Pacific Crest Trail Resupply Guide

It’s that time again: Time for this year’s PCT class to plan their resupply. Last year, around this time, I was dehydrating apples and beef in a panic, flipping through hiker recipe books, and emailing freeze-dried food companies with sponsorship requests.

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My living room, January 2016

Having now survived a PCT thru-hike and the planning that went into it, I’m a little calmer and, since I don’t have to pack your boxes, full of unsolicited advice about how to do it right.

The bottom line? You don’t have to send yourself everything. In fact, you can get away with surprisingly few boxes if you aren’t dealing with a dietary restriction. Here’s my recommendations for where to send boxes, where not to send boxes, and how to find balance in your own resupply strategy.

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My freezer, March 2016

The Three Resupply Strategies:

  1. Buy as you go
  2. Send yourself packages
  3. Combine 1 and 2, which is what the blog Halfway Anywhere suggests and also, what pretty much any former thru-hiker would tell you to do.

Buying Along the Trail:  

Buying food along the PCT used to be a serious logistical feat, but the PCT has changed a lot in the past decade. In three years, the number of permits issued more than doubled, with almost 4,500 people registering to thru or section hike the trail in 2015. One of the effects of this use increase is expanded options for resupply. I hiked the trail in 2016 with a 2015 Yogi guide and found that dozens of stores listed as having little to no resupply had seriously upped their game for the new season. As the trail stands now, you could buy as you go for every section except the Sierra Nevada range, and still be able to eat decent hiker food for about 90% of your hike (there will, of course, always be those times where you end up eating a bag of crackers for dinner). However, some of the places that upped their resupply game are also very remote, which means that unless you don’t mind paying $3 for a Clif bar, you might want to send yourself a box.

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A hiker resupply: example 1

Pros: More flexibility, no shipping and handling costs or expensive postage, no planning around PO hours

Cons: More time-consuming in the moment for big resupplies, fewer choices (you get what you get), planning around business hours, food insecurity in more rural areas  (well, not exactly – you can resupply from anywhere, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to be convenient hiker food. You might end up carrying canned beans).

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A hiker resupply: example 2

Sending Yourself Packages:

You could send yourself all of your packages ahead of time, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There is a major downside of you not being able to plan anything. If your pace increases or decreases, if you get injured, if the weather forces you to flip-flop, or if you just get sick of your food – you can’t change your boxes. You can call up post offices and ask them to bounce them to a different PO if they’re priority mail, but that’s about the extent of the flexibility you have. There’s also the likely chance that post offices and stores will send your packages home because they’ve been sitting there for three months taking up space. Sending everything ahead of time means keeping a massive list of tracking numbers and making a lot of phone calls, and on the whole can be a logistical nightmare. Try to avoid this by instead sending packages one month or one section (i.e. the desert, the Sierra Nevada range, all of Washington state) at a time. There are basically two ways to do this:

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  1. Have a contact send you packages – This could be a friend or, most likely, your mom. Let’s be honest – she worries. Of course, not everyone has a mom willing to spend her summer checking spreadsheets so, in lieu of that, a lot of hikers are opting now to send themselves stuff through resupply companies. The two most popular options are Zero Day Resupply and Sonora Pass Resupply. They carry all the major hiker staples, from jars of peanut butter to backpacker meals, and they keep an updated list of all resupply locations. It’s a little more expensive than sending yourself food, but it pays to have someone on the other end of your packages who actually has phone service and access to the internet.

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    Little Spoon reaching resupply hysteria.

  2. Send yourself packages on trail – this method, referred to by my friend Centerfold (and only by him) as the ‘punk rock resupply’ strategy, is arguably the most popular option for PCT hikers. At least, I noticed a lot of hikers doing it. It basically entails stopping in larger towns like Tehachapi, South Lake Tahoe, or Ashland, buying what you’ll need for the next month, and sending boxes ahead. Most hikers take zeroes in large places like this anyway, so it shouldn’t cut into your overall time too much to devote one day out of every 30 to shopping and mailing boxes. This has some major advantages. For one, you are predicting what you need one month at a time instead of at home before you start, so your sense of what you need to eat and what you want to eat will be updated for each shopping trip. And secondly, unless you live on the West coast, your shipping and handling costs will be lower. Priority mail is a flat rate from anywhere in the US, but if you’re only sending packages a couple hundred miles, you can ship based on zone and often save money.   For the places that accept UPS only, this is a HUGE money saver.
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The only people I met who sent themselves all their mail drops before getting on the trail were identical twins who had celiac disease.  In the case of these hikers, they pre-made all of their food and dehydrated it ahead of time because, when you’re allergic to trail mix and pasta sides, you don’t have a lot of options. The downside? One of the brothers quit early on, which meant that the remaining brother had to find a home for half of the food in all of his boxes. Usually, it ended up in hiker boxes and earned him a loyal following of hikers who appreciated quinoa.

