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Whatever the survival scenario, it’s always a smart strategy to have food on hand, rather than have to scavenge and forage for it under difficult circumstances. And while food is generally a low priority in survival situations, the results of going hungry can be felt after only one day without a meal.

So what should you stock up on? For starters, think about what you have access to and can afford. Also, consider special dietary needs of those who may reply on your food stores (some freeze-dried meals are now gluten-free). Finally, concentrate on stocking foods that you’d be able to subsist on, and that includes being able to eat it often or exclusively. Weight and shelf life are other factors. If you’re stocking a vehicle or cabin, weight isn’t much of an issue. But if you’re stocking a bug out bag or survival kit, both weight and package size play key roles.

In an effort to help you stock up smartly and economically, let’s look at the pros and cons of a couple different options of eight common survival foods.

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Most people find chili agreeable enough, and it’s available in many forms. The two we selected for this piece are Hormel canned chili and Mountain House freeze-dried Chili Mac with Beef. The Mountain House product will require boiling water to prepare. (As a side note, it lists 2.5 servings per package, but everyone I know eats the whole bag.) The Hormel chili is ready to eat, but greatly improved by heating, which can be done in the can if you’re short on cook wear.

Mountain House Chili Mac
Calories per package: 600
Packaged Weight: 5 oz.
Price: $6
Shelf life: Maybe 20 years or more in cool, dry storage.
Could you subsist on it? Yes, abundant carbs, fat and protein.
Taste: Good, filling; a touch bland; easy to digest.
Other factors: You’ll need 16 ounces of boiling water and 9 to 10 minutes of waiting to prepare this food. For the price, it ought to come with a plastic spoon.

Hormel Chili with Beans
Calories per package: 520
Packaged Weight: 16 oz.
Price: $2.50
Shelf life: Maybe 5 years, under optimal conditions. “Best-by” date indicates 18 months.
Could you subsist on it? Yes, abundant carbs, fat and protein.
Taste: Savory, hearty, and pleasantly spiced.
Other factors: The full can could be used as a weapon, the empty can could be used as a container, and the lid could be used as a cutting tool.

Shortbread/Survival Rations
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Ounce for ounce, these two foods are almost as calorie dense as peanut butter, but much more satisfying as a standalone item. Traditional shortbread cookies and their modern survival food counterpart–survival food bars–are filling and have long shelf lives. The original shortbread was expensive to make and reserved for holidays. Today, it makes a good traveler’s food, requiring neither heating or cooking–a good-tasting snack that can be eaten on the run. Food rations, such as the Mainstay bar, are little more than an updated version of the butter-based cookie.

Walker’s Shortbread Cookies
Calories per package: 800
Packaged Weight: 5.5 oz.
Price: $4
Shelf life: 12 months; maybe more in cool, dry storage.
Could you subsist on it? Almost. There are plenty of carbs and fat, but these cookies are lacking in protein.
Taste: Delicious. Call me crazy, but the morale-boosting and energy-generating powers of a few cookies can make most situations more manageable.
Other factors: Your doctor probably won’t advise that you try to live off cookies.

Mainstay 3600 Ration
Calories per package: 3,600
Packaged Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
Price: $9
Shelf life: 5 years
Could you subsist on it? Yes, but barely. The abundant carbs and fat are nourishing, and the vitamins are a good idea, but it sits heavy in the stomach and isn’t easy to digest.
Taste: If you think of lemon shortbread while eating these bars, then the taste is passably good. However, the bar is rock-hard, so folks with sensitive teeth or dental issues should beware.
Other factors: This food ration is fortified with vitamins and minerals, but it’s so parchingly dry that you’ll need a good amount of water to digest these rations. This could be an issue in emergency situations.

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Shelf-stable and available in a variety of flavors, noodle dishes are a mainstay in survival pantries. For our side-by-side comparison, we selected Knorr Pasta Sides Stroganoff and Mountain House Beef Stroganoff. Ultimately, the biggest difference between the two is the price tag.

