Ameriqual, Sopakco, Sure-Pak, Womick, Menu C, MREStar and other companies around the world make Meals Ready to Eat for both the military and civilian markets.
Military MRE’s can be found at gun shows and occasionally ebay though technically their sale to civilians is forbidden by the US government. Civilian versions are readily available, however.
A full MRE averages about 1200 calories in the military version and slightly less in the civilian version. “That’s a lot of calories”. No, it isn’t. Guys hiking around all day with 50 pounds of gear, digging fox holes and getting 3 hours of sleep a night easily burn 3600 calories a day. This is important! MREs can be purchased as complete meals or just as entrees. The entrees alone only have 240-320 calories each. Although 900 calories a day will sustain you for the short term, you will feel famished eating only 3 entrees a day.
We sampled a civilian Ameriqual meal.
Price: $8. You should really only be paying $5-6 per meal in bulk, we got krunked.
Weight: 1lb 6oz
Calories: 900, including all components.
Contents: 1 Chicken and dumplings entree, 1 fried rice side dish, 2 crackers packs, 1 snack cookies pack, 1 coffee mix, packets of sugar/jelly/salt/pepper, a spoon, 1 MRE heater, 1 packet of matches.
MRE heaters: Convenient? I guess. For the uninitiated, one opens the top, adds water and then the MRE meal package. Next, you wait 10-15 minutes while noxious fumes engulf and nauseate you. You then remove your MRE packet to find it covered with a fine black grit that one doubts is meant to get into your food. Manufacturers claim the heaters are nontoxic but… we’re not impressed. In war time, a hot meal means instant morale but for camping and emergency preparedness one could save money and gagging by ordering MREs without heaters.
The food: Not bad, to be honest. They are a bit bland so the salt and pepper packs are welcome. They are low in water so unless you enjoy pooping bricks, drink plenty of water. We’ve been impressed overall with the ones we’ve tried. Are they as good as a reconstituted freeze dried meal from Mountain House, for example? Probably not. If you’ve never had an MRE and are a skeptic, however, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the food. The MRE desserts are totally legit, btw.
Longevity: It varies a bit by manufacturer but generally the say 1-5 years depending on the temperature they are stored at. The cooler and drier they are stored the longer they will last.
Efficiency: Here’s where the science comes in. Our MRE was 900 calories, weighed 1lb 6oz and took up about 90 cubic inches of space. Lets assume we find an MRE with 1200 calories at the same weight and space.
In that case, an MRE provides approximately 67 calories per oz.
Compare that to a Mainstay Food Ration which provides more than 147 calories per oz at roughly 1/3 the volume in cubic inches and 1/2 the cost.
Cost per calorie: $0.005 (check out food ration bar cost per calorie)
In conclusion, MREs are completely doable for hiking, camping and emergency preparedness. If they’re good enough for our fighting men and women, they will sustain you just fine in any circumstance.
For most emergency preparedness situations we find there are better choices, however. For their significantly lower weight per calorie, lower cost per calorie and lower space per calorie we recommend food rations. If you need something special to taste for morale purposes, MRE desserts are compact and delicious! And the desserts can be ordered separately and cheaply from the meals.