As a military veteran, I recommend against purchasing full MREs. Instead, purchase MRE entrees and skip the often-disappointing sides.
MREs are often packed with desserts, side dishes, and “extras,” like napkins and towelettes. However, I’ve found that you really only need the entree for most civilian emergencies. They’re lighter to carry, and you probably won’t miss the napkins.
Some of the side dishes are good (looking at you, peanut butter). However, I’ve eaten many MRE side dishes; most are bad or subpar. The smoothies are like baby food, and the crackers are often just crumbs.
After spending several years in the military, I’ve eaten tons of MREs. I’ve also tried several as a civilian during camping trips and while training volunteers for emergency response.
I recommend purchasing MRE entrees in bulk for most people. However, there are some cases where you may want the bulkier, full MREs.
Let’s take a look at what I recommend and where you can reliably find this emergency food.
Quick Comparison of My Favorite MREs for Emergencies
Best MREs to Buy for Emergencies
MRE Entrees – Best Overall MREs for Emergencies
- Calories: 150 – 300 each
- Includes: Single Individual Entrees
- MSRP: $1.95 – $2.95
MRE Entrees are a great budget-conscious way to stock up on emergency supplies. Entrees are the best part of the MRE and take up far less room than a complete MRE. You won’t be paying for sides you won’t eat or things you don’t need, like napkins.
Army Navy Outdoors lets you pick exactly what entrees you want, so you don’t have to pray for something good. Honestly, after getting stuck several times with bad MRE entrees in the military, this is a huge reason I recommend purchasing from this company.
These are the best-tasting MRE Entrees I recommend:
- Chicken Burrito Bowl
- Santa Fe Rice and Beans
- Southwest Beef & Black Beans
- Chili with Beans
These entrees don’t need any preparation. You just open the package and start eating. You can heat them up, but honestly, most people in the military don’t.
MRE entrees are significantly cheaper than purchasing a full MRE. You can buy one entree for less than $3; some are even cheaper. However, it’s important to note that entrees only provide around 250 calories, so they aren’t a complete meal.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to start building your emergency food supply, I highly recommend these MRE entrees. I’ve also used them while camping and hiking, and they’re perfect for these situations.
Can select flavors
Lower calorie count
Humanitarian MRE (HDR): Best Value
- Calories: 1,800 – 2,200 each
- Includes: Case of 10 (each is enough food for one day per person)
- MSRP: $39.95
Complete MREs absolutely have their place. However, I prefer the Humanitarian MRE (or Humanitarian Daily Ration – HDR) over military-style options. These HDRs are designed to feed one person for a full day. Each HDR includes two entrees and several extras, such as a pastry, bread item, spread, and cookies.
These meals are all vegetarian, as they were designed for Middle Eastern humanitarian situations (where people often have dietary restrictions).
I noticed that these HDRs have many items that are similar to civilian food. For instance, many have a “toaster pastry” that’s basically a Pop-Tart. There are more extras included that will appeal to children (and adults, let’s be honest).
There is more in an HDR than in a military MRE. Therefore, they work better in emergency situations, in my opinion. They’re also cheaper than an MRE. Notice this case of 10 will cover one person for 10 days. Regular MREs are typically only one meal.
My only gripe with these MREs is that there are fewer meal options. The limited menu variety can get boring after a few days, so you may want to supplement with some of the MRE entrees above.
If you want a complete MRE that is also a great value, the Humanitarian MREs (HDR) are the best option. They’re more budget-friendly and have sides similar to everyday civilian food. I recommend them for bug-out bags and similar situations.
Around 2,000 calories each
Limited menu options
Ameriqual APack MRE Case – Best Military MRE
- Calories: 1000 – 1100 each
- Includes: Case of 12 Military MREs
- MSRP: $49.95 (for 12 MREs)
Ameriqual APack MREs are manufactured by the largest military MRE provider – Ameriqual. This case includes 12 complete, military-style MREs. Each MRE includes around half a day’s worth of calories, so the average person must consume two daily.
They’re nutritionally complete and designed for active individuals. Many people prefer military MREs in emergency situations for this very reason.
This case will come with random flavors, but many of them are the same ones in the entree-only option I recommended above. My case came with six flavors in total – plenty of variety. Of course, the flavors are taste-tested and designed for military use, so most of them are good (some are just better than others).
