A lot of articles tackle bug-out bags and casually mention we should all add food to our survival bags. However, all of them fail to talk in-depth about this aspect.
Not all food is the same when it comes to packing it for evacuation. We need food that works in bugging out scenarios. If you’re thinking about it being lightweight, you’re absolutely right, but there’s a lot more to it.
In this article we’ll explore what makes food, bug out food, and give you some really good suggestions of what to pack.
Table of Contents
The Ideal Bug Out Bag Food
There are hundreds of choices when it comes to what types of food you can put in your bags. There are a few things you want to consider when making your choices.
- Calorie Ratio to Weight of Item. That can of soup might sound like a good idea, but it weighs a lot. You want food that has a small weight with more calories. You want as many calories per ounce as possible. Keep in mind you have to carry the backpack for hours on end, and for several days in a row.
- Nutrients. You want more fats and proteins than carbohydrates. However, don’t forget the carbs because they do give you bursts of energy that you need for your journey ahead. Fats and proteins fill you up faster and add more calories.
- Shelf Life. Yes, a fresh apple would take amazing, but you can’t store them in your bag waiting for an SHTF You need food that lasts for a long time. It is important that you keep a list of expiration dates, so you know when to rotate the items.
- Preparation. The food items you select shouldn’t be hard to prepare. Either you eat it out of the box, throw hot water over it, or cook it over your portable camping stove.
- Taste. If you don’t like it, don’t pack it. We have several dozen choices to pick from, so you’ll surely find the ones you want.
- Reasonable cost. Just because something is expensive, that doesn’t make it better. Stick to average-priced products and be sure to check out the Amazon reviews and star ratings before purchasing.
- Salt content. You want foods that are low on salt, otherwise you’ll feel thirsty, and water is going to be hard to find when bugging out.
- Water requirements. You’ll need something that requires minimal water to cook, as you won’t have much of when bugging out.
Why High-Calorie Foods?
When choosing food for your bag, be sure to pick items that are high in carbohydrates and calories. The human body breaks down carbohydrates so that they can be more readily absorbed in the form of simple sugars, which are needed for maximum energy and physical performance.
Surviving a disaster will expend a lot of the body’s precious energy and resources. The higher the calorie count of the food item, the more energy it will provide.
The recommended daily intake for a woman is 1950 calories; for a man, it is 2500 calories. Obviously, your physical health and fitness and the type of exercise you are doing will affect how many calories you burn.
Strenuous activities such as mountain climbing or hiking are going to require much more physical energy than you will use in your own home if there is a prolonged power outage.
Before we get to the actual list, let’s talk about the food categories you should consider, so you can better pick and plan the ones you want and need.
Meals and Snacks
When you are in dire straits, the taste and visual appearance of food will take second place to its nutritional value. The most important consideration is how much energy is packed into the item in question.
One of the best survival food items to include in your kit is a selection of nuts. Nuts are high in calories and healthy fats which are excellent body fuel, providing a lot of potential energy. They also help to make the prepper feel fuller – a definite advantage when the going is tough and food supplies are limited.
It is worth noting that pistachio nuts are high in minerals and vitamins, as well as flavor. Salted nuts may also help to replace salt lost through excessive sweating; however, they may also increase thirst.
You do have to be careful and look at the sodium content. Salted nuts do help to replace the salt lost because of extra sweating, but it can make you more thirsty. Too much sodium leads to dehydration.
Seeds such as chia, flax, and sunflower, are lightweight and contain high amounts of healthy oils and energy. Sprouts are even healthier than the seeds themselves and can be grown easily with a little water and sunlight.
Why not pack alfalfa seeds and a piece of paper towel in a zip-lock bag – when the time comes, simply wet the paper towel and grow the sprouts inside the bag.
Lentils not only have great nutritional value, they retain many of those nutrients during the cooking process. You don’t need to go fancy when cooking them, but here’s a great recipe just in case you want to try them out the next time you go camping.
If you’re looking for a lightweight food with lots of carbs in it, look no further than raisins. I used to eat these after every gym workout when I was in college because they were quickly able to replenish my energy levels. One cup of raisins has almost 500 calories!
5) Peanut Butter
A tablespoon of peanut butter can have up to 190 calories. That is a lot! Instead of lugging around a jar of peanut butter, look for individually-wrapped peanut butter packets or cups.
Many of the items on the list are better with crackers. Yes, they are a bit bulky, so you have to consider what type you are bringing and the amount. Crackers make life better! They give you a better way to eat your dehydrated hummus and peanut butter pouches.
