View Full Version : Hiking on a Budget

08-01-2018, 20:00
My friend and I are planning on starting the trail next spring, and looking into how much planning we need to do ahead of time. Have people found mailing packages or buying supplies in town to be cheaper? I've read differing opinions online (which I'm sure is the case here as well) but I would definitely be interested in hearing everyone's strategies or what was worth it to do to save money.

Highland Goat
08-01-2018, 20:48
It is usually cheapest to resupply at a big box store, but there are a few places where those are far from the trail. In those instances you can carry more weight, hike faster, or rely on a mail drop. For the most part mail drops only become cost-effective for people who have specific diets. I often use mail drops as I dehydrate my own food.

08-01-2018, 20:53
I also use maildrops because i dehydrate some of my food (dinners mostly, some fruit.) And i hate shopping in town.

Mailing doesnt save money. It can save time. Grab n go. I pre strip and package, include tp, am, batts, etc. Works for me up to about 1 mo.

08-01-2018, 23:51
what's "am"??

08-02-2018, 07:18
From a money standpoint, buying your food along the way is the cheaper option. The cost to mail makes it so. Twas a time when postage was cheap, the mail reliable, and stores were scarce that food drops were the way to go. When it costs 20 bucks to mail 20 bucks worth of grub it's time to move on. With a mail drop system you sometimes end up spending money (as in an extra day in town) waiting on the post office.

Gambit McCrae
08-02-2018, 08:47
You can get by cheaper by resupplying with a buddy, a lot of times, packaged items are of a higher quantity then what a hiker needs so by splitting you are a lot of times buying close to the same amount as a overall cost but your not having to leave stuff in the hiker box or over pack to not waste.

You buy a box of poptarts - 10 packs in the box, you only need 5. so you and little johnny split the box, none is wasted and little johnny doesn't have to buy a second box of poptarts.

08-02-2018, 09:07
When I did the trail in 2014 I resupplied in towns except in four instances. As noted above with the cost of mail today it is not really cheaper to send boxes ahead. Another problem with mail resupply is that most hikers end up not using all the food as their taste changes or they have backed way to much into the box. My only resupplies were very early in the hike when many places were not open yet (ie. Fontana).

08-02-2018, 09:32
what's "am"??
I'm guessing aquamira.

08-02-2018, 14:05
I've read trail journals. I've read resupply costs. I've crunched the numbers. Ive packed sample resupply boxes. Imho mail is cheaper.

Just Bill
08-02-2018, 15:55
I'm still of the opinion that mail drops are cheaper.
However that requires alot of planning and personal knowledge... as well as self imposed restrictions on your freedom to improvise.
It helps a ton to have folks at home, even then... things can go wrong.
I put up a bunch of beef jerky in the freezer at home; but didn't really think about condensation while thawing. That resulted in mold forming on the jerky during several drops.

It can be way more expensive if you plan poorly... or simply change your mind.
The true NEED for paper maps and guidebooks being sent out each section is virtually eliminated these days... so that benefit (sending each set of maps and club books out) is not really there.

I think the more realistic system is a bounce box or mail drop as you go plan.
This leaves you shipping shorter distances and only planning a few weeks out... but lets you resupply in some kind of bulk at trail towns with larger stores.
More often than not... folks take a true break every few weeks (a full zero or two). Planning to do that where it makes sense would let you shop cheaper, do a few drops into more expensive or limited option places as well as keep your diet good and meal choices current.

Something to keep in mind; when you're in your early 20's you can eat just about anything. So resupply with dollar general soup and oatmeal and junk can work. But even then... even junk food and bars are often double the price and add up fast. More importantly it can cost you with nutrition related fatigue, moodiness and other issues as you go.

As you get older you're going to have a harder time plowing through with gas station resupply type fare too.

