I’d like to discuss the means of preparing food in a survival situation. This post will focus primarily on the scenario of bugging out, where you’re actually taking the food and means of cooking with you in your pack or web gear. We’ll cover long term food storage at a later date.
Whatever your choice for survival food, you’ll probably need to take several important items along with your food. The first would be a means of cooking it. If you’ve got MRE’s, you don’t need to worry about that; there’s already a heater built into the kit. For many other foods, such as canned food, freeze dried food, and instant coffee, you’ll need a way to cook it. While you could just build a fire to do so, there are several other means of cooking which are advantageous in their own ways.
Pocket stoves are sold in most ordinary camping stores and departments. Typically, these fold to a rectangular shape about 4x6inches for easy carrying. They run around $10, and are very light. The heat is generated from solid fuel tablets, called trioxane tablets. You light these with matches, then let them burn. The tablets put out an intense heat for several minutes, which heats up the metal stove, and whatever food you’ve put on it. The system is very basic, and not adequate for large quantities of food. However, it is advantageous due to its low weight and size, and its relative lack of smoke production versus a regular campfire. I carry a pocket stove in my bug-out bag. A variation of this system is part of the US military canteen cup setup. There’s a small stove component that holds the canteen cup about 3 inches off the ground, allowing you to heat the contents of your cup. The stove component also protects the burning trioxane tablet from the wind. I carry one of these setups in my canteen pouch on my web gear.
Alcohol soda can stove
An alcohol stove (popularly called a hobo stove), is a small device made from a soda can. Essentially, you take the top and bottom inch or so of the can, solder it together, punch some holes in it, and fill it with denatured alcohol for fuel. Although I generally steer away from Wikipedia, the article there gives a good idea of what I’m talking about, if you’ve never seen a hobo stove: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beverage-can_stove . The alcohol stove is an excellent small cooking apparatus. All you need for fuel is alcohol. The extremely small size of the stove makes it an excellent choice for you web gear, and it will fit in the side pocket of the MOLLE 2 canteen pouch. It takes a while to make large amounts of food with though. I personally have one in my bug-out bag as a backup to my pocket stove. They are simple to make, and the material is easy to find.
Propane/ gas stoves
Propane stoves have been the mainstay of campers and hunters for decades. Popularly called ‘Coleman stoves’ after the most famous brand of them, they usually run off of a can of propane or ‘white fuel’. They come in several sizes, from one burner, all the way up to four or more burners. These stoves are fairly mobile; they an enclosed in a metal box about one foot by 20 inches or so. They usually have a carry handle. Larger quantities of food can be prepared on them than on the pocket stoves. The downside is that both stove and fuel are very heavy-probably close to 20 pounds combined. This much weight is not ideal for your bug-out bag; however, if you’re taking a vehicle, or have a bunker/cabin setup, these larger stoves can be a good choice. I have two, which along with my cot and lantern, would form the basis for a more permanent setup such as a base camp.
However you choose to cook your food, consider weight in your decision. How heavy is your stove, and its associated fuel? If you’re planning on bugging out for several weeks, it may not be practical to carry enough fuel to last for that long. If you’ve got a vehicle based bug-out solution, you may enjoy more flexibility in your cooking system. If you can’t afford to bring along a stove, always remember that a good fire, with a wire rack over it, will do just as well as any stove will!