Knorr Pasta Sides Stroganoff
Calories per package: 460, if made with water
Packaged Weight: 4 oz.
Price: $1.50
Shelf life: 16 months; maybe more in cool, dry storage.
Could you subsist on it? Yes, thanks to abundant carbs and some protein.
Taste: Very tasty, especially if prepared with butter and milk and eaten immediately. If prepared with water, it’s, well, good enough.
Other factors: You’ll need to boil the dried noodles for 8 minutes, and you should try to find some canned butter (yes, it exists) if you’re going to try to live off this stuff.

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff
Calories per package: 650
Packaged Weight: 5 oz.
Price: $6
Shelf life: Maybe 20 years or more in cool, dry storage.
Could you subsist on it? Yes. It has abundant carbs, fat, and protein.
Taste: Good flavor and great aroma, although the noodles end up mushy and the appearance isn’t very appetizing.
Other factors: You’ll need 16 ounces of boiling water and 8 to 9 minutes of waiting to prepare the stroganoff.

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One of my favorite survival foods is bread in a can, namely B&M’s Brown Bread. This log-shaped loaf has a long shelf life, tastes okay, and is packaged in its own armored casing. To match it with something with a similar food value and versatility, we chose the ubiquitous saltine cracker, specifically Keebler’s Export Soda Crackers. These are packaged in a metal canister that keeps out rodents and other pests, and prevents the crackers from being crushed.

Keebler Export Soda Crackers
Calories per package: 3,360
Packaged Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz.
Price: $5
Shelf life: 12 months, maybe more in cool dry storage.
Could you subsist on it? With a variety of toppings, yes. Otherwise, you’ll likely suffer from malnourishment.
Taste: Great. The salty exterior gives way to a satisfying crunch. They can be topped with sweet or savory toppings of any kind.
Other factors: You’ll need a lot of water to get rid of the dry-mouth from eating a bunch of crackers. But on a practical note, a watertight container of crackers will float, making them a good candidate in flood regions and on watercraft.

B&M Brown Bread (in a can)
Calories per package: 3,600
Packaged Weight: 1 lb. 1 oz.
Price: $2.50
Shelf life: 2+ years
Could you subsist on it? Kind of. The carbs and some protein are there, but fat and other nutrition like vitamins and minerals are lacking.
Taste: This creation is like gingerbread, minus the ginger and sugar. It can be eaten cold, right out of the can, or as toasted slices.
Other factors: The bread is actually baked by the heat of the canning process, inside the can. As such, it’s really in there. You’ll have to cut both ends off the can to push it out in one piece.

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Arguably the original survival food, jerky survives to this day as a favored snack food, thanks in no small part to the variety of salty and flavorful versions that fill the marketplace. But don’t forget where you (or your food) came from. Jerky can still be made today as our ancestors made it. Sprinkle thinly sliced raw meat with salt and dry it in the sun create a wholesome, protein-packed food with a long shelf life.

Homemade Jerky
Calories per package: N/A
Packaged Weight: Varies
Price: Free (or the cost of a deer tag)
Shelf life: 6 months; more in cool, dry storage.
Could you subsist on it? Nope, but it serves as a great source of protein when combined with other items on this list.
Taste: Great to horrible, depending on your jerky making skills.
Other factors: Did you know you can freeze your finished jerky to make it last for years?

Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky
Calories per package: 240
Packaged Weight: 4 oz.
Price: $5
Shelf life: 2 years
Could you subsist on it? Nope, the lack of carbs and insane amount of sodium would kill you. But like homemade jerky, it’s a great addition to other foods.
Taste: Outstanding. The salty, sweet spiciness is sharp on the tongue, and the texture results in a satisfying chew.
Other factors: If you have dental issues, you probably want to skip on the jerky.

