Survival Food 101: Hardtack

The role of hardtack as a survival food dates back to ancient Egypt. Find out why it's one of the best for survival eating until now.

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In this article:

  1. Survivalists Staple Food
    1. Hardtack History
    2. High in Calories, High in Shelf Life
  2. Hardtack Recipe
    1. How to Make Hardtack
  3. Soft Hardtack Recipe
    1. How to Make Soft Hardtack

Hardtack | The Ultimate Survival Food

Survivalists Staple Food

Hardtack bread has been a necessary staple for survivalists for ages. It is also known as pilot bread, ship's biscuit, ship biscuit, sea biscuit, sea bread, “dog biscuits”, “tooth dullers”, “sheet iron”, “worm castles”, or “molar breakers.”

Hardtack may have had many different names throughout the years but its importance in survival has never changed.

Hardtack History

Hardtack nutrition has actually been around since the time of Egyptian pharaohs, but you probably know it from the hardtack Civil War era. During the war, squares of hardtack were shipped to both the Union and Confederate armies, making it a staple part of a soldier’s rations.

Typically made 6 months beforehand, it was as hard as a rock when it actually got to the troops. To soften it, they usually soaked it in water or coffee.

Not only would this soften it enough for eating, but any insect larvae in the bread would float to the top, allowing the soldiers to skim them out.

High in Calories, High in Shelf Life

Soldiers and sailors the world over have used hardtack as a way to stave off hunger. It was one of the main sources of food when Christopher Columbus set sail and eventually landed in America.

It is such a basic item that I am amazed that no one I know under the age of 50 understands its importance, let alone how to make it.

Hardtack is simple; it has three basic ingredients and takes roughly a 1/2 hour of cooking time to prepare. This is one of the most cost-effective long-term survival foods that you can make.

It just isn't very friendly to your diet if you're avoiding carbs.

Hardtack Recipe


You can make hardtack almost identical to what sailors, troops, and pioneers ate (minus the weevils!) by following this simple recipe:

  • 4-5 cups of flour
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 tsp of salt

How to Make Hardtack

Mix the flour, water, and salt together, and make sure the mixture is fairly dry. Then roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, and shape it into a rectangle.

Cut it into 3×3 inch squares, and poke holes in both sides. Place on an ungreased cookie or baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes per side at 375˚.

How to Prepare Your Hardtack

As far as cooking goes, you're done! The next step is just to walk away.

You’ll want to let it dry and harden for a few days. When it has roughly the consistency of a brick, it’s fully cured.

Then simply store it in an airtight container or bucket.

To prepare for eating, soak it in water or milk for about 15 minutes, and then fry in a buttered skillet. You can eat it with cheese, soup, or just plain with a dash of salt.

This basic hardtack should keep for years as long as it is kept in an airtight container.

RELATED: 9 Survival Food Items That Will Outlast The Apocalypse

Soft Hardtack Recipe

There is, however, a not-so-hard version of hardtack, with the same shelf life. This is a fun way to serve bread to your guests, especially in a pinch.

It goes great with soups and stews, so it's definitely a recipe worth learning even if S hasn't HTF yet.


  • 2 cups of water
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 4 cups white flour
  • 2 tbsp of either shortening, cold butter, or margarine

How to Make Soft Hardtack

Preheat your oven to 375°. In a bowl, mix your flour and salt.

Add the shortening, cold butter, or margarine into a bowl, then add water. Mix slowly, and then form the dough into balls that don't stick to your hand.

Press the dough down into a square shape of no more than 1/2 inch thick, then cut it into squares. Stick holes in every piece to promote rising.

Finally, bake the bread on an ungreased cookie sheet for 30 minutes.

This video from IslanderHero shows a step-to-step guide on how to make hardtack:

If it ever gets soft, I would recommend tossing it and making a new batch. Hardtack is a versatile food that will keep for years with proper storage.

Make sure to store it in Ziploc bags at a cool temperature to ensure that mold does not grow on it. Also, make sure that you have enough canned soup in your bug-out safehouse so the hardtack bread goes down better!

Do you have any suggestions for hardtack or recipes for other lost or forgotten survival foods? Leave them in the comments section below!


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 17, 2013, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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