Many survivalists, hunters, preppers and outdoor enthusiasts buy commercial Meals, Ready to Eat (MRE’s). These commercial MRE’s are very similar to the military MRE’s that the Department of Defense (DOD) provides to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines for field use (for some reason the DOD doesn’t allow the manufacturers to sell the same meals to the public). In this short article we’ll discuss what an MRE is and an easy way to cut down on the size and weight of MRE’s…or as we call it in the military…how to field strip a MRE.
What is an MRE:
The MRE has been the primary field ration of our troops since the early 1980′s. It’s a self contained, calorie dense (over 1,200 calories), shelf stable (up to five years under optimal conditions) meal designed to keep you fueled during labor intensive activities. While it’s designed as ‘a’ meal I found that even during the toughest field exercises it was just too much food/calories to be consumed as ‘a’ meal. Depending on the nature of the exercise and work involved I usually carried and ate 1-2 MRE’s per day. I’ll leave the discussion of the culinary ‘delights’ of the MRE for another time but you should know that these meals aren’t just heavy, they’re also bulky.
Note: The MRE is heavy by backpacking food standards not in relation to the MRE’s predecessor the C Ration.
What’s in an MRE:
The military MRE’s change a bit every few years and I imagine there are additional variations with the civilian copies but a MRE generally includes the following (individually packaged within a thick plastic outer package):
- An Entrée (there are even vegetarian options these days…although I have no idea why you’d want to give up perfectly good meat)
- Side Dish
- Cracker or Bread
- Spread, usually cheese, peanut butter (knead it heavily before use) or jelly
- Desert of some type
- Seasoning in some (the tiny little glass Tobasco jars are particularly prized)
- Accessory packet which will contain a plastic spoon, matches, coffee, creamer, sugar, gum, salt, toilet paper.
- May have a Flameless Ration Heater
Best Preparedness Use for the MRE
MRE’s do have a place in preparedness but not as your primary food source due to the cost and relatively short shelf life compared to other long term storage food options. I believe that an MRE’s best fit for preparedness in in get home bags, bug out bags and 72 hour kits. Beyond 72 hours you should consider other long term food storage options. If you do decide that MRE’s are right for these more portable uses you can save yourself a lot of bulk and weight by field stripping your MRE.
How to Field Strip A MRE:
- Carefully cut an opening in the thick outer plastic container big enough to remove the inner contents (outer plastic packaging can be used to haul water if needed but is very heavy). Discard outer packaging
- Remove all contents
- Remove cardboard cover from individual meal components. Discard cardboard
- Use sharpie to mark contents if contents aren’t preprinted on the foil packaging
- If you are field stripping more than one MRE then discard all but one plastic spoon (don’t forget to keep track of it)
- If you open and cull contents from your accessory packets then make sure to repackage in a watertight container (I use heavy duty zip lock bags). If you fail to do this…some of your condiments and most important of all…your toilet paper could be ruined by moisture.
- Remove any contents you know you would never eat
If you follow these steps you should be able to cut the bulk of your MRE in half and the weight by a about a third.
Note: A MRE’s packaging makes it extremely durable and weatherproof. While field stripping will reduce the weight and bulk of your meals you may decide to keep the packaging whole and field strip ‘on the run.’ If you decide to field strip on the run than you can poke a whole in the corner of the outer packaging, being careful not to damage the individual packaging of the inner contents, and use a carabiner to attach several MRE’s to the outside of your rucksack, backpack or satchel.
Where to Purchase MRE’s:
You can buy commercial MRE’s from a number of sources online including the following Prepography advertisers and affiliates or from many military surplus stores. Expect to pay about $70 per 12 Meal case as of Oct 2012: