Food and water are two of the most important things in a bug-out bag. They sustain you, and they give you the energy to do the things you need to do in a disaster. They also help to keep your mental health good, and that is very important, especially in a survival situation.
How much food and water do I need?
One question people constantly ask us is, “How much food and water do I need?”
The Centers for Disease Control, FEMA, the Red Cross, and the US Coast Guard all say that you should have at least one gallon of water per person, per day. We agree. You might not need that much, but you never know when a disaster will strike, and if it’s hot or if you’re having to physically exert yourself a lot, you will need at least a gallon of water. If it’s not hot, and if you’re sheltering in place, you might need less, but it’s important to plan for the maximum amount you might need.
For food, most of these sources are less specific, and just say “a three day supply for evacuation, a two week supply for home.” And when you look at most off-the-shelf bug-out bags, they’ll say they have a three day supply of food, but there are actually very few calories available per person.
We recommend that you plan for 3,000 calories per day, per person. A person can survive for three days with absolutely no food, but he won’t have the energy to get much done, and his mental health will not be good (don’t forget that mental health is as important as physical health).
3,000 calories of food might seem like a lot, and it’s probably more than you normally eat in a typical day. But after a disaster, there are often many physical things you have to do, such as clearing debris, moving to a safe location, building or repairing shelter, etc. All those things require energy, and that energy comes from your food.
What kind of food should I put in my bug-out bag?
When it comes to what kind of food you should have, there are a number of choices.
One choice we like is food bars. These bars are made specifically to be used in emergencies. They have a long shelf life, and they don’t require water or heating. You just open the package and eat them.
Some people like to use canned food. Things such as beans and chili can be eaten straight from the can, without being heated. Canned fruit can be good, and so can things like canned stew. You’re mainly looking for food that doesn’t taste too bad straight out of the can and unheated, and food with high calories.
MREs are great for a bug-out bag. Meals Ready to Eat usually have a long shelf life, they are often high in calories, and as the name says, they’re ready to eat. Many will even heat the food themselves. And the food itself will often taste better than food bars, and is more like “real food”.
One type of food that we generally like to avoid is dehydrated food. Like MREs, dehydrated food often tastes better than food bars. However, unlike MREs, dehydrated food isn’t ready to eat; you have to add boiling water. This means that you must have some way to heat water, like a portable stove, and you must also use water, which presumably comes from your drinking water. We don’t like food that requires us to use our drinking water to prepare it.
Something else we recommend is, if you’re supplementing an off-the-shelf bug-out bag, or you want to add some more calories to a BOB that you have made, toss in a jar or two of peanut butter. A normal 2.5 pound jar of peanut butter has over 6,000 calories.
What kind of water should I put in my bug-out bag?
Just like with food, you have a number of choices when it comes to stocking your BOB with water.
A good source of water is bottled water from the grocery store. Leave the bottles unopened until you need to use them, and they’ll last quite a while. They’re cheap, and you can get different sizes, which can be helpful when packing your BOB.
Many off-the-shelf bug-out bags come with pouches of water. These are good because they have a long shelf life, and they can be convenient to stuff in your BOB. That being said, bottles are often more convenient, so that you don’t have a huge pile of small water pouches in your bag.
Some backpacks come with hydration systems. These can be great because they fit in a compartment in the backpack that is made specifically for them, and they allow you to get water quickly and easily, without having to stop to open your pack. The downside is that, if you’re filling them yourself, you need to read the instruction manual on how to clean them, and how often to change the water. The water won’t be good for as long as bottled water that you buy.
Many people ask about storing tap water in soda bottles. You can do that, but you need to do it right, and it won’t last as long as bottled water bought from a store. For information on how to store tap water in soda bottles, see FEMA’s instructions on how to do it properly.
Anything else to consider when adding food and water to a bug-out bag?
Always check the expiration date on both food and water!
Emergency food is designed to have a long shelf-life, but it does still go bad. So make sure it has a long expiration date.
If you use canned food, you can rotate it out so that the food in your BOB always has a long expiration date. Also, make sure you have a manual can opener.
Even water goes bad. So you need to check the expiration date on your water, too. And if you’re storing tap water in bottles or hydration packs, you’ll need to rotate it more often than if you buy bottle water.
Don’t assume that because you just bought some emergency food or emergency drinking water, it has a long expiration date. Always check expiration dates either before you buy food and water at the store, or as soon as you get it, if you bought it online.
Keep this info in mind when you’re stocking your bug-out bag, and you’ll be ready to go if disaster strikes. The last thing you want is to think you’re prepared, only to find out that you don’t have enough food and water, or that it’s out of date and no good.