A cheap feed/food strategy can save you some money... but if you roll into town every three to five days with a raging need for all the town food you can shove down your throat... then a $20-$40 meal just wiped the savings from that ramen 12 pack and instant oats you picked to get you through the last 3 days. If nothing else you're better off shopping first... and being shocked by that bill. Usually it's the other way around and you see some hiker having two burgers and 6 pints at night when they roll into town... then watch them try to figure how to scratch out a $10 resupply in the morning.

08-02-2018, 18:52
I freeze dry my own foods. I eat a specific way. Or more specifically, I don't eat 90% of what everyone else eats. I found I could quite economically ship 4-5 days worth of food by using my own boxes and going priority. Since my foods were so light but consumed a little more space, this is the way I go instead of using those "flat rate" boxes.

08-03-2018, 10:27
I freeze dry my own foods. I eat a specific way. Or more specifically, I don't eat 90% of what everyone else eats. I found I could quite economically ship 4-5 days worth of food by using my own boxes and going priority. Since my foods were so light but consumed a little more space, this is the way I go instead of using those "flat rate" boxes.

About how much do you spend per box?

08-03-2018, 12:34
About how much do you spend per box?

Using the USPS postage calculator and using these assumptions: 10 pounds (5 days @ 2 pounds a day) in a 12" x 9" x 9" box, shipped from NH to GA will cost $22.65 and take 7 days (hopefully) using Retail ground. Priority 2 day is $25.95 Priority Large flat rate is $18.90.

It's clearly cheaper to use the large flat rate if you can fit it in the box.

Now, lets say you do a typical 4 month thru hike and need a box every 5 days. That's 24 boxes x 18.90 = $453.6 in postage. Or as much as $528. Now you also have to make sure you can get to the PO/Store/hostel/Motel to get the package, when their open and when you need the box. Get there a day early you have too much food, get there a day late and you've run out of food. Sent a package to the PO and you get to town after noon on a Saturday. You have to sit on your butt until Monday morning. Send a package to a Hostel and they loose it or someone steals it- your going hungry.

Rockit Mann
08-03-2018, 13:04
https://www.squantossecret.com/ A shout out to the Dollar General! Ya'll are way over-thinkin' it.

08-03-2018, 13:31
....or someone steals it- your going hungry.

Is that really a thing?

Just Bill
08-03-2018, 13:56
Misplaced, lost, held or damaged is probably more a thing.

08-04-2018, 03:19
I will mail 5 day resupply. The cost of whats in box may be $60, with $20 more to mail, and $5 + for a place to hold it sometimes. Solid 40% added to mail it!

Wont even talk about places that charge much more to hold package.

08-04-2018, 05:57
I used mail drops all the way through and never had an issue with any of those concerns. I have my own fruit and cereal concoction for breakfast and dehydrate all my dinners.

I eat what I want to eat, not what dollar general dictates.

I could pack as much as six days in a large 12x12x6 priority box.

I did avoided mailing to post offices due to weekend closures. Hostels were always more than accommodating holding and securing boxes.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

08-04-2018, 07:40
Over roughly 10 years of sectioning I met several folks that had "issues" with supply boxes. Some of the private businesses do not have secured areas and are not that careful in making sure the hiker is grabbing the right box. The most memorable was the run down hotel next to the Interstate in Atkins VA, All the boxes were in an unlocked room and the staff let hikers retrieve their own packages. A couple with food allergies arrived and someone had grabbed their box, took what they wanted and threw the rest in a hiker box. They had to stop their hike and hitch into a larger town to get food they could eat.

I used to live down the road from the local post office. On Monday mornings when I drove to work there would be line of hikers sitting on the porch of the post office waiting for it to open. The post office officially closed at noon on Saturdays but some staff would be in the building and if so they would retrieve packages for hikers who knocked on the back door.

Unfortunately some sleazebags would lie to folks that their box didnt arrive or was stolen in order to get folks to take pity on them. I ran into one shady character that claimed to have food allergies so was asking for money so he could go buy his special food. I was on a town day and saw him walking down the road a few hours later with a 12 pack of beer.

There are well known spots where a box makes sense but barring food allergy issues you will not starve doing local resupply.

