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 tub 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 cant 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.
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 cant 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.”
The links above are to Amazon, which sometimes has the best price, but often ordering straight from the Mountain House website is your best bet. For the old school survivalists, they also have a selection of military MRE’s.
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.
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.
Like most preparedness food suppliers, Augason farms makes a long-term kit designed to feed a family of 4 for a year. In many ways, this kit is well thought out for the average person because it contains a lot of dried powdered mixes, like just add water muffin and pancake mix. 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.
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.
For shorter term emergency kits, Augason farms also sells a 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. Most require 20+ minutes of cooking in a pot of boiling water.
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.
While it’s not the best option for the short term, but a 1-month bucket from Augason farms costs the same as a mountain house 3-day bucket, so it is a great economy option.
The downside? Their basic on 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, but at almost twice the cost.
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, 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. They’re transparent about the nutritional content of their food, and people actually regularly live on it on camping expeditions.
The downside? Taste, low calories and 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’s 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…
The downside? 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. (Check directly from mountain house, they may have a better price.)
For long-term food storage, I think the best all-around value and utility is in the one-year survival food kit from Augason Farms. It is a little short on calories, but it’s real food with a 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. You’d be better off with a basic kit and supplementing with a few of your own pantry staples.
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.
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.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with survival food kits. Leave a comment below and share your knowledge.
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