I’m all for preparing for the worst, but if you’re going to prepare, remember your brain is your most valuable asset. Don’t buy dumb stuff.
Time and time again I see reviews for the best survival food, where people have bought huge stocks of survival food and never bothered to try it. Not only did they never bother to try it, they never bothered to even think about it before they bought it.
Does this kit make sense? In an emergency, will this kit actually help me feed my family?
When you look at a survival food kit, start with a healthy dose of common sense.
A while back my husband sent me a link to a survival food kit, with the subject line: What’s wrong with this? I looked at the contents, and instantly knew what he was talking about. It was a huge kit, all in #10 cans.
There’s nothing wrong with #10 cans in general, but once you open a perishable #10 can without refrigeration, you have at best 2-3 days before it spoils. This kit included several #10 cans of beef gravy.
Get a spoon Bubba, you’re eating nothing but gravy for the next 48 hours.
Beyond just technical practicality, I think people get caught up in the fever of preparedness and don’t think about it from a rational economic perspective. This pack of “survival pasta” is 50 oz of elbow macaroni for the budget price of $50.
Are you kidding me? Is there a gold bar hidden at the bottom? A dollar an ounce for pasta is about, oh I don’t know, 20 to 30 times what pasta should cost.
While on the one hand, you are paying for the long-term storage packaging, and you should expect to pay a slight premium, use your head. A slight premium doesn’t mean losing your shirt. For that same price, you could buy a 5-gallon bucket and a gamma seal lid, along with 5 gallons of pasta…and then still have money left over for a celebratory 6 pack.
What Makes a Good Survival Food Kit?
Emergency survival food is just food that has a long shelf life, good nutritional profile, and ideally, is easy to cook. The very best emergency food is food that your family will normally eat, and so that you already know how to cook it and are accustomed to eating it. Let’s start with the basics:
- Easy to Cook– In a short-term emergency, you may not have fuel or time for hours of boiling. For longer-term kits, this is less of an issue.
- Things You Know How to Cook – Wheat berries are great in theory, but unless you have a hand crank grain grinder and know how to cook with whole grains, you might be eating a lot of gruel.
- Manageable Package Sizes – Most emergency food is only guaranteed until you break the seal. Make sure it’s packed so you can eat it all before it spoils, and resealable if it contains more than 1 serving.
- Plenty of Calories – While you can probably live on 1,300 calories a day, you’re planning ahead so you don’t have to, right?
- High Nutritional Content – Instant white rice and Kool-Aid have plenty of calories, but you can’t live on it for long.
- Reasonable Prices – Expect to pay a premium for a premade kit, but use your head and don’t lose your shirt.
- Long Shelf Life without Refrigeration – The power almost always goes out at the worst time.
Beyond the basics, here are a few nice to have traits:
- No Unnecessary Ingredients – Eating a chemical cocktail before the apocalypse doesn’t make sense, and it makes even less sense to compromise your health in an emergency.
- Can withstand Freezing Temperatures – If you’re in a cold climate, and the heat goes out, all your home canned goods in mason jars may break.
- Comfort Food – Familiar foods and comfort foods help with the emotional side of managing an emergency.
If you have the time, I’d suggest investing in good food storage equipment and storing your own pantry staples, rather than actually buying a premade kit. Things like a vacuum sealer or food storage buckets with airtight lids are reasonably cheap, and allow you to safely store your families favorite foods.
A gamma seal lid turns a 5-gallon buck into an airtight food storage container, that you can open and then reseal. Rather than #10 cans of prepared food that can only be opened once, you can pack just about any storable food into a 5-gallon bucket, and access it as you need it with a twist-off lid.
Still, sometimes you want a bit of extra insurance, and outsourcing the planning takes one more thing off your plate. If you are going to buy a pre-made survival food kit, here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of the top survival food kits on the market.
(I received free samples from most of these companies for my honest unbiased review. As you’ll see, I’m giving my honest opinions below, and some of the brands I tried were downright horrible. Other’s were amazing, and everywhere in between. Regardless, these are my honest opinion on the quality of the survival kits provided.)
Really simple shelf-stable foods, like just add water oatmeal allow you to put food on the table quickly and without a lot of equipment. The problem is, you can’t live on oatmeal packets alone. Freeze-dried meals allow you the ease of instant just add water food, but they can be almost anything, including meat and high protein items.
I’m a huge fan of big buckets of dried beans, but those only help you for a long-term emergency. For the short term emergency, when you need simple, quick-cooking food for a week or less, freeze-dried foods are the way to go.
