When planning a long distance hike such as the PCT or AT, you have many options as to how you want to resupply as you go. Clearly, you can’t carry all of the food, batteries, toilet paper, vitamins and all other essentials that you will need for the entire length of the trail. Instead, people typically carry anywhere from 5-10 days worth of food and supplies at a time before re-supplying. There are several strategies that hikers take in order to do the re-supplies. Below are the most common:
1. Resupply as you go, hitching to towns and doing grocery shopping on the go
2. Pack Re-supplies before hand and send ahead to locations along the trail or close to
3. A combination of the above. Sending re-supplies to places where it might be tough to grocery shop, and grocery shopping where it is convenient. Often times people will have a “bounce-box” that they resupply in the towns where they can grocery shop, then send it ahead 100 miles or so full of the groceries they just purchased to places that might be tougher.
For the most part, I decided to go with option #2 (I plan on getting groceries in one town on the PCT). I did this for several reasons. First, I need to hike fast. Stopping in towns to go shopping, and then packaging everything together takes a lot of time while you’re on the trail. This means less hours hiking, and more time away from the trail. If I’m going to finish the trail as quickly as I plan, I won’t have time to be stopping in towns and shopping. Second, stopping in towns is usually expensive, and takes away from the nature experience that I’m looking for out on the trail. Although I’ll surely stop in towns and get a hotel room for a night here and there, I want this to be minimal. The temptation will be strong enough as it is. If I’m already in the town shopping, I may not be able to resist staying the night and enjoying a warm bed and shower. Lastly, packing ahead of time and sending re-supplies to myself will help minimize the stress of making sure I have everything for each stop. I can take care of this at home, and carefully measure what I need at each stop before hand, and tread lightly knowing that I’ll get everything I’ll need in one package at each re-supply. Additionally, packing ahead of time will be less wasteful, and likely cheaper, as I can buy in bulk, and carry only what I need at each point. For instance, I don’t have to buy a bottle of multivitamins and carry the whole bottle until it is done. Instead, I can buy one large bottle, and package the exact number of days worth of vitamins for each section. This saves me weight, and I end up throwing nothing out.
However, there are definietly down sides to packing all of your re-supplies ahead of time. The most noteable is the fact that I will surely get sick of the food I sent ahead. I tried my best to provide variety, and not eat the same things over and over again. But when you’re packing for 100 days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it has to be dry food that will last, it’s inevitable that your diet will feel pretty bland and uninteresting after some time. I’ll surely get sick of the foods I send ahead, but I plan to supplement fresh fruits and veggies (mostly fruits, for those who know me well), as often as I can along the trail.
So, where do you start when you are planning to hike the trail? I started by picking out my re-supply points along the trail. I did this with Yogi’s PCT handbook, which has a detailed list of all of the resupply options along the trail. She gives all options available, and through this, I selected the stops that I thought would be best for myself. I took into consideration many factors, such as distance from the trail, and distance from last resupply. I also considered the fun towns that I did want to see along the way, or trail angels I have heard about through research. Based on such, I came up with the following game plan for resupply:
As you can see, I calculated the distance since the last stop, distance from the trail, whether there was a fee or not to hold your re-supply box, and any specific gear I would need to send along to that specific stop. Once I had the distance between each stop calculated, I began looking at the terrain between stops, and estimated the number of days it would take me to get to the next re-supply. By calculating the number of days, I would be able to precisely plan the amount of food and re-supplies that I would need. I then made a list of the re-supplies I had planned out, and numbered each one (1, 2, 3..) for easy referencing. I also provided the exact way to address the boxes, and delivery method (US Postal Service vs. UPS).
After this was done, I would be able to begin packing all the fooooods! Thus comes the most difficult part of this entire process… Resisting eating all the delicious snacks that were to go into the re-supply! NOM
First, I began packaging the proper maps and sections of the guidebooks for each stop. Then I started going crazy on Amazon. I purchased Tuna, Salmon, Fruit Snacks, E-mergency, Vitamins, Batteries, Wet Wipes, Travel sized Toilet Paper, Zip Lock Bags, Trail Mix, Oat Meal, granola, Peanuts, Cliff Bars, Idahoan Instant ‘Taters and Aqua-Mira (water purification). I then went to Wal-Mart and dropped an additional $400 on a huge amount of food. Once I had everything gathered, I began packaging my first re-supplies.
As you can see above, I have food laid out by days. I find this the easiest way to pack. Though time-consuming, you want to make sure you have enough food for each day. This is very tedious, and took me roughly 2 weekends to fully complete and make sure I had everything as I wanted it. For each re-supply, I wanted the correct amount of food, the correct maps, some TP, wet wipes, E-mergency, vitamins, and Batteries.
Once I had a resupply package all laid out on the floor as I wanted it, I began putting it into a box. To do this, I had to be careful that I was labeling the box correctly, and that it was through the correct carrier (US postal service vs. UPS). Slowly but surely, the boxes started adding up…
With the help of Andrea, I was able to get the boxes labeled correctly, and put the finishing touches on each re-supply. It is important to label your boxes with your last name on ALL sides of the box. These resupply points that you send your boxes to get a lot of traffic from thru-hikers. As such, they will likely a few hundred boxes at a time. Labeling makes it much easier for your boxes to be found, and not skipped over, especially if you have more than one box coming.
As you can see, there are 22 boxes here. And this does not include the supplies I’ll be sending before I hit the Sierra’s of california, where an Ice Axe, micro-spikes, and a warmer sleeping bag will be sent along.
No matter what way you cut it, packing for a trip of this length is an epic task. It takes very precise planning, and requires a lot of patience and attention to detail to execute it correctly. Luckily I’m an auditor, so my attention to detail, along with my patience, has been acutely trained throughout the years. That, coupled with my previous experiences packing for long distance hikes really helped get this task taken care of in just a few weekends. Special thanks to Andrea for all of the help labeling boxes, helping pack, and being ok with our kitchen being cluttered with my boxes for the next several months. And for being willing to send along my re-supplies while I’m out on the trail.
I’ll finish this off with a quick picture from a hike last weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park. The anticipation is surely growing within me, and I cannot wait to touch the monuments at the Mexican border and begin my walk to Canada! Happy trails, Y’all!