How much food dedicated just for survival purposes should you have? What kind? What about emergency rations? How long can you go without food? What do expiration dates mean? How do you scavenge or hunt for food efficiently?
What You Need to Know About Food for Preparation and Survival
What You Need
To Know About
Food for Living
A person can go several weeks without food.
That, however, is stretching it. I’ve gone eight days
without food during one mission; interestingly I
stopped feeling hungry after a few days. However,
the ability to function begins to degrade.
When our output exceeds our caloric intake these
are the symptoms:
-confusion, poor judgment, and disorientation
-weakened immune system
-inability to maintain body temperature which can
lead to hypothermia, heat exhaustion/stroke
The Coast Guard has determined that with fresh
water, people can survive in a life raft 8 to 18
days without any food. The Coast Guard also
believes you need a bare minimum of 800
calories a day for survival; but that’s sitting in a
life raft, not being very active and focused on
Note that number when I discuss emergency
ration bars further on.
The human body can sustain a surprising amount of
weight loss. When the body loses 20% of its weight, it
consumes 50% less energy.
Your body temperature drops and we become
lethargic and apathetic, neither of which are desirable
in a survival situation.
Eventually, the organs begin to waste away.
Liver and kidney malfunctioning begin to occur.
Diseases like scurvy and pellagra emerge.
Scurvy is a lack of Vitamin C and leads to anemia,
spontaneous bleeding, pain in the limbs and swelling.
Pellagra is a lack of Niacin, B3, which leads to
inflamed skin, diarrhea, dementia and sores in the
Women usually can sustain weight loss better
Each person will respond differently based on
their physical condition and weight.
Most people will die if their body mass index
falls below half of normal.
Bottom line: have a minimum 3
day supply of non-perishable food
for each member of your
The same in your Grab-n-Go bag.
That’s baseline. As you will see, I
recommend more than that.
This is food specifically set aside
Non-perishables for three days
Food that doesn’t require refrigeration.
Don’t have food that will make you
Plan for infants and special dietary
Note expiration dates.
Click on image for a good supply from
the company that made our Long
Range Patrol meals in Special Forces.
It’s what I have on hand and in our
Also good for camping.
I rotate this stock by using the oldest
when camping. You add hot water to
the pouch and can eat right out of it.
THE GREEN BERET PREPARATION AND SURVIVAL GUIDE
I set three
I recommend investing in some emergency ration
bars. They are a bit expensive, but you won’t mind
the outlay when you need them.
The ones I list all are 3600 calories, which in a
survival situation equals 800 calories a day for three
days. They contain a mixture of salt, carbohydrates,
fat, protein and are usually enriched with daily
requirements of minerals and vitamins. Some
reasons to have these:
1. They have a five year shelf life, so you can store
2. They’re compact (but heavy)
3. They’re ready to eat (no cooking)
4. They can withstand wide temperature swings,
which helps with storage.
5. They don’t make you thirsty.
I have ration bars in our vehicles, our Grab-n-Go
bags, and in our Bug Out Hide Site cache. I
recommend storing some at work. Even just one
packet in each place makes a big difference; and
it’s less than two cups of extra-whatever-latte-
frappe you order at Starbucks.
Some things to consider:
-Put them inside a large Ziplok bag, because once
you open the packet, the bars aren’t individually
-They are emergency rations, not to be used if
other rations are available.
-They are designed for survival, not activity.
-They’re heavy so many don’t put them in Grab-n-
Go bags, but I think the weight is worth it.
I have a variety of ration bars (click on each
Grizzly Bear Emergency Food Rations
Below are some before going into a ziplock
bag and into my Jeep.
Something to consider if you have time to prepare
is trail mix, or what we called GORP in Special
Forces. We were among the first to start putting
M&Ms into regular mix.
There are a number of varieties, but it's quick
However, the shelf life is limited.
There are many variations.
Having high protein bars is a quick source of
energy and doesn’t require cooking. Click on
A small, portable stove is key.
Make sure you have plenty of fuel which comes in
various sizes from small to larger and heavier. The stove
screws onto the fuel canister. This stove is inexpensive
and has a built-in click lighter, and two cups in the form of
the case. I’ve brewed many a cup of coffee/hot
chocolate/meals with it.