By far the best instant emergency food comes from Mountain House. They’ve been making instant, just add water meals for campers and hikers for over 50 years and hundreds of people actually eat their food every day.
Mountain House sells a number of prepackaged emergency food kits:
- Three Day Emergency Food Kit – Three just add water meals per day totaling roughly 1,650 calories per day.
- Classic Emergency Food Bucket – A best seller on Amazon, with over a thousand 5 star reviews from people who have actually eaten the food. Includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Essential Emergency Food Bucket – The #1 bestseller on Amazon in emergency food, “With 12 total meals, this bucket has enough food to feed a person for 3.5 days based on a 2,000 calorie diet.”
If you’re looking for a grab and go kit, this 72-hour survival backpack is well equipped for 4 people, and it includes plenty of tasty, easy cooking mountain house food. It also has a camp stove, water rations, lamps, and just about everything else you’d need in a pre-packed emergency bag.
I also love that they have a lot of really unique one-off items like freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches. Are they practical? Nope. And they’re definitely weird astronaut food, but they’re great for making a 5-year-old feel better in a crisis, even for a few minutes.
Keep in mind that you’ll need some way to boil water, which can be a challenge in some homes without electricity. This bio-lite camp stove burns twigs and debris to cook and boil water, and it turns some of that heat energy into electricity for charging devices by USB cable. All handy in an emergency.
Mountain House also sells #10 cans of freeze-dried food, which is much more economical than individual serving packets. I got a chance to try freeze-dried rice from an “antique” 17-year-old can. How does it hold up? Pretty darn good.
I followed the instructions, poured on boiling water and it was pretty amazing. It says “ready in 5 minutes” which isn’t quite right. After 5 minutes of soaking, the rice tasted a bit like wet rice crispies. I was skeptical, but it just needed more time. Amazingly, after 15 minutes of soaking, it fooled my husband who thought it was freshly cooked rice.
Instant freeze-dried foods are expensive. They’re convenient, tasty and nutrient-dense, but you’re going to pay for it. Most of the mountain house kits range from 3 to 14 days worth of food because portable freeze-dried food isn’t meant to get you through the long emergency.
It’s a good idea to have some packs around to get you through short emergencies, and maybe even a few #10 cans for the medium term. For long-term emergencies, like 6 months or a year, you can get a better deal by sacrificing a bit of convenience.
Long Term Survival Food Kits
Once you’re past the short-term emergency, long-term emergency planning can be a bit trickier. How do you fit several months or even a year’s worth of food in a reasonable amount of space, and at a reasonable cost? For the long-term emergency, you’ll need to be set up for actual cooking as instant freeze-dried food just isn’t practical or economical.
Valley Food Storage
If you’re planning for a longer emergency, Valley Food Storage is a great choice. Their food is still mostly prepared, meaning that it comes in easy to make entrees that are ready to cook. Unlike Mountain House, which has you pour boiling water directly into the pouch and stir, these do require a bit of cooking. All the food is “just add water,” but most of it needs to be simmered for about 8-10 minutes to cook.
That 8-10 minutes of simmer time means you’ll need a good cooking pot, but if you don’t have that in a long emergency you’re chances are pretty slim anyway. What does that short cook time get you? Really spectacular flavor.
When you’re planning on eating emergency food right out of the packet, there are only so many things you can offer, but when you’re willing to do a tiny bit of cooking the options open up dramatically. Valley Food Storage’s dishes were hands down the best-tasting survival food I’ve tried to date. No question.
I also love that they offer quite a bit of creative variety in their entrees. While most kits are filled with oatmeal, mashed potatoes, pasta, and other bland starchy food, Valley Food Storage entrees really show some creativity. Options like mango habanero chili, Thai coconut curry, and chicken teriyaki mean that you’ll avoid appetite fatigue in the long term.
