Picking the best MRE (meal ready to eat) is tricky because they all look pretty much the same at first glance.
Unlike other survival gear, you really can’t get a good idea of the quality from a quick scan online. For something as important as food, that’s kind of a problem.
So we set out to simplify the process for you. We took a look at all the popular MREs out there to find which ones are the best.
Not only that, but we also go into the best practices on how to store, prepare, and consume these meals for safety and efficiency.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What Is An MRE?
- Our List Of The Best MRE Meals
- An Important Note
- Heating Them Up
- How Long Will They Last?
- Knowing When It’s Time To Toss Them
What Is An MRE?
Before we get into the fancy stuff, let’s break down what an MRE is so we’re all on the same page. There’s actually a lot of misinformation being shared online when it comes to these meals.
MRE stands for a “meal ready to eat”. It’s basically a full meal in a tidy package that needs minimal prep and can be easily stored.
While they were originally used by the US military, they’re also a great option for any survivalists, preppers, and campers who want some convenient and easy-to-store meals, especially while backpacking. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually a number of different meal types you can get as well.
You should note, though, that an MRE is not regular food. It is best to avoid depending on them during a prolonged period of time and cook proper meals instead (see An Important Note below).
Inside an MRE you’ll typically get:
- a main course (e.g. meatballs),
- a side dish,
- some snack bread,
- jelly/peanut butter/cheese spread,
- a beverage powder (coffee, tea, juice), and
- a dessert.
There will also be miscellaneous items like an accessory pack with the necessary utensils, creamer, and regular or hot sauce for whatever the meal is.
Some even go as far as to include toilet paper, BBQ, cheddar cheese, marinara sauce, tortillas, jalapenos, chewing gum, and moist towelette. Dessert is usually focused on chocolate, sweets, cookies, and cakes that are long-lasting, such as pound cake. But it all depends on the manufacturer, your taste, and of course, your budget.
It’s important to note that even the best MREs aren’t fancy. These meals are made for the purpose of providing efficient and convenient fuel, nothing more (and certainly not aimed at providing deluxe entrées). You’re not going to be blown away by the flavor (even though some taste far better than others), they’re made to keep you alive and plowing through a survival situation.
Our List Of The Best MRE Meals
We came up with this list of the best ready-to-eat meals by sourcing feedback and sampling them ourselves. We’ve tried a bunch of different brands over the years, but we wanted to approach this process with fresh eyes.
Luckily, our starting list wasn’t very long. This made it easy to do a deep dive into each of the MREs to find out which ones we liked the most.
We’re happy with the list of MRE meals and brands below and know that they’ll serve their purpose for you in the field. It doesn’t matter if you’re a prepper, survivalist, or camper, these MREs will get the job done.
1. 24 Meal MRE Case With 2020 Inspection Date By Western Frontier
Western Frontier has been shipping some of the best products in this category for a while now. The company has been in the game for years. This no-frills case comes with both A and B bundles (which means you’ll get 24 meals covering menus 1-24) and has a 2020 inspection date.
- 24 meals in total
- 2020 inspection date
- Bundle A and B
- 39 pound shipping weight
The boxes and packaging are pretty standard and will do the trick for most situations.
There have been reports of some buyers getting shipments with ripped boxes or even meal packages, but that seems to be a fairly uncommon issue. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s always a risk of that when buying MREs (even the best ones).
When you get a 1-24 menu case like this it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re not going to like every single one of them. There will be some you love, some you hate, and many that you tolerate.
This is the nature of MREs in general, and since some of the menus are sought-after, you’re usually stuck with the variety pack. Remember, these are meant as fuel to keep you alive (don’t get too picky).
When it comes to a solid all-around MRE case that has a good track record of intact packaging upon delivery, this case from Western Frontier is definitely a good option.
2. Ready Meal 12 MRE Kit With Reduced Sodium By A-Pack
A-Pack is another company that has been doing a great job packaging and delivering some of the best MREs out there. They have been recommended by many world-class survivalists over the years, and they get two thumbs up from us as well.
- Includes 12 full meals
- Reduced sodium
- 6 different meal types
- Made in the U.S.A
In this pack, you get 12 meals with 6 different meal varieties. The varieties are:
- Southwestern style chicken with black beans and rice
- Pasta with garden vegetables in tomato sauce
- Homestyle chicken and noodles with vegetables in sauce
- Spaghetti with Italian style meat sauce
- Creamy chicken tetrazzini
- Hearty beef stew
These are all meals that are designed to feel hearty and filling (and hopefully taste pretty good too). We liked the flavor and found plenty of feedback online from other preppers and survivalists who felt the same way.