Unlike humanitarian MREs, you need two a day. Plus, these are made for adults, so they’re better suited for people with adult palettes – not children. If you’re prepping with children, you probably want at least some humanitarian MREs.
My kids didn’t particularly like any of the flavors, and it didn’t come with the sweets they liked out of the humanitarian MREs.
These MREs are a bit bulkier, but that’s because they come with sides and other extras, including the heater (they aren’t vacuum packed either.) In cold climates, the heater can be useful. However, I hardly ever used the heater in my military career and typically don’t use it now. Each MRE is pre-cooked, so heating is unnecessary.
I recommend the Ameriqual APack MREs if you’re set on a military-style option. These do offer more variety and are more complete, but they aren’t the best for kids. Buying them by the case will also save you some money.
Around 1,000 calories each
6 different entrees per case
Designed for active adults
3-Pack Ameriqual MREs – Best 48-hour MRE Kit
- Calories: 3,000 – 3,300
- Includes: 3 Complete MREs
- MSRP: $14.95
The 3-Pack Ameriqual MRE Kit is an easy way to fill up your 72 hour emergency food kit. With three MREs, you can have food for 48 hours at 1,500 calories a day. Of course, you may not want to live on 1,500 calories a day for several days, but it is better than nothing.
(Alternatively, you can purchase two of these kits and be well-fed for three days, which is what I did.)
These MREs include one entree and several sides, including a fruit “smoothie.” The entrees provided are completely random, though this is normal for most MREs. In the military, I rarely was able to pick the entree I received.
MREs provide everything you need, so you don’t have to worry about nutritional completeness. However, the options aren’t particularly child-friendly, so you may have to provide other meal options for your children.
If you’re storing MREs at home, I’d recommend buying cases at a time instead of in these smaller packs. However, if you’re outfitting a bug-out bag or on a very strict budget, this is a solid option.
I recommend the 3-Pack Ameriqual MRE Kit for short-term food storage. This pack will get you through the first 72 hours of an emergency.
Around 3000 calories total
Designed for active adults
MRE Entree & Sides Case – Most Variety
- Calories: Around 6,000 Total
- Includes: 18 Entrees and 6 Sides
- MSRP: $49.95
The MRE Entree & Sides case is basically the same as the Entrees above. However, it includes 6 sides and 18 entrees instead of only entrees. It’s convenient if you want several smaller snacks on top of MRE entrees without the bulk of a full MRE.
Unlike purchasing each entree separately, you cannot pick the sides or entrees you receive. That said, purchasing this case is cheaper than purchasing 18 entrees and 6 sides separately. You’re trading some predictability for a lower cost.
When I opened my case, I had various entrees, including many of the flavors I recommended above. The company tries to provide a variety so you don’t get bored, but availability also matters.
Like all other MREs, none of these entrees or sides require any cooking. They aren’t very bulky and can easily be stored in a bug-out bag or your pantry. Altogether, you’ll get around 6,000 calories. That’s about 8 cents for every 100 calories.
I recommend the MRE Entree & Sides case for those who like the idea of an entree-only case but would like more variety. The sides make great snacks and can help bulk up some of the lower-calorie entrees.
Variety of flavors
Compact and lightweight
No heating required
Higher cost per calorie than Entree-only case
Tips for Choosing the Best MREs to Buy for Emergencies
When emergencies occur, access to food is critical. MREs are a popular emergency food option, but selecting the right type can be challenging.
Luckily, it isn’t nearly as hard as you might think. While there are many MRE options out there today, some are simply better than others. Here’s how to choose the best MRE for emergencies.
Consider Your Needs
Before you buy just whatever MRE you see recommended on Reddit, it’s important to consider your needs. Everyone is different, and the MRE you need may not be what the internet recommends.
Consider how many people you’re feeding. MREs were made for individuals, but some types (like Humanitarian MREs and entree cases) work well for families. If you have kids, consider what they’ll eat, too. MREs aren’t always the most child-friendly option.
I’ve carried several MREs on hiking trips for lunch, only for my kids to not touch them. All the food in the world won’t do you any good if your child won’t eat it!
Your budget is also an important consideration. If you’re on a budget, an entree-only case or and HDR case will give you the most calories for your buck.
