Resupply strategy

Pacific Crest Trail lunch. Photo by Jack Haskel

Calorie loading on the PCT.

This page is about resupply strategy, for information about food choices, please visit our page on trail food.

Organizing months worth of food is complex. It is also expensive to mail. There are only a few places on the trail that lack good resupply stores. Generally, you can buy food every 4-10 days and save the effort and cost of resupply boxes. We recommend spending your money in the communities along the trail, shipping to a small number of remote locations and keeping it simple.

Resupply – what and how to eat – is full of highly personal decisions. We’ve outlined some commonly used strategies. Take what works for you.

Mailing food

Putting together food boxes for most or all of the PCT is a huge undertaking. If you’re mailing yourself food for the entire trail, it’s not a task to be left to the last minute.

People mail food for various reasons. Frequently, people choose this method because they have specific dietary goals. If you’re on a gluten free, vegan, organic, want to eat beans every night or have another restricted diet, you might choose to mail yourself more of your food. Gas station and general store resupplies might not work for you.

Some people simply enjoy the act of gathering trail food. Cooking and dehydrating, visiting specialty stores and ordering items online, can be a cherished part of preparing for a trip. You’ll have an opportunity for a deeply varied, nutritious and enjoyable diet.

If done correctly, having a box ready for pick-up can save you time and stress in town. Simply pick up your box and be on your way (or relax – without food stress).

Beware of post office hours and closures. You may find yourself racing to beat closing time, or waiting for it to reopen. Unwanted time in town can be an added – another expense. Sometimes, mailing your food to a hospitable store, lodge or hotel will mean extended pick-up hours. The flexibility is generally welcomed.

If you’ve gathered many resupply boxes, keep them open. The person you’ve left in charge of mailing them can add or subtract items before they are mailed. If you flip-flop, speed up or slow down, you’ll have to create a new plan for your resupply person to follow.

How to mail to the trail

The cost of postage should be taken into account. We recommend using the USPS postage price calculator to estimate your mailing costs. Priority Mail is the preferred method. It’s quicker and more reliable, but also more expensive than Parcel Post. If you can fit a resupply into a flat rate box, you may save money. If the box is traveling a short distance, regular Priority Mail may be less expensive than Flat Rate. Do the math. You’re likely to find that a large resupply won’t fit in a flat rate box.

You’ll mail resupply packages to post offices and private businesses.

  • For Post Offices, mail your package general delivery. (Your name; General Delivery; City Name, State; Zip Code). The policy is that they will be held for up to 30 days. In reality, it varies but it’s usually at least that long.
  • Write “Please hold for PCT hiker” and your “ETA” or estimated date of arrival.
  • Resupply locations get a LOT of PCT packages. Make yours stand out and try to minimize the number of individual packages you receive.
  • You will likely need a photo ID to pick up your box.
  • Packages mailed and stored by private businesses such as stores or hotels often have extra handling fees that must be paid.
  • Allow plenty of time for shipping and handling. Some remote locations take two weeks to recieve a Priority Mail package (which generally takes 2-3 days in urban areas).
  • If you didn’t open your Priority Mail box, you can usually forward it on to another stop for free.

Buying as you go

Almost always, you can buy food at frequent intervals along the trail.

Generally, you’ll be resupplying from full supermarkets or small grocery stores. Selection, quality and price are usually similar to what you find at home.

In rare instances, the near-trail resupply location is tiny. Perhaps it’s a gas station or resort snack shop. If the “town” lacks much of a resident population, it likely lacks cheap or adequate food items.

Only a few small stores have yet to adjust their stock for trail user’s needs. You may choose to skip them or mail yourself a package to supplement what they sell. The majority of small trail stores stock items specifically for PCT travelers.

Buying food along the way supports the local communities that you are passing through. You’re going to be visiting the stores anyways for ice cream, drinks or fresh produce. Why not resupply there? Buying locally is also a great way to add variety to your diet and avoid the burnout associated with eating out of boxes you optimistically packed months before.

One of the significant advantages of the buy-as-you-go is that if you have to leave the trail early, you’re not going to be stuck with months of unwanted trail food. By the next season, much of those rations will be stale and you’ll find yourself with wasted food and unable to recover the time and money you spent buying, preparing and sorting it.

Cost is a concern. In your research, you will find that some remote stores are very expensive. Whether it is cheaper to mail yourself food depends on lots of factors.  Most stores along the trail are not significantly more expensive than an average privately owned grocery.

When talking about stores “along the trail”, we don’t mean to suggest that there are many stores that are located literally on the wild PCT. Usually, you’ll have to hike a side trail, hitchhike from one of the semi-frequent road crossings, or otherwise obtain a ride into town and the store.

Combined strategy

Most hikers resupply via a mixture of buying as they go and mailing packages. You’re likely going to be mailing yourself new maps and the occasional gear item anyways. Those are good times to mail yourself food too.

Instead of having to hike past lackluster stores, or having to hitchhike a very long distance to somewhere better, you could consider mailing yourself food to these outposts. Through careful research, you’ll find strategic places to mail food to. By and large, these boxes can be assembled during layover days on the trail. From larger towns, look ahead to see if there are any lackluster resupplies. If so, put together a package. Detailed descriptions and of resupply options and suggestions on where to mail to are found in the lists below.

Most hikers that “buy as they go” end up mailing themselves food to some of these remote locations. Perhaps once per state, they spend extra time in a town with a good store. From there, they plan ahead a few weeks and mail off a few boxes of food for destinations up the trail.

Bounce box

The ‘bounce box’ is a package that you continually send to yourself as you travel up the trail. Usually people include maps, phone and camera chargers, town clothes, sunscreen,  first aid materials and the like. With a bounce box, you can have your desired personal items without having to carry them.

Some people use a plastic 5 gallon bucket for this purpose.

Hiker box at Kennedy Meadows. Photo by Elisabeth Perry

Hiker box. Photo by Elisabeth Perry

Beware that using a bounce box can be expensive. You’ll also be closely tied to the Post Office’s open hours. If you’re mailing it to nearly every town, the disadvantages – and advantages of a bounce box are even more

pronounced.

Boxes mailed Priority Mail can be forwarded twice for free if they’re unopened. If you don’t need what’s in the box, or it’s cheaper to buy some ziplocks than pay for postage, just forward it on to the next location.

Hiker box

Hiker box at Reds Meadow. Photo by Jack Haskel

A hiker box.

Hostels, hotels, trail angel houses, and other resupply points along the trail may play host to “hiker boxes”. They are free boxes for long distance trail users to “leave a little – take a little”. Commonly, you’ll find various food items (oatmeal, ramen, dried fruit), extra plastic bags, sunscreen, partially used fuel canisters and other incidentals.  Please be courteous: don’t leave a mess, unlabeled products and useless trash.

Resupply locations and plans

Resupply information is notoriously fickle. Often, this information is out of date as soon as it’s published. Unfortunately, PCTA does not steward a list of resupply locations. Here are some outside sources for this information:

Craig’s PCT Planner Allows you to input daily mileage goals and choose resupply locations based on that. The most common resupply locations are loaded by default and the many other options can be turned on and off. Craig’s PCT Planner uses the Wilderness Press guidebook data for the trail.
Planyourhike.com Has (generally accurate) mailing addresses and contact information for 101 PCT resupply locations. This is the most exhaustive list of addresses that we’ve seen.
Yogi’s PCT Handbook Yogi’s PCT Handbook includes a detailed discussion of PCT resupply strategy and a list of resupply locations.
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