One thing that’s a bit different about this MRE kit is the fact that each meal has reduced sodium (salt content). If you know anything about standard MREs (even the best ones), it’s that these things are heavy on sodium.
That’s a very common trait in pretty much any prepared or packaged food (check the next time you’re at the grocery store), but it’s definitely the case with MREs. This is actually a good thing for their original intended use since soldiers going through a physically strenuous day will need more sodium than a regular person.
That makes this MRE kit by A-Pack kind of a situational buy. If you’re someone who needs to watch their sodium, it’s obviously a good thing, but if you intend on using them to fuel up after you’re exerting yourself then it might not be your best bet.
Personally, we like this pack as a good “bunker or hunker” option. In situations where you’re at your bug out location or long-term survival shelter and don’t need to be doing a lot of extra work, these might be the best MREs for you. If you’re looking for something to get you through a long hike, you might want to try something else (or be sure you’re getting salt from somewhere else).
3. Military MRE Boxes By SOPACKO
This is one of the best military-grade MRE meals out there, with very wide menu options. It’s delivered and packaged by SOPACKO which is a well-respected brand when it comes to this space. They have a track record of consistently delivering high-quality products that are undamaged and properly preserved.
- 24 meals in total
- 03/2021 date
- 24 different meal variations
- Sent inside extra shipping box for safe delivery
This set gets you both Box A and Box B that have a test date in 2021. With these boxes, you get a variety of meals (24 in total) that include:
- Chili with beans
- Chili mac
- Chicken with egg noodles and veggies
- Spaghetti with beef and sauce
- Elbow macaroni and tomato sauce
- Cheese tortellini in tomato sauce (we like this one)
- Chicken burrito bowl
- Pork sausage patty
We like that SOPACKO sends these inside an extra shipping box. This reduces the chance of the meal packaging getting damaged or torn in transit. A lot of the time you’ll get these delivered in a bare-bones box with the meals right inside, which increases the chance of a puncture.
It’s the little things like this that make this one of the best MRE packs out there in our opinion. The reliability and extra effort this brand puts into making sure these are delivered safely (and at an affordable price) is something we appreciate.
4. MRE Box Menus 1-12 By Rothco
If you’re looking for a smaller batch of MREs that are delivered and packaged reliably, this batch by Rothco is another good option. You get 12 meals included (menus 1-12) in a tidy package that weighs just about 21 pounds.
- 12 meals in total
- Check seller condition comments for date
- 12 different variations
- Package weighs 21 pounds for easy storage
This makes it great for tucking them away in areas that don’t have a lot of storage space. This could be a shelter or a no-frills shelter or cabin that you plan on using in the future (make sure nothing can get in, of course).
Each MRE gets you 1,250 calories per meal, which is great (this is not exclusive to this seller obviously). That’s more than enough to go on for a while, so you could have one or two of those per day—depending on your ration plan—and get by just fine.
Author Note: There have been some buyers saying that these have been getting swapped out with civilian MREs, but that wasn’t our experience. We’re not sure if those are competitors leaving false reviews or if we just got lucky, but we wanted to address that here.
5. 12 XMREs By Ozark Outdoorz
This is an MRE meal pack that is made by a company with a solid track record of delivering usable products. Ozark Outdoorz also tends to price their MREs very affordably so if you see prices skyrocket on other kits, these might be a better alternative.
- Includes 12 individual meals
- 2020 pack date. 2025 best by date
- 6 different meal types included
- Each meal provides 1,300 to 1,500 calories
A welcome difference is the great transparency about the nutritional makeup of each meal. The dietary info is found on each meal bag which allows you to monitor your diet without much effort. Each meal will get you between 1,300 and 1,500 calories, which is more than enough.
There are 12 meals in this pack with 6 different types included. This will provide you with a bit of variety without spreading things out too much. We like this setup a bit more because in a traditional MRE kit you’ll only get one of each. That means if you eat something you really like, there’s no chance of eating it again. These little things can make a difference in morale during a survival situation, so it’s worth pointing out.
