Buyer's Guides

Lucky 7: Best Tasting Emergency Food Bars for 2020

When it comes to the best tasting emergency food bars, the prime predictor for their success usually boils down to, though not always, how it tastes. There is an absolute army of manufacturers who produce emergency food bars, each one touting how much tastier theirs are versus their competitors.

The survival food kit market is inundated with emergency food options in which manufacturers make bold promises, but more often than not, fail to deliver the goods. Often times, these products fail in spectacular fashion when judged simply by merit, without having to dig very deep into the details.

Well, today is the day that we at WanderMighty take up the gauntlet and pit 7 emergency food bars against each other to find out which one is the tastiest emergency food bar of them all. This challenge will be similar to our Best Mountain House Meals article, in which one winner will reign supreme.

Best Tasting Emergency Food Bars – The Rundown

Emergency food bars, also known as ration bars, are widely recognized as a compact, high-calorie solution for those faced with uncertain circumstances in dire survival situations.

Food ration bars contain essential macro nutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) as well as vitamins and minerals to ensure your survival, even in the face of the harshest environmental conditions.

A note on this roundup: You’ll likely see many sites reviewing what they consider to be “emergency food bars”. Those options couldn’t be further from being emergency worthy.

Emergency food (or ration) bars are traditionally made to be able to exist in hellish environmental conditions and meet SOLAS 74/83 and U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Homeland Security requirements for their emergency and survival use. All of the options presented in this roundup meet these requirements, either in part or all.

Flavorful Emergency Food Bars – An Oxymoron?

Well, yes and no. In truth, emergency food bars are designed first and foremost to provide the bare minimum in terms of macro and micro nutrients to keep you going in a survival situation. Taste, unfortunately, takes a back seat, but probably not in the way that you would expect.

Intriguingly, emergency food bars got their start back in 1937 when the U.S. Army was looking for suitable emergency field rations for long deployments. One of the conditions of developing this food bar (known as the Field Ration D bar) was that it needed to taste “a little better than a boiled potato”.

U.S. Army Field Ration D Bar

U.S. Army Field Ration D Bar

The idea behind this requirement was to discourage troops from prematurely eating the ration bar, or considering it as a “treat”. The field ration bar was designed for use during emergencies, and what better way to ensure that it was than to make it nearly unpalatable to unsuspecting taste buds?

As you might have guessed, the bars were not a hit with the G.I.’s due primarily to the taste but also the unpleasant digestive side effects that the bars caused. The situation with the Field Ration D bar became so bad during WWII that troops began referring to the bar as “Hitler’s Secret Weapon.”

Today’s Ration Bars vs. Field Ration D Bars

Thankfully, manufacturers today recognize the lessons learned from the Field Ration D bar, and while civilian emergency ration bars are nutrient dense like their U.S. Army counterparts of yesteryear, the civilian versions taste significantly better.

However, while many civilian companies offer flavored ration bars, such as apple cinnamon, lemon, vanilla and coconut, these flavors are still largely regarded as being generally muted and taste a bit on the bland side for the reasons stated earlier.

This is important because while it would be easy to talk up a particular ration bar and extoll how tasty it is, we do need to consider the bigger picture of what audience and primary application that these emergency food bars are actually intended to serve: food to be eaten when on the verge of starvation.

Keeping Score

This throw down is the ultimate head to head match up between the best emergency food bars available on the market. Each ration bar will be judged by the criteria below:

Taste – We let our taste buds do the talking. This is an exercise in which every nuance of taste is critically judged by what the food ration package says it contains. This is not whether we like the food bar, rather us being able to taste each ingredient that makes up the ration bar.

Texture – Pure mouthfeel. Wait, mouth-what? Basically, it’s our way of determining if the ingredients in the meal feel the way they should. We’ve all likely had poor experiences with mushy broccoli, rubbery macaroni and dried out steaks, none of which are likely contenders for a Michelin star.

Tangibles – This section is our catch all: we’re looking for how hard (or soft) it is to consume the food bar, if the food bar is truly designed to be eaten without the need for water and finally, the types and amont of ingredients used (such as sugar and sodium).

