Pilot bread crackers – a type of hardtack – are great for long-term food storage. They are advertised as having a shelf life of up to 30 years, but hardtack itself has been known to last much longer than that.
Hardtack is a plain, dense biscuit or cracker made of flour, water, and salt. It packs a lot of calories in a small amount of space and it lasts a long time. It is resistant to the effects of humidity, heat, and cold. It can survive long journeys without molding. This makes hardtack a superfood for sailors, soldiers, and survivalists.
Hardtack is Great for Preppers
Hardtack has been around for centuries. It has been used for military campaigns, long voyages, and pioneer life. It is one of the original survival foods, and there are different types of hardtack.
Egyptian sailors had dhourra cake, a type of millet bread. Romans had bucelltaum, a mixed grain biscuit. Early Americans had water crackers, biscuits made of flour. (Source.) Heck, even the elves in Lord of the Rings had their legendary Lembas Bread for long journeys.
Crackers of this type are strong. They do not crumble easily. They are so dense that Australian soldiers used them to write letters home as they were more plentiful than paper during war.
Pilot bread is just another iteration of hardtack that is still in use today. You can find modern hardtack in different MREs, on preppers’ food storage shelves, and in remote areas like Alaska.
The typical pilot bread cracker has roughly 100 calories per cracker. That means each can of the Future Essentials crackers I opened contains more than half of the average person’s total calorie needs (1,200 calories out of 2,000 recommended calories per day).
These crackers are larger, measuring roughly 3.5″ wide by 0.5″ thick. It’s not uncommon to find even larger pilot bread crackers measuring 4″ wide.
Pilot Bread Downsides
“Every rose has its thorn,” Poison sang. Pilot bread crackers, a rose of long-term foods, has several thorns.
Hardtack might pack a punch when it comes to calories, but it comes up short with the vitamins and minerals preppers need during a long-term catastrophe.
|Future Essentials Pilot Bread Crackers (per cracker)
|% Daily Value
|Total Fat 2.5g
|Saturated Fat 1g
|Trans Fat 0g
|Total Carbohydrate 17g
|Dietary Fiber 1g
|Total Sugars 0g
There’s not a whole lot of essentials in these crackers beyond calories. Try living on hardtack alone for too long and you’ll end up constipated and then get scurvy.
Any well-packaged long-term food comes at a steep price and these are no exception. You’re paying extra for the packaging, but they’re taking a food already built for long-term survival and adding even more years to it.
There may be better ways to stretch your long-term food storage money by shopping for freeze-dried food sales. However, if you want pilot bread crackers for “normal” consumption, there are cheaper alternatives.
Hardtack is significantly cheaper to make yourself (more on that in a moment). I have little time to make dinner let alone foods I’m going to store for years, so for me there is a cost benefit analysis I have to make. For me, I opt to buy them.
Taste and Texture
Pilot bread crackers taste bland. Soldiers would often complain of having to eat them day in and day out. Stories abound of soldiers complaining about their hardtack, smashing the crackers with the butts of their rifles in order crush them up into something more palatable.
Mind you, however, these were the pilot breads of old. Today’s pilot bread crackers are not that bad.
I conducted a taste test among the family members. Here was their view on the Future Essentials crackers “fresh” out of the can:
- Wife – “Gross.”
- Daughter – “Gross.”
- Daughter’s Boyfriend – “Gross.”
- Son – “Pretty good, actually.”
- Me – “Better than I expected.”
It’s easy to get appetite fatigue eating from food storage. You don’t want to rely on these as a daily food as soldiers did. View hardtack as one type of food in a larger food storage of assorted foods.
They can be more enjoyable to eat when you add some fruit jam on top, dip them into your stored coffee, or crumble them into soup. They add substance and calories to any meal.
If they’re too dense for you, they can be softened by soaking them in water or milk. If it suits your tastebuds better, you can then toss that soaked cracker onto a skillet over medium-low heat with a bit of butter. These are multi-use crackers.