Pinto beans are a favorite among preppers. They do take effort to prepare, so that should be a factor. You need a pot that you can put over a fire. A bag of beans will need to cook for at least an hour in water over a fire. However, there is plenty of protein in a single bag of beans.
8) Instant Noodles
Instant noodles are a very good choice for your BOB. They are easy to carry, high in carbohydrates and the flavor sachet contains salt, which is necessary to replace the body’s lost electrolytes.
Instant noodles are super lightweight, but they make a great meal. The packets are high in carbohydrates. The flavor packet has salt. Eating actual meals can feel comforting after a long journey or a hard day.
9) Instant Mashed Potatoes
When you want to have some comfort food, mashed potatoes fit that bill. Since you can’t bring along potatoes and create homemade potatoes on the trail, it has to be instant mashed potatoes.
All you need is hot water. Add some instant mashed potatoes with a can of shredded chicken for a delicious dinner.
10) Spam Pouches
Here is another idea for a source of protein, even if it is slightly strange. You have to enjoy the taste of Spam to want to include it in your BOB or INCH bag. Spam pouches can be heated in a cup of hot water.
11) Tuna and Salmon Pouches
You want different sources of protein for your bags. Cans of tuna are out of the question; they tend to weigh your bag down. The stores sell pouches of tuna and salmon, not mixed. They are great eaten cold or warmed up.
You can put some tuna on a cracker for a snack. The pouches of tuna and salmon are relatively inexpensive, costing around one dollar each. They also come flavored, such as BBQ and lemon pepper.
12) Dried Soup
Dried soups can be easily stored in paper bags or envelopes and added to hot water to make a very nutritious and quick meal.
13) Bouillon Cubes
Just like MREs, you can find packets of dried soup that just require hot water to reconstitute.
14) Instant Oatmeal
Oatmeal is another faithful standby. A tasty porridge can be made by simply adding a handful of oatmeal to boiling water.
It may be sweetened or flavored with sugar or dried fruit, depending on supplies. It is filling and convenient and the main ingredient is light, easy to store, and contains a lot of fiber.
Instant oatmeal contains mostly carbs, but it is a great kickstart to your day. There are multiple flavors available, taking up very little space in your bags.
I would suggest keeping them in a plastic, zippered bag. Instant oatmeal pouches are easily torn. You can group several foods together and use a packing machine:
15) Sardine Tins
There is some weight to sardine tins, but the tins themselves are quite small. There is a lot of protein, calories, and fats in these little cans. The weight might be worth it if you want an extra source of nutrients.
Bread is bulky and perishable, so replace it with dried biscuits and tortillas. They are still high in carbohydrates, and filling and can be eaten without preparation.
Tortillas contain plenty of carbohydrates, and you can use them with other food. It is a great addition to tuna or salmon to complete your meal.
Dried beef (commonly known as Jerky) is a means of supplying the body with protein. It is easily stored, lightweight and can be eaten on the move.
However, because it is meat it is also attractive to predators such as bears. If you are moving through bear country, do not carry any unsealed or open foods, especially jerky or other dried meat.
Beef jerky is sold in dozens of flavors and packaging. It is a great source of protein. However, beef jerky also has a higher level of sodium, which could cause dehydration if you eat too much. Make sure that you limit yourself.
18) Dehydrated Hummus
Hummus is a favorite treat for many people. It is usually kept refrigerated, so most people don’t think about it as an option for a BOB. You can find packs of dehydrated hummus that require you to add water.
19) Dehydrated Vegetables
Dehydrated veggies are easy to reconstitute with water and make great additions to dinners and lunches.
If you’re looking to improve your self-reliance skills, you should learn to dehydrate your own fruits and veggies at home.
20) Chocolate and Chocolate Bars
Although it may not seem the healthiest option, chocolate is a great source of sugar (energy) and can be eaten while on the move. A chocolate bar such as Snickers combines nuts and chocolate and makes a welcome treat.
There isn’t much protein in chocolate, but it contains sugar which gives you a burst of energy. The energy wears off quickly, but it will satisfy your cravings. It is a welcome relief after just eating canned and prepackaged food for multiple days.
If you don’t want just to take plain chocolate, Tootsie Rolls are a great choice. Tootsie Rolls are great for hot summer months.
Believe it or not, World War II soldiers carried them to eat. You want to make sure that you grab the long ones to conserve space!
Recommendation: try Tootsie Rolls, chocolate candy with a 2-year shelf life.
21) Cereal and Breakfast Bars
If you need a boost of energy, cereal, and breakfast bars are great choices. They typically contain oats and some fruit. They can give a bit of flavor and excitement to your pack!