Making enough granola for 5 months – the before and after pictures:

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Long story short, pre-making all of your food ahead of time is a big gamble. If you have a food allergy or you’re trying to adhere to a specific diet while on trail, it might be your best bet – but if you are considering this option because you want to save money or make things more convenient for yourself, you risk doing neither.

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Speaking of convenience, don’t miss a McDonald’s that’s .4 off the trail.

Of course, most hikers don’t go all the way with one strategy. They mix and match.

Before you decide what you want to send ahead versus buy in the moment, you need to know a few things about yourself.

Question 1: What is your pace?

If you’ve hiked the AT before, you have a good idea of your personal pacing. The PCT is an equestrian trail, which means it has almost half as much elevation difference per mile as the AT does. That also means that you’ll hike further and faster on the PCT. To estimate your PCT speed, I think this is pretty accurate:

Miles you hiked per day on the AT             X          1.4       =          PCT miles per day

If you could count on about 15 miles a day on the AT, expect to hit around 21 per day on the PCT. If you usually hiked 20 miles a day on the AT, then you’ll have no problem doing 28-mile-days.

I am not a fast hiker or a strong hiker. I am 5 feet, 4 inches tall and I’m not particularly ‘ultra light’ (take that statement as you will). My longest day carrying a full pack on the AT was 27 miles (in Pennsylvania, which is pretty flat by AT standards), and on the PCT, it was 36 miles (in Washington, actually, which is not flat by PCT standards). No matter how slow of a hiker you are, you will be able to hike a 30-mile-day on the PCT, even if you only do it once.

Craig’s PCT planner is also a great tool to estimating your timing.

Question 2: What are your priorities?

Write down these 4 priorities in order of what matters the most to you on your hike: time, money, taste, and overall health.

You can save on time and eat healthy, good-tasting food if you buy tons of high-end bars and freeze-dried dinners and ship them to yourself ahead of time, but that costs a lot of money.

You can save on money and still eat healthy, tasty food if you dehydrate everything ahead of time and send it to yourself, but this is a huge undertaking, takes a ton of time and energy, and often costs more than people realize between shipping and handling and fees to accept packages.

You can also save on time by buying as you go, but that involves a balancing act between spending a lot of money at expensive outposts and camp stores for good food or saving your money but sacrificing your health (and let’s face it, taste) by living off of mashed potatoes and Clif bars.

What the Pros Recommend

The chart below includes most available resupply locations along the PCT and compares the individual strategies of a few trail veterans from these websites:

Halfway Anywhere – this site is amazing. The guy who owns it does a comprehensive survey every year of hundreds of thru-hikers, then breaks down their different resupply strategies with percentages and graphs. So I co-opted his information and put it side by side with other people’s recommendations. Mac, the guy behind Halfway Anywhere, also happens to be a contributor to Pacific Crest Trials.

Plan Your Hike – another PCT planning website that compiled a complete list of resupply points by mileage and starred their recommendations for stopping at.

Hike Bike Safari – Brad McCartney’s site is great for adventure inspiration (his pictures are fantastic) and the often roguish hike bike safari recommendations for life. I got to meet ‘Shepherd’, as he’s known on trail, at the beginning of my own PCT hike in, of all places, a San Diego backpacker’s hostel where he was staying before heading out to start the CDT northbound.  He gave us some tips on the PCT, mainly, “don’t worry about the resupply.” Shepherd managed to hike through almost without sending a single package to himself. As a big proponent of the resupply-as-you-go method, I thought it might be helpful to include the resupply recommendations from his website in this chart.

Maggie ‘Chuckles’ Wallace (Me) – OK, maybe I’m not up there with these other giants of the resupply world, but since I’m writing this article, I thought you might want to know what I did. I also included a column for what I would like to do if I hiked again, assuming that I was sending myself packages from the trail.

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Click on the chart above for the full data.

