Mainstay 3600 Food Ration: Survival Gear Review for 2020

Mainstay 3600 Food RationWhen we started researching emergency food more than two years ago we found that most foods out there fit into 4 categories.  Freeze Dried, MREs, Long Term Staples (rice, beans, flour, etc) and Food Bars.  In the Food Bar category we found one that stood out.

Mainstay 3600 Food Rations Review

The Mainstay line of emergency food bars by Survivor Industries exceeded our criteria to be included in our 72 hour kits and Bug Out Bags (long shelf life, lots of calories, fortified with vitamins & minerals, and it does not taste like a cardboard sandwich).  The Mainstay food bars come in three different calorie sizes, 1200, 2400, and 3600.  The nice thing is that you can buy them by the case or the individual bar. The packaging around the food bar seems very tough and durable. Based on Survivor Industries’ claims these emergency food rations meet or exceed DOD/Coast Guard standards and can withstand temperatures from -40 degrees F to 300 degrees F.

  • Ready to eat with 400 calorie sections
  • Fortified with vitamins and minerals that exceed RDA requirements
  • Meets Coast Guard and DOD standards for packaging and stability
Check Price on

What About the Taste

I was really surprised at the taste.  We were shooting a video review of this product and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on camera.  We did the shot in one take and I was surprised at how good it tasted (all things considered).  I am not going to tell you that the Mainstay 3600 bar is the new late-night snack that I have before I go to bed but I can tell you that you will not be disappointed if it is your food of last resort.  The best way I can describe it is a lemon “girl scout cookie” flavored hard cake.


  • 5 year shelf life
  • Non-thirst provoking
  • Meets Coast Guard and DOD standards for packaging and stability
  • Ready to eat with 400 calorie sections
  • Fortified with vitamins and minerals that exceed RDA requirements
  • Made in the United States of America
  • It beats eating bugs and grass


The one thing which I did not like with the 2400 and 3600 calorie food bars is that the food sections are not individually wrappedMainstay Emergency Ration Review within the main package.  Let me explain this a little better.  When you buy a 3600 Mainstay bar you are basically getting 3 x 1200 Mainstay bars hooked together (with the 2400 calorie bar you get 2 x 1200).  Imagine buying a super pack of snickers bars and when you open the package all three of your snicker bars are exposed.  Not a big deal if you are feeding a small family or you can crush a large pizza and a side of bread sticks by yourself.

But if you are in a bad situation and you are trying to conserve your food for as long as you can, the individually wrapped 1200 calorie Mainstay bars are the way to go in my mind.  Are they a little more expensive per calorie?  Yes, but we are talking about a few dollars that will provide you with peace of mind in an emergency.  Also you will have the ability to spread load the bars in different parts of your pack, emergency car kit, or on your person.  If you do go with the 2400 or the 3600 bars, maybe have a ziplock bag so that you can reseal the partially eaten bar to keep it fresh and dry.

A Second Review

Popular Mechanics Emergency Food Bar Taste Test (Click Here)


We hope you never have to eat one of these bars but if you do then at least you will not be grossed out.  For their size and weight vs the number of calories in each bar, they are pretty tough to beat.  Make sure you rotate them every 5 years.

You can pickup Mainstay Emergency 3600 Calorie Food Bar on Amazon:

Bestseller No. 2
Mainstay Emergency Food Rations. One Pack. (3600-cal-1pk)
  • One pack of 3600 calories emergency food ration (9 pre-measured 400 calorie meals) with 5 year shelf...
  • Meets the US Coast Guard standards. Meets SOLAS 74/83 requirement
Bestseller No. 3
Mainstay Emergency Food Rations - 3600 Calorie Bars (Pack of 20)
  • Contains 9 pre-measured 400 calorie meals
  • Enriched with vitamins and minerals exceeding the RDA requirements

Last update on 2021-06-16 at 19:52 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API Video Review

Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

39 thoughts on “Mainstay 3600 Food Ration: Survival Gear Review for 2020”

  1. So is each bar 1200 calories? And once you open that main package,,,are they "all open?"

    I actually have one of the packs in my BOB,,,and I recently noticed the exp date was 2011,,,,the thing is, I got them last year, from Emergency Essentials….so my advice would be to ensure you are getting some new product that will last you a while vs. something that is going to expire next month. I'll probably keep them around, I'm sure they're like MREs and have an exp date but really can last a while…..

    • The date on the bar is the manufacturing date, not the expiration date. I experimented with a 1200 calorie bar by opening it and tasting it. Then put the rest in a zip lock sandwich bag. I would sample it every week or so and it remained good over the course of 2-1/2 months. I go with the 1200 cal bars (I pack 3 in my BOB) because I figure this would be supplemental to other food I would have on hand or acquire during an emergency.

