View Full Version : how to plan but not plan?

12-14-2008, 22:41
from what i understand, itineraries fall the way of best laid plans...so my question is, how do you plan mail drops (or resupplies) if you can't really plan when you will be arriving at a certain location? do you just include a ton of stuff that you bounce to yourself up the trail?

i don't see a lot of posting about this, so either i missed the thread, most folks are winging it, or are way more organized than myself.

12-14-2008, 22:58
You plan the mail drop to arrive before your estimated arrival. Most places and post offices will hold your mail drop for weeks. Put an eta (estimated time of arrival) on the outside of the box, along with your name and trail name if you have one. Trail town post offices, hotels and such are used to getting hikers' drop boxes. If you have someone at home mailing packages, it won't be too hard to plan it out.

12-14-2008, 23:12
What items are you going to mail yourself?

12-14-2008, 23:16
Lots of hikers just wing it and end up having a good time of it, buying food and supplies along the way, being flexible with whatever's available. It's cheaper and faster that way, too. Some can't do that for whatever reason. In that case it helps to have a friend at home who can take care of assembling and mailing boxes to the right places at the right times. I did that for my wife when she hiked in '02, until about halfway up the Trail and she realized she didn't need me to do that anymore.

12-15-2008, 00:22
Unless you have someone to manage your mail drops, such as a reliable friend or relative, don't do mail drops. If you mail a lot of stuff ahead before you leave and end up dropping out for some reason, you wasted a lot of money.

If you do have a mail drop manager, you can have a postcard put into the box to mail back with a list of things you think you'll need in the next box, where to send it to and when. This might work out better than just calling them, as they would have a written record of what you need. Though a phone call to remind them to send the box is a good idea!

12-15-2008, 00:48
thank you all! i was planning on doing some mail drops b/c of my vegan diet, and from what others here have told me, this could prove tricky. my husband will be staying in brooklyn, so maybe just supplying as i go is the better way to go?

Tin Man
12-15-2008, 01:26
thank you all! i was planning on doing some mail drops b/c of my vegan diet, and from what others here have told me, this could prove tricky. my husband will be staying in brooklyn, so maybe just supplying as i go is the better way to go?

resupply in town along the AT is easy. check jack tarlin's resupply article in the articles section on the home page. vegan might be tougher, so your husband could hold stuff for shipping until you know when and where you need it. not familar with vegan, but you will need lots of protein and calories to burn and keep you strong. if you need help with that, search wb, must be stuff on that here somewhere

one of the neatest maildrop ideas i have read here is to have a bounce box to mail stuff up the trail to yourself. this comes in handy for specialty items you don't need often or are difficult to purchase along the way, chargers and meds are some examples. or you may say i don't need this item now, but i might need it later, so i will mail it to myself before deciding to mail it home.

12-15-2008, 11:53
Bonnie - As a vegetarian, I would have found it very difficult to supply myself in a healthy manner on the go during my thru. If I were a vegan, wow, I can't imagine! Maildrops may be a bit of a pain, but you'll certainly appreciate them once you've been on the trail for a few weeks. You're not going to find a lot of boil-only dairy-free, meat-free food at a Piggly Wiggly in the middle of Beevisville, N.C.

12-15-2008, 12:22
If you're going to do maildrops, I'd suggest you try to come up with a plan for your resupply ahead of time. This means going through the Companion (or whatever guide you're using) and figuring out where your maildrops are going and how many days' food you need at each stop. It's much easier for whoever is mailing your boxes if you have a simple list of PO Boxes and the number of days food you need for that box. There's a bit of guesswork involved in this, but it's doable: I did a 900-mile section a couple of years ago, and the maildrop schedule I made ahead of time worked out great. The planning was a few hours' work, but nothing too bad.

If you don't know how far you'll walk each day or how many days food you'll need between maildrops, there's a great reference here (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?p=170578).

And I know that there are a lot of maildrop detractors on this site. If you want to eat your own food, then ignore them and just go for it. I'm a vegetarian and I really loved having my maildrops and not having to worry about limited choices in stores.

12-15-2008, 12:26
thank you all! i was planning on doing some mail drops b/c of my vegan diet, and from what others here have told me, this could prove tricky. my husband will be staying in brooklyn, so maybe just supplying as i go is the better way to go?

If your husband can mail you stuff, stay in contact, and have him mail the packages by USPS Priority Mail. That is usually 2-3 day service (not guaranteed).

In towns where there are large supermarkets, like Hiwassee, GA - a maildrop is probably not necessary. Unless your diet is so specific, that you can only find things to eat in health food stores.

