One major advantage of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is the abundance of trail towns prepared for the seasonal herd of hikers passing through. Most AT hikers -us included- do/did not prepare mail drops for resupply along the trail, opting instead to just resupply on the go.
The major downside to resupplying on the trail is that it can be costly and options can be limited. There were quite a few times on trail where we found ourselves resupplying at a mini-mart that had been picked over of Snickers, Pop-Tarts, and tuna packets. (Junk foods become staple foods on the trail). Oftentimes these small town stores can be pricey compared to a supermarket. You can save quite a bit of money by sending yourself food rather than purchasing it in a small town.
The major upside to resupplying on the go is that as your wants and needs change, so can your food choices. In addition, there is no need to worry about Post Office hours or whether a business will hold your package. It’s also nice to support the towns that support the trail. Looking back at our AT thru-hike, I would probably choose to send us a resupply box in Monson Maine, the last town you enter before going into the hundred-mile wilderness. The resupply at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel might be the best in town, but it is still pricey and can be limited. We made do just fine, but a mail drop could have given us some lighter options for a five day food carry.
On the PCT, mail drops are much more common. However, as the popularity of the trail surges and small towns are preparing more effectively for the hiker bubble passing through, fewer and fewer mail drops are needed.
The one major spot that most hikers send themselves a box is Kennedy Meadows, the entrance to the Sierra. Here is where most hikers send themselves a bear canister, ice axe, and microspikes, and we are no exception to that trend. Because the resupply is expensive at KM, we will also be sending ourselves some food here.
To figure out where else I might send some drop boxes, I consulted the internet and found tons of resources detailing the resupply options. In addition, I found THIS Survey from Halfway Anywhere detailing where last year’s hikers would recommend sending a box.
From this list I developed our resupply strategy. I don’t want to leave my poor sister with too many boxes to send, and I don’t want to be constantly worrying about PO hours. Plans change on the trail, so I don’t want to overplan ahead of time. I also want to save some money and weight during the Sierra and other challenging sections.
Boxes I will mail before we leave:
- Warner Springs – mile 110 (4 days food)
- Agua Dulce – mile 454 (5.5 days food)
Boxes my sister will mail to us:
- Kennedy Meadows -mile 702 (snow gear, 6 days food)
- Kearsarge Pass (Bishop/Independence)- mile 790 (6 days food)
- Vermilion Valley Resort – mile 877 (4.5 days food)
- Kennedy Meadows North – mile 1016 (4.5 days food)
- Sierra City – mile 1195 (4.5 days food)
- Belden – mile 1284 (5 days food)
Boxes we will prepare on the way:
In Ashland: We will prep a box to send to Crater Lake mile 1819, and Shelter Cove mile 1904
In Portland: We will prepare mail drops for the Washington section.
This strategy leaves us with only 8 boxes to prepare ahead of time, and 40 days of food to purchase for. I figured we would average 20 miles per day in the desert section, and dropped that to 15 for the Sierra and snowbound sections. Half of my boxes are for the Sierra, which will allow us to choose the lightest-weight foods for our most challenging section.
We’ll be able to save some money and add variety to our diet without too much inconvenience. We can include some healthier options such as dehydrated veggies and reduce our intake of junk foods. Also, in the event one of us is injured or we have to get off the trail for any reason, we haven’t wasted our money preparing too many boxes we’ll never retrieve. The boxes prepped ahead of time will get us halfway through the trail. If we are still going strong, we can prep the rest in the larger towns while we go.
Once the boxes are prepared, I will write a post going over what foods and supplies we will be sending ourselves. With 63 days to go, I’d better get busy!