Chances are you won’t have access to fresh milk while on the go. Dried cereal still adds carbs to your diet and gives a feeling of comfort. If you have kids along on the journey, Cheerios are a beloved cereal.
23) Pop Tarts
I know you are thinking that those aren’t healthy at all. You would be right. Pop Tarts are mostly artificial sugar. However, they give you some energy and carbs if you need a pick-me-up. Plus, kids are pretty quick to eat them.
24) Peanut Butter Crackers
I mentioned peanut butter and crackers separately, but you can purchase these together to save space.
Pre-made peanut butter cracker sandwiches are found in the store or online, and are relatively cheap.
25) Protein Bars
When you are walking for a long time, you need energy and protein to keep going. Protein bars are a favorite among hikers. You can eat them on the go. Most of them are pretty delicious.
The only downside to protein bars is that they can get messy, especially if they contain chocolate. You can fit a few protein bars into your bar, taking up very little space.
26) Dried Fruit
Dried fruits are full of sugar and can be eaten at any time to replenish failing energy supplies.
There are many delicious dried fruits such as pineapple, raisins, banana, mango, berries, and apples which will all help to keep you going. Crystallized ginger is a pleasant addition for flavor, and is also known to settle the stomach.
There are so many choices for dried fruit, from apricots to apples. They are full of sugar, so it can help to give you a boost of energy when you’re feeling low.
Your local store should have a great selection. Pineapples, bananas, mango, and berries won’t weigh too much in your bag.
27) Freeze-Dried Foods
Freeze-dried foods are a fantastic bug out bag food option. They’re much lighter than dehydrated foods, have a far longer shelf life (usually between 2 and 25 years), and require very little preparation.
All you have to do is pour some hot water into the bags. Then, you seal up the bags for the recommended time. Some meals are enough for more than one person.
You will find that there are many types of freeze-dried foods which can be purchased, including fruits, meat, vegetables, grains, and desserts. They retain excellent flavor and color.
Wise Company’s meals are an excellent choice. As well as being filling, they come in a variety of flavors and are extremely tasty.
They are quickly heated using hot water – simply add the water to the bag, seal for the length of time stated, and then open and enjoy.
28) Salami or Pepperoni
The idea of pulling out a log of pepperoni or salami might seem comical. However, you can find bags of sliced pepperoni. It does contain more salt than other meats, but you want some variety in your BOB and INCH bags.
29) Coffee Singles
Even if you are on the go, you still want to have some caffeine and coffee on the go. You can purchase instant coffee and Coffee Mate To Go for flavoring and sweetness.
Make sure that you have a cup with you that lets you heat your coffee over the fire or however you want to cook coffee!
30) Granola Mixes and Bars
Stores have whole sections devoted to granola bars and mixes. You can find bags with different things in the granola, a great choice for breakfasts and snacks.
Granola bars are great food ideas for on-the-go. Even kids love granola bars! They store easily and come in multiple, delicious flavors. Some have nuts, oats, chocolate, or raisins!
31) Ready-to-Eat Rice
Rice pouches are great for quick dinners now, and they are a great addition to your BOB for a real meal.
Remember, these pouches have a lot of sodium and carbs. You shouldn’t pick rice pouches for an every meal type of item. However, you can add them to your tuna pouch to make a complete meal.
32) Protein Powder
Protein powder tends to be disgusting, but it is a source of protein and nutrients for you. All you have to do is add the powder to water. Add scoops to a plastic baggie and store them in your bag.
33) Electrolyte Powders
You can also keep electrolyte powders in your bag that you just add right to the BOB bag. They will keep you hydrated.
34) Dried Pasta
Dried pasta is another option that will last almost indefinitely. Pasta side meals can be purchased in dried sachet form and are also a worthwhile addition.
35) Hard Candy
If you have a sweet tooth, you’re probably glad to see these on the list. Hard candy is lightweight and will give you an energy boost. You can find a huge variety of candy, though you’ll want to stick to the ones that have a long shelf life.
Pemmican is one of the most well-known survival foods, so you know it has a long shelf life. But what qualifies it to be a bug-out bag food is the fact that it’s lightweight.
Learn how to make your own pemmican here.
37) Meal Replacement Powders
Meal replacement powders can be readily purchased and contain all the essentials for a quick, complete meal.
They are high in carbohydrates and fats and many contain slow-release sugars, which makes them a very good choice for your survival kit.
38) Military MREs
These do break some of the rules that we’ve laid out because they are high in sodium and expensive, but if you get them at a discount, you might as well throw a few in your backpack.
39) Trail Mix
We’ve already mentioned raisins and nuts, but if you want a little more variety, go for a trail mix – or make your own. Be sure to check out the expiration date or the best buy date before purchase.