What blew me away about these kits is the quality. The first thing I opened up was their package of freeze-dried strawberries, which were hands down the best freeze-dried fruit I’ve ever eaten. I seriously couldn’t keep my kid’s hands off them long enough to take a picture…
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I'm working on a bunch of new content about long term food storage, so I asked a bunch of long term food storage companies for samples recently. These little beauties come from @valleyfoodstorage…and oh man were they popular. You'd think my 3 year old would have learned by now that I can see her cute little baby hand sneaking in there to steal pieces when I'm photographing. Every time she says, "How'd you know?!?!" and all I can do is laugh and say, "Mama magic…obviously!" My two little ones demolished these freeze dried strawberries, and I had to use my mama magic to sneak some away to save for later. I was really blown away by how unbelievably delicious these are, and I can't believe I'm going to say this…but they were actually BETTER than most of the fresh strawberries we've had. I handed one to my husband, and he was skeptical, but one bite changed his mind. They sent us 4 other samples of other products too, so stay tuned. For now though, I'm ordering more strawberries… #foodstorage #prepper #preparedness #survival #bugoutbag #survivalkit #SHTF #EOTWAWKI #survivalist #survivalgear #shtfready #shtfgear #emergencypreparedness #disasterpreparedness #zombieapocalypse #preps #prepperfood #preppergear #survivalgear #survivalfood #freezedried #freezedriedfood #freezedriedfood #threeyearsold #mamamagic #zombies #foodstoragekit #survivalfood #survivalkit
I was so impressed that I actually went out and ordered freeze-dried strawberries from a couple of other suppliers, and I picked up a package from trader joes. We did a blind taste test with the whole family, and there was no question. Everyone, including my 3-year-old, could pick out the ones from valley food storage. The texture was much better, and the flavor was out of this world.
They were so tasty I was inspired to make a batch of post-apocalyptic strawberry donuts using just food storage ingredients. It’s always a good idea to practice cooking with your preps, and this was a good exercise that got the whole family in on the fun.
Now I know I can make some pretty epic donuts from a homemade just add water mix, and my kids see cooking with our preps as just another fun way to get treats. That pre-conditioning will come in handy if we ever actually need these in an emergency.
Valley food storage has a-la-carte options where you can buy just the meals that suit your family’s tastes, or you can just purchase a pre-made kit. They have a number of options, including:
- 1 Month Premium Food Kit
- 3 Month Premium Food Kit
- 6 Month Premium Food Kit
- 12 Month Premium Food Kit
Good quality comes at a cost. Their one-month premium food kit costs about $400 (1650 calories per day). That is considerably less than mountain house, where buying two 14 day emergency food kits would get you less food for a bit over $600. But, it’s also considerably more than some of the cheaper options. That said, I’ve been unimpressed by the quality of the cheaper options, so keep in mind you get what you pay for.
(They do offer a one-month basic food kit for considerably less cost, but it only has about 850 calories per day, so in my mind, it’s really either a supplement or a two-week food supply.)
For the budget-minded, Aurgason farms is a good option, but keep in mind that low budget is going to cost you in either quality or convenience. They offer two different routes, either pre-made just add water foods, or freeze-dried pantry staples (ie. powdered butter, powdered eggs, and powdered milk). While I love the pantry items and use them regularly, the premade foods they offer are pretty horrible in my experience.
Augason farms offers a premade 30-day survival food bucket rated at over 1,800 calories per day. Most of the food included is labeled instant and is supposed to be easy to prepare with boiling water. They may be “just add water,” but they’re not instant like mountain house. Most require 20+ minutes of cooking in a pot of boiling water.
Even though they require a substantial amount of cooking, I’ve been seriously unimpressed with the pre-made food I’ve tried from Augason Farms. On the one hand, everyone has different tastes, and it may just not be a good match for mine, but my criticism goes beyond that. I followed the instructions for this “creamy chicken flavored rice” and it just didn’t cook.
I had to add nearly 3x the amount of water to get the rice to cook properly. The “creamy sauce” was a slimy goop, and I wished I’d just had some plain white rice instead. It would have been cheaper that way anyway…
Beyond the fact that most of the food in the kit requires substantial cooking, variety is lacking, as is protein. The kit contains 30 servings of each of the following foods: Cheese, Cheesy Broccoli Rice, Creamy Potato Soup, Creamy Chicken Rice, Hearty Vegetable Blend, Instant Potatoes, Macaroni, Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal plus 80 servings of instant milk powder. You are going to be eating the exact same set of foods every single day.
The samples I tried were technically food, and a lot better than eating rats, but I’d have to be pretty hungry to enjoy it.
That said, it’s hard to beat the price if you’re trying to buy a cheap insurance policy to keep in your back pantry. A 1-month bucket from Augason farms costs the same as a mountain house 3-day bucket, so it is a great economy option. At the time of this writing, they’re running a buy one get one free deal on 30-day buckets, but the sale changes regularly.
A better long term option…
While I really hate their short term kits, the long term kits are actually a pretty spectacular option believe it or not. Mainly because they only include pantry staple items rather than premade foods. Instead of just add water entrees, they give you all the shelf-stable ingredients to prepare a meal. Augason farms makes a long-term kit designed to feed a family of 4 for a year, for about $4000 (or a similar kit for 1 person for roughly $1000). This is by far the best value for the long term, no question.
