MREs, short for Meals, Ready to Eat, are an effective field ration to have on hand for bugging out or other disasters. They’ve held a special place in the hearts of preppers for a lot of years because of their caloric density, the ability to eat them hot without any kind of cooking gear, and how easy it is to pack and carry them.
We checked out a bunch of different MREs from various manufacturers and surplus dealers. The ten below are our top picks for MREs that won’t let you down when it counts.
1. XMRE Blue Line
The XMRE Blue Line is a modern reimagining of military MREs by a company unaffiliated with the three military suppliers. Their goal is to create meals that match the standards of modern military rations but that benefit from changes for the civilian market. They’re all new manufacture, ensuring maximum shelf life, and include tasty entrees with around 1,000 to 1,200 calories per pack.
Why we like it: Blue Line MREs are made to the same standards as military-issue but are all new manufacture. They’re packed in tough and waterproof plastic sleeves with everything you need for a tasty hot meal. They’re flavorful, offer the full shelf life of an MRE, and let you know for sure that they’ve never been mishandled before you receive them.
Flaws: While they offer multiple menu options in each box, it isn’t the full line available from military-issue MREs. Several MREs in each box are breakfast menus, consistently less well ranked than the lunch/dinner ones in flavor and satiety.
2. Western Frontier MRE
Western Frontier MREs are military surplus MREs that have been inspected and offered for resale on the civilian market. This batch was packed in 2017 and inspected in 2020. That gives you up to about two years of potential remaining shelf life before it’s chancy at best if they’re still good.
Why we like it: While these aren’t newly manufactured, they are about as close as you can get to ‘new’ surplus MREs. They’re legit military-issue MREs that were stored in military supply depots before being inspected and offered for resale. Western Frontier’s inspection process is fairly rigorous compared to most other company’s and helps them weed out most of the obvious duds.
Flaws: Inspected or not, these are several years old surplus MREs. Best case scenario these have a two-year shelf life, and that’s assuming they were perfectly stored and handled at every step along the way for the last several years of their lives. Given that they cost almost exactly the same as newly manufactured MREs you may want to consider a different brand.
3. MRE Star Kits
MRE Star is an independent manufacturer of MREs not affiliated with the three contractors who supply the U.S. military. Their products are all made to military standards and are available in a variety of dietary, halal, and kosher compatible forms. They provide a huge number of MREs to governmental and humanitarian organizations around the world.
Why we like it: MRE Star is one of the only companies that offers a full guarantee on their products. All their MREs are new manufacture, within 120 days, and are made to the same standards as military issue. By ordering directly from them you know that you’re getting the newest and best MREs they offer.
Flaws: Some of the MRE Star sides offer an unusually high calorie count. This is most apparent in their nut and trail mixes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, extra calories can be a big help in a strenuous situation, but isn’t ideal for day to day use such as while camping.
4. XMRE Lite (2020 Pack Date)
The XMRE Lite MREs are stripped-down versions of the company’s full-size MREs. They come in a similarly sealed sleeve but don’t include the full contents of a regular MRE. One notable exclusion is the flameless ration heater. They’re still a good option though, especially if you’re looking to cut weight out of your bug out bag.
Why we like it: Sometimes less really is more. The XMRE Lite MREs are lighter, more compact, yet still offer a strong burst of calories when needed. They don’t have some of the convenience and side options of full-size MREs but do provide you with a wholesome meal that can keep you going in the field.
Flaws: These don’t pack the same caloric punch of all-up MREs. They’re a lighter and more packable version stripped down to provide 400 to 600 calories in a more compact package. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t buy these expecting full-size MREs with 1250+ calories.
5. AmeriQual APack Ready Meal
The AmeriQual APack Ready Meal MREs are a civilian offering from military contractor Ameriqual. These are the same MREs they make for the U.S. Military, just offered for sale on the civilian market new in the box. Each one includes a full menu pack plus the flameless ration heater needed to heat it in the field.
Why we like it: These are newly manufactured MREs with a full four to five year shelf-life. Buying the APack MREs allow you to know for sure that you’ve got the maximum possible longevity for your food supplies.
