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Topic: Resupplies/ Mail Drops, Ordering Mail Drops Online< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 2:20 pm  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I thru-hiked the AT in 2011 and a 2013 soon to be AT hiker asked me about ordering resupplies from online retailers. I thought this could be a good discussion on this forum. Here is my reply to the question:

http://ryangrayson.blogspot.com/2013....or.html

Do you have any other thoughts? Has anyone tried this before? I will be hiking the PCT in 2014 and thought about taking advantage of free shipping from Walmart.com for some of my resupplies.
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 2:29 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

If you thought it would be a good discussion for the forum why did you try to send it to your blog?

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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 3:07 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Most companies are not familiar with mail drops and resupplies. I wouldn't rely on them to get it right. Most thru hikers depend on a friend at home to ship them their (pre-prepped) boxes. And/or they have a bounce box/bucket that they ship ahead to themselves.

Packit Gourmet would be the exception. They ARE familiar with thru hikers.

The PCT is a very different animal than the AT. Many of the locations you will be shipping to are VERY remote.  You really wanna get stuck out in the middle of nowhere without what you need?

Order before your trip and ship it to yourself. And buy in local towns as you go.


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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 3:08 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Personally, I mix so many of my meals at home, and FBC them on the trail, that I doubt having anything shipped directly from the retailer would work for me.  Maybe shoes, if I knew they were identical replacements for the worn ones I was wearing, or replacement insoles, but certainly not enough things that it would make it worth my efforts.  Gathering all of my supplies in one room and then boxing them up for shipping reassures me that what I will be wanting / needing, will be in the box.  No surprises, nothing missing or on Back Order.  

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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 3:21 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Another thought...

Victor says "Since we would be purchasing for 4 people..."  What happens when one of you decides to leave the trail? Or gets hurt? Even if you start out as a group it is highly unlikely (unless you are a married couple) that you will do the entire trail with the partners you start with.

Mail drops on the PCT are sometimes necessary. (sending your ice axe to Kennedy Medows for example). Food wise? If you aren't picky, you can get by.  The trail towns know you are coming and stock their shelves with hiker friendly foods.


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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 4:06 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(TDale @ Feb. 20 2013, 2:29 pm)
QUOTE
If you thought it would be a good discussion for the forum why did you try to send it to your blog?

Good question ... My reply was just lengthy, so I linked to it.  But here is the question and my thoughts about it:

Victor: What if we purchased food from large [online] retailers and have them delivered to us on the trail. Since we would be purchasing for 4 people, we could easily make the free shipping quota and get food at a lower cost than we would in a local town. Other than stating the obvious of not having a signal on some parts of the trail, what would be wrong with this idea?

Me: If you don't mind the extra planning that comes with food drops, ordering online isn't a bad idea, and actually offers some benefits over the traditional mail drop. My short answer is that unless you have special dietary needs, medications, or are a vegetarian; I am of the opinion that mail drops on the AT are more hassle than they are worth.

One of the greatest things about life on the AT, and maybe even more so than on other long-distance trails, is the freedom you feel while living such a life. After a few weeks, you won’t know if it's a Monday or a Saturday, and most importantly, you won't care. It is a great feeling. You may not have many opportunities in life to know what that is like. With mail drops, you never completely leave behind the world of schedules, deadlines, and logistics.

The AT is unique, in that, if you're already familiar with backpacking, you don't have to do much planning at all. Once you have your ride to the approach trail figured out, you only need to make sure you have enough supplies to get you to your first town. By picking up your supplies in towns along the way, the simplicity and freedom you experience on the AT will be even more total and absolute.

If you'd like to give it a try anyway, here are some suggestions...

First, based on your question, it sounds like you’re already familiar with some of the problems with food drops, but I’ll talk about those for anyone else reading, in order to highlight some of the advantages of ordering online.

What are mail drops?

Traditional mail drops are boxes that you packed with food and other supplies before leaving home, which someone will ship to you along the trail. Mail drops may be a requirement on remote trails, but on the AT, you will easily find places to resupply every 3 days or less.

Even the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine has a resupply opportunity about halfway through. As of 2013, White House Landing is operating and picking up hikers. Just follow the signs and blue blazes down a 0.9-mile side trail, blow the air horn, and someone will be by in a boat to pick you up. They are trying to sell the land, however, so if you’re reading this beyond 2013, you may want to call ahead to be sure they are still picking up hikers.

