I read Yogi’s PCT guidebook and numerous blogs about other people’s resupply strategies and found it all completely overwhelming… so much so that it was only the night before I flew from London to San Diego that I finally decided I would send myself resupply boxes – and then stayed awake all night planning where and what to send in each box!
Coming from overseas was daunting in that I didn’t know quite a few “everyday” things like what’s the difference between USPS / UPS / Fed Ex? Or, what kind of food would I be able to buy and would it be the same brands as I’m used to? (I’d never heard of Idahoan and never eaten a pop tart). I didn’t even know what food people ate on long hikes like this. And then there were trail terms like “bounce box.” What was a bounce box and how would I “bounce” it?
I’ll be answering these questions and more over the next few posts and hopefully helping to make your resupply a little less daunting.
Resupply – Part 1 – Posting packages
- How do you get food along the trail?
- If posting boxes, where do you post to?
- How to address a label using USPS
- Make your box stand out
- Other forms of postage including UPS, Fed Ex
There are 3 ways to get food along the trail:
- Send boxes or have them sent to you
- PRO: my preferred option as this means you don’t have to wander around a supermarket on your zero day when you could be relaxing or eating!
- CON: postage costs money & you can get bored of the food that you sent/packed yourself months in advance
- Buy at local supermarkets
- PRO: great to support the local towns.
- CON: might not have what you want/need, sometimes have to pay a premium in these smaller town supermarkets, you’re spending time on your zero day walking around a supermarket rather than relaxing
- Raid hiker boxes
- PRO: free.
- Con: You might not have any idea what you’re eating!
If posting boxes, where do you send them to?
- Post Office
- Pro: The main reason to send packages to a post office is so that you can “bounce” your box if you decide you don’t need it or won’t be able to get to the post office during their office hours. “Bouncing” a box is when you forward your resupply or bounce box further down the trail. This is free to do if you’ve sent it using priority mail, to a post office and it’s unopened. (If you open it to take something out, you can still bounce it on, but you will need to pay postage again). It can only be bounced for free onto other post offices, not businesses. Some people think there is a limit to the number of times you can bounce the box and maybe there is, but I was able to bounce one of mine 4 times before finally picking it up.
- Con: If you send to a post office then you have to be able to pick up your box during post office hours and these vary greatly depending on the town – most aren’t open on weekends, some have split hours during the day and some aren’t even open 5 days a week which means you really need to plan your schedule to arrive during their office hours. Worst case scenario is you arrive in town after they close on a Friday and have to wait until they open again on the Monday. (In this case if I didn’t really need the contents, I would buy from a supermarket, get back on trail and call the post office on the Monday to bounce it further down the trail).
- Hotel / Trail Angel’s house / Shop
- Pro: You can pick your package up anytime (with respect to the Trail Angels) and aren’t tied into any post office opening hours.
- Con: Some hotels charge a fee to hold your package which is usually waived if you’re staying there, but if not, you will need to pay this fee to collect your package. You may have to use other methods of posting like FedEx or UPS depending on the address.
Picking up a medium-sized priority mail box from the Chevron petrol station at Snoqualmie
United States Postal Service (USPS) is like saying Royal Mail (UK) or Australia Post – it’s America’s post office postal service. Almost every town along the PCT has a post office so it’s ‘convenient’ to use, if you can be there during their office hours. I used USPS for every package except one that had to be sent via UPS. (If you are planning to post boxes, make sure you’re using up-to-date information on which carrier delivers to each address, some only accept USPS, some only UPS etc. I used Yogi’s guide for this information).