      • Thank you! I was having trouble understanding the date stamps on the back and you cleared it up! One is date of manufacture and the other is the date of expiration. Got it !

  2. Yes, that is right about the 3600 calorie Mainstay bar and the 2400 calorie Mainstay bar. Once you open them, the whole pack is open. That is why I try to steer people toward the 1200 calorie food bar. That is a bummer about the expiration date, personally I would bet that they would still be good for at least another 3 years provided they were kept in a dry cool place. It is always a roll of the dice. That is why at Forge Survival Supply we carry a smaller inventory of this stuff so we don't get into an out date issue. Also, we do not stock #10 cans of freeze dried food in house, we order them fresh from the manufacturer (TyRy Foods) – yes, you are going to wait 2 to 3 weeks to get your food but you will know it is freshly made, that is the upside. Also on a side note, I was on another survival site today and there was an advertisement saying "Storage Foods are Running Out and We Have Limited Supply, Buy Today!!!" – and different survival blogs about six months ago ran articles selling the hyped up story about the US Government buying up all of the freeze dried food inventory. That is funny, because I have distributors and dealers call me everyday trying to get me to sell their freeze dried food. Don't believe the hype…but also get prepared.

  3. I have not tried the Mainstay ration, but will certainly take a closer look at these as a "supliment" to my gear. I may swing by the local REI store and see what they have available, and report the findings.

  4. Your criticism of all the bars being exposed is a common and very valid complaint for something designed for emergencies , its not just the Mainstay rations that have this problem either . Considering these rations and others like it are placed in vacuum sealed foil packaging , it would be an easy matter to correct by any manufacturer , why this issue has not been corrected by now is anybody's guess . I prefer the Datrex rations myself , not a big fan of lemon flavor .

  5. I currently have the datrex version, they taste a little more like a coconut cookie. I like them all right, except that 2 of the packages I bought lost their vacuum seal in the first 2 weeks, and that is taking care of them. I keep them wrapped in paper towels and stuffed in a ziplock bag for protection from punctures and abrasions. How is the packaging on the Mainstay bar?

    • Mainstay seems to be pretty tough, it met DOD and Coast Guard standards (whatever that means). Never held the Datrex packaging so I can't compare. Sorry.

      • Update : the SOS brand rations are indeed separated into individually wrapped 400cal bars in the same package . From what I have read by users , they taste like shortbread , which is tasty but neutral at the same time . All these things have generally the same ingredients and a 5 yr shelf life . Worth having around I think .

  6. Good article and video. When I was buying some energy bars i found a lot of negative comments about this particular brand so I went for the mayday brand instead. I'm looking at opening one of them this week to try them out. Good to know that these are decent and will have to add them to the list………….its a good thing the bars didn't make him gag on camera…though it would have been good entertainment

  7. Mainstay, Mayday and Datrex bars are all made with partially hydrogenated oils, aka trans fat. The only brand I have found to not be made with trans fats is the ER Bar. In general, I consider trans fats to be an "edible" plastic and avoid it at all times. Exactly why trans fats are pervading packaged goods ad nauseum perplexes me (oh, I'm sure it has to do with production costs). However, Oreos are NOT made with partially hydrogenated oils. If Oreos don't need 'em, why does anything else? Oreos sit on the shelf at room temp and taste great, even when they're stale.

    Your BOB should have ziplock bags in it anyways (or other food storage options). This will help when opening these packages. Smaller bars are available in the 1200 kcal range, but they're more expensive and still have trans fat.

    I agree that you when you buy these, buy an extra one to sample. They taste fine to me, and probably even better when you haven't eaten for a day or two. You should also sample them if you have any food allergies, particularly nuts. I have been slowly becoming allergic to something in the nut family, macadamia nuts and almonds for sure. Sometimes peanuts, sometimes not. Perhaps it's shared processing machinery. Sometimes I suspect it's a salt or something in the salt. It's not too serious, itchy/scratchy throat, but I am much more careful now to avoid nuts as not to let the situation worsen. I also make a mental note when I do have a reaction as I try to suss out exactly what's going on. Anyways, if you do have any issues, be sure to test these because of the cocunut and the palm oil. Anaphylaxis in SHTF would be bad.

    I tested the Mainstay bars (before I got all paranoid about trans fats) by eating nothing else for a whole day including an hour long karate class, some bag work and a light weight workout. I felt satisfied and not hungry, although my palate was wanting a change.
    Thanks for the link to Popular Mechanics comparison. I actually haven't tried the ER Bars for flavor (I guess I assumed they would be close enough to Mainstay). Soapy? Well, I guess I'll take soapy over the trans fats. I don't think I'd be too picky by the time I was reduced to eating these.