12-15-2008, 12:29
Maybe not so much plan your maildrops but plan your meals. Instead of trying to figure out how much to put in them, try to figure out what would be a standard meal. This way you just call your person and say I need so many breakfasts, this many lunches/snacks and this many dinners. This way you retain your flexibility and keep the communication back home of what you want simple.

12-15-2008, 15:44
With your special dietary requirements, you will probably need to do maildrops. Eveb so, as your hike progresses you'll figure out what you can buy along the way and not have sent to you.

What I did, which worked well enough most of the time, was:

1) Make an itinerary spreadsheet, forecasting where you expect to be on which dates. Figure out how many days you expect to spend getting from point to point.
2) Make mailing labels for the places you intend to pick up food. (I recommend using hostels and outfitters instead of POs, because of their longer hours.) Make sure both you and your husband have a Companion or some sort of hiking guide with addresses, etc. Mark which places you are planning to receive food, so you will both know.
3) Get a slew of Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes.
4) Pack boxes for the first month, but do not seal them.
5) As you go along, you will need to look about a week and a half ahead. Your husband needs to get the box sent out 7 days before you expect to get to the pickup point. My husband and I used the 7 day lead time and I never arrived before the box did.
6) Since you're not going to worry too much about the cost of postage, have a bounce box that includes essential foods. That way, if your regular shipment gets messed up, the food in the bounce box will keep you from starving. If you bounce it from PO to PO, if you don't open it, you can forward it without paying for more postage.

I'd recommend emailing your resupply list to your husband, as opposed to phoning it in. Having it in writing is helpful. You should keep notes as you go along and think of things you need, otherwise you won't remember when it's actually time to send in the order.

Good luck!

Jan LiteShoe
12-15-2008, 15:46
Planning is half the fun!
Go ahead and plan all you want, would be my advice. Getting ready for a thru is an enormous journey in itself.

The real trick is being willing to bag the plan when a more pressing reality appears. I sent myself food through Hot Springs, knowing that by then I would have a better feel for my pace and for planning. This proved exactly correct. By 260 or so miles, I was sick of my own food and ready to buy fresh in town.

I did use some post offices but, losing track of the days on the AT, I sometimes got caught out. A better plan might be to mail to a hostel, but then, of course, it's good manners tht one should then actually STAY at that hostel, even if friends change plans.

I see you are heading out this spring. Good luck! Hike happy.

12-15-2008, 16:56
I think this may be off topic, but a sort of "food for thought">

IF you MUST for whatever reason eat meat (Yea, I know) or dairy, & this may be different for you, but when I switch from Vegitarian to Omnivore or vice versa, I'm sick for about 3 days with mild flu like symptoms as my body adjusts. I, (& I understand others do too) feel "Off" for a few days due to dietary changes as imposed by trail foods I don't want to know how I would feel hitting the trail AND changing my diet. I even take the precaution of going cold turkey with soda (cola mostly) a week or more in advance, to avoid the migrain type headaches I get from no cola caffene while on the trail.

Not saying you will have to, or even that you would even if you had to, but just saying "what if?". I do think it is important for you to consider "what if" in your planning, at least along the lines of food choices & avalibility.

AND, if/when you are succesful, post your experience her, so others will know it can be done, & how to do it.

Have fun!

12-15-2008, 23:50
once again, thank you everyone. the average section mileage is a great help, Burger! i really appreciate everyone helping me out with this part of the planning, and i will check in when i am a little further along, with more questions, etc.

12-16-2008, 00:37
Plan maildrops for locations, rather than for times. Have everything boxed up in USPS flat rate boxes and numbered. On the USPS website, you can enter your credit card info and a return/shipping address, and save as many shipping labels as you'd like. About 2 weeks in advance, have your friend(s) send out a group of packages. If you know a town has a good grocery store, don't bother to plan a maildrop unless you're super-picky about your hiking food.

Bare Bear
12-18-2008, 21:21
You can survive on anything except a VEGAN diet on the AT without the food drops although they will make it easier to get what you want. They are also a major PITA and will cost you town days $$$ and time waiting as you will miss the post office times, find out how many obscure holidays they are closed, etc.

