Mail Drops? Mail drops.

 

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Boxes that aren’t yet filled.

MAIL DROPS AREN’T FOR EVERYONE. This we all know, but for me, they’re awesome.

TL;DR I’m vegan, and I don’t want to waste time in town, I want to be on trail. These reasons alone make mail drops worth their weight in gold. JK, because they’re ultimately fairly cheap, considering what I’m sending myself(food I like, and wouldn’t find on trail.)

Since I’m getting almost 100% of my resources through the mail on this coming thru hike I thought I’d address drop boxes and why I like them really quick. As most will tell you that they’re a waste of time, or that they’re unnecessary. They’re not! For some that is true, but not everyone, otherwise why would you see so many of the best hikers in the world using them?

For those unaware, in long distance hiking, like really long distance, 300-8,000 miles in one go, distance hiking… You have to get food some how! How you wonder? Every few days you get off the trail and go into a local town, or sometimes there’s a town directly on the trail, and you pick up food for the next stretch between towns. Some do this every 3 days, some like to stay on trail longer and may wait as long as 6 days(or even longer) without resupplying. Obviously this is done because carrying 4 months of food on your back would be extremely difficult. I welcome you to try!

Most folk will find the nearest shopping center and begin perusing! But there is another way! What if… you had a box with all the extra gear, maps, guides, and food that you need waiting for you right there? That’d be pretty cool! Well actually, that’s reality. That’s precisely what sending and receiving a mail drop is like. But what makes that better than just buying it in a town?

Why am I using the postal service as my means for resupply vs just getting everything in town?

  • I’m saving money! By scoring food through deals at home, or online, I can skip out on similar food, or the same food that’s price is gouged in some small convenience store along the trail. Grocery stores every week have different sales. There’s no guarantee that when you go into town for resupply you’ll find anything you want on said sale. So how about before leaving for your trip, getting some cheap food that you love… and then sending that to yourself for later! This is especially great for meals you can buy bulk for less.
  • They’re faster! By the time I get to the hostel or post office I’ve sent my mail to, grab my box, and get back to the trail(or a restaurant,) you’ve just now stepped foot in the grocery and begun the process of shopping. Only to leave the store and see me exciting the nearest buffet, long after I got my package. There is no contest. A box is a faster resupply. All your food prepared just the way you like it. Portioned out just the way you like it. There is no fuss, no hassle, and chances are your mum probably added some cookies from home in said box. They’re faster, period. For those looking to do really speedy thru hikes, this is definitely a way you can cut down on time spent in town.
  • No more searching for extras! That convenience store you’re about to steal the TP from? They need that, other “customers” need that, and chances are it’s poor quality paper anyway. With a drop box…. you can have that fancy 30 ply shit your girlfriend uses! You know the kind, it smells like lavender. My point is, you need more than food. You may need toothpaste, a new t-shirt, more water purification drops, extra socks, batteries, nail clippers, a razor, etc. Who wants to run around town looking for these extras, whatever they may be? I just want to get them, and go.
  • I don’t want to eat gas station food! This situation may be somewhat uncommon but sending yourself mail drops really allows you to go nuts and buy a ton of super cool foods you’d never ever be able to buy on trail, if you have the money. This is great for those of us who want to eat healthier, or have special dietary needs, and may not salivate as much as the next guy when staring at a honey bun. I can send myself healthier foods, hell, dehydrated foods! The kind where my mom makes it for dinner, and I take all the leftovers, and stick it in the dehydrator! Delicious, and avoids the tough decision between couscous or ramen noodles every night(couscous always.) Mail drops give you the freedom to spend the months before your hike gathering super amazing foods to eat on your hike.
  • They allows me to carry less! That pound of guidebook and maps you’re carrying? I split it up into little pieces that weigh next to nothing. Each section will be sent to when I will need them on the trail! If you’re thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll probably need an ice axe and crampons in the Sierras, so why carry them from the start? Put it in the box being sent to that section! For me, it’s really the maps and guides. 4,800 miles across 7 different trails. Holy maps! Why do I need a guide book for the Florida Keys section of my hike when I’m starting in Canada? I’m also carrying less weight because before leaving on my hike, I can search for and buy foods that have a high caloric density, vs whatever I may find out there.
  • They’re more organized! Do I want to sit outside of a grocery store tearing up boxes and packaging to put into ziplocs, or portioning out what I’ll eat for the next 4 days? I don’t. In my box all of that is done. I have the exact food I need, I have the maps and guides I need, the extra gear I need. Everything. The only thing I need to think about is not how much food I should buy and where I’ll resupply next, it’s where the nearest restaurant is.

So that’s kind of some random basics off the top of my head. If you want to send mail drops on your thru hike… do it! Don’t let some fool on the Appalachian Trail forums tell you it’s stupid. You may regret that decision, but that’s how you learn!

