Survival Food kit: Understanding The Different Types

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A survival food kit isn’t meant for just doomsdays. It can provide a lifeline during emergencies such as riots, pandemics, snowstorms and hurricanes. Some hikers who go deep into the wilderness also make use of a survival food kit.

But with the proliferation of products for the doomsday prepper market, it can get a little confusing as to what’s what and how much of what to include in the kit. That is why we’ve come up with this article to organise all this information about what goes into a kit, the short-term and long-term options, as well as the types of survival food kits out there.

Survival Food kit Understanding The Different Types

What is survival food?

Survival food is meant to help you survive, not to pamper you while you sit out of an emergency. That doesn’t mean it has to taste like sawdust. Survival food should also be nutritious aside from supplying calories for energy.

Types of survival food

Literally, anything that can be stored for the medium- to long-term qualifies as survival food. Here are the types of survival food and different terminologies to help you understand them better.

1. Commercial canned/bottled food

This regular commercial option has been around for decades and the variety of food is endless. Most of them can be stored at room temperature. There are cooking ingredients right up to ready-to-eat food.

It is easily found in any grocery store and relatively inexpensive compared to the other types of specialist survival food. The greatest plus point is that you can rotate through this emergency stock before they reach expiry dates.

The problem with food bottled in glass is that glass might shatter during winter. Canned food is a more secure and stable option for all kinds of climate.

2. Uncooked dry food

To further differentiate from dehydrated food, uncooked dry food can be defined as foods which are already dry without having to undergo any additional process of dehydration. Examples include rice, pasta, dried beans and nuts. These don’t need a low temperature for long-term storage but need to be kept away from moisture.

3. Dehydrated food

Dehydration is a process of removing moisture from a raw ingredient. There are several ways to do it. You can say that this is a subset of uncooked dry food.

Jerky and salted fish are classic examples of dehydrated food. However, these tend to have a high salt content. They are more suitable for hikers or people on the move since they sweat a lot and need to replenish salt in their bodies. However, jerky and salted fish aren’t a great idea for survivalists who are cooped up in a house.

Dehydrated food can be made at home and has an exceptionally long shelf life (often more than 20 years if stored correctly). A major disadvantage for this category is you are limited to storing just basic ingredients (such as rice, beans, dried fruit etc) as opposed to complete meals.

4. Freeze-dried food

This type of survival food is made by freezing the food then putting it in a vacuum to remove moisture. It is lighter in weight compared to dehydrated food.

It is also more convenient, as ready-made food can be freeze-dried. To eat, you simply add hot water. There are also raw freeze-dried foods, which can range from fruits to meat.

The down sides of freeze-dried food are storage and cost. Like dehydrated foods, freeze-dried foods are highly sensitive to light, heat, humidity and oxygen. They should be stored below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Shelf-stable ingredients or food

The name for this type of food is derived from the fact that it can sit on the shelf for at least 1 year. It can be eaten safely without needing to be cooked or refrigerated, like peanut butter.

Over time, this category has expanded to include common cooking ingredients which conventionally require refrigeration, but have been modified to become shelf-stable. For example, butter powder and egg powder.

survival food stored

6. Pre-made food

There are two subsets within this type. One subset is foods that have been pre-cooked and require little to no preparation for consumption.  MREs fall within this sub-category.

The other requires some mild cooking, such as boiling for up to 10 minutes. Both sub-types are usually packed in single portions enough for 1 adult meal; some are enough for a few adults.

7. Cooked bulk food

A great example of cooked bulk food are the #10 cans where one large can contains 10 portions. In an emergency situation, we have to assume that there is a possibility of a power outage. This means, if there aren’t enough people finishing off the 10 portions in a single sitting, the food may be left to spoil in 2 to 3 days.

Once these cans are opened, the food inside is exposed to the risk of contamination. Also, it doesn’t make sense to have certain products in #10 cans. For example, beef gravy. What would you do with 10 portions of beef gravy? Unless, of course, you have a family of 10 to feed. Even so, it’s just gravy.

