WhiteBlaze Pages 2024
A Complete Appalachian Trail Guidebook.
AVAILABLE NOW. $4 for interactive PDF(smartphone version)
Read more here WhiteBlaze Pages Store

  • Packing and sending the perfect Maildrop

    Packing and sending the perfect Maildrop along the Appalachian Trail
    This article was written by Karen Sousa...

    Packing and sending the perfect Maildrop
    updated 1/15/08 by Karen Sousa (Pog)

    The following material is based on conversations with many hikers as well as personal experience. There is no right way or wrong way; this is just a sampling of the information I have gathered. It is not my intent to tell you whether it is right or wrong to use maildrops, just to aid you in the process of packing and sending maildrops. Whether you use many mail drops, a few mail drops or no mail drops is a very personal decision; there are many factors that can affect your decision including availability of a support person, dietary constraints, costs of buying vs. mailing food, and the convenience of not having to make the PO in time to get your food, especially around holidays. Even if you decide to not have any mail drops or just plan on hitting a few post offices so your loved ones can send you care packages, these hints can still be helpful. If you know someone will be sending you things, share at least the Care Package section with them.

    Care Packages

    · Plan ahead and do research on your particular hiker's likes and dislikes.
    · Look for care package items all year long - good presents are sample sized hand creams (not heavily scented), Chapstick/Blistex with SPF, hair scrunchies and elastics, socks (you need to know what size and brand), sample dental floss (make friends with your dentist), airplane-size plastic bottles of liquor (check with the USPS before sending alcohol), phone cards, and homemade goodies are always welcome.
    · Treats mean more if they are the "right" brand or are something special to that person.
    · Make color copies of photos of friends and family or hiking events (Trail Days, leaving Springer, etc) and offer to send the actual photos at the end of the hike. That way, the hiker doesn't need to carry extra weight but can share the pictures until he is ready to discard them or use them as fire starter. Include poems, jokes, emails they may find humorous.
    · Send stamped postcards - you never know - you might even get one back!
    · Send everything in small portions.
    · Include freezer type Ziplocs in which to store anything you send. And an extra one or two never hurt either.
    · Look for food items with strong flavor - fireballs, jolly ranchers, jelly beans, dried fruits, individual sized
    · Label any food items that might be unidentifiable.
    · If all else fails and you are out of ideas, send cash with instructions to spend it on ice cream, beer, a good meal, a night in a motel - whatever you would buy that person if you were there personally. Or send a Ben and Jerry’s coupon! http://store.benjerry.com/coupons.html

    · Don’t send a whole batch of cookies with the idea that there will be plenty to share. Many hikers get mail drops at the exact same places and they will often ALL have "extra to share". Send half a batch, wrap the rest of the batch well, throw it in the freezer and send it at a later date when your efforts can be appreciated a second time. Or…find another hiker to send them to J
    · Don’t feel that more is better. Remember how carefully you watch what you pack when you hike and apply that care two-fold to a long distance hiker. Instead of sending a magazine, send the interesting article. Instead of the whole bag of candy, try a snack size Ziploc full.
    · Don’t forget that if you send a three-pound package, they have to carry that three pounds in their pack up the mountain that is always on way out of town.

    For hikers:
    · If you are asked, "What do you need or want?" and you do have something you need or want, please share that information. The reason these packages are called "Care Packages" is that the person sending them cares.
    · Share these hints and cautions with your friends and family, especially those who don't hike. Grandma wants to make sure Little Johnny doesn't go hungry and may send pounds of food to each maildrop unless she is educated.
    · If you are well loved, you might want to limit the "public" mail drops to four or five. If you do that and are getting food drops, limit your snacks in those particular food drops.
    · Don't forget to say thank you.

    Packing Food and Gear Packages (These suggestions are dependent on the hiker having a fair amount of trust in the support person. If there is concern, more pre-packing may be necessary)
    1. Bag everything in Ziplock bags if possible. It will probably need to be placed in a Ziploc on arrival anyway and that will cut down on waste needing to be disposed of in town.

    2. Double bag any liquids.

    3. If there is anything with a strong scent, especially soap, double bag the item - preferably vacuum sealing one of the layers and wait until the last possible minute to place in the package. Even double bagged soap will transfer smell if left in a box for more than a few weeks.