Flaws: The APack MREs only comes with six different menus in each box. You get two of each menu, but it does reduce overall variety. If you end up with a menu you really dislike you have to eat two of them.
6. Meal Kit Supply MREs (2020 Pack Date)
Meal Kit Supply is a civilian focused manufacturer of military-grade MREs. They offer full-sized MREs packed in the same types of pouches and boxes as those issues to active-duty troops. They have one of the widest selections of menu options available on the non-surplus market and offer all new manufactured MREs.
Why we like it: Meal Kit Supply MREs offer greater menu variety and range than the vast majority of other MRE manufacturers. Each 12 pack comes with 10 different menus, ensuring you only get two repeats per case. That helps cut down on the monotony of eating the same meal multiple times and makes it less likely you’ll get two meals you dislike.
Flaws: They’re noticeably more expensive than many other MREs available new from different manufacturers. They’re definitely high-quality products with a lot of value, but you need to balance out the improved variety and quality control with the higher cost.
7. Sure-Pak Vegetarian Meals with Heaters (2020 Pack Date)
Sure-Pak vegetarian meals are meatless editions of Sopakco’s standard military-grade MREs. These are all newly manufactured MREs, ensuring the longest possible shelf life, and come with all the accessories, sides, and extras we’ve come to expect from full-up MREs.
Why we like it: These are made to the same high-quality as the traditional Sure-Pak MREs, yet come in entirely vegetarian configurations. Some of the entrees are even tastier than those that include meat. If you’re a vegetarian prepper this is a great way to stay true to your personal convictions while still preparing for every eventuality.
Flaws: Calorie counts are comparable to those of standard MREs, but variety does suffer a bit. The box still contains 12 MREs and six menus, but if you order multiple boxes you’re much more likely to get considerable repeats. If you like the meals this can be a good thing, if not it’s definitely going to be a pain.
8. Sure-Pak Meals with Heaters (2020 Pack Date)
Sure-Pak MREs are the civilian label used by the military contractor Sopakco to sell to the non-military market. They offer the full menu, including the flameless ration heater, available to the military, and are made to mil-spec standards.
Why we like it: These are real deal Sopakco MREs, the same as those issued to the active-duty troops of the U.S. military. By ordering directly from Sure-Pak you ensure you’re getting new manufacture MREs in unopened boxes. They have the longest possible shelf life for MREs and include the same menus and quality provided to the troops. Even better, they’re available for one of the most affordable prices you’ll find for newly manufactured MREs.
Flaws: There’s no available option to customize the menus included, or even whether they’re meat meals or vegetarian options. There is an option for all vegetarian meals, but not for specifically meat-based meals, which are the ones consistently ranked as having the best flavor.
9. MRE Cheese Spread Combo Pack
If you served, or know someone who has, you’re no doubt familiar with the legendary MRE cheese spread. These 1.5 oz squeeze packs offer a delicious spread that can be added to bread, crackers, used as a topping on meals, or even squeezed right out of the package. It comes with three flavors, bacon, cheddar, and jalapeno, and is sealed in a tough pouch on arrival.
Why we like it: Sometimes a full meal isn’t what you need to get you through a tough march. Cheese spread has long been considered the highest value tradable MRE food item among service members, and with good reason. It’s delicious, it’s filling, and it makes everything you put it on taste better.
Flaws: Obviously this isn’t a full meal in and of itself. At the very least you’ll need to pack some crackers with these to give you something to help stretch it along.
What’s new with MREs
Who should buy MREs?
MREs actually don’t have as broad a use case as many preppers think. For home use, bulk food storage is often a better option, and some modern camping foods can be better under certain situations. Still, though, MREs offer significant benefits over other food options in many cases.
Preppers building a bug out bag – Putting together a bug out bag or 72-hour kit is one of the first things you should do as a prepper. It gives you the ability to leave your home on a moment’s notice when necessary, secure in the knowledge you have the food and supplies to keep going.
MREs are calorically dense and offer a good mix of different food types. They have an entree, sides, desserts, drink mixes, and many other things that help break up the monotony of other survival food. The ability to eat it immediately, without any additional cooking or even boiling of water, is also extremely useful.