    These types of bars are all also pretty high in fats, but assuming that you're in survival mode and it's (hopefully) temporary, you probably will want all that fat for energy.

    In the end, these are good to have around, but I find prefer to keep Clif bars and beef jerky. They don't last as long, but I also am more apt to use them in EDC and so they get rotated. The Clif bars will also give you some fiber, variety and portion control. I also advocate raisins for shelf life, vitamin C, >>POTASSIUM<< and a quick sugar pick-up. Mykel Hawke even used raisins on an episode of Man, Woman, Wild to extract drinkable water from sea water via osmosis through the skin (membrane). Interesting. (Sure, watch all of the survival shows as a low effort way to gain tidbits of information. It can be quite entertaining to watch the hosts suffer and bicker, etc. I know Bear Grylls gets panned alot, but the premise of his show is how to get quickly out of the wild and back to civilization, not how to endure for the long term, so he takes those stupid risks that only someone trained and in great shape could even consider).

    • Most food alergies in humans is because of a protien deficiency, or an inability to process a protien. There are also some alergies which are due to chemicals, this is typically seen in highly proccessed foods. There are some precautions that you can take to avoid an alergic reaction to partcular foods, as long as the alergy isn't to severe. For example, I know a woman who is alergic to apples and almonds, but she loves eating both. She especially loves my mothers Caramel apple pie, which has apples and almonds. She takes a benedryl about 20 min before eating it, it does make her a bit drowsy, but she can eat it without the throat swelling reaction

    • Also , it will be entertaining to see how fast all the fussy eaters out there suddenly dich all their previously taboo concepts when food gets low and they cant find what they want anymore . I guess food ( of any kind ) will suddenly look good . I cant really see even the strictest sandal wearing , ponytail growing , veagan turning down a cheeseburger if they haven't eaten for a week . Things will indeed change , some for the better , some not . Diabetics are one group of people that practically have memorized what they can have and are probably more aware of what is in everything than the rest of us . I used to date a woman with diabedes , she was a wealth of knowledge .

    • I hate to break it to you, but even ER bars have trans fats. One of the main ingredients is vegetable shortening, which is vegetable oil hydrogenated to give it a paste-like consistency. Think "Crisco." That's what gives these things such long shelf lives. It seems the only way to avoid that trap is to get granola or energy bar type things and rotate stock a lot more often.

      • No, there is no shortening listed in the ingredients. You are correct, that sometimes trans fats are disguised to the casual observer as shortening.

        From the label:
        INGREDIENTS: Bleached, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted
        Barley Flour, Iron, Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic
        Acid), Palm Oil, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Soy Flour, Cornstarch, Natural
        and Artificial Flavors, Calcium Propionate, Dextrose, Yellow 5,
        Yellow 6, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate
        (Vitamin E), Maltodextrin, Niacinamide, Electrolytic Iron, Zinc
        Oxide, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine
        Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Copper Gluconate, Riboflavin
        (Vitamin B2) Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Biotin,
        Potassium Iodide, Vitamin K1, Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3),
        Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12).
        Contains Soy, Wheat.

        I also agree with you that perhaps there are other, better options that you may have to rotate periodically. I still keep these around for the caloric density and long shelf-life.

        • Palm oil is what Crisco originally competed with and tried to displace. It's a natural medium-chain saturated fat. Because it's saturated it has less tendency to go rancid — oxidize on the shelf — so it's good if they can use that instead of hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats.

          That said, if it was a choice between going hungry in an emergency and eating some trans fats for a couple of days, I'd eat the damned trans fats. They're not an acute toxin, they're a chronic problem. You have to eat it a lot over a long period of time for trans fats to do you significant damage. If you have to eat a bit for a few days during a disaster, you won't suffer significantly for it.

  8. In addition to the concerns about trans fats (a very valid concern in my opinion), there is the issue that most of the calories come from sugar. And as it turns out only half of the calories in sugar are usable by the human body and its cells. Human cells can only get energy from glucose (of which sugar is about 50%) the other 50% come from fructose, which is completely useless to the human body (in fact fructose is actually quite harmful). Google "Sugar the Bitter Truth" and watch the youtube video.

    So at best you should only count half the calories of these bars toward your survival.

  9. I'm not sure "half the calories" is an accurate statement even following what you said. Many of the calories from these bars are from protien and fats, and other carbs that aren't sugar. Maybe not the full 1200 calories but to say eating an entire bar is 600 calories is pretty extreme.

