10 Food Ideas for Your Bug Out Bag

Print Friendly
4.14/5 (35)

Bug Out Bags come with their own set of problems just as complex in some cases as the myriad of reasons why you could be forced to rely on a Bug Out Bag in the first place. There is the type of bag to purchase, the specific gear to load in there and a million voices telling you what is best and what isn’t needed. Not to be left out of the discussion, the Prepper Journal has had its fair share of comments about the subject both from the perspective of how much weight to pack in your bug out bag and our very own Bug Out Bag checklist for those of you just starting out.

Regardless of where you get opinions or advice, everyone who is discussing a Bug Out Bag usually recommends you storing food in there. We casually throw out the obligatory, FEMA recommended 3 days or 72 hours’ worth of food advice but have you ever wondered what food to pack in your bug out bag? Does it matter anyway?

I like to make the connection between planning for your bug out bag and planning for a hiking trip into the woods because I think almost all of the same considerations should be taken for each situation. The motivation for strapping the pack to your back is different in each scenario, but the realities of packing everything you would need to survive for three days hiking the Appalachian Trail or running from mutant zombies from mars are very similar.

When you are looking for food ideas for your bug out bag there are four things I think you should take into consideration. The first is caloric value, the second is weight and the third is spoilage and lastly you have preparation effort. For these food ideas, you need to seriously consider if the food you have planned for your bug out bag is going to be the most beneficial to you.

Caloric Value – A normal person hiking all day burns a heck of a lot of calories. I don’t have to tell you that hiking even on flat ground with a 30-50 pound pack on your back is going to make you work harder than that desk job you have. How many calories you will burn and conversely have to consume will depend on the shape you are in and what you are doing. For a very generic example, I used a calculator on HealthStatus.com to see that if I hiked for 10 hours I would burn close to 6000 calories. You may weigh less or hike fewer hours so you will have to see what your caloric needs would be, but the food you are packing should be able to give you back those calories each day or else your body will start eating itself and you don’t want to be anything less than 100% healthy if you are bugging out.

Weight – This should be pretty simple. The more your food weighs, the heavier your bag will be. A high calorie to weight ratio is smart and with the choices below I think there is a good balance. Some people think you should just pack 3 MRE’s in your BOB, but MRE’s aren’t weight conscious at all. On our last backpacking trip I saw about 6 cans of food laying off to the side of a trail. I can only imagine the person who was carrying that weight and what they were thinking.

Spoilage – Where are you storing your Bug Out Bag? Is your food sitting in the hot sun of your car trunk every day for 3 months? You need to take care to only pack foods that won’t spoil, or plan for storing your bag in a location that won’t cause your food to spoil more quickly.

Preparation Effort – I know that when you are backpacking, you are outside in the fresh air with nothing but nature around. It’s a nice little creature comfort to make meals that taste great and have some fresh ingredients. Your Bug Out Bag food shouldn’t be gourmet. As much as possible, the preparation of these meals should be easy and kept to a minimum.

Before I get into the food ideas for your bug out bag, let me state that these choices aren’t always going to be what the normal healthy person consumes on your average day. The Bug Out Bag is what you grab when there is a need to get out of harms way very quickly. This isn’t camping or taking a leisurely stroll in the woods. Some of the food choices could be improved, but we are going for quick and simple calories mostly in a format that doesn’t spoil too quickly, doesn’t take a lot of preparation and doesn’t weigh a ton. So, with all that said, here are some ideas we came up with for your bug out bag food supplies.


G.O.R.P – 130 Calories per ounce


G.O.R.P – If you don’t know stands for Good old raisins and Peanuts and has been a hiking staple for years. G.O.R.P is calorie rich and is simple to make. Unless you have chocolate in there, it shouldn’t melt in the trunk of a hot car either. The thing you want to avoid is what we did and that is to buy a giant bag of G.O.R.P thinking everyone would be eating off the big bag. After two days of hiking (we had also brought other snacks) the bag wasn’t getting any lighter and I think we still brought half of it home with us. Pack individual zip-lock bags for each person. One cup of GORP (depending on ingredients you have in there) can provide as many as 700 calories.


Mountain House Freeze Dried Meals


I have taken Mountain House meals with me and my family on every camping trip. They are the best at filling us up and for taste they aren’t too shabby either. For breakfast my favorite is the Breakfast skillet and dinner is a toss up between Chilli-Mac or Lasagna with Meat sauce. To get these down to the smallest footprint, you can poke a hole in the bag with a pin, press out any air and cover the hole with a piece of tape. For optimum freshness, I would only do this right before you were leaving. An added bonus with these meals is that you don’t need anything but a long spoon. Simply heat some water and pour it right into the bags, seal for the recommended time and then eat up! You can cut the bag down to size with a knife to make it a little easier to eat out of without getting chilli-mac on your hands.