4 Brands of Pilot Bread Crackers
There was a time when you could buy pilot crackers from Mountain House in #10 cans. As of this writing, Mountain House appears to have discontinued them. The closest thing to the Mountain House version would be the Saratoga Farms can from The Ready Store (below).
I found four different types of pilot bread crackers readily available online.
No brand of pilot bread crackers is as popular as Sailor Boy. In fact, all other brands seem to mimic the Sailor Boy brand. For everyday household use, nothing beats Sailor Boy.
Why? Price. Sailor Boy crackers cost much less than competing brands.
The difference in price, however, is in the packaging. The Sailor Boy crackers come in a box whereas the Future Essentials and Saratoga Farms crackers come in a vacuum sealed can. The Sailor Boy box is fine for everyday use. The can is far superior for food storage.
- No prep! Ready-to eat, large 4'' unsalted cracker
- About 38 servings
Given their already-long shelf-life, you can buy Sailor Boys and just store them as is. You just won’t get the same shelf-life as something like Future Essentials or Saratoga Farms. Still, based on their strong Amazon reviews, it’s clear many people enjoy their Sailor Boy pilot bread crackers.
My can of crackers came from Future Essentials. They are made in the U.S.A. and listed with a shelf life of 30 years. They come in #2.5 cans.
- Pilot Bread Crackers are the perfect choice for daytime snacking or a crunchy companion to soups or casseroles. These lightweight snacks are used as survival rations in pilot emergency kits since there is no cooking, preparation, or rehydration needed—just open the lid and enjoy! 144 Crackers per case (Net weight 9.9 oz). #2.5 size can.
- These crackers are known for their 30 year shelf life. Pilot bread is a significant source of food energy in a small, durable, light weight package. We sell our Pilot Bread in the smaller #2.5 can which saves space especially if you are in a crunch for packing stuff for a trip.
The are not the cheapest pilot bread crackers you can buy, but the per-can price drops significantly when you select a pack of 12, which I recommend if you’re buying them for long-term storage. Bulk buying in a pack of 12 cuts the price almost in half!
The pilot bread crackers from Saratoga Farms (sold by The Ready Store) is probably the best choice for preppers. I can’t speak to their taste, but the pricing is better than Future Essentials and they have the same 30-year shelf life.
These are smaller crackers than those from Future Essentials, however. Also, if you have a food allergy, the Saratoga Farms crackers are processed in a facility that handles tree nuts, soybean, peanut, egg, and milk products. This is not the case with Future Essentials.
German Army Crackers
You can buy packaged Germany Army crackers right off Amazon. They’re very similar to the American pilot bread. In Germany they’re known as Panzerplatten or “Armor Plates” (I told you they’re tough).
These are as popular with German civilians as they are with servicemen and women.
Make Your Own
Don’t like the price of store-bought hardtack crackers? You can always make your own. In his book A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray, William Davis provides a recipe for Civil War era hardtack:
Mix 5 cups of flour to 1 cup of water containing a 1/2-tablespoon of salt. Knead into a dough and roll out to 3/8-inch thickness. Cut into approximately 3-inch squares and pierce each with a fork or ice pick several times. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until slightly brown.A Taste for War by William Davis
You can try other recipes if you want something more recent than the Civil War:
Because of the few ingredients involved in making hardtack, not only is it good for long-term food storage, but it’s something you can make from long-term food storage. If you know how to store flour and how to store water, you can have all you need for ingredients after the collapse. If you have stored salt (you should), even better.
Pilot bread crackers are a great food to add to your long-term food storage. They are a dense hardtack food that will withstand harsh storage elements. Packed with calories they will help keep you moving under adverse conditions.
Just make sure hardtack of this type are just one food among many different foods stored for an emergency. They are bland and are unlikely to be tolerated as a daily food by children or seniors who are more susceptible to appetite fatigue.
However, with jam spread across the top, broken apart into a soup, or dipped into coffee like a donut, pilot bread crackers can become a post-apocalyptic treat.