Recommendations by Region:

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The Desert

It’s actually pretty easy to buy your way through here, and also pretty smart. If you buy food along the way, you’re more likely to plan what you need better than if you send yourself all your food, so your pack weight can be lower. This is extremely important in the desert where you may end up carrying 15 pounds of water at a time. There are even a few spots where you can pack out a burrito for the next day and reach another resupply that night (like Lake Morena and Cajon Pass). It’s also important to note that in the desert, where fire closures are abundant, flexibility is very important. There were multiple times where I was glad I didn’t have to worry about getting to a post office to pick up my package on a section of trail that was closed for fire.

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Where you should Send a Package:

  1. Warner Springs (110) – A small community that is basically made up of a ‘hiker resource center’ and a post office. It’s not easy to buy food here, so send a package. They’re very nice and will drive you to the post office from the resource center.

The Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada range is completely its own thing. It’s the hardest part of the PCT to plan around, and the most remote. You will need to send all of your packages at least 3 weeks in advance, but a month is better. Everyone’s mileage automatically drops down to about 75% of what they’ve been doing because of elevation and snow, and climbing Mt. Whitney (which you absolutely should do) adds an extra 16 to 17 miles, depending on your route, making the stretches between resupplies at least a week or more for many hikers. But, that also means that there are only a few different ways to plan your resupply. None of them area ideal, but all of them are an adventure – and that is what you signed up for.

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(Note: This whole section is set up differently than the other sections because it really deserves its own guide. The mileage is going to appear off at times if you add it up because I’m including side trails and the 17-mile round-trip Mt. Whitney loop in my calculations. I’m also operating on the assumption that hikers are entering the Sierra Nevada after June 1st (though it’s best to enter after June 15th to avoid impassable snow). If you’re going through before June (and I knew some people who did), some of these services may not be available so be sure to check online for when they are opening in the year you’re attempting your hike.)

Where You Can Resupply in the Sierra Range:

702 Kennedy Meadows – The ‘gateway to the Sierra’ is half a mile off the PCT, and everyone has to stop here to get their packages. This is where you’ll send yourself the first leg of your Sierra Nevada resupply, your required bear canister, and your winter gear for the snow up ahead. It’s $5 to receive or send a package, which can add up quickly.

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Of course, Kennedy Meadows is where your friends and family will probably send you letters of encouragement and inconvenient packages to completely throw off your planning.

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745 Cottonwood Pass (Horseshoe Meadow, town of Lone Pine) – 1.7 mile hike one way and 20 mile hitch to town

(766 Mt. Whitney spur, 8.4 miles to summit one way)

790 Kearsarge Pass (Onion Valley Trailhead, towns of Independence, Bishop) – 7.6 mile hike one way and 15 mile hitch to town

831 Bishop Pass (town of Bishop) – 11.8 mile hike one way plus 22 mile hitch to town

856 Muir Trail Ranch – off trail 1.5 miles, $75 fee to receive a package on top of normal shipping and handling, but you can send USPS. In all fairness, the packages are mule packed in, so the price is actually right. You have to mail your package at least 3 weeks ahead of time.

877 Vermillion Valley Resort – off trail 1.5 miles and a ferry ride ($12 one way for the water taxi), or you could take the 7 mile Bear Ridge trail at mile 874.5 and take the ferry to reconnect to the trail. It would save you half the ferry cost and prevent you from having to wait for the ferry on the way in (it only arrives at certain times). This option cuts off 4 miles of PCT and ends up being only about an extra mile and a half of hiking, so if you aren’t particular about the purity of your hike this is a good option. There is a $25 dollar fee to collect a package. The common belief is that they accept UPS only, but a friend I hiked with got his package sent USPS (at a big difference in cost), and it also says online here that you can do this, although it isn’t recommended. You have to mail your package at least 3 weeks ahead of time.

906 Red’s Meadow (Mammoth) – a store, a restaurant, an incredible hiker box, and a cheap bus to Mammoth that arrives on the hour ($7 one way) make this an essential stop for thru-hikers. Once you’ve hit Red’s, the hard part of the Sierra resupply is over. (Note: You can send a package to Red’s, but it’s expensive and requires a form to be filled out and money to be paid up front. Since Red’s is only 36 miles from Tuolomne Meadows, where you can send a package easily, I recommend resupplying from the store or going into Mammoth Lakes.)

942 Tuolomne Meadows (Yosemite) – a camp store with pretty good options, accepts packages also. You have to mail your package at least 3 weeks ahead of time.