I’ve tried many most of the foods included in this kit, and I keep quite a few of them on my shelf for day to day kitchen use. Shelf-stable versions of common cooking ingredients, like butter powder and egg powder, give you a lot of flexibility for cooking your favorite recipes. We’ve started practicing cooking with their butter powder, and it works great in a homemade just add water biscuit mix or my homemade just add water pancake mix.
The problem is, you’re really going to need to know how to cook from scratch. If you don’t, this isn’t the kit for you. Stick with something that has premade food (and pay more for that convenience).
This kit contains 30 cans of hard wheat berries, so it will require a grain grinder. Lehman’s makes a completely non-electric hand crank grain grinder that will allow you to convert those wheat berries into flour for baking. You also may want to throw in a bit of baking powder and baking soda to leaven your baked goods. Beyond that, they’ve thought of pretty much everything.
They do include some powdered, vitamin C fortified drink mixes. Many kits include dozens of cans of this sugar-laden filler, but they’ve kept it to a minimum. Six cans in a huge kit is just enough instant orange drink to add a little variety to your stored water once in a while, but not so much that it’s a substantial portion of your calories.
They also sell kits including a 55-gallon water storage barrel with a pump system, which is a handy addition to help manage water needs.
The downside? Their basic one year kit on year contains 1,200 calories per day per person. That’s enough to keep you alive, but you’ll need to supplement it this kit with foraging, gardening or hunting to make it realistic. If you want more substantial amounts of food, you have to upgrade to their premium kit which includes a lot more variety and over 1,900 calories per person per day for only about 20% more money. Well worth it in my opinion, if you’re just looking for an easy solution you don’t have to pack yourself.
Wise Food Storage
Wise food storage offers a number of just add water food storage kits, ranging from 1 month to 12 months. Like mountain house camping food, these just add water pouches are extremely convenient, but that convenience comes at a price. These kits are some of the most expensive I’ve seen, and there’s not a lot to show for it.
While they do sell long-term emergency kits, but if you read the fine print, most only contain about 600 calories per person per day. A “one-month emergency food supply” doesn’t list total calories per day, just that you get 3 servings of food. The problem is, when you look at the individual nutrition labels, a single serving has about 200 calories. Saying 600 calories per day amounts to a 30-day kit is just a balled face lie, and I want nothing to do with a company that would lie to people that blatantly when it comes to their survival.
Their website is intentionally misleading, trying to hide the fact that their kits are short on calories, and they even insinuate that in a real emergency you should be eating 2 servings (ie. 400 calories) a day because who can expect 3 full meals in a crisis.
I don’t expect to be eating like a king, but for the amount of money these kits cost, 400 calories is pretty pathetic.
As if that’s not enough, wait for it…they actually show pictures of how this kit could feed 4 people for a month, or 6 people if it’s two adults and 4 kids. I don’t know about you, but I eat more than 600 calories a day, and so do my kids. Over the course of a month, my husband and I would starve to death giving each of our kids our extra 600 calories a day, and our little ones would just barely make it through on 1200 calories a day each.
For science, I’d love to taste wise food storage’s kits, but I just can’t bring myself to give this company any money because of their dishonest marketing. Even their “free sample” requires you to talk to a sales rep on the phone, and they require you to promise that if it tastes even halfway decent that you’ll buy a kit from them. No thanks, I won’t be sampling these.
If you are going to choose an instant just add water option, go with Mountain House for the short term and Valley Food Storage for 1+ months. They’re both transparent about the nutritional content of their food, and high quality.
Misleading advertising, low calories, and high price…so just about everything.
Thrive life got a lot of press when they started selling their 1-year emergency food kit at Costco. If there’s one thing Costco shoppers love, it’s buying a boatload of food all at once. That’s kind of their business model. After that, a bunch of suburban housewives became accidental preppers basically overnight.
This is another kit that contains a lot of unground wheat berries, and you’ll need a hand crank grain grinder to make those useful.
The reviews consistently say that the kit contains a lot of sugary powdered drink mixes with a short shelf life. While most of the items have at least a 10 year rated shelf life, a substantial number of the cans are basically kool-aid mix with a 3-year shelf life. At least that’s what the negative reviews seem to site. That may have changed recently because the current kit contents list doesn’t contain them.
For the most part, these kits are sold “Tupperware party” style by consultants that come to your house. That style of marketing has its benefits, in that it lets you try the food, but it also relies on peer pressure from all your friends at the party encouraging your purchases.
Overall, this company seems to be marketed at the casual suburban household that hasn’t done their homework. That’s not to say it may not be an excellent kit, but that marketing strategy causes me to raise an eyebrow. None the less, a friend of mine is one of their “consultants” and I’m going to order a few cans from her to try them out. I’ll report back soon…
I can’t seem to find anyone who has actually opened their kit. Reviews typically talk about how inexpensive the kit is, and how quickly it arrived.