So in other words, there are no locations on the AT where you will need to send a food drop.

Why does anyone bother with them at all?

If you don’t have special dietary or medical needs, in my opinion, there aren't many great arguments for dealing with mail drops on the AT. The most common reasons for doing it have to do with saving money, by avoiding small markets and convenience stores, and avoiding areas with limited supplies.

On the AT, I never had a problem finding enough supplies at a resupply point to get me to the next one. And if shipping costs are involved, they will cancel out most, if not all, of the cost savings. That is, unless you send fewer drops and carry a huge amount of food, but carrying a heavy pack comes with its own, fairly obvious, downsides.

Also, if you buy food before your trip starts, you’ll eventually get tired of some or all of it. Believe it or not, there is a finite amount of times you’ll want to stare down at a pot full of Knorr Pasta Sides. It’s not easy eating enough calories on a long-distance hike. You will need as many as 5,000 to 6,000 calories per day to maintain your body weight. By buying food along the way, you’ll ensure you’re buying foods that you will want to eat.

So, I don't think traditional mail drops are generally not worth it. On the AT, if I was concerned about the next resupply being expensive or limited, I would buy a few extra things at a good resupply point, like a town with a giant supermarket, to reduce what I needed to buy at the next stop. And if you do manage to save a little money with mail drops, you have to ask if it's worth the hassle. I think simplifying your life out there has a value that far exceeds those meager savings.

Benefits of Ordering Online

So back to your question, if you’re ordering online, you can avoid most of the downfalls with the traditional mail drop. As of right now, the only online store that I could find that would make this work is Walmart.com. As you said, you can get free 5-day shipping if you order at least $45 of their “home free” items, which is a significant enough number of products to get everything you need. This eliminates one of the big disadvantages. And since you’re buying food relatively close to the day you’ll be eating it, it's also less likely that you’ll be carrying things that you’re tired of eating.

Possible Downsides to Ordering Online

The first concern I had wasn't about poor cell service, but this is a concern. It surprised me how frequently I had service with my Verizon phone on the AT, but web access will be less common. I’m not sure how much less, since I didn't have internet on my phone, but I wouldn't want to rely on it.

That being said, it doesn't matter that much, because you already know you can resupply in towns within three days of wherever you are on the AT, so you don’t have to rely on it completely. And any place along the AT that allows you to send a mail drop will hold onto it for at least 30 days, even the Post Offices, so don’t be afraid to send things way out in front of you and consider placing more than one order when you do get service.


To have your walmart.com package sent to a post office, type "General Delivery" in the address line, along with the city, state, and zip code for the post office you want it shipped to. See the image to the right...

One advantage of shipping a package to a post office, rather than a hostel or hotel, is having the ability to call and have it forwarded. Let's say, for whatever reason, you know you're not going to make it to that post office during business hours, but you don't want to wait around town until morning. Simply call them up and have it forwarded to the next post office along the trail. This can help alleviate that feeling of being rushed by a deadline.

If something is shipped using First-Class or Priority with the USPS, they will forward it for free. Although, packages from Walmart.com, of the size we're talking about here, will likely be shipped with FedEx. That just means if you call to have it forwarded, you will have to pay the shipping cost when you arrive to pick up the package. The distances will be short, though, so it shouldn't be that expensive.

Another potential issue is that since you will be shipping packages to addresses that are not the same as your credit card billing address, Walmart.com may withhold the shipment until the address can be verified. This is to prevent fraud. They may not do it every time, but it could delay a package. You can sidestep this problem by calling your credit card company beforehand and asking them to put a note on your account with the addresses you plan on shipping to.

If you decide to ship to a business, such as a hostel, hotel, or outfitter, use the option to leave a "gift message" on the label whenever possible, so the receiver will know it’s a mail drop for an AT hiker. For example, you can write, “Please hold for AT hiker,” as your gift message. You could also add something like, “ETA: 07/20/13,” or whatever date is close to when you expect to pick up the package. I would add several days to that date, so you don't feel like you have to rush.

In some cases, Walmart.com won't give you the option to leave a gift message on the label. It depends on the product you're ordering, for some reason. Although, most places along the AT that accept mail drops will be very familiar with this practice and will probably assume it's for a hiker. For peace of mind, you could call and let them know you sent a package to them, so they will be expecting it.