    4. Bag food separately from toiletry items.

    5. If package is over 10 pounds, either pare it down or split it into two smaller packages. It will probably be cheaper to mail that was as well. This may occur in Hanover when exchanging winter gear. It can also apply for the northbound hiker when sending home that same winter gear NORTH of Mt Rogers. Remember, the hiker has to carry everything you send. If you send ten pounds, they have to carry ten pounds.

    6. Organize your mailing area and keep all your boxes, tape, labels, etc in one place. Include a good pair of scissors and a sharpie marker. Try ordering boxes, labels, etc from the USPS. (see Post Office Hints).

    7. Label boxes with stickers identifiable to the hiker. Put last name in large block letters on every side of the box except side with the label. Stickers will help hiker identify box if it is mislabeled. You can print out all the labels using a word processor program. An hour of work one evening will make life a lot easier when you are trying to pack a box in a rush.

    8. Make lists of what items you need to include in "every box", "every other box" and "on demand". Every box items may include dinners, snacks, TP, film, film mailers, Ziplocs. Every other box items might include batteries, spices, duct tape, data book pages, and maps. Don't forget the occasional items like a replacement toothbrush and boot sealer. Check lists and quantities periodically to make sure you won't run short. Consider ordering bulk toiletries online (see resource list). They all have different delivery costs, but the time and cost savings may outweigh the delivery costs.

    9. Store all dehydrated foods in a large Ziploc in the freezer. This will extend the shelf life and ensure that when you do send them, you won't have to worry about spoilage.

    10. Keep all of one type of food together so you can pick an assortment as you pack the box. (i.e.: an assortment of snacks in one large box so a variety can be sent with every drop) For procrastinators, this is a HUGE time saver when you are trying to rush to the post office before or after work.

    11. Make up a couple months' boxes at a time, including the "every box items" and a list of items to be added at the last minute. Address labels can be made at that time. Add soap to the box at the last minute to avoid transfer of the soap smells to food items. (yes, I know I mentioned this before, but it is THAT important!)

    12. Consider buying food in "batches" every couple of months (if support person is willing). This way, if the hiker absolutely HATES a specific food item after a few weeks, he is not stuck with a 6-month supply. Or, he may decide he would rather purchase food along the way and won't need you to mail everything.

    13. Buy stock in the Ziploc company - you will need plenty! The traditional Ziplocs work better to store food and powders than the new "zipper" type. I have recently started using the bags with the double zippers – they seem to be easier to close with cold fingers.

    Vacuum Sealer Magic
    1. Many food items can be sealed in individual/sample-sized packages for ease of use or just ease of mailing. Items I have experimented with for long term un-refrigerated storage (up to and over 8 weeks) include peanut butter, oils - plain olive and flavored olive oils, freshly shredded parmesan cheese (I have seen this last four months), rum, dried meats, dried veggies, dried fruits.

    2. Other food items that I have personally packaged and used without refrigeration for up to two weeks include Velveeta, cheddar cheese, pepperoni, and jelly. Try at your own risk. Some items work better in cooler weather.

    3. Non-food items can also be packaged in single-use sized packages - shampoo, soaps, lotions - this is recommended particularly if they have a strong odor.

    4. Vacuum sealers like the Foodsaver Compact can be obtained at Walmart, Sam’s Club, at an online retail store or often you can find a good buy on Ebay. I have included a resource list at the end of this handout. It can also be ordered by phone (through the infomercial) but I think it is much more expensive that way and you have to pay shipping. I have worked with the larger Foodsaver, but prefer the Compact one because the vacuum isn't as strong, making it easier to seal in liquids. It is an investment, but is more important in my kitchen than a microwave!

    Post Office Hints
    1. Print address and return address clearly- preferably on Priority Mail labels. It’s really annoying to shuffle boxes, data book, etc while standing in line at the post office. The mail carrier I spoke to said priority labels are preferred and that the mail gets processed quicker. Don't forget the return address and the "Hold for AT hiker ETA##/##. I have had packages returned undeliverable several months after sending.