Here’s a good example, “As the product says, it is for EMERGENCY. So I don’t know how it tastes and, quite frankly, I hope I never have to. But we did a lot of comparison shopping and this was by far the best value we found.” Maybe the kit is wonderful, but if no one’s going to open it, it’s hard to know. If all you’re working from is price, then it just becomes a race to the bottom on cutting costs and quality.
All-Around Best Survival Food Kit
What would I pick for my family of 4?
For short-term emergency food, a classic bucket from mountain house is the way to go. If you’re looking for something to tide you over during a power outage or other short-term emergency, a just add water kit filled with proven camping food is just what you need.
For long-term food storage, I think the best all-around quality in a pre-made kit comes from Valley Food Storage. Their food is delicious and high quality, but you’re going to pay a premium for it. The food is packaged as entrees, for the most part, taking the guesswork out of it, and it’s really exceptionally tasty.
Best Budget Survival Food Kit
For the best long term budget option, try Augason Farms. I’m not a fan of their pre-made 30-day survival bucket because the food pretty horrible, though “technically edible.” While their pre-made food is unfortunate, I’ve had great experiences with their pantry staple options, which just provide you with shelf-stable ingredients for scratch cooking.
If you know how to cook, there’s no better option for the truly long term than a one-year survival food kit from Augason Farms. It is a little short on calories, but it’s real food with high nutrition content. While you can upgrade to the premium kit which offers more calories and variety, many of the convenient foods added contain lots of artificial ingredients and bulking pasta.
It’s a good option if you want to buy something and not have to think about it, but economy-wise you’d be better off with a basic kit and supplementing with a bucket or two of your own pasta, packed into buckets with gamma seal lids.
I recently noticed that the bulk kits from Augason farms now come with grain grinders included, which is a really thoughtful addition and shows they are actually thinking about how their kit will be used. Some include water storage/filtration and heirloom seeds as well. In general, you’re better off choosing a survival seed bank that fits your location, but I’ll never turn down an extra tin of seeds.
I’d supplement the kit with home-canned goods, sprouting seeds and leaveners like baking powder. I’d also add something for water storage and filtration if the kit didn’t include it, like this bulk pack of lifestraw filters.
What Do I Store?
So now here’s the million-dollar question. Now that I’ve done all this research for you, What do I actually store in my own basement?
We have a mix of options so that we can be prepared for a variety of different contingencies. We keep a few mountain house buckets available so we have a grab and go throw in the car option if we need to evacuate for any reason. The kids also love taking those camping, and will sometimes beg for a “camping lunch” where we cook them over a campfire in our yard. I say yard, but really, we live on 30 acres off the grid in the middle of the woods…so “yard camping” just means in the woods within sight of the house.
For the longer-term emergency, we keep about a dozen buckets of food sealed with gamma seal lids. I don’t use mylar pouches because we constantly turn our inventory of flour, beans, rice, and pasta. On top of that, I have #10 cans of powdered butter, powdered eggs, and powdered milk so that we can cook our favorite meals in the long emergency.
We’re avid canners, as you can tell from the fact that I have more than 100+ canning and preserving posts listed on this site. Here’s a stockpile of my favorite canning recipes if you’re curious. But beyond home-canned food, we also have a number of #10 cans of freeze-dried fruit. Now that my little ones have fallen in love with valley food storage freeze-dried strawberries, I’m seriously considering adding a full case of those to my stock. Maybe for my daughter’s birthday…
Beyond that, we hunt, salt cure meat and grow much of our own food on our land.
Other Survival Food Suppliers
There are a lot of survival food suppliers out there, and it seems like new ones pop up every day. I can’t rate them all, but there are a few reputable companies still on my “to try” list.
- My Patriot Supply – Supplies a number of ready to eat meals, but also supplies all manner of preparedness equipment such as water filters, survival seeds, and off-grid cooking equipment. They have a deal of the day page, and I just missed a 1-week food supply at 50% off. Since then, I’ve been watching their site waiting for a deal on a smaller food kit to give them a try.
- Northwest Fork – Supplies gluten-free emergency food kits that are also kosher, non-GMO and vegan. In an emergency, you’re obviously less picky about what you eat, but if you really can’t tolerate gluten an emergency is no time to trash your digestive system. I haven’t tried these kits, but I have heard great things about them. The reviews also look promising.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with survival food kits. Leave a comment below and share your knowledge.