Emergency Provisions - 4 Food Ration Bars Tested
When looking at emergency food ration bars the main players quickly became apparent: Mainstay, Datrex, SOS, and ER Bar. Many of these manufactures make their product in various sizes which are generally categorized by calories with 1200, 2400, and 3600 all being common offerings. Note that these sizes are all divisible by 1200 which is the minimum recommended number of calories you should try to consume per day in an emergency situation. I decided to compare the 3600 calories bars because that size was offered by all four manufactures, and they all were priced similarly at around $10. Furthermore, this large size seemed to be the best value especially when compared to many of the smaller versions which were often nearly the same price as the larger versions.
This ration came in a resealable zip lock packaging and was one large bar that had marks etched on one side indicating nine individual portions each of which contained 410 calories. Once the package was opened a noticeable but not strong smell was detectable, sort of a jelly or jam type smell. Breaking off one of the 9 etched portions by hand resulted in an uneven break with only about 3/4 of the portion breaking off. The taste of the ER Bar reminded me very much of a Nutri-Grain bar although with a much less intense flavor.
Like the ER Bar, the Mainstay bar was also one large bar with nine sections etched onto one side of the bar. Opening the resealable package revealed a noticeable but very neutral smell, with just the slightest hint of lemon scent being detectable. Separating one serving portion from the bar went slightly better than with the ER bar and about 7/8 of a portion broke off; this is likely due to the deeper etching marks on the Mainstay bar. The taste of this ration was also very neutral with only a hint of a lemon flavor being noticeable.
SOS packages their product in nine individually plastic wrapped bars roughly the shape of a thin granola bar. Once the package was opened a fairly strong and slightly unpleasant smell was observed. The individual bars where stacked in a three by three pattern, and the outside of the individual wrappings seemed to be somewhat “oily” for lack of a better term. Opening the packaging by hand was a bit of a process and resulted in breaking off a small corner of the bar before removing it from its wrapping. While I can’t put a comparison to what the SOS bar tasted like I found it the least pleasant of the four, although like with all these bars the taste wasn’t very strong.
The Datrex is divided into eighteen individually wrapped 200 calorie servings. Opening the packaging, perhaps slightly recklessly on my part removed hope of using the original packing to contain any remaining bars. There was a strong coconut smell coming from small individually wrapped Datrex portions which proved to be the hardest of all the bars to open by hand, adding to the difficulty was the fact that two bars had to be opened to equal the 400 calorie portions of the other bars. Both portions had some breakage by the time I had removed them from their ultra tight shrink wrapping. Tasting these segments revealed a mild coconut flavoring; however, despite this mild taste it was probably the most flavorful of the bunch.
I initially liked the idea of individually wrapped portions of the Datrex and SOS bars; however, the difficulty of getting into each wrapped bar combined with the lack reusable packaging were definite negatives. Conversely, both the ER and Mainstay were easy to open, reach into and break a portion off, although not always precisely along the etched marks. Furthermore, the resealable packaging of the ER and Mainstay made for a quicker and more convenient process.
This was the first time I had ever eaten any type of emergency food bar ration and really had no idea what to expect. After the taste test I felt these bars were well named as emergency food bars and not super tasty daily snack treats. All bars had a kind of dry/flaky/sandy/gritty type texture to them, and lacked much flavor. Really the main advantage of these ration bars is their long shelf life and large balanced calorie count. While personal preference plays a large part, I would rate the taste of these bars in the following order 1st - Mainstay, 2nd - ER Bar, 3rd - Datrex, and 4th - SOS. It probably says something about these bars in general that my choice would be the one that had the least detectable flavoring with only hint lemon taste being observed. I was surprised that I didn’t like the Datrex bar more because I kind of like coconut (at least covered in chocolate with an almond on top); however, the relative dryness and texture of the Datrex bar combined with a half strength coconut taste just wasn't the type and texture of coconut flavoring I was use to.
All things considered I felt that both the ER and Mainstay bars were superior in both taste and packaging to the SOS and Datrex bars; and between the Mainstay and ER Bar I would give the edge to the Mainstay on taste and because of the deeper etching marks that made breaking off a portion easier and more precise. However, if you were concerned about quickly and fairly destributing these rations among a number of peopple both the Datrex and SOS are well suited for that application. All in all these 3600 calorie bars would make an excellent ration for a boat, bug out vehicle or stocking up your emergency provisions at a bug out location; and other situations in which they can be left for a long time and still be good if needed.