What is an MRE

What is a Meal Ready to Eat? 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! MRE rations feed people doing one of the most demanding jobs on earth: battle. So, if military meals are good enough for the military, they should be more than sufficient for the general public.

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, this solved challenges that civilians now 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?

PeakRefuel MRE Meal

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 nutritional content 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! 

Many will argue that MRE food is not good for you, but here’s the thing – you are not eating MRE’s everyday! These food supplies are made to replenish the calories and nutrients lost during a heavy activity or where your survival depends on it. When you’re hungry and sourcing food is an issue, you will be grateful that this little MRE package is in your backpack.

The Real Question Is, Do MRE Meals Expire? 

When you pick up an MRE pouch, you’ll notice an expiry date ranging from ten to 25 years. The expiration date is tied closely to storage temperature. Cooler temperatures (15.6°C / 60°F) will allow for long-lasting MREs, whereas in warmer temps (48.9 °C / 120°F), consumption should be within a month.

MRE Meals Have a Million Different Applications

Meals ready to eat 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 food pack 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 also make these full meals 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?

Further Reading: Backpack Survival Gear: Secrets of the Ultimate Bug Out Bag!

MRE Food Preparation

Stelios Preparing a Meal Ready to Eat
Preparing a Peak Refuel Beef Pasta MRE

Now that we know how easy transporting and storing an MRE is, 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 hot 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 flexible meal 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.

Further Reading: JetBoil Flash Java Kit: Hot Water Under a 100 Seconds. Really?

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’s Taste Great!

I find MRE foods to be a hit or miss. Through the years, we have tried many meal variety flavours. Some operational rations were just a no, thank you. The Happy Yak has an Asian concoction (can’t remember the name of it) that I did not care for. 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.

Happy Yak Meal Ready to Eat (MRE)

Most civilian MREs 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 are delicious single complete meals.

Especially the Mountain House Beef Stew

Whether it is an unplanned hike or an adventure that took longer than expected, keeping an MRE in your pack is advised. Being hungry on the trail or in a situation leads to fatigue, miscalculations and mishaps. And just plain old misery! 

I was off-roading with my son on a cold spring day, and after what seemed like minutes, was hours, and we were starving! Yes, we had a few bars on hand, but that wasn’t enough. Stopping for a rest, my son lights his little mini stove and preps a ready-to-eat meal. 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 a meal-ready-to-eat 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


Toss an MRE into your pack when heading out in the bush, even on a quick expedition. 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 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 foot within hours. That means it may be safer to stay than try to leave as intended, or it could get to the point where getting out is impossible! The difference between being stranded and making a fun experience out of it versus misery is based on the gear and volume of food you carry.

As to a 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 survival situation, there’s less to worry about and plenty of more comfort!

Where to Buy Meal Ready to Eat 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.

A few of the more common Meal Ready to Eat brands are Alpine Aire, Backpacker’s Pantry, Happy Yak, Mountain House and Peak Refuel.

Where to Buy MRE Food Online?

For the general public, you can find meals ready to eat for sale online at Amazon or your favourite outfitter.

We have provided a link to a couple of our favourite MREs, Mountain House Beef Stew and Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese. For some reason, Mountain House seems more challenging to find in-store. 

However, brands like Peak Refuel are more readily available. You can purchase a gallon container of survival food (Basecamp Bucket 3.0), a 6-pack variety pack or single servings. It’s a great way to taste-test different food items to find what suits your flavour profile best. 

Military Meal Ready to Eat Meals (MRE)

Lastly, some army surplus stores carry genuine military MREs, like the MRE Star MRE Meals. These meal kits come with an entire meal, which includes a drink mix, snack, MRE entrées, side dishes, dessert, and crackers. This full bag also comes with napkins, utensils, condiments, etc. 

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. Considering the long shelf of MREs, it makes you wonder how old it is.

Conclusion to What is a Meal Ready to Eat

Whether planning to camp, hike or prepping for emergencies, MREs offer peace of mind, making them the perfect survival companion to your gear. With a long shelf life and a range of options, MREs provide a reliable and convenient source of necessary nutrition when you need it most. So, don’t hesitate to visit your nearest outdoor store and try a supply of MREs like cheese tortellini or beef ravioli. 

Remember that preparation is the key to a successful outdoor adventure or emergency situation – always have a few MREs in your pack. And don’t forget the long spoon!

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

Thank you for reading my post. Please consider sharing this post with your friends who love the outdoors or want to be prepared for the unpredictable.

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What is an MRE: Simple Ways to Pack Food
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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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