Preppers living in a hurricane prone region – If you live in a hurricane zone such as on the Gulf of Mexico, MREs are a great thing to add to your preps. They give you a shelf-stable food source that requires no cooking, stores well, and can be thrown in your car if you need to evacuate.
In the event you’re stuck at home without power or another way to cook MREs can be a real lifesaver. They’re easier to prepare than similar shelf-stable foods and provide adequate calories for a day of hard work.
Preppers worried about natural disasters like earthquakes, wildfires, etc – Preppers who live in an area with wildfires, earthquakes, tornados, or other natural disasters can definitely benefit from owning some MREs. They aren’t quite as affordable as some other shelf-stable foodstuffs, but they offer much greater convenience, storability, and comfort.
You can heat up MREs without having to use a stove or other appliance. That allows you to get a hot meal on the table no matter where you are or what your facilities look like.
Preppers who like to camp – Hiking and camping are one of the best ways to both stay physically fit and practice your wilderness preps in real-world situations. Most campers nowadays fall into the category of the car camper vs the hiker/backcountry camper.
In either case, bringing some MREs along is a good way to backstop your normal food. If you’re planning to go into the backcountry, taking some of the components of an MRE such as the entree and snacks can keep you energized and fed without having to worry about a cooking system.
Preppers worried about tactical flexibility – MREs were designed specifically to be used by combat troops in the field. Unlike freeze-dried or dehydrated camping rations they can be eaten right out of the pouch, and unlike soups or other canned goods, they’re light and easy to carry.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to move with tactical flexibility in mind there’s no better option than MREs as your rations.
Preppers concerned about a pandemic – MREs offer a great mix of on-the-go convenience and portability combined with the variety and calories to be useful at home. If you’re worried about a major disease outbreak forcing you to stay in or evacuate having MREs on hand is a great medium duration prep to make.
How we ranked
We used five metrics while constructing our list. These were manufacture date, inspection date, available menus, heating options, and packaging type.
Manufacture date – By far the most important factor when looking at MRE is the manufacture date. MREs have about a five year shelf life under optimal storage conditions, so when your MRE was made plays a major role in how long it will actually be good for.
Thankfully there’s an easy way to know when an MRE was actually made, as all military manufacturers are required to print a manufacture date on cases and pouches. This is in the Julian calendar and is a four digit number that shows the year and day of the year it was made.
The year is just the last number of the most recent decade, so an MRE with a manufacture date of 7235 on the bottom was made on the 235th day of 2017.
Inspection date – If you’re buying surplus military MREs they’re often three, four, or even five years old when they’re sold. That’s where the inspection date comes in.
When MREs are moved to surplus and sold off they’re inspected to make sure that they visually appear alright. This includes looking for physical damage and signs of trouble such as smells, stains, and swelled packaging.
One really important aspect of this is the Time Temperature Indicator (TTI). The TTI is a small red square with a red dot inside it. If the dot in the center is lighter in color than the ring it indicates it was stored correctly and not overheated. If it’s darker than the ring, you can reliably expect these MREs to have gone bad.
Available menus – MRE menus fluctuate year to year, but there are generally around 24 total different menus available for military issue MREs. The number civilian providers offer is generally less, and in most cases you don’t get to choose what menus come in a pack (1).
How many a company offers and how much you can customize what you receive plays a big role in how much you’ll enjoy them.
Heating options – Military MREs each come with a flameless ration heater (FRH) to rapidly heat up different elements of the MRE. For civilian MREs, whether or not a FRH is included depends on what kind you’re buying and where you’re buying them from.
We always prefer to see the inclusion of a FRH as they make it much, much easier to heat and enjoy your MRE.
Packaging type – Not all MREs available to preppers come in standard heavy duty pouches. Some are clearly put together from individual components and are packaged in simple plastic or even paper/cardboard wrapping.
We prefer to see MREs in the heavy duty brown plastic pouches as they add a lot of protection. One thing to keep in mind though is that some manufacturers of new packed MREs offer pouches with similar levels of protection but a much different look.