Tipi Walter
08-04-2018, 08:56
Back in the 1980s I was living out of my backpack and spending alot of time on the AT. It's all about "dirtbagging it".

What's dirtbagging? Living on next to nothing but still hiking and living outdoors. This includes hitchhiking to various trailheads, at times using substandard gear most especially cheap boots and goodwill clothing, and other techniques.

In those days I lived on $40 per month out on the trail and this is how I did it---

** I got all my food from little stores along the way---never cached food off the trail or sent mail drops.
** As a vegetarian I got what I needed from these stores like oatmeal and peanut butter and raisins and cheese/cream cheese and corn chips etc. I didn't think twice about carrying cheap canned food and I always carried my little P38 can opener.

** I routinely carried bags of lentils and brown rice and actually used my Svea 123 stove to simmer cook these foods whereby a tremendous amount of money could be saved by carrying these two in bulk. This is the secret to cheap trail food---long cooking times with bulk beans and rice. Sure you carry more white gas fuel but so what?

** I relied on wild edibles like violet greens and chickweed and wild mustard etc to supplement my diet for free.
** I was never hesitant to dumpster dive for food when the opportunity presented itself.

** My pack WAS my apartment and I had no vehicle in my name and so my off-trail bills were nonexistent. No rent, no utilities, no insurance, no wife, no kids, no cellphone, and minimal work---or just enough work to keep me backpacking.

08-04-2018, 09:03
To me, mail drop = boat anchor. No thanks! That being said, hike your own hike....

08-04-2018, 10:38
** I relied on wild edibles like violet greens and chickweed and wild mustard etc to supplement my diet for free.
** I was never hesitant to dumpster dive for food when the opportunity presented itself.

Well fortunately my friend and I excelled at dumpster diving all through college!

And thanks for the tips everyone - leaning toward local resupply so I don't end up on waiting on anything. Where are the few places you think you do need a mail drop?

08-04-2018, 12:09
Remember when you buy in bulk for a 6 month hike.....75% of all thruhikers have to quit for one reason or another. So you will be eating this bulk food at home if you have to get off.

Tipi Walter
08-05-2018, 09:13
Remember when you buy in bulk for a 6 month hike.....75% of all thruhikers have to quit for one reason or another. So you will be eating this bulk food at home if you have to get off.

And don't forget the high level of BOREDOM you will achieve with these foods---possibly. Meaning---You buy 6 months worth of food YOU THINK you'll eat and enjoy but after a month you can't stand most of it. It happens.

This is the beauty of buying food as you hike---you can make daily choices based on your palate and not some spreadsheet.

The weird thing about backpacking food is this---almost everything gets boring. Over the years I've reached high levels of disgust with Larabars, Clif bars (of course), pro bars, loaves of bread, rice cakes, certainly ramen etc---although my craving love of Oatmeal still remains.

It's always nice to hit a store along the trail because you just never know what jewels they'll have---and it's great returning to the trail with a pack full of neato items like a couple bananas or a couple fresh red apples or oranges---or a couple cans of salted mixed nuts etc.

08-05-2018, 11:24
I am with Tipi on this. Those ("protein Bars) taste like cardboard after a month or two. Tasted a rice cake one time and spit it out. Had to brush my teeth to get the crap taste out of my mouth. I used trail mix with plenty of nuts, raisins and M&Ms'. I do dehydrate my jerky. The butcher at my local Kroger's slices it nice this for my for no extra charges.

08-05-2018, 14:31
It's always nice to hit a store along the trail because you just never know what jewels they'll have---

Like Moon Pies! I mean, who knew??

08-05-2018, 14:37
Like Moon Pies! I mean, who knew??I LOVE Moon Pies.

We have a Moon Pie store here in Mobile. Moon Pies are the favorite thing thrown at our Mardi Gras parades and the city even has a "Moon Pie Drop" on New Year's Eve!

Having said that, I have never taken any on a hike, but I will be sure to on our next one.

Sent from my SM-G965U using Tapatalk

08-11-2018, 14:06
great info. folks.