I will say the advantages of the mail system become more apparent the more experience you gain. Do you know how many triple A batteries you’ll go through in 6 days? How about how many socks in 2,000 miles. Knowing stupid stuff like this makes mail more beneficial to you, as you can send what you need, when you need it. Not sooner, not later. It removes the hassle of making these decisions on trail, as boom 800 miles in, I got a new pair of shoes. Didn’t even have to look at Amazon once!

Without a doubt the BIGGEST reason I’m using mail is because of the speed. I want to spend more time on trail, and less time in towns.

I won’t mention cons here, because I don’t care! Like everything in the hiking world, do your own thing. Do what is right for you. Chances are mail drops aren’t right for you! Despite these benefits that work in my favor, they don’t work in everyone’s favor.

There are many trails in which you don’t need to use mail drops, and frankly I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. You’ll probably already know before reading this if that’s something you should be doing. But… Just because they may be unnecessary, doesn’t mean there aren’t many benefits to them. As stated above!

Love em or hate em……

Happy hiking!

– Jupiter

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4 thoughts on “Mail Drops? Mail drops.

  1. First of all I love the idea of drop boxes, and sorry if this comes off as a little too challenging. I dont have time or space to prepare drop boxes for my hike,but I want to consider it in the future, but I’m not seeing how the numbers add up for most of the AT. At $13.45 for a flat rate box like the one your using, whats it costing you to shave the grocery store off your town visit? Just for example, I want to do my hike in 4.5 months. 4.5×30 days roughly each month is 135. Lets say I plan to stop in town somewhere in the average of every 4 days. Thats 34 boxes IF I plan to only use drop boxes. Thats 450 bucks just on shipping costs. Obviously the less boxes I ship, the more money I spend in town theoretically buying more expensive groceries. So whats the sweet spot? How many drop boxes are you planning on doing?

    Then the the big downside that has me concerned as time on trail is how much time are you wasting if you get to town before or after the PO is closed?

    See you out there,
    Owen

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    • As stated you’d probably already know if they are for you! Either due to te nature of your hike, or your diet. For the typical hiker, mail drops are most certainly a bad idea for a multitude of reasons. Since there are so many articles out there telling you not to, I thought I’d make one highlighting the benefits as I personally wouldn’t do it any other way. I’m vegan, and I’m a fastpacker. Two big reasons to send myself food vs buying in towns.

      In regards to money, a lot of foods I’ve gotten mega deals on due to the bulk of my order. As well as the option for one time sponsorship on food. Regardless, even if I was simply breaking even, mail is still the best route for me because of the other reasons above.

      Your 34 box estimate is out there, as I’m only sending 29 for a trail twice the distance! While planning your resupply if this is your chosen route I’d really try and cut out as many drops as possible. I will be resupplying at grocery here and there, I don’t know the ratio of mail:town off the top of my head. I’m sending so much less than you would because I’m going faster than most, and staying on trail for longer periods between resupply than most. Say 140 mile carry on average. Sometimes even 170. Sometimes only 100.

      Completely regardless of money, I’d still do mail drops! For my maps, guides, extra gear, and supplies. Not to mention my biggest reason, the speed. I want to get in and out of town, and back on trail.

      On the AT, PCT, or even the FT you seldomly have to send to a PO so I’m wasting no time at all. I’m sending to hostels, visitor centers, and outfitters which dont have the weird hours. Seriously for the AT I think I’m only sending to one PO the entire trail!

      Btw, that picture isn’t accurate. If I can use a small box I will. If I have to use a medium or large I will. I was just taping up boxes to start filling, so I took a quick snap.

      Thanks for the reply, I’m at work so this is just a quick response!

      Jup

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    • I looked it up, only 16 boxes for the AT. Doing that portion of trail without a big in town resupply. I have marked on my spreadsheet towns that are on trail as well, so I can suppliment along the way with fresh fruit, veggies, etc.

      My average miles between resupply is 140, which is for me, 5 days. I can always add a town and go to grocery if I’m moving slow, or redirect a box if I’m moving fast. This is not your typical thru hike 🙂

      Jup

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  2. Hi Jupiter, thanks for an interesting post. We’re in the middle of our 1000 mile hike across Spain and very much wish we had the option of regular resupply boxes, there is just not much awareness of, and set-up for, that way of hiking here in Europe. The little shops we find in villages near the trail often have a very limited selection of suitable foods (even finding ramen noodles can be hard), and the pre-packed ‘light’ foods that do exist are usually too salty or have MSG in them- so our diet is poorer than I’d like it to be. Back home there are loads of good foods I would have liked to have sent out here to pick-up en-route…just thinking about the possibilities makes me hungry 🙂 Oh well, couscous, tuna and olive oil for the 7th day in a row…. Look forward to following your ECT adventure!
    Rebecca and Barry
    http://www.wildpilgrims.com

    Like

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