Brands we trust – For legit military issue MREs there are only three companies that you should consider. These are Ameriqual, Sopakco, and Wornick, each of these three make the rations issued to elements of the U.S. Military today.
They each sell civilian specific products under different labels, with some of the best known being Sopackco’s Sure-Pak and Wornick’s Ever-Safe. Another excellent brand to buy from is XMRE. They don’t have a military contract, but they make an excellent range of full-up MREs and stripped-down versions for lighter weight and faster movement.
Things to avoid – Unless you know and trust the source, you shouldn’t buy military surplus or other MREs marked as being actual military issue. With MREs production date and storage conditions are everything. We’ve seen numerous examples over the years of someone buying MREs that are listed online as being X pack date when they’re actually a much older pack date.
We took all five of these factors into account and weighted them in order of importance. Using that metric we ranked each of the ten MREs on our list into the best MREs for preppers.
MREs offer Meals, Ready to Eat – We know, we know, that’s just the name, but it really is the biggest benefit of MREs. They’re fully shelf-stable food that you can open right up and eat without any further preparation.
The vast majority of camping, hiking, and other emergency food require at least some type of preparation. The alternatives that don’t need heating or at least rehydration are either packed in heavy containers like canned goods or offer a much-reduced shelf life.
MREs offer the best combination of calorie density, shelf stability, instant eatability, and cost.
MREs are cost competitive against other packable foods – If you’ve spent any time pricing out modern hiking, camping, and emergency foods you’ll know that they don’t come cheap. Whether they’re freeze-dried or simply dehydrated, you’re looking at a high price per calorie.
MREs across the board meet or beat the costs of these alternatives. Even better, they don’t require the same levels of preparation and come fully formed with every part of a filling meal.
MREs are designed to provide total nutrition for short periods of time – MREs were designed by the U.S. military to fully sustain troops in the field. Each MRE is around 1,250 calories and includes one-third of the vitamins and minerals needed per day.
They’re filling, offer the calories needed for heavy activity, and include a balanced mix of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. If you want to make sure you’re meeting the basic requirements of healthy nutrition while bugging out, MREs give you a ready-made solution (2).
MREs come with everything you need for a tasty, comforting meal – The closest alternatives to MREs, hiking and camping food, doesn’t offer nearly the comfort level that an MRE does. They’re almost always sold as entrees only, with sides and other add-ons up to you to provide.
Each MRE includes a full and hearty meal designed to satisfy your hunger while also sating your appetite. They come with an entree, side dish, cracker/bread, spread, dessert, candy, beverage mix, sauce/seasoning packet, FRH, and all the accessories needed to comfortably consume them.
The weight is a bit higher, but you’ll be certain you have everything you need to enjoy a hearty meal.
Q: How long will MREs last?
A: MREs are prized for their shelf-stable design and long potential shelf life. Unfortunately, storage conditions and temperature play a major role in just how long your MREs will last. MREs should ideally be stored at 60 ℉. They have a shelf-life of 60 months under those conditions. The warmer it gets the shorter their shelf-life becomes. At temps as low as 70 ℉ ,shelf-life is reduced all the way down to 36 months (3).
Q: How are MREs made?
A: The secret behind the success of MREs is a process known as retort packaging. MRE entrees and many side items are contained in trilaminate retort pouches. These are effectively flexible cans that have a metallic foil layer backed up by several plastic layers. This creates an oxygen seal that allows the contents of the pouch to be pasteurized for longevity. After they’re sealed in their retort pouches all the various components are packed into a rugged plastic pouch and boxed up for distribution (4).
Q: How many MREs come in a case?
A: Nearly every MRE case comes with 12 MREs, usually comprising six different menus. These are usually two breakfast menus and four lunch/dinner menus. Depending on the manufacturer though, you may get up to ten different menus in a case of MREs.
Q: Are MREs healthy?
A: Not really. MREs aren’t actively bad for you, but they’re filled with the kind of processed food and snacks that we’re generally advised to avoid in large quantities. It’s not a problem if you’re eating them for several days during an emergency, but you definitely shouldn’t subsist solely off of MREs for a longer period of time.
