When the time comes to bug out, one equipment and supply factor that should be on every prepper’s mind is weight. If you are bugging out on foot, you’ll be carrying your BOB which is your combination pantry, toolbox, armory, home and pharmacy on your back.
Even if you are planning a bug out by vehicle, you can probably think of a dozen scenarios in which you will end up bugging out on foot and that means you’ll be back to lugging that heavy, heavy BOB.
Every ounce of weight you include in your BOB must be justified, and balanced against your mobility requirements and fitness. There is a reason why long haul hikers and preppers alike scrutinize their packing list over and over and over again, trying to cut pounds, ounces and even grams.
The energy expenditure of hauling even a few extra pounds multiplied by the time and distance you have to haul it results and significantly more calories expended. It is always a good idea to save weight wherever you can.
The notion of saving weight when it comes to carrying food, the very thing you are carrying to give you energy in the field, is chuckle-worthy but your calorie supply too must be scrutinized.
Some foods represent a good bargain when it comes to calorie density against their weight, whereas others are a bad deal, weighing too much for what meager calories they provide.
This equation too is complicated by the need to have food that is shelf stable and also durable, tough enough to survive the rigors of being carried in a BOB for a lengthy time.
In this article I will share with you 15 bug-out foods that will give you the calories you need in a durable format without weighing you down.
To Lighten your Food, Watch Water and Packaging
Before we get to our list, consider this quick tip: When choosing what food is suitable for packing in a bug-out bag, keep an eye on the type of packaging, and the water content of the food. If you can keep the weight of both of those factors down you can save a lot of weight in the long run.
The packaging is an obvious element, as certain materials are far heavier than others, and the chief offenders are glass and metal.
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be carrying glass containers at all in your bug-out bag as their fragility and subsequent injury hazard (to say nothing of the mess they will make in your bag when broken) rule them out almost entirely unless carried externally.
Metal is a bit harder to delete entirely, but it is also far more flexible and easier to justify; with a few exceptions you want to stay away from canned goods as they are space inefficient and also heavy for what you get.
That being said, the leftover metal can may be useful as a vessel for a variety of purposes. Certain metal containers like foil pouches are flexible and also save a considerable amount of weight over conventional cans.
The water content of your food also makes a big difference, as water is very heavy. This is the reason why so much of the food that astronauts take into space with them is dehydrated as it makes food far lighter.
Not every food dehydrates well. Some still require preparation with water to make it ready to eat, while many foods including fruit and meat are edible and tasty in their dehydrated state.
So long as you have a good water supply or know where to get water for preparation, this is not much of a drawback.
Ultimately a shelf-stable, high-calorie food that is nutritionally more or less complete that contains the minimum of water in a lightweight package could be considered the ultimate food for your bug out bag. But as we will see this ideal is very difficult to achieve. On to the list!
15 Bug-Out Bag Foods that Won’t Weigh You Down
1. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is a staple of hikers around the world, and a common component of trail mix. This alone makes it a default inclusion for a bug-out bag as it has a modest caloric value, is ready to eat, capable of being eaten on the move easily and is pretty tasty if you like this sort of thing.
Dried fruit is a great example of how dehydrating a food can make it much smaller and lighter compared to its original form. Dried fruit won’t last forever, but if it is kept in a sealed or, even better, vacuum-packed container, it will remain viable and palatable for some time.
We made a list of a few dozen foods you can dehydrate – and not just fruit!
Love it or hate it, spam is ubiquitous, shelf-stable, and an excellent source of protein-packed calories for people who are on the move far from a proper cooking setup.
One of the rare canned food exceptions that is worth the space and weight in your bug-out bag, Spam is fairly unique mostly because of the shape of its can, and because there is absolutely no wasted space within; every millimeter is filled with delicious pork, not broth or liquid, and this makes it a bargain in our food efficiency calculation.
Even better, Spam is ready to eat right out of the can with no heating or other preparation required, so if you have some time to prepare a better dish it can complement almost anything.
3. Instant Noodles
Instant noodles of all kinds, from Italian dishes with powdered sauce to the quintessential college kid-fuel of ramen, are cheap, abundant, have a long shelf life, and very lightweight options for bug-out food, although this is one you will have to prepare using boiling water.
Theoretically, you could chow down on a brick of dry noodles, but I don’t recommend it! These dishes are generally tasty and an ample source of calories but also typically very high in sodium, though if you have been drinking hard and sweating your tail off that might not be such a bad thing.
4. Powdered Milk
Powdered milk is another excellent bug out bag option since it travels well, keeps for a long time, and is a nearly nutritionally complete protein.
All you’ll need to do is add a little bit of water to reconstitute it and drink up, or alternately you can add it do a soup or stew just to boost the calorie yield.
The choice of container will be critical for powdered milk as any moisture infiltration can ruin it, so if you’re packing it yourself make sure you take great pains to secure the contents.
Tuna is another protein-packed nutritional powerhouse on our list, and the ready availability of this staple in easy to carry, lightweight foil pouches makes it a shoo-in for our bug out food supply.
A handful of these pouches can supply you with a ton of protein that is suitable for eating as-is right out of the package, or in combination with other items to make a hardy, satisfying meal.
If you cannot find the foil pouches, perhaps think twice as the typical tuna can is quite heavy and sturdy for its size, lessening the appeal of this superfood somewhat.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Another outdoorsman and hiking staple, there is a tremendous variety of delicious, nutritional nuts that would make great additions to your bug-out bag. Most nuts contain a variety of needed minerals and vitamins, a good shot of protein and even fats. Nuts can fill you up quickly, and are easy to eat on the go.
These pair particularly well with various meats and fruits. Like all foods that contain a preponderance of fats, do take care that your nuts do not go rancid; if you have packed your own for storage in your BOB, make sure you check on them periodically, and rotate as required.