The Nitty Gritty

In an effort to be as informative as possible, below is a handy table detailing the specifics of the emergency food bars that we are reviewing today. Please note that the asterisks (*) beside Sugar and Sodium represents the amount per serving. 

Brand Flavor Sugar* Sodium* Artificial Flavors
Mainstay Emergency Food Rations Lemon 14g 23mg Yes
UST Emergency Food Ration Bars Apple Cinnamon 15g 5mg Yes
Datrex Emergency Food Rations Coconut 5g .75mg No
SOS Emergency Food Rations Cinnamon or Coconut 31g 15mg No
ER Bar Emergency Ration Food Lemon Vanilla 16g 5mg Yes
Grizzly Gear Emergency Food Rations Lemon 14g 23mg Yes
Mayday Emergency Food Rations Apple Cinnamon 15g 10mg Yes


Mainstay Emergency Food Rations

Mainstay Emergency Food Rations

Mainstay Emergency Food Rations

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No stranger to the emergency food ration scene, Mainstay offers 2400 and 3600 calorie packs in Lemon flavor. Although they’re marketed as lemon, we did detect a slight hint of vanilla, which was confirmed when we looked closely at the ingredients and saw artificial vanilla flavoring listed.

One issue shared with most survival bars is that the consistency of ration bars can be crumbly when biting into them, making a bit of a mess in the process. In addition, while Mainstay states that these bars can be eaten dry without water, folks may experience excessively dry mouths doing so.

While definitely a concern in regards to water rationing, it’s best to have a few sips of water on hand to prevent your mouth from drying out, allowing the bars to be consumed more easily. The texture and taste of the bars is that of a lemon shortbread cookie, without the added sugar and general sweetness.

Surprisingly, we discovered that eating these ration bars with water tends to accentuate and make the lemon flavor much more noticeable. Overall, the Mainstay emergency food ration bars are fairly tasty and more on the dry than oily side with 14g of sugar and 23mg of sodium, per serving.

PROS:
  • Solid lemon flavor
  • Dense and filling
  • Slightly sweet-ish

CONS:
  • Very crumbly and dry
  • Artificial vanilla flavoring
  • Highest in sodium content


UST Emergency Food Ration Bars

UST Emergency Food Ration Bars

UST Emergency Food Ration Bars

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Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST), while a relative newcomer to the survival ration scene, has put together a pretty good tasting emergency bar. Offering their bars in a 2400 calorie pack, UST survival ration bars are Apple Cinnamon flavored.

The UST ration bars taste similar to a snickerdoodle cookie, although dry, with a noticeable apple cinnamon flavor which is both familiar and tasty. The UST bars, while dry in composition, are non-thirst provoking, meaning that they can be eaten without feeling the need for water.

Consistency wise, the UST bars are very dense and not as crumbly as the Mainstay bars. We suspect that UST uses a bit more oil in their product (palm oil in this case) which helps keeps crumbs and wasted product to a minimum by essentially gluing everything together.

Nutritionally, UST food bars contain 15g of sugar and 5mg of sodium per serving. Both the sugar and sodium content are on the lower end of the spectrum when compared to all options reviewed here. With taste testing complete, the UST ration bar is a favorite in both flavor and consistency.

PROS:
  • Tasty apple cinnamon flavor
  • Texture is on point; not too crumbly
  • Non-thirst provoking

CONS:
  • Palm oil may be an issue for some
  • 2400 calorie pack option only
  • Artificial flavoring added


Datrex Emergency Food Rations

Datrex Emergency Food Rations

Datrex Emergency Food Rations

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Datrex is a well-known name in the emergency food ration scene, as they are one of the most widely recognized brands on the market. Offering both their 2400 and 3600 calorie packs in a Coconut flavor, these ration bars are an extremely popular choice for those looking for a healthier ration bar.

Bottom line up front, the coconut flavor of the Datrex bars is on the muted side. This is to be expected from a ration bar, although there seems to be just a hint of vanilla which gives the bar a sort of Nilla Wafer feel. Note that those with coconut allergies will want to steer clear of this product.

