Determining Your Daily Caloric Needs

Every prepper eventually comes upon the question: how many calories per day do I need to store for each member of my party? Or how many calories do I need in my bug out bag?

This is the very question Dennis has to revisit with each bug out experiment. So let’s look at how he figured out his caloric needs.

The first thing we have to do is look at his Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. This is the number of calories we burn just to keep our body running each day when at rest. This is how many calories a day our body uses to breathe, pump blood, regenerate cells, and so on. This number does NOT take into account any daily activity. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Dennis used the BMR calculator at, but any Google search should get you to a reliable calculator. They all use the same formula that’s been around for nearly 100 years, the Harris-Benedict equation. Dennis is 6’5” tall and typically weighs around 250 pounds. At his age (40), this gives him a BMR of 2338 calories per day. Of course, this is an estimation. The formula doesn’t know how much of his 250 pounds is muscle and how much is fat. It doesn’t know how in shape he is. It doesn’t know if his metabolism is fast or slow. It’s an average for a male of his age, height, and weight. Let’s not get too hung up on the details. It’s a good starting point, no?

Now, what about his activity level? According to the Harris-Benedict Equation, this is the formula you should use to figure out your daily calorie needs (how many calories needed to maintain your current weight):

If you are sedentary (very little activity), multiply BMR by 1.2

If you are lightly active (light exercise 1-3 times per week), multiply BMR by 1.375

If you are moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 times per week), muliply BMR by 1.55

If you are very active (hard exercise 6-7 times per week), multiply BMR by 1.725

If you extra active (very hard exercise, physically intensive job), multiply BMR by 1.9

We’ll argue that bugging out, particularly if there’s any sort of rioting or marauders or danger that requires long miles travelled or periods of running, that you should assume you are going to be extra active. Besides, it’s better to have too much food than too little in this case. So Dennis will need a whopping 4,442 calories per day for his bug out if he doesn’t want to see a drop in body weight by the end of his journey.

Dennis packed MREs for his first bug out. MREs average about 1250 calories each if you consume everything packed (including fruit drinks, gum, etc.). The military says that three MREs (about 3,750 calories) is a day’s supply of calories for the average soldier. In Dennis’ case, he’d likely lose a little weight, but this isn’t too far off. But instead Dennis decided to save weight (and risk losing a little weight) and packed two MREs a day, took out the extra empty calories, and packed a couple handfuls of granola bars instead.

What if you plan to bug in though? How should you determine the caloric needs of your colony? Well, a lot of that depends on how active you think you will need to be. My personal view would be somewhere between moderately active and very active. But it really depends on the scenario, doesn’t it? If you’re cooped up in a 400 sq ft bunker that’s fully stocked and ready to go for 6 months your caloric needs will be very different from a homesteading, self-sustaining, off-grid family that needs to chop wood, weed the garden, and chase after wounded deer. Plan accordingly. My personal minimum is 1.5x the BMRs of each family member when determining how long our food stores will last.

Also be sure to keep in mind fat, protein, and carbohydrate breakdowns. I don’t get too scientific with this, since I tend to instead store food around menu plans my family is used to eating. Just be sure you aren’t storing all rice and wheat and neglect to store the fat and protein. Despite recent fad diets, all are necessary to health, mmmkay?

Should we do the math in an example? Let’s go back to our old textbook days, shall we?

Let’s take a relatively average 30 year old woman who is 5’6” and 155 lbs. This isn’t me. I picked this example because her BMR would be 1498.45, so we can pretty safely make it easy and call it 1500 calories a day. Let’s assume she’s going to be very active (better to have too much food stored than not enough) and multiply that by 1.725. This means we need to store 2587.5 calories per day for her. Since we guesstimated high, we’ll just go ahead and call this 2500 calories per day for ease. So to store 30 days of food for this member of the colony, we’ll need to store 75,000 calories for her. Yes, that’s a lot.

But a word of caution: Do not fall into the trap of believing that your garden, your farm animals, or your hunting prowess will save you.

Gardens fail. Drought, floods, and unseasonably hot or cold weather cause crop failures every year.

Farm animals die. Disease, wild animals, or ash clouds could take out your chickens.

Wild game disappears. Don’t you think your unprepared neighbors will all be hunting and trapping to extinction?

Plan for this whether you are bugging in or bugging out. It’s awesome if you have other resources at your disposal. Just don’t discount the value of food storage as a backup. Your canned chicken will last for decades if you don’t need it right away.

Now it’s up to you how much you feel you need to store. Enough to bug out? The three days FEMA recommendation? 30 days? A year? Two years? I leave that all up to you, your comfort level, your current situation, and your reasons for prepping.

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