The logistics of
keeping yourself in food and gear for a thru-hike are certainly a
challenge. Here's some quick info to help you decide which will work best
Getting geared up for a
thru-hike used to seem like a Herculean task. Internet sites have helped hikers to make much more informed choices about
what gear will work well. Most of these sites, however, offer little in
practical advice for perhaps the most difficult part of managing a long distance
Before going into each
of the options, though, let's take a quick look at what makes it so challenging.
- It can be really difficult to accurately
gauge when you're going to be at a certain place
- Many of the trail towns are very small and
offer little in terms of services
- Having to wait for gear/maildrops to show up
in town can be really expensive, especially if the town doesn't have a
- Stress over gear failures/PO times can
quickly dispel your hard earned feeling of separation from the rat race.
- Your appetite can vary wildly, making
planning an exercise in futility.
- Your tastes can also vary wildly. Ditching
your oatmeal into the hiker box can quickly eliminate any savings from bulk
Maildrops: Most of the people who set out to
thru-hike try maildrops. The conventional wisdom is that by buying in bulk
you save money. Unfortunately, the cost of postage can quickly offset
any savings from bulk buying. In addition, I've seen many a thru-hiker
become so thoroughly disgusted with their food that they begin abandoning it
in town in favor of rebuying alternatives locally. Finally, being the
home logistical contact can be a huge burden and time drain.
On the other hand, maildrops have some distinct
advantages. You can include items like home dehydrated foods or TVP
can be a real treat. Single serve soaps, boot waterproofer, and other
small items can be prepared in advance and included periodically.
Having to buy a full tube of sunscreen when you only need one ounce is a real
bummer. While most of these incidentals can be often be found for free in
the local hiker box, this isn't always the case. Also, the next
databook/maps/town guide section is easily added to the appropriate box.
Finally, maildrops can be a way to make sure
you'll have enough food and money to complete your trip. In 1994 I
completed my first thru-hike right after leaving the Peace Corps, so thrifty was
the name of the game. By buying my food in bulk and budgeting $20 in
traveler's checks for spending money per town stop I knew before I had set out
that at least food and expenses wouldn't force me to leave the trail.
Buy Along the Way: Most
of the drawbacks of maildrops are solved by just playing it by ear and buying
your food along the way. You can easily change your food intake, vary
your diet, and include local produce. Many of the towns have excellent
supermarkets with great selections, including dried vegetables and vegetarian
items. In addition, buying locally is almost always cheaper than buying
in bulk and mailing. While its true that some towns don't have much of
a selection, it usually isn't too hard to find something to get you to the next
There's a great sense of freedom that comes
with being able to choose where and when you want to go into town without
having PO times guiding your hand.
You can often carry much less food,
instead making quick trips to small stores close to the trail for supplies
(which you'll probably be doing anyway for ice cream, etc).
You can often find great food in hiker
boxes! I saved a lot of money on my last thru-hike by taking
advantage of other people's abandoned food.
Hybrid system: Many
people who choose to buy along the way also keep one "bump" box
stocked with extra clothes, data sections, etc. If they don't need the
items in the box, they just forward it down the trail at no extra charge.
Remember, your bump box cannot be forwarded if you open it.
The Bottom Line: I
strongly recommend buying along the way for most people. Disciplined
people can save a lot of money that way. However, be warned that you can
also spend your money quickly if you're careless with your finances. Trail towns have a way of absorbing your cash like a sponge. Unless you're on a
serious budget or have special dietary needs, maildrops are more trouble than they're worth.
|You can send yourself packages
to any US Post Office general delivery. The label format
Town, State Zip Code
You need to carry a
picture ID to take delivery of your package!
post offices are only required to keep your package for 10
days, so don't send them months in advance. While many
post offices will hold your package longer, some do not.
Writing your approximate arrival date is a good idea.
postage required to send your maildrops will vary depending on
where you live. If you across the country, it may be
incredibly expensive to ship your drops.
cost for US Priority Mail is often very close to the cost for
Parcel Post. You can forward items for free with
Priority Mail as long as the package is not opened.
Also, shipping supplies like boxes and tape are provided in
the cost of Priority Mail. On the other hand, if you're
planning on shipping fuel canisters you must use parcel post
to avoid violating HAZMAT regulations.
a list of all the PO's zip codes and phone numbers.
Sometimes you can call the PO to arrange for forwarding.
make yourself miserable by sending yourself 10 day resupplies.
Five days or so should be plenty.
|Running Resupply Notes
|You can get a good feeling
for which towns will have a good market by looking in the AT
Companion or Thru-Hiker's Handbook.
found it fun to just buy five days of food or so and then just
see how far it would take me.
really liked buying a pound or so of hard salami at the
deli. Even in the heat of summer, this salami didn't go
bad. You can make sandwiches or put it into your dinner
for a fat/protein source.
is my protein source of choice when I can get it, but this is
nearly impossible for running resupply.
foot long submarine sandwich makes a great dinner for the
first night out from town.
a list of all the PO's zip codes and phone numbers. You
may need to send yourself an item.
|Bump Box Notes
|It can be really annoying to
have to open your bump box just to remove one small
item. Once it's open, you can't forward it for
free. Also, if you're going to forward a box tell the
clerk when you get the box. Sometimes they won't let you
forward it if it leaves their site.
It may be cheaper to keep
your data sections separate from the rest of your bump
box. Send that stuff in an envelope via First Class Mail.
If you open your bump box, it cannot be forwarded for free.