These bars are similar to Mainstay in that they are just as crumbly and messy to eat, although not quite as hard and dense to bite into. Additionally, while Datrex advertises that these bars do not promote thirstiness while eating, you may want to keep water on standby to help wash things down.

Datrex bars are one of the few ration bars on the market that do not contain artificial flavors, and where the ingredients are all-natural. These bars also contain the least amount of sugar (5g) and sodium (.75mg) per serving among the bunch, making them a standout option among the health conscious.

PROS:
  • All-natural ingredients
  • No artificial flavors
  • Non-GMO and no nuts

CONS:
  • Very crumbly and messy
  • Can cause thirstiness
  • Low flavor profile


SOS Emergency Food Rations

SOS Emergency Food Rations - Cinnamon and Coconut

SOS Emergency Food Rations – Cinnamon (top) and Coconut (bottom)

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A long-standing company that has been in the survival food bar scene since 1989 is SOS and their Emergency Food Ration bars. SOS offers their bars in both 2400 and 3600 calorie pack options and they have two different flavors to choose from, Coconut and Cinnamon. We’ll review both flavors below.

Taste wise, these bars do exceptionally well. The coconut flavored ration bars take after a sweeter version of your classic animal cookie and are tastier than the Datrex. The cinnamon flavored SOS bars are more akin to a “real cookie” in both taste and texture, edging out the Mayday apple cinnamon bars in a blind taste test.

A major consideration with these food bars is that they are on the “cheaper” side, that is, they do not offer the same quality of ingredients as its competitors. SOS ration bars use partially hydrogenated oils, which may be the reason why these bars are less prone to crumbling, creating waste.

One key takeaway with the SOS ration bars is that, while they do use cheaper ingredients, they don’t use artificial flavoring in either their coconut or cinnamon bars. Sodium content is average at 15g per serving, while sugar content is highest in the roundup at 31g per serving. Best in class coconut flavor!

PROS:
  • Extremely flavorful
  • Less prone to crumbling
  • No artificial flavors

CONS:
  • Use of partially hydrogenated oils
  • Can be hard to bite into
  • Lower end ingredients


ER Bar Emergency Ration Food

ER Bar Emergency Ration Food

ER Bar Emergency Ration Food

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ER Bar has been around since 1982, and is no stranger to the survival food industry. ER Bar offers their Emergency Ration Food bars in both 2400 and 3600 calorie packs and are Lemon Vanilla in flavor. ER Bar is one of the few options on the market in which their ration bars do not contain nuts or tropical oils.

One of the few survival food bars that offers a true lemon vanilla flavor, the ER Bars are pretty tasty with a cookie-like texture. The vanilla is definitely a bit muted and can be hard to find, while the lemon flavoring has a bit of a zip to it, letting you know there’s a citrus circus going on.

Unlike most bars in this roundup, the ER Bar ration food breaks apart with relative ease. In fact, this product is one of the easiest to bite and chew into, although with a fair number of crumbs in the process. Unfortunately, these bars will make you thirsty, by dint of it being less oily (and thus drier).

With sugar content at 16g per serving (second highest in the group) and sodium content at 5mg per serving (tied for lowest in the group), the ER Bar does a lot of things well, especially where the lemon flavoring is concerned. We just wish the vanilla flavor wouldn’t be so shy and come out and play.

PROS:
  • Lemon taste is very good
  • Cookie-like texture – easy to chew
  • No nuts or tropical oils

CONS:
  • Messy and very crumbly
  • Vanilla flavor a bit muted
  • May cause thirstiness


Grizzly Gear Emergency Food Rations

Grizzly Gear Emergency Food Rations

Grizzly Gear Emergency Food Rations

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Grizzly Gear comes to us by way of Cameron’s Products, a company known for their innovative outdoor and cooking products. The Grizzly Gear Emergency Food Ration bars come in a 3600 calorie pack option, and are offered in a Lemon flavor.

Straight up, these bars taste great. They have a definite lemon-y flavor, more so on the citrus side than sweet and sugary. For comparison purposes, they taste very much like your classic shortbread cookies, which was surprising given that ration bars, in general, aren’t exactly noted for their flavor.