In Conclusion

So, even though I would still avoid mail drops as much as possible, in order to simplify your life on the AT, ordering from Walmart.com isn't a bad idea at all. If you don't rely on it too much, send orders with plenty of lead time, and use some of the tips above, I think you could do it without taking away from the experience.

On other long distance hikes, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, where towns are more spread out and further from the trail, ordering online would be considerably more beneficial. I will keep that in mind while planning my 2014 PCT hike!
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 4:08 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(Dicentra @ Feb. 20 2013, 3:21 pm)
QUOTE
Mail drops on the PCT are sometimes necessary. (sending your ice axe to Kennedy Medows for example). Food wise? If you aren't picky, you can get by.  The trail towns know you are coming and stock their shelves with hiker friendly foods.

Thanks Dicentra.. So you can get by without any food drops on the PCT? That's good news. I assumed I would have to send several. I actually haven't started planning mail drops yet. I'm starting in April 2014.

Are there any places where it would have been easier to mail drop on the PCT? I'm sure there are tons of forum posts about this, so I understand if you don't want to reply to it here.

Thanks for all the input everyone!
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(ol-zeke @ Feb. 20 2013, 3:08 pm)
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Personally, I mix so many of my meals at home, and FBC them on the trail, that I doubt having anything shipped directly from the retailer would work for me.

@ol-zeke

That's true. I make a few things myself to have my family send, but on the AT I found it so easy to resupply that I didn't even have it sent. Luckily it has a long shelf life.
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(Dicentra @ Feb. 20 2013, 3:07 pm)
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"Most companies are not familiar with mail drops and resupplies. I wouldn't rely on them to get it right. "

This is a good point. And that is still the big unknown right now. Although, I contacted walmart.com and they do ship general delivery and allow a message to be printed on the label. I figure it shouldn't be a problem, at least not anymore problematic than a friend sending the food to me. We shall see though.  On the AT, I still say it's not worth the hassle, the freedom of not having to be in that world of schedules and deadlines is worth the extra cost of food.

...

"The PCT is a very different animal than the AT. Many of the locations you will be shipping to are VERY remote.  You really wanna get stuck out in the middle of nowhere without what you need?"

Do you think the issues would be increased if I sent food from walmart.com, though? That wouldn't exist if a friend send it? I'd give enough lead time, say at least 2 or 3 weeks, to allow for their a 5-day shipping time and to correct any problems. Although, if you say you don't really need food drops on the PCT, then I'll avoid them as much as I can. I don't worry that much about saving a few bucks if the alternative is adding some potential deadlines and headaches.
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 4:26 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I would do more research if I were you. Get Yogi's book. Read the PCT-l archives and trailjournals.

You CAN resupply on the way, but I also know most thrus send themselves at least SOME things. You'll be sending boxes to yourself anyway. Your needs change as you hike north (you don't need an ice axe in the desert, you'll want more layers for the Sierras, maybe a warmer bag for the wet OR/Wa sections etc etc.)

It's very much HYOH. Personally, I'm a food nerd so I WOULD ship myself food, but I'm picky. I WRITE backpacking recipes. However,  if you can live with Lipton sides, mashed potoatoes, poptarts and jerky, you can shop as you go.


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(ryangrayson @ Feb. 20 2013, 2:06 pm)
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. . . One of the greatest things about life on the AT, and maybe even more so than on other long-distance trails, is the freedom you feel while living such a life. After a few weeks, you won’t know if it's a Monday or a Saturday, and most importantly, you won't care. It is a great feeling. You may not have many opportunities in life to know what that is like. . . .

I think you underestimate how much freedom some people have. Even at home I rarely know what day of the week it is. It rarely matters, so I don't pay much attention.

I'd hate to have to go a few weeks on the AT to get that feeling. It doesn't even take me that long at home.


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(TravisNWood @ Feb. 20 2013, 5:00 pm)
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I think you underestimate how much freedom some people have. Even at home I rarely know what day of the week it is. It rarely matters, so I don't pay much attention.

I'd hate to have to go a few weeks on the AT to get that feeling. It doesn't even take me that long at home.

That's true. I actually have been traveling for most of two years, so I also have had lots of freedom. But before the AT, I didn't. It was a different type of freedom for me out there. I got addicted to it.

After the AT, I continued hiking and traveling around the US. I might be spending 2013 in a self-built cabin in the Ozarks and hiking the PCT in 2014, but I'm also not responsible for a family and am comfortable living with very little material possessions .

