Series Note: The Promolife Webmaster has a bit of an obsession with MREs and other survival gear, so these articles are meant for our customers who are also interested in preparation, camping, hiking or adventuring.
This article is designed to give you an introduction to MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), how to tell true military issue from civilian copies and how to get the type you want for your survival or camping kits.
What is an MRE?
Meals Ready to Eat are just that. They are mostly thought of in a military sense because the United States government supplies them to troops as an easy, transportable meal option. They have a good shelf life and can be eaten anywhere which has made them extremely popular with survivalists and campers. No stoves, no refrigerators and no dehydration is needed. This makes them ideal for anyone who gets caught in a natural disaster or other circumstance where you may have to leave home quickly. You’ll be able to carry MREs much more efficiently than giant cans of food (which I also like for other reasons).
Aren’t MREs illegal?
Technically, government-issued MREs are not to be resold. This doesn’t exactly stop anyone. As of this writing the military hasn’t exactly been very active about stopping sales. However a cottage industry of civilian knock-offs has risen in recent years to cater to people who either can’t find the real deal or don’t trust resellers.
Which is better? Military or civilian MREs?
In the past, I would have said the genuine article was far better, because they were. In some cases they still are, but improvements have been in the civilian sector. There are differences however so here’s a general list.
Pros and cons of Military MREs:
- Pro: They’re the real deal. For some people, this is a huge point. For me it’s mainly window dressing but there is a certain coziness in knowing you have genuine issue.
- Pro: When bought on Ebay they are often cheaper than civilian meals, sometimes significantly.
- Pro: You generally have more variety if you buy by the case and can easily find menus that tell you exactly what you’re getting.
- Pro: Out of the five different types I’ve bought, I prefer the military packaging. It seems to hold up better overall.
- Pro: You know you’re getting all the good stuff; utensils, heaters for the entree, sides, condiments, etc.
- Con: Sometimes they’re harder to find.
- Con: If buying off of Ebay, you’re not 100% sure how the food has been stored (see below for tips on this though).
- Pro: Better meal variety and you know which meals you’ll get.
Pros and cons of Civilian MREs:
- Pro: They can be fresher. MREs on Ebay might be a couple years old already which, if stored well, isn’t a big deal.
- Con: They can be a little more expensive or a lot more expensive depending on where you get them.
- Con: May be missing parts, like the flameless heaters. You can warm entrees with boiling water but the heaters are extremely cool, only need a tiny bit of water, and do all the work for you.
- Pro: Some bags are wider than military MRE containers so they are somewhat flatter, which can make packing them into small bug out bags a little easier.
- Con: For the enthusiasts, it’s just not the same.
- Con: Often don’t have as good a variety, and most of the time they won’t even tell you what meals you’re getting. Surprise!
Tips for Buying MREs
If you want genuine military meals, your best bet price-wise is often Ebay. MREs at gun shows can also be a good deal. Surplus stores often charge too much. When buying off Ebay, keep these ideas in mind:
- Make sure there is a picture and it looks like the one on the right.
- Check seller feedback. Someone with a 99% or 100% approval rating is probably telling you the truth.
- Make sure the auction lists the re-inspection date (which is simply the guaranteed fresh date; when stored correctly MREs can last for years after this date).
- Make sure it tells you the case letter and/or menu numbers so you will know what you’re getting. An example would be Case A, Menus 1-12.
- Make sure you know how it has been stored. A good seller will tell you this. You don’t want MREs that have been sitting in a 120 degree warehouse for two years or in a flooded basement somewhere.
- Watch the shipping price. You might find a box that costs $50 but the seller charges $40 for shipping. That’s no good. You will have to do some comparing to find the best total price from the right seller with high feedback ratings, but you could save big by doing so.
- Don’t buy from someone who says you’re getting the genuine article but uses any of the photos below, which are all civilian issue.
- Go for unopened boxes whenever possible.
If you’re looking for good civilian MREs, you have a lot more options obviously. I would highly recommend not buying individual meals unless you have to because the prices are ridiculous in many cases. Even though I like The Ready Store for various reasons, they keep upping the price on their individual meals to levels that are completely out of line with reality. So avoid single meals. Here are some other tips:
- If full meals are what you want, be careful. Some shops offer “three day MRE kits” that actually only have three full MREs. The rest of the kit is pieced together from parts.
- Don’t buy from someone who won’t list what you’re getting in the package. Now many stores won’t tell you what exact foods are included, but they should all at least tell you something like this: Includes one entree, one side dish, one drink packet, utensil, napkin, candy. Something like that so you at least have a clue what pieces they provide.
- Keep in mind you may have to buy your flameless heaters separately, adding to the cost. Some companies will package twelve meals but only include three heaters.
- Make sure you’re getting the calorie count you want. Most of the kits are fairly consistent now with military calorie counts but really cheap vendors may only have meals with 500 calories, meaning you’d need more and get less.
- A lot of people say their meals are “just like military rations.” They’re not. Not exactly. That’s all hype. That doesn’t necessarily disqualify a seller because so many say it, but be aware of those who insist they sell the genuine article when they don’t. The photos to the right are an example of civilian MRE cases. Anyone who says they are genuine military are lying to you and you should avoid them. The photos below are of products to avoid.
I hope this article has been helpful. You can find an amazing amount of MRE information at MREInfo.com.