40) Honey Packets
Honey has an indefinite shelf life, is full of natural sugar, and you can get it in lightweight packets like these.
41) Emergency Food Bars
Expect a shelf life of 5 years – possibly more.
42) Sugar Packets
They don’t have any nutrients like honey does, but you can add them to your coffee or tea to give it some taste, and to give yourself some energy.
43) Mac and Cheese
Although most of the foods in this list are easier to take with you on your bug-out journey, mac and cheese is so liked by preppers and campers, I just had to include it.
I don’t know who perpetrated the myth that “your body won’t mind if you don’t give it vitamins for a few days. Really?
You think the bug out bag foods above have a complete vitamins and minerals profile? Do you think your bug out menu is as nutritious as what you’re eating today? And what if you already have a nutritional deficiency?
Add a few multivitamins and stop reading B.S. They’re lightweight and are worth every penny in a survival situation.
The “No-No” List
Well, you have A LOT of options to choose from when it comes to bug-out bag food. But what foods should you avoid? Here are a few suggestions; when it comes to these -don’t bother!
❌ Whole Fruits and Veggies
What, you can’t put fruit in your bug out bag? Well…. no, because it’s not only bulky, it spoils really quickly. The food you put in your bug out bag will most likely be left untouched for months on end, until either something happens and you need it, or you’re ready to replace it.
❌ Canned Food
Cans are obviously going to add weight to your bag and may be bulky and awkward. With so many options to choose from, adding glass jars to your bug out bag just doesn’t make any sense.
Be sure to have some drinking water in your bug-out bag or INCH bag and have a plan for how to get more should you run out (think personal water filters and water purification tablets).
Tea bags can easily fit in spare spaces and can be used to make refreshing hot or cold drinks, both of which will offer a measure of comfort in formidable circumstances.
Instant coffee is also easily packed into an envelope or zip-lock bag and can be prepared quickly and easily, providing a hot, stimulating beverage.
Be sure to include some electrolyte replacement sachets. One of these can be added to a cup of water to replace lost body salts and slake the thirst. They are invaluable – the body needs salt to function to the best of its ability, and these small sachets could be a lifesaver.
Where possible, remove food packets from cardboard boxes. Pack dried foodstuffs into zip-lock or vacuum-sealed bags. Items such as noodles can be crushed and kept in a bag with the air removed – any extra inch of space gained can be put to good use.
To reduce the footprint of packaged meals, pierce a hole in the packaging and remove any extra air.
Cover the hole with tape. It is important to remember that you may significantly reduce the shelf life of items by removing or piercing their original packaging.
You will, of course, need to rotate the food periodically, just like you would with the stockpile in your pantry. Twice a year, during daylight savings time is when I recommend you do it.
Ways to Consume Your Bug Out Bag Food
What could be more frustrating than packing your food but omit to get cooking and eating utensils? Consider things such as:
- a spork
- a wide-mouth thermos (can be sued for cooking)
- a stainless steel canteen cup
- a portable camping stove
- ways to start a fire and to keep it going
- maybe even a few plastic plates to eat off
Depending on the situation you’ll be facing, expect to need more food in order to survive. Assess your options for acquiring more food such as foraging, hunting, buying, and bartering for it.
Don’t Eat All of Your Food at Once
When you bug out, it’s important that you spread out your calories throughout the day.
You’re most likely not used to this, so I highly recommend you practice doing this before SHTF. Maybe you can take a camping trip and simulate bugging out at the same time?
If you’re looking to see with your own eyes the kinds of foods other preppers have in their bug out bags, you can start with these youtubes.
In order to be able to consume the food in your BOB, you will need to take basic utensils and preparation materials.
Be sure to take some means to light a fire. Waterproof matches are essential. Also include some type of fire steel which can be used to generate sparks, regardless of the prevailing weather.
Pack some type of tinder to ignite the initial flame. Firelighters or other tinder can be readily purchased from most outdoor equipment retailers.
Other items which will be of inestimable value are knives, a small saucepan, a metal mug, scissors, and eating utensils.
Chopsticks are very light and can be used for much more than just eating with. If you are packing canned food, you will have to take some means of opening this.
There are so many choices for foods you can include in your bug out bag and INCH bags. You don’t want to pick all of these items. Find the ones that you think make the most sense and you find the most enjoyable.
So, what are your favorite items to include in a BOB or INCH bag? Let us know in the comments! And if you’re looking for a PDF list with all of these food suggestions, you can get one here.
Bethany Hayes is a mother of three kids who has a small, suburban homestead. When she isn’t homeschooling or gardening, she might be focusing on building up their homestead or preserving the harvest.