12-19-2008, 14:33
I fall into the anti-maildrop crowd for reasons others have already mentioned. As a vegan, however, I dont see how you have any choice but to do maildrops. I would advise these drops get sent a couple weeks before you are due to arrive at a destination. Often packages that are supposed to take 2-3 days to arrive can take over a week. I wish you luck sticking with your diet be aware, however, that you will not be the 1st self proclaimed vegatarian/vegan hiker I've seen wolfing down a hamburger

12-19-2008, 16:46
I planned to resupply on the trail to avoid chasing boxes and dodging Sundays and holidays, but my family wanted to send a few care packages. After two or three weeks of getting settled into a good rhythm, I would call home on zeros to tell my family where I would be taking another zero two to four weeks in the future. That way I could determine holiday issues, etc. ahead of time. I never had a problem, but I also never depended on them.

Jack Tarlin
12-19-2008, 16:53
There will more places to purchase food than you might think; for a lot of reasons, most hikers prefer to get most of their food while actually en route.

However, some folks on more specialized diets prefer to get stuff sent from home.

If you look in the "Articles" section of this website, you'll find all sorts of information on Re-Supply. This includes an extended article dealing with places where food can be purchased; where it's a good idea to have food sent from home; and most of all, you'll find information on how long each sedction of the Trail is likely to take you to hike; this info will be particularly useful if you end up getting much of your stuff sent from home, and don't want to make the frequent mistake of sending over-sized and over-large maildrops.

Good luck!

Tin Man
12-19-2008, 18:00
Go here for suggestions on what you will need for maildrops.... and hit next a couple of times


neighbor dave
12-19-2008, 18:08
:-?that's enough aqua mira to complete the triple crown! probably enough of everything else to do the same:eek:

12-19-2008, 20:06
YOur question is a wise one because people do fall behind or get ahead of schedule and usually for good reason.
I usually advise to plan your trip and the burn the schedule when it's time to start.
You will have more fun that way.

And like many have said, you don't eat good on a vegan diet buying along the way (especially in the south)
You are doing it right. Just have your husband mail out about 3 at a time and then call him when to mail the next batch.

Have a great hike. I hiked with vegans on the PCT and they did it both ways but CA is a lot different from GA,TN, NC etc.

12-27-2008, 02:58
I'm a vegetarian, and I had no trouble resupplying along the way. With that said, many vegans like to do the mail drop thing, at least for the "short term resupply" areas (gas stations and small country stores).

I'd plan on priority mail going out ~2 weeks in advance. This way, you're assured of things being where they need to on time. On the PCT in OR and WA, most hikers would mail out a batch to take care of the entire state at once. You can do something similar.

Don't buy the entire trips food at once. Tastes change along with how much food you want to eat.

An average of about 10-11mi/day for the first month (about Amicalola to Erwin, TN) is reasonable. With that in mind, I'd plan the drops for the small resupplies and buy from the grocery stores. After a month on the trail, you'll have your system down and can fine tune things and go from there.

I'd send a small drop to Neels to get me to Hiawassee (good store)
I'd buy from Hiawassee to get to Franklin (good store)
I'd buy in Franklin either to get to Fontana or to NOC (send small resupply to NOC then to get to Fontana)
Drop to Fontana to get to Gatlinburg (good store in Gatlinburg)
Buy in Gatlinburg either to get to Standing Bear or a little bit extra to get to Hot Springs (send small resupply if only to Standing Bear).
Buy in Hot Springs to get to Erwin or maybe drop. This one is a toss up, but you should be able to do a resupply out of Erwin as a vegan between the store, the outfitter, and the dollar store.

A lot of this really depends on your diet and exactly what you like to eat as a vegan. You don't have to resign yourself to always doing mail drops. While you may not find the same foods you'd find in a co-op, there are plenty of vegan options in the grocery stores along the way.

Good luck!

12-27-2008, 05:24
best thing for me is always to make a tentative plan, then burn it when i start.

I never send more than 3 packages (3 weeks?) ahead.
That way i'm flexible. I like it like that.

12-27-2008, 12:34
from what i understand, itineraries fall the way of best laid plans...so my question is, how do you plan mail drops (or resupplies) if you can't really plan when you will be arriving at a certain location? do you just include a ton of stuff that you bounce to yourself up the trail?

i don't see a lot of posting about this, so either i missed the thread, most folks are winging it, or are way more organized than myself.I would suggest a better term for those wanting or needing alot of flexibility might be 'to prepare', rather than 'to plan'. Anything involving mail drops, reservations, and prepaid tickets would require a plan. Anything without those things would require preparation, but not neccessarily a plan. That said, you could have a plan with windows for arrival dates, and contingency plans for what you would happen when you miss certain windows. So there is a grey area between rigid plans, flexible plans, and fuzzy preparations.