7. Freeze Dried Meals
The popularity of complete freeze-dried meals, many marketed towards campers, hikers and indeed preppers, has risen precipitously in the past few years, and are now more available, and in a greater variety than ever.
So long as you can get these in a small form factor container, either for individual servings or group meals, and avoid the large bulky buckets or clamshell containers they typically come in they are a pretty good option, though once again you will need hot water to prepare them correctly.
These are an especially good option for any gourmand prepper, or for those who suffer from low morale when forced to eat the same thing over and over.
8. Beef Jerky
I don’t think there is a prepper on Earth who doesn’t enjoy beef jerky. The famous staple of hard-charging outdoorsmen is enjoyed around the world in various forms according to custom, and regional cuisines.
At its simplest. jerky is just dried meat, though often seasoned, and though it is sometimes tough and hard to chew it is a long-lasting source of protein, and can generally be made more palatable through previous marinating or rubbing with a variety of spices.
If you buy it pre-made or make your own, you can depend on jerky to last when the going (and chewing!) gets tough!
Pemmican is a traditional dish, or ration to Westerners, prepared by the indigenous people of North America, and consists of a mixture of dried meat, animal fat and often dried berries as well. The meat utilized is traditionally from “big game” animals though small game meat could be used.
You can think of it as a sort of super jerky, containing much more in the way of nutrition and generally more satisfying as well. Prepared and stored properly, pemmican can last for an extremely long time though the presence of fat means it is more vulnerable to spoilage if conditions are not correct.
Pemmican is much harder to source ready-made compared to jerky, so you might have to resort to making this one yourself, but now as then it remains an excellent survival food for extended forays, able to be eaten as-is or cooked.
Another ancient survival food that has a storied history in expeditions, military campaigns, long naval voyages and even several famous survival situations is hardtack. Hardtack is a dead-simple cracker, or biscuit if you want to be charitable, consisting of flour and water alone, and occasionally salt if you’re very fortunate.
It is absolutely stable, long-lasting and will keep you alive but it will make you both thirsty and long for food with more flavor. Hardtack is one of very few ancient survival rations that remains in continual production around the world for its intended purpose and not just as a novelty or living history. Its sheer durability, simplicity and long life makes it a good if bland choice for your bug-out bag.
Granola is another ubiquitous and popular hiking stable, consisting of nothing more than rolled oats, honey, nuts and sometimes other ingredients like berries or chocolate, that is then baked and served loose or compressed into a bar form.
Granola has a good calorie yield for its density, and is generally considered pretty tasty, though certain forms are more akin to gnawing on a cement block than an actual food stuff. Granola also has a lengthy shelf life, but adding certain ingredients to it might mean that they could go rancid or spoil before the cereal does, so keep that in mind.
Generally, a solid choice for your bug-out bag especially if you have a sweet tooth, just remember to keep an eye on that expiration date and rotate when necessary.
12. Protein Bar
Protein bars are a close cousin of the granola bar, but as you might expect, the emphasis nutritionally is placed more on protein than carbohydrates. This makes them a good choice if you’re working particularly hard in a survival situation.
Protein bars are found in all kinds of forms, and the ingredients lists vary wildly.
Some will have a longer shelf life than others, especially those that have a considerable amount of processing and additives compared to ones with minimal processing or organic ingredients. Keep this in mind before selecting a brand to serve as a survival ration.
MREs are a love-it-or-leave-it option as a survival food, and some preppers who previously served in the armed forces cannot stand to even look at the things.
Taking them objectively, though, MREs are kind of a mixed bag (if you’ll pardon the pun) with pluses and minuses: MREs are famous for being extremely calorie-dense, long-lasting and durable, but their large footprint and not inconsiderable weight means that other options might be more efficient.
On the bright side, a single MRE has quite a bit of variety inside it, which can boost morale, and they’re all ready to eat with no heating or other preparation as you might expect.
You can get more bang for your buck by removing the MRE contents from that bulky bag, and packing them more efficiently in your BOB.
14. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is an excellent option for a survival food that is oftentimes forgotten about. Peanut butter has an excellent shelf life, can easily survive temperature swings, and is ready to eat right out of the jar.
Extremely calorie-dense and packing in plenty of protein and fats, peanut butter works great as a minimalist mainstay meal or an addition to other survival foods like crackers, nuts and fruits.
A plastic jar of peanut butter is definitely worth the bulk, but if you want to slim down, it is possible to find peanut butter in heavy-duty foil pouches that take up less space.
15. (Powdered) Honey
Honey is another survival staple that every prepper loves, if not for the taste then for its capabilities!
Honey will essentially never spoil, and it is another extremely dense source of calories that can be added to all kinds of dishes in order to yield a delicious sweet taste, or it can be enjoyed all on its own. It also has mild antiseptic properties making it useful for first-aid in a pinch.
While honey is an excellent raw foodstuff that can give you a good jolt of energy when you are feeling low, it is not nutritionally complete, so it will need to be supplemented with other foods for the long haul.
Kept in individual packets or even in granule form or dehydrated, honey is one food that can definitely go the distance in your BOB.
Having food for the road is an essential part of a good bug-out plan, but the food that you choose should support your plan, not work against it.
Your food should be calorie-dense, stable, able to survive the rigors of travel, and just as importantly weigh as little as possible with as little bulk as necessary to justify the calories it provides.
Lucky for us, today there are many foodstuffs available for purchase or that we can prepare ourselves that are more than up to this challenge. Have a look at the list above and you are bound to find several that will rate a place in your bug-out bag!
Do you have a favorite food on this list? How about one you absolutely cannot stand? Do sound off and let us know in the comments section below!
P.S. If you enjoy cooking, we have a few survival food recipes that are light enough for you to carry with you here.