Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Food at Swift Fox 20

One of the things we have decided not to provide to participants at CWG events like the upcoming Swift Fox 20 in April is meals. For a number of reasons, not least individual preferences, you will have to provide your own.

However, this is another area where our event format may test your plans. You can do a day, or maybe a bit more, off willpower and candy bars, but at the end of a 2-3 day event like Swift Fox 20, you will be ineffective at best if you don't eat, and eat well.


Most people default to purchasing ration packs, with the US MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) being the most common, basically because we are in the US and they are available.

The MRE is... exactly what it says it is. A Meal, Ready to Eat. They can be eaten cold, no cooking required, though they are better when warm or hot.

They are also meals. The US issues three a day to troops in the field, when needed. Most other armies issue 24-hour ration packs, or one per day which have about the same amount of food, just packed differently, and often organized a bit more like breakfast/lunch/dinner. MREs just sort of are what they are, with most meals being dinner-oriented.

These are all rations. They are intended to be used for the short term, not to live off for weeks or months, so when you go crazy hermit, don't try to live off MREs.

All ration packs are packed for surviving transport and distribution, but are large, boxy, full of packaging and often full of stuff you do not want or need. Break them down once issued, to fit and to remove the drink mixes, hot sauce, or whatever you do not need. Don't get rid of actual food items, as you need those to survive.

Break down is usually done as a group; keep the MRE case or some other box, and toss all the stuff you don't like or want in there. Others on the team may want your spares, so you end up trading.

Complete Nutrition

Eat it all. Do not eat the main course of an MRE, and toss the tortillas or rice. Don't just subsist on tubes of pimento "cheese." Good nutrition is about a balance of attributes; one food will not just give you a different energy type (quick vs long-term), but will help aid in the other foods working better for you. Ration packs like MREs are designed by nutritionists with this in mind, so even if you think you hate one component of the meal, pretend your mom is here and eat it anyway.

If putting together your own meals, from either grocery store or camping items that travel and reconstitute well, plan the meal out so you get complete nutrition as well. Don't try to subsist on meal replacement shakes or bars, or only eat carbs or meat.

Snacks in ration packs are less important to the overall meal plan nutrition, so use your own intelligence to decide when to use them. Don't eat an energy bar as dessert, but save it for when away from the base, to eat on the go when you need it. Don't save the Skittles to eat when you won't have another meal for hours, as you may have a sugar crash.

When supplementing either your own meal or adding to the MRE for more snacks away from base, buy smartly. Nut packs and other more balanced, low-sugar items will be better than candy bars in general.

Eat Enough, But Not Too Much 

At Swift Fox you will likely have a much higher pace of activity than you do normally. Walking around, especially with load and hills, and the stress even for a "game" event will result in higher caloric needs.

Be sure to actually stop and eat your meals, at approximately meal times. Team leaders especially need to keep this in mind, and not always say "yes" to all orders, or to push the team for one more hill or one more objective. If you give everyone time to rest, rehydrate, and eat, you can get more out of them for longer.

Also think carefully about when you are active. Breakfast is so called because you break the fasting you did overnight. Fine, when sleeping. But most of you will have to pull a middle-of-the-night guard shift, or may even spend much of the night time moving — and attacking — enemy forces. Don't assume you can last the 10-12 hours between meals when active, and plan on at least nutritions snacks, shift your meal schedule to match up to your sleep/activity schedule, or plan for a fourth meal.

Many people think MREs are bit large for a meal, and three a day is too much food. I am one, and usually use more like two a day. Do be sure to sit down, and eat 3-4 times a day, to snack in between, but do not force yourself to eat the entire MRE every 8 hours if it doesn't feel like you need it.

Trust your body, when it tells you that you are full, or hungry. And don't keep it to yourself; if you are starting to lag because of food, tell your team. There may be time for a rest, or someone else will offer you a snack to keep going until you can get to your real meal.

Eat (or Drink) Something Hot

Hot food, or at least hot liquids like soups, teas, and coffee, warm you up, make it easier to digest in some cases, and have enormous morale effects. Go out of your way to eat at least one hot meal a day, and to drink warm liquids for morning, or when out on cold evening watches or patrols.

MRE heaters are... pretty awful. They often do not heat very well, but if that is all you have, don't use it as an excuse to not heat. Warm food is more disappointing than hot, but much, much better than cold. Many civilian "MREs", for shipping safety purposes, do not include the heater, so read closely and plan accordingly.

There are replacment MRE heaters available, and other types of much more effective flameless heaters, which is the term of art so you can search — or we can have a separate discussion if you are interested. Triox, Esbit, Dragonfuel (and others) are fuel gels or tablets that burn independent of other fuel sources, and do not even need a stove as long as you are careful to not burn the forest down; the floor of a forest or meadow is made up of organic matter so DO be careful when using even small fuel sources on what you think is dirt.

Bring a cup suitable for heating liquids, something metal that can be exposed to direct flames like heater tablets or stoves. Don't try to heat rations over direct flame as the bags will melt or catch on fire. They are heated with flameless heaters, or by immersing the bag in boiling water.

Stoves generally make noise, and cannot be hidden from view so easily, so flameless heaters, and heat tablets are good to carry regardless, as they can be hidden (dig a little hole in the dirt and your Triox or Esbit pellet is almost invisible when on fire). If you plan to eat a meal while out on patrol, in the middle of a cold night, plan for heating it tactically.

While everyone should bring at least some heat source, you don't all necessarily have to break it out in the morning. Talk amongst yourselves, and very often one person will be happy to share the fuel of their stove for everyone to have coffee in the morning. This can at least speed things up, and if packing out as a group for a patrol, can reduce the load on the whole team if you plan ahead.

Buy Rations from CWG

While we do not always offer it, this year CWG has a limited number of current-issue, current-date, new in case US military issue MREs. Especially if you are traveling, you can just order from us and we'll bring them, and issue them to you on check in.

Buy MREs now

Sign up for Swift Fox 20, April 17-19 2020

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