Peanut Butter – 170 calories per ounce


Peanut butter is a great food item for your pack because of its high calorie to weight ratio. 1 tablespoon of peanut butter packs a whopping 190 calories and if you bring some crackers, this food will keep you going. This is one MRE food item to consider because all MRE’s have a pack of either peanut butter or cheese. You can also buy MRE items individually so I know someone will sell you a bunch of Peanut butter packets if you are looking for them.

Mainstay Emergency Food Rations – 3600 calories in a pack


Mainstay Emergency Food Rations are standard in my Get Home Bag as well as my Winter Survival Car kit and would make perfect sense in a Bug Out Bag as well. These are exactly what they say the are and that is survival rations. They are even less gourmet than the other options on this list, but they have some advantages. They are already packaged in waterproof containers, they can withstand extreme temperatures without spoiling and they take zero preparation. Just break open the pack and break off two bars (800 calories).


Mac & Cheese – 105 calories per ounce (with oil and summer sausage)


Mac and Cheese is probably the cheapest camping food you can get and you really only need to boil water to cook this. If you have some extra olive oil or meat to add to the pot, like summer sausage you can really amp up the taste of this meal. One box of macaroni and cheese, prepared with 1 ounce of olive oil and 2 ounces of summer sausage provides a whopping 1,100 calories, and weighs just 10.5 ounces. I know that olive oil and summer sausage aren’t really spoilage friendly foods so I didn’t add them to the list, but if you have any preparation time, they might make good additions.


Snickers Bar – 140 calories per ounce


Now we get to the part where I said not every choice would be the healthiest you can imagine but a snickers bar does pack a lot of calories in a small size and could be a moral booster as well.  You could easily substitute bars that were make specifically for hiking like Cliff Bars or Power Bar. A single King Size Snickers weighs less than 4 ounces and packs 510 calories.


Lipton’s Pasta/Rice Sides – 110 calories per ounce


Another great add hot water option that makes for easy preparation. Lipton’s Pasta sides make a filling meal and are cheap like Macaroni and Cheese.


Instant Mashed Potatoes – 115 calories per ounce


Instant mashed potatoes are right in the same family as Macaroni and Cheese or the Pasta Sides. Just add water to a pot and let these rehydrate.

Drink Mixes – Gatorade, Coffee, Tea


I know it sounds like a comfort item but drink mixes are great for kids who may not want to drink as much water as they need plus they can add back vital minerals and electrolytes lost from sweating. If you don’t think carrying a big pack around the hillside isn’t going to make you sweat even in relatively cool weather, you really need to try it. For those of us with a caffeine habit, Starbucks Via packets are an excellent choice for your bug out bag. Tea bags offer the same level of comfort and when you can its nice to sit down or wake up to a nice hot cup of coffee.


Pop Tarts


Pop Tarts are a good breakfast option for kids as well as adults. They need no cooking or preparation, just open the bag and eat up.


Your Turn! What ideas or suggestions do you have for your bug out bag food items?


If you liked this article, please rate it.

  • Sideliner 1950

    A very good article with very good suggestions. Thanks!

    Any reason in particular not to include some jerky or the like? For our bags and vehicles we use and try to keep on hand Bridgford’s Original Beef Jerky, Teriyaki-Flavored Beef Jerky, and Turkey Jerky. I specify Bridgford here only because that’s what we like and what we have; but we don’t claim to be jerky connoisseurs, and would love to be made aware of other tasty jerky products that are available commercially. I found some Bridgford at WalMart just a few days ago (late April 2014) that was a relative bargain.

    As with all foodstuffs, if the jerky product you choose comes in a sealed package, check for shelf-life and/or expiration date. Stock freshly manufactured products in your bag and vehicles, do not open the sealed bag until ready to consume the jerky, and remember to rotate unused jerky stocks periodically – consume the old (yum!) and replace with new, unsealed bags.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • Thanks Sideliner!

      No good reason at all, it slipped my mind until you mentioned it and I already had 10 items. Jerky is a great addition and that is one of those extra snacks we had that I mentioned. One issue with Jerky is that I don’t get a full feeling after eating it so I can wolf down one of those Bridgeford bags you mention just driving for an hour much less hiking.


