What is an MRE

What is an MRE? Simple Ways to Pack Food

What is an MRE? MRE stands for Meal Ready to Eat. An MRE meal’s definition is, let me quote Wikipedia, “a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging purchased by the United States Department of Defense for its service members for use in combat or field conditions where other food is not available.

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MRE Military Food Roots

So now that we know we are dealing with unique and portable food! MREs feed people doing one of the toughest jobs on earth: battle. So if MRE food is good enough for the military, it should be more than sufficient for someone like you or me on our next outdoor adventure.

So why MRE food rations, and how did we get here? Well, there are infinite things we enjoy that got their start in the military. Up until the introduction of the MRE (meals ready to eat) in 1981, the US military relied on canned food. That caused logistical challenges as canned food is heavier than dried MREs! Automatically, that solved challenges we civilians have, such as the hiker looking for the lightest weight load possible.

The second issue with canned food is something you already know: additives. Preserving food the old way means smoking for meats and salt for everything else (including meat). You also already know that too much salt isn’t good for you.

Are MRE Meals Healthy?

We have all heard the terms air dried or freeze dried lately. It’s on trend and very popular. It’s the process of removing moisture from food. It not only makes it lighter and smaller, but it also preserves the food without adding a single ingredient. Of course, this has health benefits beyond comprehension, and the science is simple. With a lack of moisture, bad things such as bacteria, yeast and mould cannot grow! But the real question is, do MRE meals expire? When you pick up an MRE pouch, you’ll notice an expiry date, often ten years from now or more.

MRE Meals Have a Million Different Applications

MRE foods are excellent for preppers. Anyone worried about the zombie apocalypse has tons of MRE rations in their basement. Trust me on that. But as far-fetched as that may sound to some, there’s a lot of merit to this. During a war or natural disaster, the MRE is often the first item to show up as part of the relief efforts – and it keeps people alive! Its long shelf life, no refrigeration requirement and low weight make it an ideal candidate for these situations.

These qualities make the Meals Ready-to-Eat the perfect companion for the outdoors person. Whether camping, hunting, fishing, hiking and so on. It’s also why it’s getting its very own post on the blog. How else can you pack a wholesome meal into a very backpackable size?

PeakRefuel MRE Meal

MRE Food Preparation

BushLife - MRE Preparation
Preparing a Peak Refuel Beef Pasta MRE

Now that we know how easy it is to transport, and store an MRE, what about preparing it? One would assume something that sounds almost mythical would be hard to cook. It’s quite the opposite. Most dehydrated meals require nothing more than boiling water. All we are doing is rehydrating the contents. That automatically generates a warm meal in the process.

How are Ready-to-Eat Meals Heated?

The process is simple, boil the required volume of water and pour it right into the MRE bag. By bag, the very container it came in. Stir, seal it back up and wait the required amount of time written in the instructions. Most of the MRE cooking time is about 10 minutes. Everything rehydrates, heats up and provides for a wholesome meal.

Forgot to bring enough water? That’s not a problem. Our post, Safe Drinking Water, will show you how to source water and make it safe for consumption.

Don’t Forget the Spoon!

Eating MRE meals are consumed in the bush and on the go. You’ll need water, a metal pot and a stove (or open fire). Here’s the thing, some MREs come out drier, and others are liquidy. So if you are going to pack anything, pack a spoon. The other thing to note is that most people eat an MRE meal straight from the pouch. Otherwise, you are dirtying a container of some form that now needs to be washed – in the bush. The big tip of the day here is to pack an ultralight LONG spoon. Otherwise, you’ll be reaching into the bag with a short spoon. Instead of washing dishes in the bush, you’ll be desperate to wash your hands!

MRE (Meals Ready-To-Eat) Taste Great!

Yes, I know, all the things your mom said were good for you didn’t taste so good. That’s not the case with MRE food. I’ve only had one that I didn’t care for. It was an Asian food concoction, I believe, from Happy Yak. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Asian food and tried very hard to like this MRE ration, but it simply left me feeling like I miss the mall food court. Some things don’t translate well into dried food.