Trail Mix
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GORP and trail mix fill a niche in our survival food gallery for their blend of ingredients. These fruit, nut, and grain mixes are ready to eat and provide plenty of energy. For our purposes, we are going to look at a “healthy” version and one with a little candy in the mix. If shelf life is a big factor in your decision-making process, you’re better off making your own mix without nuts, as these are the first things to go bad.

Fruit and Nut Trail Mix
Calories per package: 1,650
Packaged Weight: 13 oz.
Price: $3
Shelf life: 1 year, or less
Could you subsist on it? Yes, just make sure you chew each bite thoroughly for easier digestion.
Taste: Salty and sweet in the same bite. This can pass for an entree or a dessert.
Other factors: You’ll need a little extra water, as the salty nuts will bring on your thirst and the dried fruit will soak up water, too.

Monster Trail Mix
Calories per package: 1,540
Packaged Weight: 13 oz.
Price: $3
Shelf life: 1 year, or less
Could you subsist on it? Yes, just chew it well and drink lots of water.
Taste: Very satisfying. The candy in the mix works well with the dried fruit and nuts, making each bite taste different than the last.
Other factors: It’s low in protein, so consider adding some jerky to your meal plan.

Canned Meat
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A wonder of the industrial revolution, “meat in a can” is shelf-stable, salty, and generally tasty. The downsides of it are dangerous levels of sodium and high cholesterol. The beauty of it is that it’s ready to eat, can be prepared in different ways, and it can last for two years or more. Most versions come in a pop-top can, so you don’t even need a can opener to dive right in.

Calories per package: 1,080
Packaged Weight: 13 oz.
Price: $3
Shelf life: 2 years
Could you subsist on it? No, nor should anyone try to prove me wrong.
Taste: Fry little slabs of this ham-like food and enjoy.
Other factors: Eating one can will give you twice your daily allowance of sodium, so this is not a good choice for the health conscious, or folks on a low-sodium diet.

Deviled Ham
Calories per package: 360
Packaged Weight: 5 oz.
Price: $3
Shelf life: 3 years
Could you subsist on it? Nope. As with SPAM, the abundance of salt and lack of carbs would probably kill you quicker than starving to death, but what a delicious way to go.
Taste: The spices of Deviled Ham keep me coming back for more. It tastes great and makes a fine topping for the crackers we talked about earlier. Very rich and satisfying.
Other factors: This food item is literally just a can of pig fat, with a little ground meat added. That said, it may also be addictive in some way, and it’s my favorite food in the this round-up.

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Spaghetti with meat sauce covers all the bases. Carbs, fat, and protein abound; I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it; and it’s passably good hot or cold. For our purposes, we are going to look at the spaghetti MRE and canned spaghetti. Sure, you could keep the dried pasta on hand, but these two choices are ready for action. Obviously, the MRE includes more food than just the pouch of spaghetti, but the can of pasta offers some additional benefits as well, like a lower price and the benefit of having a versatile empty can when you’re done with it.

MRE Spaghetti
Calories per package: 1,100
Packaged Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
Price: $9
Shelf life: 10 years or more
Could you subsist on it? Yes, MREs are very complete sets of food items that are nutritionally supplemented.
Taste: Pretty good, though mushy noodles and mysterious sauce are the prices you pay for a ready-to-eat item with a 10-year shelf life.
Other factors: Depending on the MRE manufacturer, you may get a heater to warm up your entree, and lots of little extra surprises. Mine came with Tootsie Rolls, a delicious mango applesauce, and a little pouch of water to activate the heater. The downsides are the bulk, weight, and price.

Campbell’s Canned Spaghetti
Calories per package: 400
Packaged Weight: 15 oz.
Price: $1
Shelf life: 16 months or more
Could you subsist on it? Yes, but it’s very high in sodium.
Taste: These SpaghettiOs for grownups aren’t bad, but you’re not getting anything extra in this one-dollar food item.
Other factors: You’ll definitely want to heat this up somehow, for better flavor.