After a long day of hiking, a Meal Ready-to-Eat (MRE) is a quick ticket to comfort and nutrition. These meal packets are designed to be consumed either hot or cold and usually come with a self-heating packet. Some require water to be added, but they’re a convenient option for nutritious food while camping, backpacking or hiking.
MREs differ from freeze-dried food in that they are typically heavier and less shelf-stable. Most will last for around five years compared to freeze-dried food’s 20- or even 30-year shelf life. However, they usually taste better and require less water to make ready to serve.
Unfortunately, some MREs are known for being bland or having too much sodium. Buying Army surplus can sometimes be an issue, as the MREs may be expired or damaged.
Some brands will sell directly to civilians, and these brands have become popular among survivalists, campers and even people who live in areas with severe weather. Here are the five best brands you can count on for meals you will actually look forward to eating.
Sure-Pak has a diverse range of MRE case options, including vegetarian and low sodium. They make MRE packs with and without flameless heaters included, so you can cut down on weight and bulk if you’re confident in your ability to start a fire whenever needed while camping.
The meals take up a little more space than others because they are not vacuum-sealed. However, the bags they are in are incredibly tough, so they can handle being bounced around in a backpack all day. Each pack includes a side dish, beverage powder, bread item, coffee and more to make it a complete meal.
Each case contains at least four different entrees and, like with most brands, you can’t choose which ones you receive. Users report that although the desserts are the best part of most meals, the meatball marinara and beef with vegetable entrees are excellent, too.
EverSafe makes a variety of MRE meals highly regarded by survival enthusiasts and campers. Each case contains six different meals for adequate variety, and each meal has at least 1,000 calories for adequate nutrition. They are among the best in lightweight backpacking food, especially for casual outdoors enthusiasts who still want flavorful food.
Each meal comes with a nutrition bar or cracker, peanut butter or cheese, cinnamon candies and coffee or a cappuccino-style drink. Portion sizes are enough to fill up any camper after a long day.
EverSafe’s packaging and product offering has improved in the past decade, so if you didn’t like them in years past, it’s worth giving them another shot. User reviews are positive overall and rarely complain about the quality.
MRE Star also sells cases of MREs for civilians. Their portion sizes and calorie counts are slightly smaller than some of their competitors, but this makes them a good choice for campers who want to supplement MREs with fresh fruit or even foraging for food.
You can buy their MREs both with and without self-heating inserts. MRE Star also makes a vegetarian-only case with four meal options included. They are less expensive than other MREs if you buy them in larger quantities.
User reviews vary between entrée types, but most entrees are regarded as good enough to enjoy. The meat included in the entrees is always good, which certainly adds to each meal’s quality. The pasta with marinara sauce is a favorite, but the BBQ chicken is also well-liked.
XMRE is the best option for campers who need to meet a variety of dietary needs. XMRE has halal, kosher and lite cases available for everyone in your party. There is also a line of extended-shelf-life meals good for up to 10 years, which is much longer than the typical MRE.
The meals are varied and even include less-common entrees like pizza. User reviews for the food’s taste are consistently good, and few report any issues with the heaters or packaging. One of their more unique offerings is the range of snack-like sides included in any given meal, ranging from corn nuts to cookies.
Some XMRE varieties are more expensive than others, especially the extended-shelf-life ones. However, the brand is well worth it if you have special dietary needs or simply want a better variety of sides.
Since AmeriQual also makes MREs for the military, it’s natural their APack civilian MREs would also be excellent. Their pasta options are particularly well-liked and offer a lighter alternative to some of the market’s meat-heavy options. Although every case has the same basic selection of meals, you can rest assured they’ll taste good.
The reduced-sodium options also taste great and may be a better option for health-conscious campers. Both types are often less expensive than their competitors, even when purchased as single cases.
Keep in mind, some retailers offer military surplus AmeriQual, which is sometimes very different from APack. Military surplus is occasionally outdated and much higher in calories than civilian MREs. If in doubt, check the APack website for more information about what the civilian packs should contain.
How to Make the Most of MREs
Manufacturer recommendations for storing and preparing MREs vary, so you read the directions carefully before packing them for your trip. However, the amount of time MREs are shelf-stable decreases as the temperature increases. Make sure to store your MREs in a cool, dry location.
When buying MREs, ensure the manufacturer provides you with the manufacture or expiration date for the boxes they’ll be selling you. If you are going camping soon, then the expiration date may be a non-issue, but it could affect infrequent campers or people who only go out for specific hunting seasons.
Remember, MREs are just part of your overall planning for a successful trip. Count on Mossy Oak for the apparel, accessories and the information you need to hunt or hike legally and safely.