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Canned food sometimes gets a bad rap, but when it comes to an emergency situation, canned food is the way to go. It’s portable, doesn’t require refrigeration, and has a super generous shelf-life—all winning traits for a survival kit. And these products aren’t just ideal for survival scenarios; for the same reasons, they are great go-to options for those who frequently go camping or hiking.
Whether it’s a full meal or just a snack, here are some of the best canned survival food options.
Best Overall: Mountain House Freeze Dried Rice and Chicken XL Can
This rice and chicken meal is freeze-dried, so it doesn’t require any refrigeration, and it will maintain its nutritional value. The extra-large can contains nine servings, so it’s great to have stored up for larger families or groups. Prep couldn’t be easier, making this a convenient option for hiking or camping trips, in addition to emergency kits; it can be ready in 10 minutes, and all you need is hot water (or room temperature water works, too—it may just take longer). There are no artificial ingredients, it's certified gluten-free, and this meal has an impressive shelf life of 30 years.
Best Breakfast: Mountain House Freeze Dried Breakfast Skillet XL Can
We always hear about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, so we can’t forget about breakfast when it comes to survival food. Mountain House has you covered, though, with its freeze-dried breakfast skillet that comes in an eight-serving extra-large can for your convenience. This skillet, with a shelf-life of 30 years, has everything you want in a breakfast, including hash browns, eggs, pork, peppers, and onions. And, as an added bonus, it’s gluten-free.
No refrigeration is necessary, and all you need is water to prepare it. Each serving has 14 grams of protein, perfect to start your day off right, no matter the emergency scenario or outdoor adventure.
Best Stew: Armour Star Classic Homestyle Beef Stew
Nothing says comfort food like beef stew. This pack of 12 cans is a great, hearty option to have ready for any future emergency situation or any upcoming outdoors trip. It contains beef, potatoes, and carrots, and it can be eaten right out of the can for the ultimate convenience. This stew is also gluten-free, so it’s helpful to have on hand for any gluten-intolerant family members. Each 1 cup serving contains 230 calories and 8 grams of protein.
Best Veggies: Augason Farms Vegetable Stew Blend
This large can of vegetable stew contains an astounding 40 servings, so you will be well-fed if you have this in your emergency supplies. The 25-year shelf life means you don’t need to think about replenishing your emergency supplies annually. This stew is also gluten-free, so it’s great to stock up on if you, or someone in your family, have a gluten intolerance or allergy. Simple prep makes this meal a great option not only for emergency situations but also for outdoor activities; all you have to do is add water and heat. This stew is made with potatoes, cabbage flakes, onions, carrots, celery, and green and red bell pepper.
Best Versatile: Nutristore Freeze Dried Beef Dices
If you’re all about the meat, this option is for you. The only two ingredients in Nutristore’s product are beef and salt, making this a super versatile emergency food option to have on hand (and it's free of any artificial preservatives). It has a 25-year shelf life, so you can buy it and forget about it for quite some time, or actively plan on using it for outdoor activities like camping.
Each can contains 20 servings, and each serving contains 13 grams of protein and 100 calories. All you need is water (to soak the diced beef) and about 15-20 minutes.
Best Burger Mix: Augason Farms Gluten-Free Black Bean Burger
“Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean your emergency food storage will be lacking in protein variety,” according to Augason Farms. This burger mix is chock-full of protein- and fiber-rich black beans to provide vegetarians and meat-eaters alike with plenty of nutritional benefits. This gluten-free mix goes beyond just burgers—you can toss it in a salad, or use it in a soup or stew or use it however best suits your needs and situation. All you need is water, and this one can will provide 38 servings. Plus, it has a 25-year shelf life, so no need to restock any time soon.
Best for Snacking: Augason Farms Banana Chips
Sure, snack items like chips may not be as much of a nutritional necessity in an emergency situation, but having some kind of sweet treat certainly won’t hurt. Banana chips are a fantastic option, and they’re ready to eat as is—delicious on their own, but also fun to add to trail mixes or to stir into hot breakfast cereals. This can has a 10-year shelf life and contains 22 servings. Each serving contains 240 calories and 4 grams of fiber, from a short ingredient list of just dehydrated banana slices, coconut oil, sugar, and banana flavoring.
Best for Meat Lovers: Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles XL Can
For a filling, hearty dinner, look no further than Mountain House’s beef stroganoff, which boasts mushrooms, onions, cream sauce, beef, and noodles. There’s no need for refrigeration, and there’s no artificial flavors or colors. Each can has 10 servings, and all you need to do is add water and wait. The 30-year shelf life ensures you don’t have to re-stock your emergency supply every year, and the quality and nutritional contents will remain unchanged. Each serving contains 280 calories and 12 grams of protein.
If you are looking to get a hearty meal out of your canned product with easy prep, look no further than the Mountain House Rice and Chicken Can (view at Amazon). It has a super long shelf life, only requires water to prepare, and has a solid amount of calories for energy. If you’re looking for something on the lighter side for emergency snacking, you can’t go wrong with Augason Farms Banana Chips (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in Canned Survival Food
You don’t want to have to re-stock your emergency food supplies annually, so it’s worth checking how long your supplies will last. Each manufacturer is different (and products within the same manufacturer may differ), so it’s always a good idea to check those labels. Mark your food supplies with the date you stocked up, so years down the line, you’re able to check and re-supply if needed.
Does your can require a can opener, or does it simply have a lid you can pop off, so no tools are necessary? This is a good idea to check ahead of time. If your food requires a can opener, make sure you leave one with your emergency supplies.
You’ll also want to check if your canned food requires any ingredients to prepare/reconstitute. In many cases, it’s water (hot or room temperature, depending on the instructions), and some may not require any water at all. If your emergency food supply requires water, make sure you pack extra water in your emergency food supplies (separate from your drinking water—which is most important of all), so you have enough to reconstitute your food and still have enough to hydrate.
What if the canned food has no label with best by dates?
Sometimes, a label on canned food doesn't contain the "use by" date. In those situations, you may be able to locate a coded date stamped on the top or the bottom of the can. If you're at all uncertain, the company may likely have an 800-number or other method of contact (a website, email address, or social media accounts) listed on the label. They should be able to help you determine their best-by codes.
How much food per person should I stockpile?
The average adult will consume about 2,000 calories per day and require about a gallon of water. Consider the caloric amounts of the people you are with, how long you will need supplies for (usually 3 to 4 days is sufficient for an emergency), and make adjustments accordingly. If you're in the wilderness and hiking, you may need more than 2,000 calories per day.
What are you preparing for?
If you are preparing for a camping trip or a long hike, it will determine what you bring and how much. But if you aren't sure, think about what situations or scenarios are of the most concern to you, in terms of preparation. Are you worried about power outages? Or do you live in an area that's prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes, or perhaps among other types of instability or unrest (political or otherwise) that could threaten your ability to provide food in a traditional manner.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
The Spruce Eats writer Alyssa Langer is a registered dietitian and foodie, always curious about the next food or ingredient craze and hungry to learn and try more. Having worked in cookbook publishing, CPG label data, nutrition writing, and meal kits, her diverse background and varied interests provide a unique perspective that fosters clear, well-researched, and trustworthy reviews.