1018 Sonora Pass – The drop-off location for Sonora Pass Resupply is here, or you could hitch 10 miles to Kennedy Meadows North (has a store and accepts packages) or 32 miles to the town of Bridgeport.

1093 South Lake Tahoe – Congratulations! You’re in Northern California. This is a good location to stage any packages you want to send yourself in the upcoming section.

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Resupply Option 1:

Kennedy Meadows (702) – Kearsarge Pass (790) 114 miles

Kearsarge Pass (790) – Red’s Meadow (903) 123 miles

From Kennedy Meadows, hike to Kearsarge Pass and into the Onion Valley Trailhead, where you’ll hitch to Independence. This is about 114 miles of hiking (including the Whitney summit and side trail to the trailhead) and should take roughly one week. You want to plan to get to the trailhead on a weekend, because otherwise it could take you a full day to get a hitch down to town. When you get back on at Onion Valley Trailhead, you’ll be able to make it to Red’s Meadow in about 123 miles, which you should budget around 7 days for, if possible. This is the toughest section of the Sierra and the most heavily snowbound. Your pace will be slower and, between the cold and elevation, you’ll be hungrier than normal. This is probably the most popular resupply strategy we saw, although there was variation with people who chose to stop at Muir Trail Ranch or Vermillion Valley Resort to pick up a little extra food or a package and cut their weight down.

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Resupply Option 2:

Kennedy Meadows (702) – Cottonwood Pass (745) 45 miles

Cottonwood Pass (745) – Vermillion Valley Resort (877) 150 miles

Vermillion Valley Resort (877) – Red’s Meadow (903) 25 miles

From Kennedy Meadows, hike 45 miles (a little over 2 days) down to Horseshoe Meadow via Cottonwood Pass and hitch to Lone Pine for your resupply (same thing applies as with the Onion Valley Trailhead, you’re better off showing up on a weekend). From Cottonwood Pass it’s about 150 miles to get to Vermillion Valley Resort (again, that’s including the Whitney summit and both side trails). This is a pretty long haul, and I would personally bring at least 9 days of food for it. If you don’t bring enough, though, there are several bailout options. You’ll pass Kearsarge Pass after about 61 miles, Bishop Pass after about 102 (although this is your last resort bail out plan, really, because it’s quite a haul to take bishop pass out of the Sierra), and the restaurant at Muir Trail Ranch (which has a great hiker box, but you shouldn’t count on that being full) about 127 miles into this stretch, in case you are a day short on your food. Our hiking partner Camel opted to do this, and ended up stopping at Muir Trail Ranch to get a quick meal before he made it to VVR. At VVR, you can send yourself a package for a $25 collection fee – it’s high, but it’s a lot more convenient than hitchhiking from a remote trailhead 7 miles off the PCT. You could also buy food at the VVR store (pretty pricey, I hear) to get you the 25 miles to Red’s Meadow. The Yankee in me can’t recommend with a clear conscience that you send a package to Muir Trail Ranch for $75 dollars, but it would be really convenient to get your resupply a full day earlier and then skip VVR altogether (a lot of hikers said VVR was a money pit, so maybe in the long run Muir is a smarter investment).

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Other Options

Of course, there are other creative ways to approach the Sierra range. You could hike out through the Whitney Portal on the other side of Mt. Whitney if you get all the right permits. I saw someone who drove up to stash packages at the trail heads for Cottonwood Pass and Kearsarge Pass, eliminating the uncertainty of getting a hitch. Our hiking partner Toe Touch treated the whole experience as a marathon and actually hiked 220 miles from Kennedy Meadows straight through to Red’s Meadow without resupplying once. So if you’re completely insane, that’s an option. Or you might prefer to stop more often, take the most beautiful section of the PCT slowly, and hit all of the possible resupplies. In any event, when you stop at Tehachapi or Mojave, look at all your options and find the best solution for yourself up ahead – and don’t let anyone tell you their resupply is better than yours, because in the Sierra, no one’s resupply makes sense.

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Toe Touch’s pack entering the Sierra Nevada range.