    • John

      Maybe like a lot of other people they just don’t like jerky? Not everyone like gnawing on a piece of leather………………

  • Thomas Paine

    Pat, Great Article! But I’d like to add a suggestion since I actually just put 3 ‘MRE’s’ together for my 72 hour pack / BOB.
    First, in a BO situation, time may be of the essence, and you may not be able to heat your food. Next, while you stated you need 6000 calories per day, a more reasonable amount is somewhere around 2500 calories, you can always scrounge for more if needed, but you probably don’t want to carry it right away – you’ll know quickly if you’re getting enough.
    Also, remember the 40/30/30 rule that you should get 40% of your calories from carbs, 30% from fat, and 30% from protein. A gram of fat has 9 calories, and a gram of protein or carbs has 4 calories.
    Finally, as far as what to pack, pouches (rather than tin cans) of Chicken, Tuna, and Salmon can be easily torn open, a mayo packet (from your local McD’s or ChickFilA) and a packet of Mustard mixed in, and it can be eaten with a spoon or on crackers. Clif Bars (both the regular and ‘Boulder’ Bars) are tasty and well balanced, Pop Tarts as mentioned, M&M’s (they hold up better to heat than Snickers Bars), a bag of nuts, and a few other things all went in with some dessicant and oxygen absorber packs into a Mylar bag and vacuum sealed. The ‘bricks’ are about 2x4x8″ and weight about 2.5 lbs.

    The only things that require heat are a teabag and a packet of instant coffee, but with the packet of honey, even these can be had cold. While they don’t need to be there, the 3 packs are kept in the back of the fridge and can be easily dumped into my BOB when needed. I also rotate the packs out about every 3 months as they are essentially the same as what I take backpacking (although I also add lipton noodles and a stove to add the Chicken to).

    • Thanks for the comments Thomas,

      We actually packed Tuna packets into the woods but they are heavier than other meals. They are great if you are dieting, but only have about 70 calories per pack. Add some mayo and tortillas and cheese and then you start getting a meal, but I prefer the freeze dried food myself. I think you are right in that you may not be able to heat your food, but if you are running that hard, you probably aren’t going to eat either.


  • fortunes4

    A ziplock baggie filled with oatmeal. As long as you are heating water you can add the oatmeal directly to the container of hot water stir in a few raisins or brown sugar. Lasting energy and takes up very little room and can be eaten directly from the hot water source.

    • Good ideas, that was my breakfast before I found the breakfast skillet!

  • olivia

    I like Jerky cut into small pieces added to plain rice for a little extra flavor. I noticed that no one ever suggest instant rice for the BOB. You just add hot water, right?
    I had a mess last year. Had a can of Spam in a BOB and left it in the truck thru all of our hot weather (Louisiana). The darn can sorta exploded and ruined most of the BOB’s other items. Won’t even try to describe the smell.

    • Oh Olivia, Spam? I can only imagine…

  • FreedomRules

    I prefer the Millennium Bars over the Mainstay only because each bar is individually wrapped instead of how Mainstay has their bars stored. And, the Millennium Bars can stand intense heat and cold as well.

    Also, regarding the Lipton/Knorr sides, I got the following from a popular prepper online who demonstrated how to extend the shelf life of these sides. Cut a slit in the pack, drop and oxygen absorber inside, press out all the air, cover the slit with Gorilla Tape and roll up. It doubles the shelf life if not more of the item.


    • I think I had a millennium bar one morning when I was hunting. The temperature was 20 degrees so it was like chewing leather, but pretty good otherwise. Thanks for your comments!

  • Matt

    Another good option is to crunch up packages of ramen noodles and put them into zip lock sandwich bags. Reduces the amount of space they take and I usually put 2 packages per baggie. Pack several baggies and all of the flavor packets in a separate baggies. The noodles can be added to the hot water and are ready in about 2 to 3 minutes. The flavoring packet has a good amount of salt to replenish electrolytes lost from sweating while hiking. I will be hiking from Montreal, Quebec to Dallas, Texas soon so I had to figure out the cheapest and easiest way to pack food. I also took 2 boxes of granola cereal and put one cup per baggie and then put those in a larger freezer bag. One of those and one Dytac emergency food ration in the morning is more than enough to get me through the first 4 hours of the day along with a couple cups of instant coffee.

    • Great ideas and options Matt! You’ll have to let me know how several months of Emergency bars for breakfasts work for you.


  • happycanuckcamper

    One piece of advice in bear country: don’t carry around unsealed food. Especially beef jerky. Most your ‘Murican handguns won’t stop a bear.

