Maildrops

One of the questions I’ve been asked frequently is how I’ll get food along the trail. No, I won’t be bringing a gun/knife to try to live off the land. Every several days the trail either passes through or near a town, allowing hikers to resupply. There are two main strategies that can be employed here. Some hikers like to resupply in the towns – going to grocery stores, gear shops, etc to buy food and replacement gear (if needed). This is the most flexible strategy because it doesn’t put any pre-defined time constraints on you, but the risk is that you may not find what you want or that the price for what you want is very high.

The other strategy is to do what are called maildrops. Hikers can prepare food and supplies before they leave for the trail and have it mailed to them by someone at home. If you give the person at home frequent updates it is easy enough to project where you will be in 10 days and mail the box ahead to a town or post office. Maildrops usually include things like a few meals, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, possibly new shoes, and any other items a hiker might need all neatly packed into a box (USPS “If it fits it ships” boxes work well). Downsides to a maildrop include the need to time them correctly and the time constraints imposed on your hike by needing to arrive at a post office during open hours. For instance if it is Friday you may need to speed up to get to the post office on Saturday since they aren’t open on Sundays. If you hit a town with a maildrop on a Sunday you’ll be forced to stay the night until the post office opens on Monday.

Most hikers employ a strategy somewhere in between maildrops and pure trail acquisition. Some will have 5 maildrops or so in the areas where they know grocery stores are few and far between and rely on towns to provide the rest of their food and supplies. I’m planning to lean more toward the maildrop end. I have nearly 20 maildrops planned at this point, although a few of them are actually “Christy-drops” where I will get my supplies when I see her. Several others are going to be shipped to places I’ll be staying like hostels and friends’ houses so I won’t have to worry about post office hours. As mentioned in previous posts, right now we’re working on dehydrating my meals and stocking up on supplies like meat pouches (3oz packages of tuna/salmon/chicken found in stores, great for adding to lunch), hand sanitizer, instant coffee, etc.

Why have I decided to go this route? Here are some reasons:

1) I’m not a big fan of Ramen every night for dinner. If I only get food along the trail it limits my nutritional options. My trip will be more enjoyable if I like what I’m eating. Some of the recipes we’ve dehydrated for me so far include Blue Cheese Potato Puff, New Mexican Stew, Salmon Stirfry, Chili, and today we’re making a Black Bean Stroganoff. Vegetables are often hard to find in hikers’ backpacks, but there is a good helping of them in each of those meals.

2) Dehydrated food = excellent. I was skeptical, but we’ve tried a bunch of recipes at this point and they were all tasty before putting them in the dehydrator. I’ve rehydrated a few to try and except for the occasional texture difference, the taste is great. Here’s the book that got us started.

3) I’m not a fan of paying twice as much for a pack of noodles on the trail as I could pay at home. If there isn’t a large grocery chain in a town I’m sure I’ll end up paying more there than I would here.

4) I found I REALLY like Pro Bars (they have them at REI). They’re high in calories, have a good helping of fruit (something that is hard to find in a hikers’ pack), and they taste really good. Fat chance finding them along the trail, and if I do, see #3. They are a little expensive already, but for the taste and the nutritional value I think they’re good. Plus I can buy them in bulk before I leave!

5) I hate planning. HATE it. So maildrops may not seem like the route I would choose. But my wife loves planning and she’ll be the one sending the maildrops, so that works out well. At the same time I like to cook, so I don’t mind adding to our stock of dehydrated meals before I leave to get her a bit ahead of the game.

6) Finally, although we have created a maildrop schedule, I can change it. The first 2 or 3 will go out before I hit the trail, but if I find they’re too frequent I’ll just call/email my wife and let her know the new way I’d like them spaced. If it looks like I’ll be in a town on a Sunday I can either do a low mileage day and enjoy the slow time or have her send the drop somewhere else.

Here is what my current spacing of maildrops looks like. My discerning readers will note that the projected schedule below doesn’t match the projected schedule in my “Projected Schedule” page. I will be updating that page soon with a more scientifically derived schedule. I still don’t expect to keep strictly to the schedule, but it helps with planning and will give everyone an initial idea of when I should reach different landmarks.

Location Date Days since last maildrop
Neel’s Gap, GA March 25 4
Hiawassee, GA March 29 4
Fontana Dam April 5 7
Hot Springs April 12 7
Erwin, TN April 17 5
Damascus, VA April 25 8
Atkins/Pearisburg, VA May 4-ish 9
Daleville/Troutville, VA May 13 9
Waynesboro, VA May 21 8
Harper’s Ferry June 3-ish 13
Palmerton, PA June 18 15
Unionville, NY June 26 8
Kent, CT July 4 8
Friend’s house, MA July 10-ish 6
Hanover, NH July 23 13
Gorham, NH Aug 2 10
Monson, ME August 19 17
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Categories: Preparations | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Maildrops

  1. Aunt Mary

    Well, for someone who HATES planning, you seem to be doing pretty well for this trip! Hope it goes smoothly!

  2. i’m proud to be the inspiration for this post. 🙂

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