of space
- Availability: Will likely have to special order them; not found in most supermarkets
Because freeze-dried foods take up a lot of space, we wouldn’t recommend putting them in your Bug Out Bag. However, they are great for your at-home survival stockpile. These are the survival foods which will get you through long-term disasters like grid failures, natural disasters, and pandemics.
Dehydrated foods are simply foods which have had the moisture removed from them. You already regularly consume a lot of dehydrated foods – such as jerky and raisins.
The main benefit of dehydrated foods for survival is that they are compact. They are also lighter than fresh foods because the moisture has been removed. This is good for your Survival Bag or when camping when every bit of space and every ounce matters. They are also affordable and have a long shelf life when stored properly. The only real downside with dehydrated survival foods is that there isn’t much variety. Some foods simply don’t dehydrate well, or will take a long time to rehydrate (for example, carrots).
- Shelf Life: Lasts up to 1.5 years, even once out of the packaging
- Cost: Affordable to buy and you can make your own with a dehydrator
- Availability: Many dehydrated fruits are readily available at supermarkets
- Nutrition: Nutrients stay intact during the drying process; no or few preservatives are used.
- Size and Weight: Compared to fresh foods, dehydrated survival foods are much smaller and weigh less. They aren’t as light as freeze-dried foods though.
- Variety: Best for fruits and jerky; vegetables generally don’t dehydrate very well
- Preparation: Many dehydrated foods can be eaten as-is, but many need to be boiled for long periods of time to rehydrate
- Taste: Fruits taste good when dehydrated, but other foods don’t taste as good; can be very boring to eat just dehydrated foods
Dehydrated foods are great for your home stockpile or for your survival backpack. However, we wouldn’t recommend relying on just dehydrated foods for your survival food. You’d get bored eating dehydrated foods. So combine these with another type of survival food, such as freeze-dried foods or MREs.
Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) are designed specifically for survival situations. That means they have long shelf lives, are often nutritionally complete, are compact and lightweight, and can easily be prepared with minimal/no cooking or water.
The downside of MREs is that they are expensive to stockpile. You also need to be careful about which MREs you choose as your survival food because some have shorter expiration dates, or are loaded with sodium, fat, or sugar.
- Shelf Life: Varies but usually last for 5+ years
- Preparation: Are ready to eat; can be consumed hot or cold and eaten out of the plastic pouch
- Taste: Usually taste very good
- Size and Weight: Are made from freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients, so are very compact and lightweight
- Nutrition: Usually formulated to be nutritionally complete, but this does vary depending on the brand!
- Variety: There is virtually no limit to the flavors and types of meals available as MREs
- Cost: Are usually very pricy for the amount of calories delivered
- Nutrition: Some MREs are loaded with sodium (which will dehydrate you), and have a lot of fat, which isn’t good for sedentary survival situations
If you can afford it, go ahead and stockpile a lot of MREs for your at-home survival food. Otherwise, we’d recommend just keeping a few of these for at home and using them for your Bug Out Bag instead.
These are granola bars taken to a whole new level. Survival bars are meant for true survival situations where you need energy to stay alive. So, they will be lightweight and very compact for the amount of calories delivered – but don’t expect them to taste good!
- Shelf Life: Last for about 5 years
- Size and Weight: Are made to be as compact and lightweight as possible
- Preparation: No prep required. Just eat them as-is
- Taste: The bad taste is actually a benefit because you won’t eat through them too fast
- Taste: Generally taste very bland
- Cost: Are fairly pricy
- Nutrition: Designed to deliver calories, not nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber
We've got a good selection of affordable survival food in the Primal Survivor store, which you can check out here. What survival food are you stockpiling?