Cooking Food & Boiling
Pots to cook in with utensils. I use the pots
below with a larger stove that I pack in my
Here I’m brewing up on the front bumper of
the Jeep in the Smoky Mountains. Note
chow for Scout, our rescue dog, also laid
Know what the emergency broadcast stations are.
Below is a hand crank/solar radio/flashlight combo I
have in my Jeep and in my grab-n-go bag. Click on image for
Food Expiration Dates
There are several terms stamped on food. This is what they mean:
SELL BY: How long a store should display the product for sale.
This is a guide for the store. It is optimum quality date, but food is
still edible for a while after.
BEST IF USED BY OR BEFORE DATE: This is only about
quality, not safety.
GUARANTEED FRESH DATE: This usually refers to bakery
items. They will still be edible after that date.
USE BY DATE: This is the last recommended day to use the
product at peak quality. It is still edible after this.
PACK DATE: This is on canned and packaged goods. This
actually might not be clear as sometimes its in code. It can be done
by month-day-year as MMDDYY. Or it could be Julian calendar
for the year, which means January is 001-0031. December would
Foods not to eat past their expiration date?
Eggs. Deli meat. Mixed greens. Alfalfa sprouts. Oysters.
Shrimp. Raw ground beef. Berries. Soft cheese. Chicken.
How long is food usually good for?
Milk: a week after Sell By.
Eggs: Three to five weeks after you buy them. Double-
grade A will go down a grade in a week, but are still edible.
Poultry and seafood: Cook or freeze within a day.
Beef and pork: Cook or freeze within three to four days.
Canned goods: High acid foods such as tomato sauce can
last to 18 months. Low acid such as canned green beans can
last for five years. However, do not store these in a hot
space. A dry, cool place, is best.
Food Expiration Dates
The primary way to get food in a moderate to extreme
emergency is to scavenge. Remember, though, that
others will be doing the same.
Think through the food distribution network. Don’t go
for the obvious targets like stores.
Move up the chain.
Crops still in the field.
I cover scavenging in another slideshow and in the
Guide. It’s a phase that is often overlooked.
Unless you are an experienced hunter, consider trapping.
It’s quieter and more effective. You can set multiple
traps that are passive, while hunting requires activity.
One of the most important things to have in your Grab-
n-Go bag are snares.
I keep snares in all my G-n-G bags, in my cars and in my
house and Bug Out Hide Site cache.
How To Use A Snare
Anchor your snare. Use wire, such as from a coat hangar, slide it
through the loop, and tie it around the base of a tree or post. Make
sure the wire can’t be pulled apart or unwound by the animal as it
fights the trap.
Find a stick as the stand for the snare. Prop it up between the
anchor point and the loop for snare. Have the slide lock of the loop
about a half inch in front of the support. Essentially you’re hanging
a noose down over the trail. Once you’re in place, push the stick
down into the ground fixing it in place. The loop must be at the
proper height for your target—where it’s head would go into the
loop. This is from 3 inches to 10 inches off the ground.
Set multiple snares to increase your odds. This is another way
trapping is more effective than hunting.
Check your traps every day. The animal will be dead because the
sliding lock closes around their necks and either cuts off
circulation or breaks their neck during their initial struggle to get
Remember all that? Invest in a survival manual. Links at the end.
We are hunter-gatherers.
Besides hunting with snares, we can gather
edibles and also fish.
In my recommended survival library
(another free slideshow) I include books on
plant identification and how to prepare, along
with a basic fishing guide.
But let’s hope it doesn’t get to
Get and keep at least a three day
supply of food in your home. You
should have more than that. This
will make you more prepared than
60% of American households!
More Free Information
I constantly update free, downloadable
slideshows like this on my web site for
preparation and survival and other
Also, I conduct Area Study workshops
for those interested in properly
preparing for their specific
The guide on the left is the complete preparation and
survival guide. The one on the right is a pocket-size
manual with just the survival portion. Useful in your Grab-
n-Go bag, car and kitchen drawer.
New York Times bestselling author, is a graduate of West
Point and former Green Beret. He’s had over 80 books
published, including the #1 bestselling series Green Berets,
Time Patrol, Area 51, and Atlantis. He’s sold over 5 million
books. He was born in the Bronx and has traveled the world.
He’s lived on an island off the east coast, an island off the
west coast, in the Rocky Mountains, the Smoky Mountains
and other places, including time in East Asia studying martial
He was an instructor and course developer/writer for years
at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School which trains
Green Berets and also runs the SERE school:
Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape.