Toting around a bunch of cookware and a cooking stove when you’re going hiking is not something you want to do. Backpacking equals lightweight and easy-to carry.
If you’re going to be camping in one location for a while and don’t have to hike very far to get to your location, on the other hand, it makes sense to bring in all of the extra equipment necessary to cook some great hot meals.
But when you’re on the move and walking for long distances over a period of several days, MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, are the way to go.
You have a number of options to get ready for your next backpacking trip, so we’re going to lay out what a few of them are and explore their pros and cons.
Quick Comparison: Best backpacking MRE
|#1. ULTIMATE MRE
Our Best Pick
|#2. US Military Surplus
|#3. Western Frontier
|#4. X MRE Meals 1300XT
#1. Ultimate MRE (Our Best Pick)
They are pack printed on every meal with a date of 8/2014 or newer.
Inspection of each meal was 8/2017 or later, and they are inspected for complete sealing with no punctures or leaks.
They are stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment before shipping
These meals have about a five and a half year shelf life from the pack date when they are stored below 71 degrees Fahrenheit.
They include the flameless ration heater and accessories as well.
#2. US Military Surplus MRE
These are described as being for the “ultimate survivalist, [p]repper, & outdoor enthusiast.”
These MREs may last up to 10 years on the shelf when they are stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions. They include a flameless ration heater with each meal, so you can avoid having to make a fire every time you want to eat.
Again, you can’t choose the meals that you get when you purchase these MREs. So if you’re a picky eater, this might not be the way to go for you.
Some users complained that they couldn’t verify the packing date on the package, so they couldn’t be sure of the MREs’ expiration dates.
#3. Western Frontier – Case of 12 Genuine US Military Surplus MREs
If you want to save a little money and buy MREs in bulk, consider getting a case of 12.
Some have a 2015 pack date. The meals include vegetarian, traditional, Italian, Mexican, and Asian entrees.
You get a variety of side dishes, beverage powders, and desserts.
#4. X MRE Meals 1300XT Single Meal with Heater
Similar to the military surplus, X MRE is sold by a Civilian company.
They have 1,300 or more calories per meal, which makes them slightly more filling than the military surplus MREs in some cases. Their shelf life is five or more years, depending on storage temperature and conditions.
Just by adding water to the flameless heater, you can have a hot meal when you’re out on the trail.
#5. GoPicnic Ready-to-Eat Meals
GoPicnic provides a few meals that are ready-to-eat, such as the Beef Salami and Asiago Cheese variety. This particular meal has 410 calories. So it doesn’t provide the same amount of calories as an MRE, but you may prefer it.
Some users felt that these were relatively healthy meals, and they were good for some gluten-free users, depending on the particular meal chosen.
You can also be sure of what type of meal you’re getting when you purchase these meals. They are more on the gourmet side than you’ll probably find with MREs with meals like Black Bean Dip and Plantain Chips or Sunflower Butter and Multigrain Crackers.
You don’t have to refrigerate or prepare them, just like an MRE, but their shelf life is significantly shorter, just a few months. Another downside of these is that they are more of a snack for some users.
They also don’t come with any utensils or accessories, so getting to the dip can be tricky if you run out of chips in a meal. Other users said that the meals were excessively salty
More information about MREs
First, it’s important to get an idea of what MREs actually are. They may be military surplus, and you can also find them made by civilian companies.
They contain around 1,250 calories each, and they come with a main entrée, dessert, side dish, crackers, spread, dessert, candy, beverage mixes, seasoning, flameless ration heater, and accessories. While the flameless ration heater is nice to have, you can also eat MREs without them.
They typically have a shelf life of three to five years (although it may be longer, depending on storage conditions), so it’s important to see if there is a packing date on any MREs you buy.
Temperature fluctuations can do a number on the shelf life of MREs – overheating in the car or freezing conditions can cause them to not be any good
So don’t keep them in places where the temperature changes too much for a long period of time. It’s been reported that their shelf life can be as short as 9 months when the weather is hot.
They can also be expensive. The convenience factor is what makes them so expensive. They’re optimized for war, so don’t expect much in the way of organic, gluten-free, or other dietary restriction options.
They are typically low in fiber and cause some people a lot of gastrointestinal problems.
MREs can weigh a lot more than you think. Soldiers will typically open their MREs when they are issued and take out what they don’t want or won’t use to save space and weight in their packs. Take this into consideration when you buy MREs.
You’ll likely be at the mercy of the vendor when you purchase MREs. So you may not be able to choose the meals that you want. That may result in your throwing out a meal you can’t stomach.
MREs are good for emergency food supplies for a short period of time, but they’re not a good idea if you’re planning to use them over a long period. You might use them for hunting, hiking, fishing, boating, camping, etc.
It is officially illegal to resell MREs, but you’ll find them in military surplus stores or from a soldier trying to get rid of his extras for a few bucks. It’s probably best to go with MREs made by a company with military-grade MRE standards.
If you’re not interested in MREs or short shelf life foods like GoPicnic’s options, consider freeze dried or dehydrated foods as they have long shelf lives (think over 10 years), and they weigh significantly less than MREs.
They are relatively easy to prepare on the trail as well. They are significantly less expensive per meal, too. You can also get meals with healthier and all natural ingredients compared to the typical MRE.