Build a BOB: Food

Posted on: August 24, 2015

Food is one area where I often see people go a bit overboard when it comes to stocking their BOBs. Don’t get me wrong, we need to have some calories in our packs to keep us going. We just might not need quite as many calories as some folks seem to think, that’s all.

There are a few different options or approaches when it comes to food for the BOB. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to each. Before we go into detail on those different options, though, let’s talk quantity of food needed first.

If you have any thoughts of rolling out three full meals each day you’re on the road, forget it. The point of bugging out is to reach your destination as efficiently, and safely, as possible. This means you won’t be stopping to prepare any sort of elaborate meals. In fact, there is a school of thought that dictates a complete lack of cooking in any form and only relying upon foods that can essentially be unwrapped and tossed into your pie hole. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.

Many of us are already carrying extra fuel in the form of fat around our middles and on our backsides. We’re not in danger of starvation within a day or two, that’s for sure. The food we have in our BOBs is there to keep us moving without a large degree of discomfort in the form of rumbling stomachs.

Snack foods

These are among the cheapest and easiest things to put into your BOB, but they aren’t typically the most nutritious. Here, we’re talking things like granola bars, protein bars, dried nuts, trail mix, that sort of thing. Bear in mind that many of these foods don’t do well in hot conditions. So, if you’re storing your BOB in your vehicle and you live in an area where it gets quite warm, these sorts of things probably aren’t the best choice.

No prep work involved, just unwrap and eat.
High levels of sugar give quick energy.
Taste pretty good.
Relatively inexpensive.
Easy to find locally.

Storage is a concern, especially in warm conditions.
Little actual nutritional value.

Grocery store food

This category of BOB food consists of the stuff you probably already eat regularly. We’re talking about rice, dry pasta, canned goods, all those things that you can find in the average grocery store. Many of these the foods in this category will require some sort of cooking or other prep work prior to consumption. Not all, of course. A pouch of tuna or chicken could be eaten on the move without much trouble. Your choices in this category of food are also well known to your body, so you shouldn’t suffer many ill effects from consuming them.

Easy to source locally.
Could be reasonably healthy if chosen carefully.
Your body and taste buds are accustomed to them.

Will likely require cooking or other prep work.
Canned goods are heavy.
Require a can opener.
Most are less than ideal when eaten cold.
Leftovers, should there be any, are difficult to transport.

Dehydrated and freeze dried food

Now we’re getting into the foods that are truly marketed to preppers and survivalists. You’ll often find these in sporting goods stores, too, for those camping and hiking. Basically, they are foods that are specially prepared and packaged to take up as little space as possible. Just add hot water and you’re good to go. Some of the brand names are Mountain House and Wise, though there are others out there as well. These packets of food tend to be rather pricey, which stands to reason given the work involved in processing and packaging them. As for taste, some folks love ‘em and others not so much. I’d highly recommend you sample a few before investing a ton of money into them. Make sure you like them and that they like you. Meaning, you want to make sure your digestive system doesn’t rebel against this new type of food.

Easy to find in most sporting goods stores as well as online.
Easy to prep, just add hot water and wait.
Very light and easy to pack.

Expensive when compared to alternatives.
Requires the use of water, which might be in limited supply.
Taste is very subjective. Try before you buy!

Meals Ready to Eat (MRE)

These are incredibly popular amongst the prepper crowd and, honestly, I don’t really know why. I think at least part of it stems from the general popularity of anything military in appearance. Either way, a traditional MRE is a packet that contains a main course, a side dish, a dessert, some type of bread or cracker, some type of spread (cheese, peanut butter, etc.), and a drink mix of some kind. The MRE will also have eating utensils, a flameless heater, and other little tidbits like salt and pepper. On the surface, sounds like a great option. But, the food in the MRE isn’t dehydrated so you’re carrying the full weight. Each MRE typically weighs around 1.5lbs, give or take. Doesn’t sound like a lot, I know, but when you plan on carrying enough to last you a few days, it adds up quickly. Plus, MREs are rather bulky and more than a couple of them don’t pack very well. But, the food is generally pretty tasty and the flameless heater gives you a hot meal without using other resources. What many people do is buy a few MREs and break them apart, distributing the contents to a few different BOBs, providing some food to each pack.

Good tasting and high calorie food.
Flameless heater gives you hot food without a fire.
A truly full meal per packet.
A good variety available online.

Bulky and heavy.

Stoves and Cookware

Another consideration that goes hand in hand with food for the BOB is the supporting gear you might need, such as stoves and cookware. Simply put, if you’re packing food that needs to be cooked, you need to have a way to cook it, right? We talked about fire starting gear in a previous installment but there might be times when a full campfire isn’t possible, either because of weather conditions or because of the overall situation. For times like those, a small camp stove might be desirable. There are several great stoves available on the market. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about full camp stoves like you may have used when car camping or something. You don’t want to try lugging a small suitcase sized stove on a bug out. Instead, focus on small and portable.

The fuel the stove uses is another consideration. I tend to favor alcohol as well as biomass (fancy term for sticks, leaves, and such). One great option for the former is a DIY alcohol stove using an old Altoids tin. As for a store-bought option, I really like my Esbit Spirit Stove set. What I do is keep a plastic bottle filled with denatured alcohol in my BOB. It is a simple squeeze type bottle with a secure lid that I put inside a ziploc baggie for extra insurance. The only time I use this stove is if I’m unable to use a normal campfire.

