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How to Make and Send a Resupply Maildrop
Do you have a specialized diet, such as vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free? Are you unwilling to settle for convenience store food? If so, resupplying by maildrop might be a good option for you. Here is everything you need to know to get started:
How much food will I need?
Use your guidebook to figure out where you want to send your maildrops then calculate the miles between drops. If Drop A is 80 miles from Drop B, you will pack 80 miles worth of food. If you plan to hike 15 miles per day, you will pack 5 ½ days of food. You can break it down like this:
5.5 days X 4 per day = 22
Repeat this step for every maildrop you plan to send. In the end you can tally up your total number of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks then buy or dry accordingly.
Where will the food come from?
There are two ways to gather food for your maildrops. You can buy it or dry it.
If you choose to buy: consider getting a membership at a wholesale food retailer, such as Sam’s Club or Costco. Buying food in bulk will save money.
If you choose to dry, or dehydrate your own food: start early. Many hikers start drying the fall and winter before their hike is scheduled to begin. Invest in a good food dehydrator and a backpacking cookbook with recipes for dehydrated meals. A popular cookbook that many hikers use is Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’ by Tim and Christine Conners. (There is also a vegetarian version of this book.)
How do I pack my food for shipping?
Once you’ve gathered all the food you need for your maildrops it’s time to pack your boxes. You can get boxes almost anywhere. Ask local businesses to save boxes for you or consider using Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes available at your local post office. These boxes are free and the rate is set. If you can fit your food into the box it will ship for the advertized rate. This is a great deal if your food is dense and heavy.
Other items you could pack include toilet paper or other toiletries, vitamins, maps and sections of the guidebook.
How do I label my boxes for shipping?
To avoid getting your drops confused, label your boxes as you pack them. Normally you will send your box to a local post office care of general delivery. If you are sending care of general delivery label your boxes as follows:
c/o General Delivery
Town Name, NC 55555
*Please Hold for AT thru-hiker: ETA 00/00/0000*
If you know of a hostel or trail angel you will be staying with you can often send your box directly to that address. Be sure to include a return address where you’d like your box to be sent if it gets lost or otherwise separated from you.
How do I ship my boxes?
Behind every great hiker there is an even greater support team. It is now time to start building yours. Ask friends and family to help support your hike by mailing your boxes for you. Your support team will need to have the following: a copy of your itinerary, space to store your boxes and a way to pay for the shipping. If you are lucky, your support team will foot the bill for shipping out of the kindness of their hearts. Otherwise offer to reimburse your team for their help. You can pay them upfront or ask to settle up when you get home. Most people understand that you have no income while you are hiking and are willing to wait to be reimbursed for shipping costs.
When do I ship my boxes?
Allow two weeks of shipping time for your boxes to reach their destination. Make sure your support team is apprised of where you are and when so they can send your boxes in a timely manner.
How do I pick up my maildrop?
When you pick up your maildrop, make sure you bring your driver’s license. A good postal employee will want to see ID before s/he hands over your package. If you are expecting a card or a letter, make sure to mention this. Most post offices store letters in separate places where they might be overlooked.
Maildrop DOs and DON’Ts
It is important to make a good impression on those who agree to accept hiker packages so future hikers can continue to enjoy this convenience. Here are a few suggestions:
DO call ahead to hostels and trail angels and get permission to send your maildrop to that address.
DO keep in touch with your support team to let them know if you are ahead of or behind schedule.
DON’T abandon boxes if you skip a resupply stop or get off the trail. Instead:
DO call all post offices, hostels and trail angels to let them know if you will not be able to pick up your box. Ask that the box be returned to sender or donated to the hiker box on site.