Where you should Send a Package After Red’s Meadow:

Everything gets easier after Red’s Meadow. There’s a bus to Mammoth Lakes, which has a great resupply, and if you choose not to enter Mammoth Lakes you can resupply from Red’s camp store (pretty good selection) and hiker box (an amazing hiker box) for the couple days you’ll have before reaching Tuolomne Meadows. These spots are the most convenient ones to have a package waiting for you:

  1. Tuolomne Meadows (942) – Accepts hiker packages and has a pretty good camp store that you could resupply out of (a little expensive).
  2. Sonora Pass (1018) – I would recommend sending your package to Kennedy Meadows North (they only accept UPS, so it’s expensive) or arranging for a package to be dropped off by Sonora Pass Resupply (I’ve heard good things about these guys, charge is $50), but you could also hitch the really long haul down to Bridgeport if you want to save money by going to the PO. A lot of hikers want to send their winter gear home at this point, but you might want it for the section before SLT.
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Northern California:

Northern California: This is the longest section of trail (or at least, it feels like it). You’re back to fire closures and long water carries but instead of sweeping vistas your view seems to be mostly old burn areas and cows. But there are some beautiful sections still, and on the bright side, pretty decent resupply options most of the way so you don’t really need to worry about packages. You could go through this entire section without sending a package, but you might make your life easier by sending a couple.

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Where you should Send a Package:

 

  1. Belden (1289) – A little resort and lodge best known for its raves. They’re very nice there and happy to accommodate hikers, but if you stop there during a weekend you probably won’t get much sleep. Their camp store is passable but expensive and they charge $15 per package (UPS only), so you might want to go a mile up the road to Caribou Crossroads campground PO where you can send a package general delivery for free.
  2. Burney Falls Guest Ranch (1407) – A good place to send a package about a mile off trail. They’re really nice there and have everything a hiker could need (including a small hiker store) in a place that feels homey. Slightly closer to the trail is Burney Falls Camp Services (1424), about 17 miles past the junction for the guest ranch on the PCT. They will also hold your package and they have a store that you could resupply out of if you aren’t picky. Both Burney Falls spots cost $5 to send a package to.
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Oregon:

The Oregon trail has two sides to it. Although it’s home to two of the largest and most interesting towns you’ll hit on the trail (Ashland and Bend), the trail itself passes through very rural areas.   You’ll immediately hit Ashland 27 miles into Oregon, and then after a few days of debauchery in the first big town you’ve seen in weeks, you’ll get back on trail. For the next 263 miles until Bend, you’ll pass exclusively through campgrounds, marinas, and national parks. The worst combination of worlds for a thru-hiker, this means lots of people but very little (and very expensive) food. You’re better off sending yourself packages here, if you can. It might be too late to send them from Ashland so I would recommend sending ahead from an earlier location like Mt. Shasta.   That lets you to breeze through Crater Lake National Park and dozens of campgrounds, picking up a few days of food at a time (and occasionally a hot cup of coffee) as you go. If you plan Oregon right, it can be the best state for resupply because of its many camp stores and options for sending packages; conversely, if you don’t plan well you can end up paying out your cat-hole-filler for expired Idahoans.

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No matter how bad the resupply options are, tortillas can fix anything.

Where you should Send a Package:

Since you’ll be moving pretty quickly in Oregon (most thru-hikers are consistently hitting mileage in the high twenties at this point), you really only need to send packages to 3 to 4 locations.

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  1. Crater Lake National Park (1830) – A hundred miles past Ashland, send your package to Mazama Village store (it’s not far off the trail and has showers).
  2. Shelter Cove Resort (1912) – 90 miles after Crater Lake. Bend, with lots of grocery options, is located 88 miles later.
  3. Big Lake Youth Camp (2002) – Right on trail a couple miles after Santiam Pass, which is arguably the easiest road (highway 20) to take to Bend.  If you’re going into Bend (which I recommend), obviously you don’t need to send a package here but if you’re trying to make faster time in Oregon, this place is very helpful.  There’s a camp there with friendly vegan Christians who will invite you to a meal, I’ve heard, if you’re there during camp season prior to mid August.  If you show up in the second half of August or later, the camp may be empty but your package should still be there.
  4. Timberline (2107) – About 110 miles after Bend, it shouldn’t be hard to get here with only one resupply since you also hit Olallie Lake Resort. Timberline has a vending machine and sells backpacker meals in their store, but I wouldn’t suggest trying to resupply here. You’ll probably want to send yourself a package at Timberline with your ‘wet weather gear’ before you cross over the mountains into the Washington section of trail, so you can add a couple days of food to the package. Whatever you do, don’t miss the breakfast buffet here.
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Washington:

Washington is great because, not only are you a pro by now at resupplying, but you basically only cross about six roads – and they’re all very conveniently spaced. About every hundred miles in Washington you’re going to pass a major route with a gas station or ski resort. Most of them have some kind of resupply option (although it tends to be a little expensive), and all of them accept hiker packages. If you want to make miles and not worry about logistics or buying pricey gas station food in Washington, send yourself four (or five) packages from Ashland or Bend.

