View Full Version : NOBO Thru-Hike Using ONLY Mail Drops?

12-30-2005, 01:05
I am planning a NOBO thru-hike beginning in March of 2006. The only time constraint I have is to reach the northern terminus before the closing date. I have my gear all rounded up as I have tried to make this trip a reality for the past three years but my “partners” kept bailing out on me so I am doing it solo. My question/challenge concerns logistics. For a variety of reasons, it will be very difficult for me to spend much money on the trail. I do however, have a lot of support from friends and family and they are willing (and committed) to send me whatever I need (up to and including replacement gear) while I am on the trail. Is it possible (reasonable) to make the hike supplied completely through mail drops? I realize that this is probably a really big deal but it’s what I’ve got to manage through. Assuming it is reasonable, how would I go about planning the drops? I expect significant increase in mileage as I progress along the trail but how would I compensate my drops for this? The simplest solution seems to be to over pack and over ship critical items (such as food). Assuming I did over compensate with too many mail-drops, what are my options for disposing of what I do not need? Can I sell or trade along the trail or to other hikers in the town where I sent the drop? If I over pack, and just flat do not need the next mail-drop; is it bad form to never pick it up? I am just not sure about the etiquette on either of these subjects. Making new friends and being a part of the entire AT community is part of why I am making this trip and I certainly don’t want to commit some grievous error and have everyone look down at me for 2000 miles!

12-30-2005, 01:22
I'd read this http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?t=11649&highlight=mail+drop

I'm headed off in March, so I'm still debating my mail drops as well, but if you are concerned about price and buying in bulk and having it mailed, postage may get pretty expensive. I find it hard to believe buying in bulk + postage is cheaper than buying cheap, large amount of generic things in a grocery store along the way. But, depending on stores available to resupply in (gas station vs. grocery store) it'd probably be cheaper to mail-drop in some situations and would assure yourself of having good stuff (assuming you still like that after months on the trail) rather than having to pick over the selection in the store. Buying along the way you wouldn't have to worry as much about locations of mail drops a few weeks in advance as you say your mileage will increase significantly. Also, depending on mail drop locations, if the PO is the only drop site in a town, you'd be at the mercy of their hours.

12-30-2005, 03:04
If money is an issue it's probably best to do food drops. If you shop wisely and figure out the cost ahead of time using the USPS website and put a USPS small money order in each drop for town needs there's no excuse except for injury on not finishing.

It's typical to do 30 drops x $7.70 for flat rate priority (free boxes and tape), $20.00 for each drop, $20.00 for each MO = $1500. That's about the cheapest without being a scavenger.

12-30-2005, 03:15
I find it hard to believe buying in bulk + postage is cheaper than buying cheap, large amount of generic things in a grocery store along the way

One huge problem is disipline. It's much too easy to blow a small budget in towns early on. Many spend $1500 or more only half way into their hike, when it could be adequate for the entire trail.

Take it from someone that's been there and done that twice. If I had the food and a little spending money waiting for me up the trail, I would have been golden.

12-30-2005, 10:38
I'll second the previous post. Shipping costs do add up!

Another down side is that you are going to be locked into getting into town during the hours that PO's are open. Big hastle.

Plus, most hikers find that their tastes change. Food that looks appealing now loses it's appeal once you are on the trail. So, much of the food drop gets put into hiker boxes, and replaced with groceries bought along the way.

Not that mail drops can't be done. Just be advised that they usually don't work out for most thru-hikers. Good luck.

12-30-2005, 18:15
Thank everyone for their input so far. Let me clarify my position so that you can help me a bit more. My mail drops (postage and contents) are paid for. The details of this are not very interesting so I will not discuss them here, but it is taken care of. I will not have much cash on the trail however, a few hundred dollars, I must make due mostly with what I get in the mail. If I overcompensate with my mail drops, is it "bad form" to leave them or to trade sell the stuff on the trail, or should I just give it away? I realize that just leaving it at the drop location is not very cost effective but that's the way it is. I would rather be more effecient and compensate for my mileage increases as I progress; but I am cluless as to how to do that. Any ideas or input are greatly appreciated.

12-30-2005, 19:19
I believe that you can "bump" unopened priority mail boxes up the trail. In other words if you get to a town and realize you don't need the food, you can send it to a town farther up the trail and just eliminate another drop. See what I mean. At least that's what I've been told.

Good luck!! See you on the trail!

12-30-2005, 20:09
If you abandon the package at the post office it will eventually be send back to the "return address" on the package.

If you pay priority postage, you can bump it down the trail to the next post office at no additional cost. However you have to pay extra for the priority postage. And that can add up if all your drops are priority.

Most post offices now have "extended hours" so that will help some (not much actually).


12-30-2005, 20:12
That's great to know about the Priority packages. If they are sent Priority does that not also mean that my support team (parents mostly) can rest assured that the package at least arrived at the intended destination; "Delivery Confirmation" or some such thing?

12-30-2005, 20:31
That's great to know about the Priority packages. If they are sent Priority does that not also mean that my support team (parents mostly) can rest assured that the package at least arrived at the intended destination; "Delivery Confirmation" or some such thing?

"Delivery Confirmation" is something completely different. It's cost extra. Not worth it.

Your parents can rest assured that if they mail a package to you at the post office, it will get there without needing "Delivery Confirmation". That's because the mail is considered "reliable".


12-30-2005, 22:26
The most efficient mail drop strategy is to buy when the store is nearest the trail, mail when the post office is nearest. But if family concerns make mail drops always more practical, go for it. Almost every small town has a post office. Many small trail towns don;t have decent resupply stores -- or didn't in 1993.

I would use supermarket sales and coupons to buy in advance as much as possible. But with cooperative parents, spouses, friends, or whatever, reserve as much flexibility as possible to reflect changing trail tastes.

It really depends on how well you know yourself. I'd hiked, and cooked for myself enough over the years, so that I was never surprised or bored with my mail selections.

Don't spend extra money for special delivery plans. Just have your support mail two weeks ahead of your expected arrival. 99.99 percent of your packages will arrive on time.

Waiting for post offices to be open was not a problem with my 23 mail drops. If I was running late, I usually could find someone to pick up my drop and put it someplace to await my arrival.

If not, we all need occasional zero days for laundry and showers. I planned these to minimize delays from post office closings. I.e. I kept hiking, if at all possible, until the weekend to avoid unnecessary delays as a result of post office closed hours.


12-31-2005, 09:23
If someone else is paying for mail drops and postage, and if you are on a very little cash on you, then you need to plan your hike so that you spend as little time in towns as possible. Get in and get out. Limit hostel stays. Limit the number of meals in restraurants. For most, this is not the preferable way to go.

Hiking this was certainly can be done, but it's not for most. Just hiking and hiking gets old real fast.

12-31-2005, 14:21
All along the trail at various places ranging from hostels to post offices are "hiker boxes" where hikers leave unwanted items for others or trade them for more needed items in the box. So a whole facet of trail culture has sprung up around just the sort of surplus items you are asking about.