There are many types of MREs. Three major companies make MREs for the military, and the exact flavors vary by company. Ameriqual is the biggest MRE supplier and the most readily available.
On top of different companies, there are also different ways MREs are packaged. For the average person, these differences are the most important. Here are some of the MRE types you should consider when preparing for an emergency:
- Military-style MREs: These are packaged based on military standards. Usually, they have one entree and several sides. Drink mixes of some sort are common, too. These are around 1,000 calories each.
- Humanitarian MREs (HDR): These MREs are designed to be handed out to civilians in a humanitarian situation. They are vegetarian and have fewer food options. However, many of the sides are more “comfort food” oriented, like cookies and pastries.
- Entree-only cases: Entrees are the main part of an MRE, and many people don’t want to mess around with all the extras. Purchasing the entrees only is also cheaper.
Most MREs sold in the civilian world are technically “civilian” MREs. They’re similar to military MREs but don’t have napkins, gum, or other non-essentials. Most civilians aren’t living on a battlefield for months on end, so wet wipes aren’t always needed.
(Plus, if you want wet wipes, it makes more sense to pack them yourself – not rely on your meal to provide them.)
Best Place to Buy MREs
I recommend purchasing MREs from Army Navy Outdoors. They purchase their MREs directly from the Ameriqual, so you aren’t getting military surplus.
Military surplus MREs are troublesome, as they are often very old. Many weren’t stored right, so the food isn’t as high-quality (or even edible). Plus, military surplus is often more expensive.
Finding military surplus MREs is also challenging. EBay and similar outlets don’t provide a continuous supply of MREs. Army Navy Outdoors literally has truckloads, and they cycle through enough that their MREs are still freshly packaged. They also regularly inspect them, so you know you are getting MREs that are actually useable.
How Long Can You Live on MREs?
Despite what you may have read, MREs are not designed for long-term survival. Even the military doesn’t recommend eating MREs for more than 21 days. If MREs could be eaten forever, field chow wouldn’t exist.
The military would not deal with trying to cook in the field if it could just hand service members an MRE.
Studies have been done on how long people can eat MREs. Eating MREs up to the military-imposed 21-day limit directly impacts the microbiome – and not in a good way.
The effects of MREs have been known for a long time. One study had participants eat MREs for 34 days, and the results were not inspiring. Troops participating lost up to 11% of their body weight, had significantly lower reaction times, and performed worse on mental tests.
Another study found that consuming MREs for 30 days led to “uncomfortable physical symptoms” and “a small to moderate decrement in physical performance.”
Simply put, I would only recommend eating MREs for a few days in an emergency. Children and the elderly may be more at risk for these negative side effects. If you’re looking for long-term food storage, plenty of emergency food companies provide better options.
How Long Do MREs Last?
MREs are not the long-term food storage option many people think they are. The military does not hold onto MREs for longer than five years. However, when stored at room temperature and in a dark environment, MREs can last over 10 years.
In the heat, they only last about a month, though. We don’t recommend storing MREs in your car during the hot summer months!
You don’t need to refrigerate MREs. However, theoretically, at cooler temperatures, they will last the longest.
The date on MREs isn’t an expiration date. Instead, it’s the “inspection date,” which is when the military says the MRE needs to be inspected. Typically, this date is three to five years after the MRE was packaged. It’s a reminder to check the packaging and ensure nothing seems “off” with the meal.
All the MREs I ate in the military were at least a few years old. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an MRE from the current year, so don’t feel like you need to get a “fresh” one.
As you can see above, my MREs are five years old and they are just fine.
Which MREs Should You Get
For most preppers, I recommend purchasing MRE entrees – not whole MREs. You can purchase MRE entrees separately (and pick your flavors) or get a case. Most people just don’t need everything in a complete MRE.
If you do want a complete MRE, choose the humanitarian MREs (HDR). These are designed to last a whole day and include more family-friendly sides. They are also affordable.
However, while MREs are a good survival food, I don’t recommend MREs for long-term emergency food storage (over 10 years.) They don’t last as long as other foods, and there are many emergency food companies out there that are better choices.
Be sure to follow our Prepping Guide for more ways you can be prepared. We have an entire section dedicated to emergency food and cooking.