If you are preparing for the worst (or just for an extended camping trip), you’ll want the best-tasting, longest-lasting MREs to stock your shelves. This article will tell you which brands are the best MRE for shelf life and taste, as well as how to store your ready-to-eat meals for optimal shelf life properly.
MREs, or ready-to-eat meals, are a staple for military personnel on duty. They are also helpful if you’re setting up a safe room, going camping, or want to have easily accessible meals on hand. However, not all MREs are created equal. Some don’t taste like real food at all, and others don’t last very long on the shelf.
What Is an MRE?
MREs are pre-packaged meals. Originally they were made for active-duty military, to carry in their packs and eat while they were on duty. Because they don’t need refrigeration or any preparation and have an extensive shelf life, MREs have become popular among survivalists and long-term campers.
Technically, MRE is a brand name that stands for Meals, Ready to Eat. However, like Bandaids and Kleenex, MRE has come to mean any pre-packaged, not freeze-dried, ready-to-eat meal. Several MRE brands are available for civilians, but you can’t get the actual MRE brand unless they sell as army surplus.
An MRE generally comes with more than just an entree. Most ready-to-eat military-grade meals also include starch, a dessert, a powdered drink, and a side dish, and some also include spices and condiments. Although you don’t have to heat them, MREs often include a non-flaming heater with their utensils.
The Best MRE Brands
Although MRE is the official brand of ready-to-eat meals, they don’t sell to civilians as their focus is on providing food for the armed forces. Other brands have taken on the challenge and provide tasty, long-lasting meals for any situation. Some even offer survival packages, including first aid kits and water purification systems in their MRE boxes.
If you’re looking for maximum shelf life and best taste, military-grade MREs are your best option. They’ve been around the longest and have nearly perfected the art of making a meal taste good straight from the package. Look for the civilian brands that get their supplies from military suppliers if you want the same grade of food that the forces eat.
The Best Tasting MRE
If you can’t get military surplus MREs, your best bet for taste is Sopakco. They create meals for the military and offer similar products to civilians. Sopakco’s meals are the tastiest, including all of the known favorites of the troops – chili mac, spaghetti with beef, and the chicken burrito bowls are all options.
Sopakco offers the same meals as the military, but they also provide the most excellent variety. The boxes update every year with the latest flavors and expiration dates, so you don’t have to worry about getting older boxes or checking individual meals for inspection dates. The downside to Sopakco is that they only offer a shelf life of five years, per military food standards.
The Best Option for Shelf Life
Most MREs have a pretty equal shelf life. While the advised shelf life for military-grade MREs is about five years, they can last much longer if kept at cooler temperatures. You’ll have to watch an MRE that is advertised for longer than five years because it could go bad in warmer weather or storage conditions. The shorter shelf life is because they are regular food, not freeze-dried or frozen.
Mountain House adventure meals come as MREs, but they offer some freeze-dried meals as well. Their MRE selection has a longer shelf life than most, and the freeze-dried meals can last indefinitely (although they give them a shelf life of thirty years). While Mountain House offers more freeze-dried meals than otherwise, they have a great selection and the most extended shelf life around.
The Best Budget Friendly MRE
While both of these options are excellent if you want to buy many MREs and store them for a long time, neither are very cheap. There is a similar option with an assortment of meals for almost half the cost. Many are dried options (so you would need to add water), but there are regular food options.
The Wise Company Emergency Food Supply is available on Amazon for much cheaper than either Mountain House or Sopakco MRE packages. It comes with sixty meals, all flavorful and rated high for taste. If you are trying to prepare but don’t have as large a budget, you can buy these pre-packaged meals and not worry about the future.
MREs for Dietary Restrictions
A huge issue with most MREs is that they are meat-based. If you are vegetarian or avoiding certain foods for religious reasons, it can be hard to find MREs. Of course, certain meals could naturally fit into a specific diet. But, it’s nice to have multiple options for emergency meals.
XMRE Meals offers kosher, halal, and vegetarian-friendly options for anyone looking for non-meat-based emergency meals. They have packages with extended shelf life and completely sterilized packages. So far, they are the only company to cater to dietary needs explicitly, but more are sure to follow.
The Best MRE Overall
Western Frontier offers the best of both worlds – they consistently provide military-grade surplus in small or large packages. The meals have a high-calorie count (usually 1250 calories per meal). They also don’t have an expiration date, and come with a wide variety of food options. The boxes are similar to the Sopakco option but have a longer shelf life and more meal options.
You can purchase MRE boxes through the Western Frontier website or Amazon. While they are the most consistent of military surplus suppliers, they might not always have the amount you want available. Keep an eye on the site (or at a local military surplus store) to get the best deals. Western Frontier offers the best MRE for both taste and shelf life.
Because it’s a military surplus supplier, you know that the meals are the same quality going to the troops. They update their packages with the proper creation and inspection dates. So, if you buy from them, you will know precisely what you are getting. Western Frontier is the easiest way to get military surplus MREs (the best quality kind).
How Do I Store an MRE?
While MREs are famous for not needing refrigeration, the cooler your shelf is, the longer your MREs will last. Unless otherwise specified by the brand or on the package, most MREs have a solid shelf life of five years. They can last this long and longer if your storage area is cooler and darker (ideally at 60°F).
You can still eat an MRE after five years as long as the package isn’t damaged, torn, or swelling. It’s essential to stay safe, though, especially around older food. If the brand doesn’t advertise more than five years of shelf life you don’t want to risk it. The same applies if it promotes no preservatives. Safe storage will improve shelf life, but nothing lasts forever, and even the longest-lasting MREs will go rotten eventually.
If you don’t want to buy an entire emergency kit, it’s always acceptable to pop down to your local military surplus store and pick up whatever meals they have available. You can also order large or small amounts of the best MREs online. You will be prepared for anything with tasty and long-lasting packaged meals.