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Foraging: fun but not sufficient in calories. (Please ignore dirty hands here.)

Where you should Send a Package:

There are four stops in Washington that are almost universally used by all hikers (a possible 5th is Trout Lake). You absolutely will stop at these places because they are on trail, they are convenient and geared towards hikers, and by the time you reach Washington, it will be raining – and maybe snowing.

  1. White Pass (2303) – it’s about 153 miles from Cascade Locks to White Pass, but you can stop halfway through at Trout Lake (a 13 mile hitch hike) to resupply at their general store, which has great smoked salmon and cheese. The town is also adorable and has huckleberry milkshakes and friendly locals, so I recommend going there if you have the opportunity. (Note on cell reception: The town of Packwood does not appear to have cell phone service, but you get a little at White Pass and the downtown of Trout Lake (no 4G though). If you have to figure out anything online or via phone, do it before leaving Cascade Locks because you won’t have a reliable connection again until Snoqualmie.)
  2. Snoqualmie Pass (2402) – great food at the food truck here and beers at the brewery. You can send a package to the Chevron, but literally no one recommends that. Send your package to the lodge there instead. There’s a $15 holding fee if you’re a non-guest but Washington is rainy and cold and the motels are few and far between. In other words, you are going to want to stay there so just budget for it.
  3. Stevens Pass (2476) – The upcoming hundred mile stretch is one of the toughest stretches on the trail, so expect to go slower and bring more food than you think you’ll need. (Note on cell reception: there’s no cell reception after this unless you hitch about 20 miles down from Rainy pass.  Stehekin has a pay phone you can use and you’ll have reception when you get to Canada – but if you have a US carrier and no international plan, you can’t use it. Make your plans now!)
  4. Stehekin, WA (2574) – From Stehekin, it’s 90 miles to the finish so most people push through, but if you need to bail out or you have an alternative plan like hiking back from the border instead of entering Canada, you can stop at Rainy Pass and go to Mazama or the little ‘wild west’ town of Winthrop, both of which have great grocery stores and gear shops.
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I could list all resupply addresses here, but that’s painfully redundant given how much information is out there on the internet. Cross-reference these helpful sites while you’re planning your resupply:

As the Crow Flies – I found this to have the most accurate and helpful information about each resupply location.

Plan Your Hike – This is great just for easily locating the address you need.

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Image courtesy of Ray Bouknight

The Guide to USPS

If your box is sent priority mail, most post offices will bounce it ahead with just a phone call but some won’t bounce a box unless the hiker is there in person. For those who want cut and dry rules, this is frustrating. Actually, I haven’t been able to find on the USPS web site where it specifies that you can bounce a priority package remotely, so I’m not totally sure if it even is a rule or if most postal service workers are just being helpful.

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Postal workers along the PCT usually go out of their way to help hikers, but there were a few times on trail where myself or hikers I knew experienced push back. Most of the time, the problems were solved when we asked a post office worker at a different PO to call the uncooperative PO on our behalf.

What can you do to help these kind people keep doing their job (and make sure you actually get your package)?

  1. Put your address on multiple sides of the box when you send it, in large, easily readable letters, in this format:

Firstname Lastname

PCT Hiker, ETA: MM/DD/YY

General Delivery

City, state, zip code

  1. When you bounce your package ahead, make sure that you cover ALL labels with the old address on them (yes, even if it means triple checking with the PO worker.) Forwarded packages are now read by machine, so if any addresses are left uncovered, the machine will pick them up and return them to the original PO. I had one package get returned to the Truckee PO three times because one of the addresses had not been covered up.
  2. Put something colorful and recognizable on your box so you can identify it in a stack of boxes. The key to this is choosing something that everyone else won’t choose. Bright colored duct tape is a great idea, but you’ll soon learn which other hikers have the same color as you. I recommend buying tape with a weird pattern and applying it to your boxes in a creative way (maybe in giant x’s or cut into the shape of a dinosaur. Whatever works.)

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    Kennedy Meadows June 2016: This is why you make your package stand out.