      • Fair enough, I have since looked at the ingredient list and you are correct, there are oils and carbs in them in addition to the sugar. In fact the sugar accounts for about 1/3 of the calories per serving. So, to revise my calculation. You should ignore 1/6 of the calories rather than half. My bad.

  10. These bars taste "good" in my opinion. I've used them on camping trips and was happy with the way they taste. Five year shelf life and really good packaging are a win for this product. These would also be perfect for geocaching.

  11. $4 @ + free shipping if your order is over $20.

    this is a site where I purchase individual packs of various items that I keep in my GHB and BOB.

  12. I tried the Mainstay 2400 pack. The pack itself IS a ziplock bag. Just cut or rip off the very top of the back, eat what you want, then reseal the bag.

  13. I read several books about mountain men a few years ago and what they ate for survival food was pemmican. They where taught to make this by the native Americans. It is basically dried red meat and rendered fat. I made some but added craisen and almonds to the mix. My pemmican did not taste bad at all. I sealed it in vacuum bags and put it in the freezer it should keep quit awhile. The energy comes from the fat and not surgar.

  14. These bars are, unfortunatly, garbage. Mostly Processed white flour and vegitable oils, two of theworset things you can eat. I'd only eat one of these if I were literally starvingto death.

    A better option is pemmican. Properly made the shelf life is 20 years. The plains indians lived off of the stuff during winter and long hunts. Lewis and Clark ate it on their journey as well.

    Eat pemmican during emergencies and you'll stay very healthy.

    • You do realize these are meant as Lifeboat Rations, right? For people who will literally be starving to death without them? They aren't actually made as candy bars or cycling snacks or hunter's granola. They are made to provide a certain degree of nutrition and calories in an emergency, and to be shelf stable until such an emergency occurs. For what they are designed to do, they do it very well.

  15. Honestly I would rather choose the Datrex bars becuse unlike the Mainstay, the bars are individually wrapped, which means when you open the package, you don't expose the whole package

  16. I like this article.There are recipes that you can make your own at home.I have a couple and will find them and post them in the fourm.

  17. You might want to update your price listing on this page. Its not that cheap anymore it seems. Still cheap, just not that cheap.

  18. The SOS brand is very good , it has a sweetbread kind of flavor and they are individually wrapped also after you open the main package . Used to be a Datrix fan , but after trying these , the flavor is more compatible for any time of day if you had to use them for their intended purpose .

  19. I feel that if you're going to buy and keep food specifically for emergencies then you should get Freeze-Dried foods in #10 cans. Lots of varieties, 25+ years shelf life, floats, rodent-proof, more protein, better balance of nutrients, not affected by heat or cold, much better flavor (in my opinion) than any of these emergency bars, and I think I've tried them all. If you carry a gallon-size zip-lock bag with you, you can place the contents ( and remaining contents) of the can in it and heat the water in the can to rehydrate the food; though you don't actually have to use hot water, just tastes better! Under Pro's above it states that it's non-thirst provoking, BS! All food requires water to digest! Going by the label above, the 3600 calorie bar(s) only have 9 grams of protein! As a 72-hour food supply (as some places sell it), this is only 3 grams per day! Remember, your body requires so much protein every day (amino acids), if it doesn't get it, then it will literally cannabolize itself. Also, if you consume more protein than required, the body can break it down for energy like a carbohydrate!

  20. I bought the mainstay 3600 calorie bar and tried it out, loved it (for an emergency ration) but I noticed that every time I would eat them I would get a strange feeling like a blushed face or a rush of, energy? I know they pack a lot of calories in a small package so maybe that's just the rush of calories? anyway I was just wondering if anyone else has had the same experience, thanks.

  21. I have a couple boxes of these I bought a while ago…Production stamp is 10/2007 exp. 2012. Mostly kept in a cool place (old root cellar) and was wondering if they are still good. I brought up a box, it was moldy, literally. Not good ventilation down there. Opened the box and the packages were still air tight vacuum sealed. Smelled musty so grabbed a pouch and washed it before opening. Opened and it still smelled like they did when fresh, no off or rancid smell. Broke out a square and bit into it. Tasted just as fresh as when they were new. It is March 2018 as I write so yeah, SIX YEARS past expiration and still taste like new. Maybe vitamin content would have degraded some? My worst fear was the oils going rancid but nope. So now I am not in a rush to replace them all just yet. Great lemon butter cookie taste. Just my opinion but as long as the vacuum seal is not broken and the bag is not inflated, probably still safe to eat. As with most foods, they keep longer when stored cool and away from oxygen. Feel free to share my experience.


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