The Grizzly Gear bars are relatively easy to break apart into their allotted portion sizes with minimal effort. Like most ration bars, they are moderately crumbly, so it’s best to have something to catch the crumbs with. The bars, while very dense, are easy to bite into and eat without the need for water.

Although these ration bars are artificially flavored, they contain 14g of sugar per serving, tied for second lowest among the group, and 23mg of sodium per serving which is tied for highest. These bars are very similar to the Mainstay in consistency, with Grizzly Gear edging out Mainstay in the flavor department.

PROS:
  • Citrus-y lemon taste
  • No cholesterol
  • Non-thirst provoking

CONS:
  • Contains trans-fat oils
  • High sodium content
  • Artificial flavoring added


Mayday Emergency Food Rations

Mayday Emergency Food Rations

Mayday Emergency Food Rations

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Mayday has been around for nearly three decades, and is a trusted brand with a widely recognized name in the survival food business. The Mayday Emergency Food Rations come in 1200, 2400 and 3600 calorie pack options, and are Apple Cinnamon in flavor.

Taste wise, the Mayday bars are on point with a good apple cinnamon flavor. The cinnamon definitely takes center stage here, while the apple is more of a secondary, periphery flavor. Artificial flavoring is used in the Mayday ration bars, which might be a hard sell for those looking for a more natural option.

Mayday emergency food ration bars are very dense but not at all hard to bite into and chew. The bars break apart easily, but do leave behind a moderate number of crumbs. Mayday advertises these bars as being non-thirst provoking, but a few sips of water will prevent your mouth from becoming overly dry.

Sugar content of these food bars are low at 15g per serving, while sodium content is third lowest at 10mg per serving. Mayday’s main competitor is UST, who also offers an apple cinnamon flavored ration bar. However, based on our taste tests, Mayday simply does a better job overall with their flavor profile.

PROS:
  • Pleasant cinnamon flavor
  • Easy to break apart and consume
  • Non-thirst provoking

CONS:
  • Apple flavor overly muted
  • Not very sweet tasting
  • Artificially flavored


The Winners

The short and sweet (no pun intended!) of it is this: Emergency food bars come in a variety of flavors and their purchase usually boils down to how they taste. Granted, if you’re starving, you’ll eat pretty much anything, but given the option to eat something you like (or tolerate) versus something you hate during a survival situation, we’ll choose the former rather than the latter and call it a win.

We had a very comprehensive and varied group of test subjects today, including three lemon, three cinnamon and two coconut flavored survival ration bars. In addition to declaring an overall winner, we’ll also declare our favorite in each respective flavor category.

LEMON WINNER COCONUT WINNER CINNAMON WINNER
Grizzly Gear Emergency Food Rations SOS Emergency Food Rations - Coconut Mayday Emergency Food Rations
Grizzly Gear Emergency Food Rations SOS Emergency Food Rations Mayday Emergency Food Ration Bars
Great citrus flavor matched with good texture is a sure fire way to earn high marks in this roundup. Aside from artificial flavors, this food bar is our favorite for those wanting a zesty lemon flavor. Our favorite coconut flavored survival food bar. No artificial flavors lends itself well to a tasty profile. While hard to bite into, this bar tops our list, beating out Datrex’s coconut entry. Without a doubt, our favorite cinnamon food bar. Terrific taste and texture gives Mayday the upper hand. Although it does use artificial flavoring, it simply spanks the competition in the taste tests.
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OVERALL WINNER – MAYDAY EMERGENCY FOOD RATION BARS
Mayday Emergency Food Rations
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The undisputed, heavyweight flavor champ, easily beating out its direct flavor competitor, UST Emergency Food Ration bars.

Although containing artificial flavors, this survival food bar puts a stranglehold on the competition with a terrific flavor profile, a non-thirst provoking formula combined with a texture and consistency closest to that of an actual cookie.

If you’re looking for the best tasting emergency food bars, the Mayday Emergency Food Rations should be on your (very) short list!


What do you think of our write-up? Did we get it right? Feel that we got it super wrong? Tell us! Feel free to reach out and let us know what you think of the article; we always appreciate thoughtful, constructive criticism, good or bad!