Incidentally, Esbit also makes a really cool little stove called the Pocket Folding Stove. Very compact but it uses special fuel tabs you’ll need to pack in the BOB.

For a biomass fueled stove, a pretty nifty one is the Biolite Stove.

It has the bonus of turning heat energy into electricity, allowing you to charge your cell phone and such while you’re cooking dinner. At a hair over 2lbs, isn’t isn’t too heavy for long-term carrying.

There are other options out there, too, such as the JetBoil products. The downside with those, though, is that you’ll need to carry fuel canisters as well as the stove.

Once you have the stove sorted out, move on to the cooking implements, specifically the cookware. This at least partially depends on what you’re bringing for food, of course. A small frying pan isn’t going to be much good for heating up soup. In general, a small pot of some sort with a lid should be adequate for most things. The lid is important as it helps to hold in heat, cooking the food more efficiently. There are some great options shown here.

Eating utensils will be welcome as well, of course. One option, and certainly the cheapest, is to save the plastic forks and such you receive at fast food restaurants. Alternatively, hit up your local thrift store and pick up some silverware (not real silver, of course) on the cheap. If it costs you more than a couple of dollars, you did something wrong. Bring it home and wash it well, maybe even boil it if that helps you feel better about used silverware. Sporks have come a long way since you were in elementary school, too, if you wanted to go that route.

Wild Sources of Food

One more thing to address is the possibility of trapping, fishing, and/or hunting food as you travel. Ragnar Benson is familiar to a lot of us old-time survivalists. He has a theory called Ragnar’s Survival Thermodynamics. Basically, he says you shouldn’t invest more energy into a survival activity than you’re likely to get out of it. In other words, it makes little sense to invest a ton of time and energy into food gathering if you’re likely to only end up with one measly squirrel or bluegill for your efforts.

Trapping only really works if you’re staying in one place for a while. I mean, it isn’t like you set out the traps and come back 30 minutes later to collect dinner. You might get that lucky once in a while but not often. The more traps you set, the higher your chances of catching something, too. Plus, traps are always working until they are tripped, allowing you to use your energy elsewhere. But, running a trap line takes time and that time might be better spent moving in the direction of your bug out location.

Fishing is about as low impact as it gets for food collection. But again, there is a time element. That said, here’s a link to the World’s Smallest DIY Pocket Fishing Kit, which takes up almost zero space in the BOB. As with trapping, the more lines you set out, the better the return on investment. In that regard, yo-yo fishing reels are an option. Trot lines are another way to increase the odds of success. This basically involves stringing a line between floats and running hooks down into the water from this main line.

My friend Creek Stewart (I know, lots of folks say that about celebrities, referring to them as “my friend.” Here’s the thing, Creek once sent me one of his books in which he’d inscribed “To Jim, I’d bug out with you any time!” In some states, that makes us legally engaged, I think. At the least, I think that makes us friends.) has talked in one or another of his books about scavenging supplies from ditches and such, repurposing trash for survival uses. Floats for a trot line could be made out of plastic bottles, Styrofoam, or any number of other common garbage items we find on the side of the road during our travels. Again, though, trot lines and other fishing methods aren’t an immediate gratification method of producing food.

As for hunting, the same thing applies. It takes time and energy to locate, track, and harvest wild game. However, should the opportunity arise to pick off a rabbit or something without endangering you or your party due to the noise and such, have at it. I just wouldn’t devote a ton of resources and energy to actively hunting while bugging out.

One more thing to consider is foraging. I highly recommend you take the time to learn to recognize and prepare wild edibles in your area. There are several great books on the subject, of course, such as Peterson’s Guide to Wild Edibles and Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest. However, this is an area where you’d be best off taking a class or two with an instructor in your neck of the woods. Plants change their appearance throughout their life cycles and most reference books only have one or two images of each plant, typically illustrating the plant at the time of best harvest. Contact your local County Extension office about any programs they might offer for identifying wild edibles.

Of course, in many parts of the country foraging is all but worthless for at least a few months out of the year. Kinda hard to find wild berries when there’s 2 feet of snow on the ground. But, time spent learning a new skill is never wasted, as far as I’m concerned. We can only hope that should we truly need to bug out, we’ll be doing so when the weather is nice and nature is bountiful. In reality, it will probably be the middle of January, with bitter cold temperatures and blowing snow. That’s just Murphy’s Law.

Take into account the expected length of time you’ll be living out of your pack and stock it accordingly.  Have enough food to make the trip, plus a little extra for a cushion, but don’t overdo it.

Don’t overlook foraging as a potential means of adding to your caloric intake but don’t rely upon it exclusively.

Be sure you have the gear you’ll need to prepare the food you’ve packed, including stoves and cookware.

Wild sources of food, such as hunting and fishing, may be feasible but take time and energy that you might want to devote to traveling instead.

Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes
Useful Odds and Ends

6 thoughts on “Build a BOB: Food

  1. Fruitcake. High caloric density, relatively non-perishable, no preparation required. If you aren’t fond of fruitcake, that’s even better – more servings!

  2. Don’t forget to look at emergency food ration bars. I prefer the Mayday brand which comes in different sizes from 400-3600 calories per bar. Two of the 2400 calorie variety fit perfectly inside a 5.11 6×6 utility pouch with a little extra room for extras (I keep coffee mix, gatorade mix, and multivitamins with them). I chose too keep a couple in my BOB because they boast a 5 year shelf life, can be stored at temps up to 149 degrees F and consumed without any preperation.

    Great series so far, I can’t wait to read the next installment.

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