We had a good experience with the packaging and quality, and a lot of other buyers have said the same thing. If you’re looking for a smaller (and more affordable) MRE meal kit by a brand that’s committed to providing high-quality options, give this a shot.
An Important Note
It’s worth pointing out that survival food is not meant to be consumed over a long period of time. They are an emergency food supply. This is something that a lot of people don’t realize if they don’t have prior experience with MREs.
We hear from beginning preppers all the time who think they can just stock up on a thousand MREs and be all set. While this is an understandable mistake, it’s definitely not a viable option.
There’s a trade-off that has to be made when creating food that’s easy to store, doesn’t need refrigeration, and is pre-cooked. While these are all obvious advantages, it’s pretty much impossible to accomplish that in a “naturally healthy” way.
The general rule of thumb for max MRE usage is three weeks. If you have them as your main or only source of nutrition for longer than this period of time it’s important to bring in some real food to counteract the effects (although this is still not advised).
Failing to do this will result in a slew of potential GI issues such as diarrhea, constipation, and even vomiting. These are all things that will actively hurt your ability to survive, so you need to take precautionary measures seriously.
Heating Them Up
If you don’t have prior experience with MREs you might be wondering how you heat them up. Most of these meals are designed to be warmed up before eating, but they don’t come with an oven!
When these were designed, a clever flameless ration heater was developed. These allow the user to heat their meal without having to haul around a hefty heater or make a fire (something that might draw unwanted attention).
This flameless heater utilizes a chemical reaction to quickly generate heat safely, and with minimal materials. In fact, you just need a bit of water.
All you need to do is take your MRE out of the carton and find the heater sleeve. This sleeve will have instructions on it as well, so you won’t be lost if you don’t have internet out in the wilderness.
Simply tear the top of the heating sleeve and slip your MRE inside it. Then add a minimal amount of water to initiate the reaction.
Once you’ve added the water you’ll just fold the top of the heat sleeve and put it in the carton to let it cook. Find something to lean your MRE up against to prevent any water from leaking out.
It should only take 10-15 minutes for your MRE to be heated and ready to go. This gives you the ability to continue setting up camp or doing other tasks while it quietly becomes ready to eat.
How Long Will They Last?
Contrary to popular belief, even the longest-lasting MREs with really long shelf life will typically only last 5 years at most, assuming optimal conditions and a new meal. You can push this number if you’re feeling risky (or desperate), but it’s not advised.
This is why it’s so important to check the dates on the MREs you receive. This will give you an idea of what time window you have to work with so you can be ready to swap them out when they expire.
The length of time an MRE will last depends on several factors, with temperature being one of the most impactful ones. In short, the cooler the better. If you can store your MRE somewhere that’s around 40°F then it will last for quite a while. If kept somewhere hot (let’s say 100°F), however, it will expire in a fraction of the time.
Author Note: Preparedness is one of the biggest challenges that newer preppers face when it comes to storing MREs. A lot of the common locations (like a bug out location or established shelter) won’t be cool enough to maximize the lifespan of the meals unless you pay for refrigeration on site.
It’s also important to make sure you keep them in a very dark location. Light can accelerate the speed that the meals degrade, and shorten their shelf life significantly. This is usually easy to manage, since finding a dark space is not challenging.
Knowing When It’s Time To Toss Them
If you’ve kept some MREs as part of your prepping food storage plan, it’s important to know when to get rid of them. While we wish it was as easy as keeping track of the expiration date, there are a lot of factors that will influence when they’re not edible (listed above).
We recommend taking the factors above into account and combining that with the listed date to get an idea of when it’s time to trash your old MRE. If you’re unable to keep them in a cool environment, assume you only have a few months of storage before they go bad. If you have them in a very cold area, you might have 2-3 years of shelf life (depending on their age when you purchased them).
Use this to mark down a rough conservative date on when you should get rid of them.
If you go to use one of your MREs and realize that there are holes in the packaging or it smells a little unusual, don’t risk it. Scrap it and move on (unless you’re really desperate).
Stocking up on the best MREs is something all survivalists and preppers should consider doing. They’re fairly affordable, effective, and easy to use.
Having a simple go-to source of fuel when things are rough is something that shouldn’t be undervalued. You need to eat!
If you have any suggestions for brands or products that should be included on our list of the best ready-to-eat meals, we’re more than happy to take a look. Just reach out to us via the contact page on our site and let us know.