Q: Who makes military MREs?
A: Military MREs are manufactured by one of three major contracted suppliers. They are Sopakco, AmeriQual, and Wornick. They make nearly all the MREs used by the U.S. Military today and are also active on the civilian market. Hurricane Katrina was the driving force behind the modern availability of civilian MREs. Up until 2005 MRE manufacturers were prohibited from selling to the public. Now all three contractors plus several smaller companies offer MREs newly manufactured on the civilian market (5).
Q: How many MREs do I need per day?
A: Most MREs contain around 1,200 calories in total. How many you need per day depends on your size, metabolism, and activity level. If you’re hunkering down to try and ride out a disaster you may be able to get away with just one to one and a half MREs per day, for around 1,200 to 1,800 calories. If you’re trying to move quickly across rugged country you should definitely up your intake. Combat troops in the field are allotted three MREs per day, to help put it into perspective (6).
Q: Are there MREs for vegetarians?
A: Yes. There are several MRE menus that include only vegetarian-friendly ingredients. These can be a little more expensive as they’re a specialized product, but in general, you won’t pay too much more than you would for regular MREs.
Our top pick for vegetarian MREs is the Sopakco Sure-Pak Vegetarian Meals with Heaters.
Q: Can MREs go bad?
A: Yes. MREs, like any food product, will eventually go bad no matter how well you store them. They’re designed to be rugged, energizing, nutritious, and long-lasting, but even under the best of circumstances they have a limited shelf-life. If you’re concerned your MREs may have gone bad there are several warning signs to look for. These include torn packaging, swelling of pouches, leaking liquids, smells, or discolored foodstuffs (7).
Q: How many MRE menus are there?
A: For military issue MREs there are 24 different breakfast and lunch/dinner menus as of 2019. These include favorites like spaghetti with beef and sauce, chili with beans, shredded beef barbecue, and many more. One thing to keep in mind is that unless you’re ordering MREs individually you likely won’t be allowed to choose the menus you receive in your MRE case (8).
Q: How do MRE heaters work?
A: MRE Flameless rations heaters (FRH) rely on a basic chemical reaction to generate heat rapidly and without an outside fuel source. By adding water to the FRH it triggers a rapid effect that produces heat through an exothermic reaction. It rapidly heats up to a comfortable eating temperature within the bag (9).
Q: Are MREs legal?
A: Yes. In the past military MRE suppliers weren’t allowed to offer MREs for sale to the general public. Thankfully that all changed after Hurricane Katrina and its demand for vast numbers of shelf-stable and nutritious survival food. You can buy commercial MREs from all three major military suppliers, and even legally purchase surplus MREs released for sale from military stockpiles (10).
Q: Can MREs be frozen?
A: No. Because of the way MREs are packed they react in a similar way as canned goods to freezing. Namely, they can burst or even explode. This breaks the seal on the MRE and renders them effectively inedible. Even if you don’t wind up bursting or breaking them, they really don’t react well to being frozen. The flavor definitely suffers from a freeze and thaw process.
Q: How much do MREs weigh?
A: MRE weight varies depending on the specific menu in question and what types of sides there are included. On average an MRE weighs just under two pounds, or around 1.8 lbs total. That’s not bad for a full 1,200 calorie meal that requires no cooking whatsoever (11).
Q: How should I store MREs?
A: MREs should always be stored in a cool place out of the sun. Shelf-life is always enhanced by proper storage, and nothing makes MREs expire prematurely than heat, especially persistent heat. Keep your MREs in their original packed case and store them in a climate controlled room with steady temperature and humidity (12).
MREs have been the standard issue field ration for the U.S. Military since 1981, and with good reason. They’re compact, calorie dense ration packs that provide you with a tasty meal that’s ready to eat right out of the pouch and includes its own heating system in the form of an FRH.
MREs may not be the be all and end all of survival food that some old-school survivalists emphasized, but they still have a very valid role to play in the modern preppers journey to preparedness.
For Survival At Home’s #1 MRE recommendation, click here.
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