I don't think it's unrealistic to say, that most thru-hikers will find themselves back in a routine and relatively normal lifestyles after the AT. They'll have spouses and children they have to provide for, so for many, this will be a unique and special time in their lives. I was just trying to say.. don't complicate it unnecessarily.
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(Dicentra @ Feb. 20 2013, 4:26 pm)
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I would do more research if I were you. Get Yogi's book. Read the PCT-l archives and trailjournals.

You CAN resupply on the way, but I also know most thrus send themselves at least SOME things. You'll be sending boxes to yourself anyway. Your needs change as you hike north (you don't need an ice axe in the desert, you'll want more layers for the Sierras, maybe a warmer bag for the wet OR/Wa sections etc etc.)

It's very much HYOH. Personally, I'm a food nerd so I WOULD ship myself food, but I'm picky. I WRITE backpacking recipes. However,  if you can live with Lipton sides, mashed potoatoes, poptarts and jerky, you can shop as you go.

Thanks. I still have a lot of research to do. It seems Yogi's book is the most recommended, would you agree? I used Erik the Black's book on the John Muir Trail last year, but even though I loved the layout, I had a lot of issues with it.  It didn't seem to me that he actually used it to hike the JMT to verify all the information.
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 5:28 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(ryangrayson @ Feb. 20 2013, 2:19 pm)
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(Dicentra @ Feb. 20 2013, 4:26 pm)
QUOTE
I would do more research if I were you. Get Yogi's book. Read the PCT-l archives and trailjournals.

You CAN resupply on the way, but I also know most thrus send themselves at least SOME things. You'll be sending boxes to yourself anyway. Your needs change as you hike north (you don't need an ice axe in the desert, you'll want more layers for the Sierras, maybe a warmer bag for the wet OR/Wa sections etc etc.)

It's very much HYOH. Personally, I'm a food nerd so I WOULD ship myself food, but I'm picky. I WRITE backpacking recipes. However,  if you can live with Lipton sides, mashed potoatoes, poptarts and jerky, you can shop as you go.

Thanks. I still have a lot of research to do. It seems Yogi's book is the most recommended, would you agree? I used Erik the Black's book on the John Muir Trail last year, but even though I loved the layout, I had a lot of issues with it.  It didn't seem to me that he actually used it to hike the JMT to verify all the information.

Yes. Get Yogi's book. Tell her I sent you.  It was recently updated too so the info is fresh.

I'll... refrain from commenting on Erik the Black's books.

Let's just say you're better off with regular guidebooks (buy them from PCTA) and the data book (aka the book of lies).


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(Dicentra @ Feb. 20 2013, 5:28 pm)
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Yes. Get Yogi's book. Tell her I sent you.  It was recently updated too so the info is fresh.

I'll... refrain from commenting on Erik the Black's books.

Let's just say you're better off with regular guidebooks (buy them from PCTA) and the data book (aka the book of lies).

Thanks! Going to order her book now. I'm also going to have my next grocery list sent to my local post office just to see how it goes.
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 6:21 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Yogi said she's working on another update. Said it could be ready in 3 weeks or 3 months lol. I think I'll wait a little longer.
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 20 2013, 11:22 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I'm packing boxes tonight for a hike on the New mexcio section of the CDT.  8 boxes- lots of work.  getting the meals right is a challenge.

The CDT has challenges not seen on the AT.  Most towns are 20- 30 miles off the trail along the CDT.  the very few stores on or near the CDT are not much.  so I am packing boxes and my wife will mail them as needed.

I need to get back to meal planning and packaging.  Long distancce hiking! Wow!!  Most backpackers who have only done short loops have no idea.


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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 21 2013, 9:58 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

QUOTE
Even the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine has a resupply opportunity about halfway through. As of 2013, White House Landing is operating and picking up hikers. Just follow the signs and blue blazes down a 0.9-mile side trail, blow the air horn, and someone will be by in a boat to pick you up. They are trying to sell the land, however, so if you’re reading this beyond 2013, you may want to call ahead to be sure they are still picking up hikers.


Seriously? Wow, I remember doing that stretch and not seeing another soul for the 10 days I was there. Granted I got caught in one heck of a storm and sheltered for two days, but still...


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(ryangrayson @ Feb. 20 2013, 3:21 pm)
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Yogi said she's working on another update. Said it could be ready in 3 weeks or 3 months lol. I think I'll wait a little longer.

Knowing Yogi, she'll have it done in time for Kick Off (end of April). :)

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