    • Good advice!

      Depends on where your Bear country is. We have Brown and Black bears down here. Black bears could easily be taken out with a .45. I would think I could do enough damage to a brown bear too if I was able to get a good shot into the head. A body shot will not stop one of those big guys I would imagine you’re right about that.


      • David Carroll

        Unless the bear was really hungry or thought its cub was in danger, the noise and pain would probably make it run away. That is what I will hope for at least.

  • PrepMom

    I am just join the prepper groups, but have not seen a lot of info for people with relatives that have special needs. My daughter is tube fed only and she goes through four and a half cans of special formula a day! This can add up to a lot of wright in a hurry! So, when packing emergency rations, keep in mind weight, duration, and dietary needs of each family member.

    • Great advice PrepMom!

      You have to take your own personal situation into consideration when planning for anything like this. Your bug out scenario would be completely different than a lot of others but the same types of considerations have to be thought through.


  • lewis

    Some good ideas.
    At the moment I have three days worth of Rat Pack main meals (Australian version of MRE’s) in my BOB, but i’ve done the math recently and it weighs around 2kg and only has around 3300 calories, which is half of what i need, so after reading this i’m definitely replacing it with some cheaper more light weight stuff. I’ve decided that when SHFT I do want to be comfortable but the extra weight isn’t worth it so i’m going to get around 1kg of Nutella and round 300g of pent butter which around to around 6600 calories. It may not be super healthy but over three days it will keep me going and I won’t die of not getting all the vitamins I need in that time.

    • Pat

      Those work good as well Lewis, but could go rancid quickly so just make sure you are rotating your stocks. Trail mix is low-weight and high calorie too.


    • illiana jones

      Starvation is closer then most think. I went on a week long camping trip with 4 beers, gummy bears and peanut butter and on day 5 I got home and had to be threatened to eat I had slipped into starving so bad. Worst headache if my life. So bottom line peanut butter is high in calories but you will puke with out other kinds of food and eventually stop eating all together

  • Scott

    A few tips on the list….GORP is great!!, just don’t add Chex cereals(they’re unhealthy), but add plenty of nuts(various kinds), and seeds, raisins….keep it natural. Freeze dried “food”..hmmm….have my doubts about the nutrional value. Peanut butter…keep it natural, emergency food rations…a good thing to have if there’s nothing else. Mac and cheese…doubts, I avoid any processed food because they process the nutrition out of them….The most important thing ou need to stay alive is nutrition. Drink mixes….checmical crap. Pop Tarts???? You have GOT to be kidding!!!. I wouldn’t touch those…would rather eat grass….
    In my bugout bag, I carry a variety of nuts, seeds(sunflower, chia, flax..), also a variety of beans(black, red, pinto, lima, garbanzo, etc)…lentils and rice, Maca(powder), Spirolina, Chlorella(both-pills or powder)…..also have alfalfa seeds to make sprouts…sprouts are more nutritious than the seeds themselves. It weighs a little more but the nutritional value far surpasses what’s listed here……and a lot less chemical trash to put into your system. In a survival situation, health is key.

    • Thanks for the comments and suggestions Scott!

      I think your ideas are without question, far superior nutritionally speaking. I was going for the crowd who wouldn’t rather eat grass though… You sound like a professional who has high standards and like I said, I think that would be better, but maybe not preferable to everyone.


  • hellcat

    a ziplock sandwich bag of beef and chicken bouillon cubes,envelopes of instant soup,sardines and oysters,a baggie of hard candy and gum,envelopes or baggies of dried fruit,small baby food jars filled with salt and pepper,jerky,granola,and as your going out the door grab the brown bag lunch from the frig, contains:2 apples,2 yogurt, a baggie of carrot sticks, a baggie of celery sticks, a baggie of 6 already peeled hard boiled eggs

    • Sounds like you have it all planned out Hellcat! Nice additions.


  • CitizenLa

    Honey and peanut butter. Honey last forever. Can helps on burns. Cuts. Sores. Honey

    • Christina Beaumont

      I love both of those, but my son is allergic to peanuts & its found in most bug out food options. We also carry an Epi-pen in our bug out bag 1st aid kit in case of an allergic reaction.

  • Pingback: 10 Fantastic Food Ideas for Your Bug Out Bag - SHTF & Prepping Central()

  • Jamie Claussen

    I have a few pouches of tuna… not canned. The pouches are light and you can easily tear them open.

  • Pingback: The Definitive Bug Out Bag Checklist That You’ll Ever Need()