Most MRE meals I’ve had were better than ok. There’s the odd one where you note not to buy again. And, of course, there’s always a handful that tastes amazing.

Especially the Mountain House Beef Stew

I was in the bush with my son on a cold spring day. Let’s just say we were out long enough to realize it was cold and found ourselves hungry. You know those rare moments when hunger suddenly creeps up on you, and you go from being perfectly fine to starving! This was one of those times.

My son didn’t tell me he happened to have brought one of his little mini stoves and a ready-to-eat meal. I looked over, and there he was, cooking. It not only solved our hunger, but it also warmed us up. It tasted so good that this MRE was etched into our brains forever: Mountain House Beef Stew.

You will note some items are more conducive to an MRE format than others. Once you figure out which ones taste good, you’ll know how similar MREs will turn out.

MRE Emergency Foods for the Survival Situation

When heading out in the bush, even on a quick outing toss an MRE pack into your backpack. It hardly takes any space or weight in the grand scheme of things. For a day trip, I’ll pack two days’ worth of food. For a 2-day trip, I’ll pack three days worth, and so on. There’s always a little padding just in case something goes wrong. It’s super easy to stack food volume by using MREs.

I was pretty deep in at a friend’s hunt camp in the winter when the weather changed quickly. It doesn’t take much for everything to go from bare to snow-covered, which can pile by the feet within hours. That means it may be safer to stay than try to leave as intended, or it could be to the point where getting out is impossible! The difference between being stranded and making a fun experience out of it versus misery is solely based on the gear and level of food you carry. 

As to a real survival situation when you are stranded, the truth is that you can last anywhere from 1 to 3 months without food! Food will keep you warmer during the cold months as it helps with thermo regulation. And you certainly will be a lot more energetic and comfortable, even mentally. My goal, in general, is to remove as many potential problems as I can upfront. Then in the face of a real survival situation, there’s a lot less to worry about and a lot more comfort!

Happy Yak Ready-to-Eat Meal

Where to Buy MRE Meals?

Just about any outdoor store you walk into carries MREs. The last two gun stores I visited have some, and I’m talking about stores that do 90% of their business in gun sales. MRE meals are showing up more and more these days. Big box stores like Sail, MEC, Cabelas and so on will have entire aisles of them.

Some common MRE brands found in stores are Alpine Aire, Backpacker’s Pantry, Happy Yak, Mountain House and Peak Refuel.

There’s also the online route. A family favourite of MRE meal flavours is Mountain House Beef Stew and Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese. Mountain House seems harder to find in the store for some reason. Peak Refuel has a 6-pack variety pack, and it’s a great way to test some different flavours.

Military MRE Meals

Lastly, some army surplus stores carry the real deal MRE military meals. These can be interesting as they include a beverage, snack, main meal, side dish, dessert, and crackers. They are entire kits with napkins, utensils, condiments and so on. Just be super careful of dates as I’ve got some myself with no dates on the outside, only to find they are long expired when dates showed up inside the MRE. It makes you wonder how old it is considering the long shelf of these things.

What is an MRE Meal, Conclusion

MREs are a phenomenal option for outdoor adventures and a critical item to add to your pack for emergencies. Next time you’re at your favourite outdoor store, check out their MREs. I highly suggest trying different brands to see which ones you like before buying in bulk. Then throw one in your pack, and don’t forget the long spoon!

Have you tried an MRE? If so, which one is your favourite?

If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone who wants to try an MRE but is nervous too. Thank you!

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Stelios Lazos
Stelios Lazos

Stelios comes from the corporate world where he was a highly successful executive. Inspired by his love for the outdoors he has re-located with his family to live to the BushLife where he blogs about his adventures. Finding inspiration in the never-ending questions from aspiring outdoors people, Stelios aims to share his knowledge, one post at a time.

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