Every wildland firefighter must pack a Meals-Ready-Eat, or MRE, in their line gear. Loathed by most hotshots for their cafeteria food taste and rumored by many to do horrible things to a man's regularity, MREs are the red-headed stepchildren of fireline nutrition. While they're a far cry from gourmet fare, after a hard shift on the line, even freeze-dried spaghetti boiled up while Reagan was in office can satisfy a firefigher's hunger.
And since Papa Johns isn't going to start delivering to wilderness areas anytime soon, munching down MREs will continue to be the only option when you're on Initial attack.
While field stripping might sound like a debauched game played by rednecks in the Ozarks after a few too many, it's just a catch-all term for breaking down gear. You can field strip a rifle, a cigarrette, and yes, even a MRE.
So why do it? There are a couple reasons. The primary reason for field-stripping a MRE is space. Your line gear isn't exactly overflowing with room. Field stripping allows you to remove all the extra packaging and other junk to help you conservie space in your line gear. It won't buy you a ton of extra room, but every inch counts.
The second is customization. If you hate Peach Cobbler, and that's one of the items in the MRE that you're carrying- why the hell are you going to hump that thing all over the woods? In hopes that when you're eating on the line, you might be able to trade for it? Maybe you will, maybe you won't. Our advice: Ditch it, or swap it out for an extra tube of Jalapeno cheese spread, tuna, or more nutritious line gear snacks that'll help your muscles recover much better than a slice of preservative-laced pie.
Warning! Before you field strip your MRE, you should check with your overhead about whether or not it's alright to do this. Some crews allow it, others don't. By opening the bag, you're breaking the seal, and voiding the expiration date on the MRE. Since the MRE is government property,you'd better listen to your Captain. Given the volume of MREs that hotshot crews eat, it shouldn't be an issue. Still, check with your supervisor first.
Field stripping a MRE is a fairly straight-forward process. Here's how to do it:
Step 1: Cut a hole in the box. Just kidding. That's for something else.
Step 1 (seriously): Peel open the MRE and spread the contents out to see what you're dealing with.
You'll immediately notice that the both the entree and the desert are packaged in cardboard. This is excessive packaging, and should be one of the first things that you rip out. Unless you're interested in sharing your MREs unique nutritional information with your crewmembers, toss it.
Next, you'll notice the heater bag. MREs taste terrible cold, lukewarm, or hot. Do you really need to warm them up? The meals are pre-cooked anyway, and perfectly safe to eat at room temperature. Our opinion: Save the heater bags for making 2 liter soda bottle bombs (1 heater bag + 8-12oz of water, screw cap on tight and hurl a safe distance away. Good for a nice bang.)
Then there's the cracker, or the wheatbread snack. Dry and crumbly, it's only edible with massive quantities of cheese spread. Our opinion: toss it, and replace it with a baggie full of almonds or walnuts.
Also, there's usually a powdered beverage. In the sample MRE that we used, it was a lemon-lime sports drink. A generic Gatorade knock-off. We decided to keep it, but rolled it-up to condense its size. But often times, the powdered beverage will be apple cider or a strawberry shake. Some people love'em, we here at HF have never been particularly fond of dehydrated diary products, so we usually take it out. Also, you didn't hear it from us, but some Marines we know say the hot cider mixes well with whiskey. Just saying.
Step 2: Examine the condiments bag.
First, there's toilet paper in a paper roll. You don't need this sandpaper. Besides, you've got toilet paper in a Ziploc bag in your cargo pocket (if you don't - you're nuts.) Anyone venturing into the woods should have toilet paper in a plastic bag. You don't want to be dependent upon the generosity of your crew members when nature calls in the backcountry. Trading a six-pack of beer for a few sheets of TP is stupid. But you deserve to be extorted if you don't carry toilet paper on you. .
Second - matches. Really terrible matches. You're already carrying a lighter, possibly two in your pocket. Do you need Vietnam-era jungle matches that have a 50/50 chance of lighting? No.
And the gum? Seriously? Who chews gum? There's no nicotine in that. At least not the kind that comes with the meal. Especially dried-out, cracked gum with no discernible taste. We've purchased more delicious bubble gum from children in Tijuana. And it's tough, if not impossible, to chew gum with a juicy mouthful of Copenhagen. Adios, Chicklets.
We'd recommend giving the same treatment to the non-dairy creamer, the salt, and the sugar. If you're a coffee drinker, not a bad idea to keep the Taster's Choice coffee. It ain't good, but it's got caffeine. Otherwise, dump it.
By the time you're finished rifling through your MRE, you should have a mound of trash like the image below.
Step 3: Put it all back together again.
This should be self-explanatory. Take the stuff you want, and stuff it in. Don't really think any further explanation should be required for this.
Step 4: Tape it up
How much room did you save?
Here are the dimension of the original MRE:
Volume = (4 1/2" wide) x (9" Long) x (3" tall) = 121.5 inches^3
After the MRE was field stripped, the volume was:
Volume = (6" wide) x (7 1/8" long) x (2 1/4" tall) = 96.1875 inches^3.
So, by field stripping an MRE, you're able to reduce the total volume by 21%.
How much weight did you shave?
Truthfully, not all that much. The original MRE weighed 758g. After it was field stripped, that dropped to 656g, for a total savings of 102g. Which is a little over 3oz. Pretty negligible.
All in all, a reduction in volume by 21%, in addition to having the luxury of customizing what you'll be munching on on the fireline makes field stripping your MRE a no-brainer.
If you've got some suggestions on how to do this better - drop us a line!