  3. Keep a list of packages you sent that includes their tracking numbers. When the package goes missing, it doesn’t matter if you know the date you shipped it, the weight of the box, or the entire postal handbook by heart. The tracking number is the one thing you’re going to be asked for.
  4. Send 2 – 4 weeks ahead of time. Any more than that and some post offices or stores won’t continue to hold onto your package. Less than that and you risk not getting it on time. During 2016, several hikers had their boxes sent back from Snoqualmie Pass because the store there instituted a new policy of only holding onto boxes for two weeks. This is unusual and it’s PO policy to hold packages for 30 days, but you don’t know what’s going to happen when you send to a private business. And although many priority mail boxes you send yourself will arrive within two days, it’s important to remember that when you’re shipping to a remote post office, things can take much longer. Even more importantly, overnight does not mean overnight. Because of crossed connections, my resupply contact (if you remember, that’s my mom) had not sent my passport to Winthrop yet when I was only a week away from Rainy Pass, so I had her overnight it just in case. Good thing, because I still had to wait a day to get it (those who are doing the math, that was an 8 day mail time for a $70 overnight fee). Another time, we bounced our Kennedy Meadows North package to the post office in Bridgeport a week ahead of time but it still arrived a day after us because of forest fires that had closed down the highway.
  5. When you are shipping fuel, you have to make sure to specify that you want to ship ground. If you are worried about shipping yourself fuel, this is the 2016 list for which towns have fuel canisters for sale. We never shipped ourselves fuel and never had a problem buying it, although there were a few times we were nervous and brought an extra small canister.
    img_20160821_222955

The Guide to UPS

Some places will only accept UPS. If you’re sending to one of those places, use UPS.   If you’re sending from very nearby, such as to a town one to two hundred trail miles ahead of you, UPS might be cheaper than USPS. Outside of these very specific scenarios, don’t send packages UPS. I don’t know if UPS uses gold delivery trucks or if they personally hire Kevin Costner to deliver your mail on horseback, but if you’re sending the package across county lines, you might as well set your money on fire.

Hiker Box Roulette

The hiker box is the single most difficult variable to predict. Everything else has an order to it – USPS, UPS, private businesses along the PCT – but the hiker boxes are a purely chaotic construction. When you have more food than you can carry, you’ll find hiker boxes overflowing with amazing meals; and of course, you’ll drool over the memory of those meals when your package doesn’t arrive on time and you’re stuck pawing over unlabeled ziplocs full of mystery powder.

There are a few ways to predict what a hiker box will be like. You might find a good hiker box at a stop that’s a popular mail drop. You might also want to check hiker boxes after easy sections of trail, especially after the Sierra Nevada range when people are starting to get their trail legs and move faster – hikers moving faster than anticipated will have more food than they need. And of course, there’s the John Muir Trail hikers, those angels who tout fishing poles and leave a trail of backpacker meals behind them. JMT leavings have saved more than one PCT hiker at Muir Trail Ranch or Red’s Meadow.

On the whole, though, you can’t count on hiker boxes. There are times where your planning just won’t work out and the hiker box will come to the rescue. But recommending that you depend on them, ever, is the most certain way for me to invoke bad hiker box karma.

 

Where does that all leave you?  With a lot of information to process, a lot of sources to cross-reference, and an incredible summer ahead of you.  In the end, there is no one way to do your resupply; The PCT is the greatest choose-your-own adventure you can undertake.  Even if you avoid all resupply planning before you leave home – you’ll be fine.  I hope this was helpful, and that readers are kind enough to mention anything  that I missed in the comments below.  Mostly though, I hope you’ll breathe deeply, spend as much time as you can before you leave with your family and friends, and, at least for now, not obsess over food – there will be plenty of that ahead of you.

 

Sources:

  1. Halfway Anywhere
  1. Plan Your Hike
  1. Bike Hike Safari – Brad McCartney has a good resupply strategy from his 2015 hike that he lists out here in a really simple format. He’s more on the side of buying as you go, and shipping ahead a box in town for remote areas.
  1. The PCTA also has a page where they talk about resupplying here.
  1. As the Crow Flies has a play-by-play description of trail stops and some other useful thru-hiking info.
  1. For those who love the nitty gritty of planning, check out Postholer’s hike planner.
  1. And of course, Halfmile’s maps have been invaluable to this article, my thru-hike, and all thru-hikers everywhere.
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Comments 20

  • Annette : Jan 5th

    Wow! Thank you, Maggie, for taking the time to write this post! I’m still working on my resupply plan, and there is a ton of useful information here. I’m going to go through it again with my spreadsheet.

