DIY Survival Food – Part 1 – Hardtack

basket of hardtack


In this series we will be taking a look at a few simple DIY survival foods. They are to be prepared ahead of time, with a long storage life and are either ready to eat, or almost ready to eat. We are going to start off simple with Hardtack / Ship’s Biscuit. If you have been into prepping or are a history buff, you probably have heard of hardtack, however, it’s probably less likely that you have made it or eaten it. I was this way until a couple of days ago.

It started while I was researching how to put together some improvised MRE‘s. I’m not trying to simulate the actual military ones, nor do I want to. They have their purpose, and that is not the purpose I am looking for.

Some problems I have with MRE‘s:

  • Shelf Life – If these had a 30+ year shelf life I might consider them – I’ll keep Mountain House for that.
  • Health – We all know MRE’s are not the healthiest food.
  • Rotation – I want to store what I eat and eat what I store. If it’s something I don’t eat on a regular basis, it better have a 30+ year shelf life. I don’t want to mix MRE‘s into my food rotation.
  • Cost – It’s really not bad considering what it is. However for me it’s too much for my use. I either have to eat something I don’t want or throw it away.

I’m looking to make a mobile packaged ration with a shelf life of 2 to 3 years with items that I regularly eat, or is similar to what I’m used to having in my diet. I’m thinking of calling it the M.A.R.S. Meal Almost Ready to Serve. Not very original, but it gets the job done.

One of the main courses I was looking at are the flavored tuna pouches, but I really enjoy some saltine crackers with them. Most crackers do not store well. The fat in them will make them go rancid, and they are crushed easily.

Tuna Creations

These are delicious and easy to eat. They have about a two year shelf life.

During my research, I decided to see what was used as rations before modern preserving methods. This lead me to hardtack, among other foods we will cover in later parts. Hardtack is cracker-like to soak up the juice. It will keep forever, double that if vacuum sealed, and it doesn’t crush easily since it’s hard as a brick. Making it myself will allow me to easily add it to the individual M.A.R.S. and also have larger batches that I can seal up for long-term storage. There are store bought options like Pilot Bread, but it’s rather expensive and I don’t know how well it will repackage. Another advantage to making it yourself is that you will already have the practice to make it after SHTF.

civil war hardtack

The recipe couldn’t be easier. It’s just flour, salt, and water. I found the technique is the hardest part. If you are used to working with dough then it should be easy. I didn’t put too much effort into shaping the first test batch that I made. I also added garlic and onion powder for flavor, however, I have read that in long-term storage the flavors can intensify to the point of being intolerable.

Overall it was a success, but I will make some changes in the future. I need to leave out any seasoning. It will be flavored by whatever you soak it in prior to eating. I need to make it in uniform shapes, preferably square and also make it thinner and flatter. Being a uniform shape will allow easier packaging and storage. Making it thinner and flatter will allow it to bake faster and more evenly, plus add to the uniform shape. I think the size of two saltine crackers and about twice as think would be appropriate. The last thing will be to make the majority of them during the winter months. They have to bake several hours at around 300ยบ F and that really makes the A/C struggle when it’s already hot outside. In the winter you are not wasting any energy as it goes to help heat the house.

first hardtack

My first batch of hardtack


What’s the point of making a survival food if you don’t eat it, or can’t eat it? The day after I made these I decided to have some for breakfast. I ate two pieces which were approximatly 2oz each. I soaked them in some hot tea for a few minutes until they were chewable. Another reason to leave out the seasoning, the onion and garlic also flavored the tea. It really wasn’t too bad, and held me for about four hours. I did feel a little heavy or bloated, but I’m not used to eating that much wheat at once.

The plan is to continue making this and vacuum seal larger batches of it for long-term storage. Smaller individual serving portions will be added to my M.A.R.S. which I will be covering in future articles.

I think hardtack should be a prep for anyone serious about storing food. I highly encourage making some as soon as you can. If you don’t practice it now, you won’t have it when you need it. As simple as it is to make, there is still a learning curve and it probably won’t be perfect the first time.

Below is a video by a very interesting YouTube channel. It goes over the history of hardtack and how to make it:

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