Many people wonder whether or not mail drops are a necessity on the Appalachian Trail. They can be beneficial to your wallet, and they can be convenient. This post will talk all about mail drops on the trail and what to expect.
Mail Drop Pros
If you are budget conscience on the trail, buying food ahead of time and sending mail drops in certain places can definitely help. You can buy cheap food in bulk and have someone send them to you. You do need to pay for shipping, but flat rate USPS boxes are fairly cheap.
If you have diet restrictions, mail drops might be a must for you. Some towns won’t have as many food options or grocery stores where you can buy special food. Even if you like homemade dehydrated meals, this can be more nutritious to make ahead of time and have someone send you food along the way.
Mail Drop Cons
Sometimes the post office will not be convenient to access. The hours for post offices can vary and sometimes they are further off trail then maybe a convenient store. You can also send mail drops to hostels, hotels, and outfitters. These hours can be more convenient but a lot of the time you will need to pay a fee for holding the box. The hours for these businesses can also vary. If you are being budget conscience, you might not be able to afford to hang around town for a day to wait to get your box.
You might not know when you will stop. Maybe you will end up hiking with a group of people who decide to stop in a different town than the one you’ve had a box sent to. You can always split up, but it seems silly to change all your plans just to pick up some food. Mailing drop boxes won’t always be cheapest. If you stop in a larger town, they usually have a reasonably priced grocery store you can stop at and get all the items you need and you can save money on shipping.
Resupplying can take time and energy from your day, but if you generally know what you want, it’s fairly easy.
A bounce box is a box that you continually send up trail ahead of you. This allows a hiker to have a larger amount of an item at their reach without having to carry it all on their back. If a medicine or food is hard to find, a bounce box can be a great way to ensure you have it. If you get to town and decide you don’t even need to open your bounce box, you can go ahead and forward it ahead. USPS does this for you for free but if you’ve mailed it to a store or hostel, they will likely make you pay for shipping.
Before my thru hike, I prepared almost all of my food so my mom could send me mail drops along the way. We dehydrated tons of fruits, veggies, meat, etc and prepared meals ahead of time. I also bought lots of snacks in bulk from Costco. I had stations set up in my parents basement sorted into breakfasts, snacks, lunch, dinner, toiletries, so it was easier for my mom to throw things in a box. I would text her how much of each I wanted her to send and where. I thought this was a great idea and would save me time on finding places to buy food along the way.
This was a mistake for me. I prepared a lot of the same meals, and snacks, and got sick of all of them. I also didn’t always know when I would want to stop in a town. It can take time for a package to get to its destination so if I decided to go to a town in two days, that wouldn’t be enough time to mail a package. Getting food in town is usually fairly easy, and I wasn’t on a strict budget so if a town was a little pricey, that was ok by me.
I had been backpacking a good amount before my thru hike, so I thought I knew what I wanted to eat, but there are so many options out there! I tried a lot of different meals and discovered what I liked. The food I prepared ahead of time was still good but I needed variety.
The Right Way to Mail a Drop Box
Doing the research ahead of time can help when sending a drop box. At Mountain Crossings, we ask you write your name on all sides of the box, and estimated time of arrival (ETA). This helps us find the box faster when you arrive. You want to send your box 1-2 weeks ahead of time, so you can be sure that it will arrive before you do. We hold boxes for a month after the ETA. It is helpful too if you get off the trail to let us know whether you want us to mail you box back to you, or if we should donate it to the hiker box.
We also ask for a dollar donation for holding the box if you have it. Some businesses may ask for more so that is important to note and have the appropriate amount of cash. Again, check business hours so you can make it to your box in time. We have this information on our website here if you want to check it out!
Make sure you mail a box with enough time for the box to get to its destination!
Mail drops are not necessary unless you are on a strict diet or budget. The Appalachian Trail has many towns you can access that will have stores for your resupply. If you plan on doing another trail, research to see if drop boxes are necessary.