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Resupply & Mail Drops

One of the most frequently asked questions amongst new hikers is, “How/What do I eat on the trail?” This is a valid question because without knowing how to properly fuel yourself your hike will not last very long. It might feel daunting at first to figure this aspect out since, in everyday life, meal planning isn’t something you have to think about doing months in advance.

How do I get food if I’m on the trail?

You may be wondering how you’re going to get food each week when you’re on a trail in the woods. The AT was designed to cross roads and in some cases lead straight through town. So, even though you’re in the woods most of the time, you have access to get to town roughly once a week. Once you make it to town, you have two main ways to resupply: buy food in town or mail it ahead of time in a mail drop.


Resupplying in Town

One option you have is to buy your food and supplies in town every week. This usually works out fine if you plan ahead and know that the town you’re heading to has your average grocery store where prices are reasonable. However, there are plenty of towns along the trail that only have gas stations, convenient stores, or small markets that leave your wallet feeling pretty sad. These places tend to be quite spendy, sometimes having items such as ramen (usually $0.25) for $2.00 a bag. However, there are times when an unplanned trip to town is unavoidable. While planning mail drops before you start the trail, it is easy to underestimate how much food you’ll actually need when you’re hiking. In these situations, it is helpful to be able to supplement with in-town resupplying. If you’re carrying a guide book, those will generally tell you what’s available. If you happen to have cell service, you can look on Google Maps, Yelp, or something similar. Whatever method you choose, it certainly pays to plan ahead if you’re going to stop in town to resupply.


Mail Drops

A mail drop is a box filled with food and/or supplies that you mail yourself ahead of time so you’re able to save the time buying supplies and food in town. These can be mailed to a post office or (with permission) to local outfitters, hostels, motels, etc. Mail drops also have both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s weigh them out.

Advantages

Arguably the biggest advantage to planning a mail drop is cost-efficiency. Mail drops can potentially be a great way to save money on your hike, if you do them right. It’s certainly not a guarantee that they will save you money, since it is tempting to buy extra food once you get to town, in addition to your mail drop. If you can buy most of your food in bulk for much cheaper than buying it in town and shipping costs are low, you can certainly save more than you’d spend in town. You can also save extra money if you cook and dehydrate the food yourself. Additionally, since you have to figure out where to send the food, you’re able to knock out two birds with one stone by planning where to stop for rest days while planning your mail drop. It’s also a way for your family or friends to be involved with your hike by sending care packages to you throughout your journey as long as you instruct them properly on your cravings and portion sizes.


Disadvantages

There are, however, a few things to consider before you decide to send all your food ahead of time. First, it’s hard to know what you’re going to be craving months from now, especially when your diet and metabolism will have drastically changed. A very common blunder to make is to send too little, leaving you miserably hungry, which leads to spending more money on food than you otherwise would have once you get to town. There’s also the chance that you’ll send too much (which I’ve done time and time again). You could always give it to hikers who could use some extra food, throw it in a hiker box, or mail it ahead to another destination. Nonetheless, that can be hard to avoid. Lastly, the biggest disadvantage is that you’ll have to try to coordinate getting to the post office (or business) during their operating hours. There can be issues and frustrations surrounding this, but there are ways to coordinate and plan them so that these can be avoided. A recommendation would be to do some research to see which towns have poor resupply options and send boxes to those. Some hikers feel that mail drops are more hassle than they’re worth, but they can also be extremely convenient and efficient if they are organized and coordinated properly.


Planning the contents of a Mail Drop

Planning the contents of a mail drop can be a little overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. There are many ways you can do this and ultimately the contents of the box is entirely up to you. One way that has worked for me has been thinking of an entire day’s worth of food by splitting it up into:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Snacks (lots of them)

Next, figure out how many days you’ll need to make that food last. Then, add the above for that many days. It’s definitely recommended to mix things up each week so you’re not stuck with repetitive meals. You could try alternating snacks, as an example. I used to send cheez-its one week, soy nuts the next, etc. However you decide to do this, keep in mind that variety is important.


Address Formats

Some businesses have specific address formats that you must adhere to. Always look up the place you’re planning to send the drop to. If the information looks at all sparse or out of date, it’s best to call them directly. But, generally these are pretty standard formats to follow:

Post Office

Your Real Name
C/O General Delivery
Town Name, GA, 12345

Please hold for AT Hiker
ETA 4/15/2019

Outfitters & Hostels

Your Real Name
C/O Outfitter or Hostel Name
Town Name, GA, 12345

Please hold for AT Hiker
ETA 4/15/19
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