I am starting my 5 year plan to hike thru. Retirement then a short jaunt North when permissible.

Naughty Pines
08-19-2018, 15:09
I might get a drop at the NOC or Fontana Dam if NOBO to get through the Smokies.
Aside from that there are plenty of places along the way and I agree with the consensus that resupplying as you go is cheaper.

08-20-2018, 00:06
Having read many trail journals and
Having stuffed several trial boxes
With the caveat that I need a want a small box frequently (med resupply)

I think mail drops are cheaper. Honestly even without needing meds I think they are cheaper. I can stuff a box with a week's worth of food for $20 or less. Add $20 to mail and I'm still eating for $40 a week. Every trail journals I've read mentions spending that much on food that's only for 2 to 4 days.

Also I like someone's ideal of resupply at a grocery and bouncing half ahead.

I'm planning on getting a box of 7 days worth of food every 10 days and supplementing on trail for cravings and fresh produce.

08-20-2018, 10:31
The solution isn't always linear where more of one thing is always better. You don't have to commit to 100% shopping local, or 100% shipping.

I shipped only the items that I knew I'd use and that were expensive or difficult to find in small portions. I initially picked out hostels that I knew I want to stay at, instead of Post Offices with restrictive hours. I chose places that were fairly spread out, and I pre-addressed some boxes. When I got within a three weeks of the place, I sent off a text asking for my "mailer" to drop the box in the mail.

Mixed results.

- 90% of the expensive jerky I'd dehydrated at home never made it into the boxes. I apparently can't be trusted with delicious jerky.
- I mailed a whole lot of dehydrated veggies, flavorful spice mixes and nutritious add ins to add to the dehydrated meals I was buying in stores. These made me happy.
- With each box, I added just a few dehydrated dinners. These were pretty great.
- With each box I added some "loaded oatmeal" breakfasts. Oatmeal with Nido Milk powder, dried fruit, chia seeds, some sort of flavoring like cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger or chocolate powder. I didn't even want to look at the chocolate ones.
- My allergy medicine arrived just in time, and at worst I carried a few extra pills.
- My responsible mailing person... wasn't.
- With my poor memory, I'd largely forgotten what was in each box. Which made each one a bit of a surprise present.
- As a first time distance hiker, I wasn't particularly accurate in estimating how much of certain things I'd actually use on the trail. I'd generally ship too much. Which made for happy trail companions when I handed out excess Dr. Bronner's soap and other goodies.
- I only lasted two months out of the five before injury drove me off the trail
- I lost the last box mailed, the one with replacement poles. I called the hotel it was shipped to, they found the box and assured me they'd return it to sender. Nope.
- I had three boxes at home, that eventually were used up. Not particularly a great thing, since it was high calorie food when I no longer needed those calories.

Overall, knowing now how little I knew then, I'd have shipped even less for my first distance hike if my goal was to save money.

08-20-2018, 17:22
I have had a sucessfull thru-hike. The first advise that i would like to give is don't plan too far ahead. Most thru-hike attempts end in failure. 50% will leave the trail before the 1/2 way point. Now, with this info. Out of the way i would definately not buy in bulk for the whole hike. I did meet a few hikers who did this and before long they were damn tirad of eating the same stuff day after day. If you decide to do this anyway you will soon discover what a pain it is to have to go into town to pick the package up when the po is open.
I never thought that i would finish the whole trail. I made a loose plan, days, milage etc. To satisfy the folkes back home. I found that any schedule was hard to follow. Started with a weeks worth of food. When that started to run low i would plan, useing the data book, when i would stop and resupply. I did my whole hike that way. A couple of times i did get into a pinch as far as running out. I soon learned to keep a couple of energy bars on hand for a back up.
Your food requirements and wants will change along the way. It's nice to be able to buy different stuff when you feel like it.
To have a sucessfull thru hike you need three things: 1. Enough time, 6 months. 2. Enough money, at least $5,000. 3. A lot of good luck.

Happy trails to you. Don't let my info scare you.