If done smartly, they can be a good option. And, depending on your style, they can be lighter, despite the water carried.
I should probably qualify that. First, you should take them apart and only take what you need. Second, don't take a stove or fuel. Only heat your meals with the heater. This means no hot drinks, unless you use something other than a stove to heat it. If you do this for only a few nights, then it is lighter than dehydrated food with a stove and fuel. However, there is a point in time that dehydrated food with stove and fuel get lighter.
So basically, MRE's have their place. You just have to figure out if it is with you.
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.
While I'm just getting back into backpacking, I do have a lot of experience with MRE's. I would think that because of the weight, they might make a good first nights meal. I wouldn't carry them around for 3 days before eating them. Save the freeze dried for later in the trip. It just seems to make more sense to lighten up the pack as soon as possible. The heaters work better in warm conditions. If you're planning on using them in cold weather, you should keep that MRE pouch close to your body to keep it warm. Taking a 40 degree pouch and sticking it in that heater often just makes a luke-warm meal. I've heard all the alternate meanings for "MRE" and I think they're all great. Some are really good and some are just disgusting. I had the chili not too long ago and it was delicious. The maple flavored ham slice on the other hand isn't fit for canine consumption. No really. My old beagle wouldn't eat more than a bite or two of it.
Loc: California (southern)
I imagine a lot of us pack a somewhat heavier first meal, but when I do that, there are much more inviting, and nutritious options than MREs. They are good for what they were designed for - decent meals that can be stockpiled, are completely self-contained, and can be distributed to large groups quickly. They are fabulous for emergencies and fire line chow, combat, etc. I sometimes take a few selected components backpacking. MREs contain a nice small plastic spoon that is a pretty good item, for instance.
To be fair, the taste is not bad at all - especially if you have no alternatives.
Yeah, I was going to add the C-ration (and 5 in 1 ration) comment myself but forgot.
When I was in the Army (late 50's, early 60's) a lot of the C-rations had been in storage since the Korean conflict and had lost a lot of whatever flavor they might have had. The ones that I particularly did not like were the "Tuna, Noodles and Peas", the "Sausage Patties", and the "Hamburger Patties". The "patties" were about the consistency of a hockey puck and were cast into the can with congealed tallow. Eating this stuff cold was the pits. The only thing good about the C-ration was the whole pack of unfiltered, lung-buster, cigarettes (I smoked in those days) and the P-38 can opener. I used to have about 50 of the P-38's in a drawer; I have two of them left of about 1952 vintage; one goes on hikes with me when I have cans to open.
Pika, shared memories. Remember trying to make them edible on the manifold of a deuce-and-a-half? I remember getting a case of them on an exercise in N.H.about 1965 and discovering that they were from 1944. And we ate them and nobody got sick. Best jcp
We used to steal them by the case from the Marines on the LST I was on for late night snacks on watch. The deserts were ate first, then the PB&J w/ crackers.and so on. I think the last thing to go was the pork slices in juices but that tuna was bad. And I still have a couple of the "John Wayne" can openers. Ah good times.
Loc: California (southern)
Thanks, Pika, (I guess) for reviving old memories (1959-1961. Exactly fifty years ago, we were served ancient C-rats in the mess hall in Korea where i served. Best things were the P-38s, but the desserts were actually pretty much OK. MREs are better.
We gave our cigarette coupons to our houseboy. Never had to touch a broom or mop while there. I understand there was quite a brain drain in Korea at the time, because the best paying job was houseboy.....
Loc: Northern CA, Placer co.
I'm a soldier and IMHO MREs suck. They are heavy high calorie survival food. I just tried some Chicken a la King from Moutain House and it is quite good. Years ago I had to force myself to eat backpack food, but the newer menus are really very good. MREs are also hard on my gut(I'm 54). They are designed for 20 year old troops. On the plus side for MREs, you can eat them cold, but why would you because the new ones come with a hydrogen heater packs(just add water)Troops in Iraq had fun with the heater packs, you can make a loud noise maker out of them, sorry I can't tell you how. Of all the ones I've gagged on the spagetti is the only one I can stand. You must remember this all military stuff was made by the lowest bidder. So do yourself a favor and eat dehydrated or freeze dried from REI or a similar source. Its light weight and tastes great and unlike an MRE wont make you regret eating it.