    2. Since this original article was posted, the USPS has initiated their Click–n-Ship program. This enables you to enter the label, pay for and print the shipping label and arrange for a pickup at your residence the next day. We ship many packages a week for our business using this service and it is invaluable. You can use the delivery confirmation functionality with Click-n-Ship as well by entering your email when you setup the shipping label. If you print online shipping labels, there is no additional cost for delivery confirmation

    3. USPS Delivery Confirmation can also be purchase when sending packages from the post office and be tracked by phone or online. The USPS has a place online where you enter the confirmation number and they email you when it has been picked up. http://www.usps.com/

    4. Technically, if you go to the post office to mail your packages, postal clerks can require that you pack and seal a box in front of them prior to mailing. To avoid this - label everything clearly, be polite at the counter, go to the same post office every time.

    5. Remember that Priority packages can be forwarded if they are unopened. This is important is sending "bounce box-type" supplies.
    6. The USPS has a website where you can calculate the postage by weight and distance. Priority rates have changed recently and are now zoned. http://postcalc.usps.gov/ A 9 pound package mailed from NC to VT was $15.90, a 10 pound package was $16.95. It might be worth it to send a pound of homemade brownies for an extra 80 cents! Both weights would only cost $8.95 of you could fit the contents into a flat rate priority box.

    7. Ask if there are any local post offices that keep longer hours than normal. I found a nearby post office that that stays open 'til 8pm Monday through Friday and all day on Saturday.

    8. I prefer USPS because I have had better luck with them forwarding packages than UPS. You may feel differently based on your experiences. Check the ALDHA companion, Trail Guide, etc. to see if there are non-post office drops that accept USPS packages (hostels, motels, outfitters, etc.) If you are sending the package to a non-post office location, please call and confirm that they still accept packages and that they are still in business!

    9. Don't forget to remind equipment manufacturers, suppliers, etc that you can't send UPS or FedEx to General delivery.

    10. If you have concerns about forging signatures, have the hiker sign a few "change of address" forms ahead of time in case you need to have packages forwarded. These can be obtained online at https://moversguide.usps.com/ or at the post office. It can also be done online at the same website but it will cost you $1.00 for each transaction.

    Online Resources
    To Order FREE supplies from the USPS go to the Priority Mail supplies section of: http://www.usps.com/

    Since these supplies say "Priority Mail" all over them, you are supposed to use them only for USPS Priority mail, my preferred method anyway.

    Order# Type Item Size Description of use
    0-1096L Box Small 8 1/2" x 5” x 1.5" This size is good for care packages - will hold cookies, snacks, small presents
    O-FRB1 Box Priority Mail Box Flat Rate Box 11" X 8.5" X 5.5" FLAT Rate Box - $8.95 for ANY weight – Slightly smaller then standard sized box below – but good choice for heavy items.
    0-Box7 Box Medium square box 12" X 12" X 8" This is the standard size I use for mail drops - food supplies, toiletries, bounce boxes
    EP 14 Large envelope Tyvek envelope 12 1/2" x 15 1/2" Useful for sending clothing - besides, they are Tyvek and make great snow sleds
    Form 152 Delivery Confirmation Receipt Confirmation is free is label ordered online and can give great peace of mind - no longer do you have to get/make the "I got the package alright" calls.
    2976E Customs Form Envelope Self adhesive envelope which can be used to adhere Click and Ship Labels to boxes without using tape
    Label 228 Label Address Label
    Label 107 Label Priority Mail Sticker Place on any non-USPS box being sent Priority Mail.

    For dehydrators:


    (probably the best buy, just search on dehydrator)

    For toiletries:

    For vacuum sealers:

    These addresses were up to date in January 2008. If the resources do not have the products available, a search engine like http://www.google.com should find you the information you need. I will share the word document format of this article if you send me an email at
    [email protected].
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Chickabee's Avatar
      Chickabee -
      If you're looking for a Mail Drop Service or information about mail drops check out http://www.ATchickaBee.com
    1. Monson's Avatar
      Monson -
      There is a possibility of major reduction in hours (if not closure) of the post office in Monson, Maine - the Monson General Store will serve as a mail drop - open 6 days a week and can open after hours with a phone call for drop shipments and pre-pulled resupply- 12 Greenville Rd, P. O. Box 327, Monson, Maine 04464 (207) 997-3964 - shuttle service to/from surrounding towns and transit hubs of Augusta and Bangor also available through the same number!