Priority mail – I was and still am so surprised at how cheap it was to post boxes in America using priority mail. Unlike here in the UK where the price to send a box is based on weight, in America there is a flat-rate using USPS priority mail boxes. This means:
- You pay $12.65 for a medium box and $17.90 for a large box
- You can cram in as much food as possible and it doesn’t matter how much it weighs
- You don’t pay anything extra for the box
- You get a tracking number
- The package is insured for up to $50
- It’s guaranteed to arrive within 1-3 business days
- You can “bounce” it down the trail if it’s unopened
Medium, $12.65 flat rate price
Outside: 11 1/4″ x 8 3/4″ x 6″ Inside: 11″ x 8 1/2″ x 5 1/2″
Large, $17.90 flat rate price Outside: 12 1/4″ x 12 1/4″ x 6″
Inside: 12″ x 12″ x 5 1/2″
At the beginning of the hike when I didn’t have much of an appetite, a medium sized box would fit up to 7 days of food. After I got my hiker hunger, a medium sized box would fit up to 5-6 days food and I would need a large size box to post more than 6 days.
How to address a label using USPS
Please check Yogi’s guide or call the destination to make sure you have the correct address. I used Yogi’s guide but to give you an example, most labels looked like this:
To a post office:
Street, Town, State, Post Code
For a business it could be like this:
c/o Name of Business
Street, Town, State, Post Code
Make your box stand out
You want the staff at the post office / hotel etc to be able to find your box as quickly as possible, so make it stand out.
- Write your surname on all sides of the box
- Write PCT on all sides of the box
- Use colorful tape or stickers so you can say “mine’s the box with the pink polka dots” etc.
Other forms of postage including UPS, Fed Ex
Some addresses may only accept UPS (United Parcel Service) or Fed Ex so please make sure you know who you can use for each address you send to. Worst case scenario: your box won’t arrive if you use the wrong service and you may never see it again!
The only package I sent that wasn’t USPS was with UPS because I wanted to pick up a package at Steven’s Pass and using UPS was the only option. (If I hadn’t been in Ashland at the time where there was a UPS store I wouldn’t have sent the package there). I remember the box costing me about $25 for 5 days of food, so this was about $12 more than it would have cost me to send using USPS.
For more info, please see UPS and FedEx.
Thanks kat. It was great to follow your PCT adventure. The shipping info is really helpful and would apply to any through hike in america. We are off to the TGO in Scotland in may and will send some stuff in advance. In the U.K. can one send to the post office for hold for pick up easily?
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Hi Dara, I just asked at my local PO here in London about Post Restante and you can. You just need to write your name, then Post Restante then the address of the PO (look online at royalmail.com) and they will hold the package for 3 weeks.
Good luck on the TGO!!
Thanks for your page – it’s a great help. i myself am from germany and have the same kinda problems with resupplying without any help from someone in the US. I asked myself how you mailed to kennedy meadows as they only take US mail or UPS. did you send your box already there from seattle? considering a bounce box: is it possible to send a box from a US post Office via UPS?
Hi Julian, sorry for the delay in replying, I’m off walking again and not checking my email very often! I send packages from San Diego for California using USPS priority mail – including Kennedy Meadows. USPS is the state postal system but UPS is private and a different company so my understanding is you can’t send a package using UPS from USPS… I hope this helps!!
This is really helpful, I’m planning my 2017 NOBO PCT hike!
I read your post about using a plastic bucket rather than a USPS box for your bounce box. Can you remember roughly how much it cost each time to post that? If you’re not using the standardised USPS boxes, does it then go by weight? Just trying to work out how many extra things I can afford to bring (ie. how much it will then cost me to bounce along the trail!)
Lucky you!! I was a bit worried the first time I posted my bucket from San Diego (it was full of all my winter gear for the Sierras and spare food), but the price wasn’t based on weight, it was based on distance. I think from San Diego I posted it to Wrightwood (just to keep it closer to me than Kennedy Meadows in case I needed anything, and I think this cost around $12?) I didn’t open it at Wrightwood so I was able to bounce it for free onto Kennedy Meadows… You might be able to contact USPS and see if they can give you an estimate of prices per distance (or maybe find it online), but I never paid over $20 to send it.