8. Comfort food or snacks

Though not an essential item for emergencies, comfort food or snacks can help to pacify young children. (And even adults.)

Types of survival food kits

There are a few types of survival food kits, each to cater to different durations and manner of use.

1. Pre-made emergency food kits

As the name suggests, these types of kits contain food that do not need cooking. These are for both short and long-term emergencies, as there are so many permutations of this type of kit. How MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and survival food buckets are used also depends on one’s budget and needs.

a. MRE (Meal Ready to Eat)

The concept of MRE was originally created for military use, where soldiers had to carry their food and eat them on the go. A typical MRE covers all the needs of a full meal such as water, an entrée, a side dish, crackers, dessert, candy, a beverage mix, a main course, flameless ration heater (FRH) and utensils.

These days, MREs can be bought from surplus army supplies or from companies that sell civilian MREs. This type of emergency food kit is incredibly convenient, nutritious and lasts up to 5 years depending on storage conditions. The warmer it is, the shorter its shelf life.

However, it is the priciest type of survival food kit. There are also opinions that it is heavy to carry around. If you are loaded with cash, stashing boxes of MRE might be for you.

Otherwise, it can be used as a short-term supply for a few days to a week. If you’re only catering to only one person’s needs, it might be affordable. But if you have many mouths to feed, it can get too costly very quickly.

b. Survival food bucket

Yes, you got it right. Pre-packed emergency food supplies are fitted and sold in a sealed bucket. It’s hard to generalise what is contained in them, as the variety is endless.

Some survival food buckets have different freeze-dried pre-made foods for lunch and dinner while others have dehydrated meals for 3 meals a day including snacks and drinks. These buckets are suitable for families that don’t have time to DIY a survival food kit; great for a grab and go situation.

2. Long-term food kit

By long-term we’re talking about several months to a year’s worth of food or more. The more financially sound types of survival food for this kit would be mostly uncooked bulk dried food, shelf-stable cooking ingredients and perhaps some dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. The idea here is that you’ll have time to cook your food.

Nonetheless there are long-term food kits out there with pre-made foods. They come in bulk like food buckets or cartons.

3. DIY survival food kit

Doomsday preppers are no strangers to this one. It is a food kit of any variety of survival foods, built from scratch.

What makes a good survival food kit

What makes a good survival food kit?

  • Food is easy to cook: For short-term emergencies, you might not have time or fuel to cook. 
  • Ingredients you’re familiar with: There is no sense stocking up on ingredients which you don’t know how to use.
  • Manageable package sizes: Read the section on Cooked Bulk Food.
  • Calorie content: The pre-made meals should provide more than the minimum per day.
  • High nutritional content: The food should keep you healthy.
  • No unnecessary ingredients: Eating a chemical cocktail during a stressful time will tax your health further.
  • Your budget: Buy what you can afford.
  • Long shelf life without refrigeration: You have to assume that power might run out during the emergency and kill your refrigerator or cooling room.
  • Can withstand freezing temperatures: Same as above.
  • Comfort food: This is for help in managing emotions during an emergency.

Which type of food to store?

Prepare for short-term and long-term emergencies. It makes sense then to have a variety of survival foods. Here’s a rough guideline of the portions:

  • Dehydrated or dry foods – 40%
  • Canned foods – 30%
  • MREs – 20%
  • Freeze-dried foods – 10%


The table below is a summary of a comparison between certain types of survival food. These figures are just rough estimates and will vary according to the type of food, brand of product and so on. It is best to look at the individual storage recommendations of any product.

Type of FoodShelf Life (Years)Ideal Storage Temperature
Dehydrated4 – 20+About 50°F to 60°F
Canned1 – 4Below 85°F
MREs3 – 5About 60°F
Freeze-dried7 – 25+32°F to 75°F

In terms of preference in taste, you’ll have to consider what your family is used to eating too. An emergency situation is already challenging enough. Having to eat alien food will just make survival more stressful.