    Reply
  • Isabelle : Jan 5th

    Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Thank you for the time and effort! SO helpful!

    Reply
    • MARC : Nov 4th

      this is epic THANK YOU!!!

      Reply
  • Colleen : Jan 6th

    This was so incredibly helpful, thank you!!

    Reply
  • Kristin : Jan 6th

    This post is absolutely glorious! Thank you so much, Maggie!

    Reply
  • Jim : Jan 7th

    I think buying as you go totally works for the Sierra. KM South store was decently stocked though you might send a box just to be safe, but after that you can just resupply at Kearsarge/Bishop and then at Mammoth. Then the KM North store from Sonora Pass has enough to get by to make it to SLT. Also, these days with Guthook, Facebook people always report on the store stock levels up and down the trail.

    Reply
  • Pretzel : Jan 7th

    Using USPS Regional Rate boxes can save a lot of money! This is a under used service from long distance hiker. Source: Former shipping specialist

    Reply
    • Maggie Wallace : Mar 20th

      Thanks for the info!

      Reply
  • Robert : Jan 10th

    Nice article thanks for writing it. It should prove to be very helpful.
    But, I missing some very important info to consider.

    Should you buy or box ?
    How much do items cost at the store ?
    Ramen noodles ?
    Oatmeal ?
    Tortillas ?
    Peanut Butter ?
    Cheese ?

    Have my daily food cost plus shipping figured out,
    but resupply at small store cost is unknown ?
    So which is really cheaper.
    Any advice would be welcome.
    Thanks,
    Class of 2017

    Reply
    • Maggie Wallace : Mar 20th

      Apologies for not responding when you posted this, I hope I’m not too late! I’m afraid I don’t have much helpful information for you regarding the prices at each store. Any camp store you hit will most likely carry the items listed above (maybe some won’t have cheese). I’d say you can count on things being about 30% to 40% more expensive at these small stores, and in general maybe 10% pricier in larger stores on the west coast if you’re used to east coast prices. As to which is cheaper, buying or boxing, it really depends on where you’re sending from. I think the cheapest thing is actually to get most of your food in bulk through large grocery stores and then send it ahead up to 400 or 500 miles at a time. If you’ve already bought the food and plan to ship to yourself, be sure to cross-check UPS and USPS rates because there really can be a massive difference. Happy trails this year!

      Reply
  • FlorinaTheSamoan : Jan 10th

    Thanks thanks thanks! Pacific crest trail , this Samoan will,thru hIke you !!

    Thanks for the post .,very informative .. I’m not as stresses anymore !!

    Congrats to everyone doing the hike and that has done it ..

    “The trail is texting .. and I must reply”

    Reply
  • Anthony king : Jan 13th

    Thank you soooo much for writing this well thought out article. I’ve been starting to worry about all of this since the new year & April quickly approaching, but this definitely put me at ease (well, a little bit haha) but now I can breathe a sigh of relief having all this info at my fingertips.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  • Kat : Feb 25th

    So thorough! I hiked in 2015 and would say the exact same thing about resupplying. One option for the Sierra that you may have mentioned already (its a long way back up the page to check!) is the Mono Hotsprings resort instead of VVR. They have a post office, amazing restaurant, super nice staff, free hot springs, and free camping just up the road. For me, VVR was RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. I spent a total of 90 minutes there and left $50 poorer. Conversely, my double zero at Mono was like $20, and there were hotspings. I hitched there from VVR but there are multiple trail options for hiking.

    Reply
    • Maggie Wallace : Mar 20th

      Thanks for the suggestion! This is a big help. I skipped VVR and didn’t get the chance to check out Mono, I’m glad to hear that there’s another option!

      Reply
  • Nikolai Kotzman : Mar 19th

    Thank you so much for all of the information!! Its saved me in a big way. I’m leaving for the PCT in 3 days and just started to look at resupplies details, big procrastinator here. The best line I read though was, “Even if you avoid all resupply planning before you leave home – you’ll be fine.” This statement is exactly what I needed to calm me down.

    Reply
    • Maggie Wallace : Mar 20th

      I personally think Yogi should take a page from Douglas Adams and put a giant ‘Don’t Panic’ across the front of her trail guide. If worse comes to worst, you can always ask Scout and Frodo for advice. Their house is a seriously calming place for any hiker about to take the first step on the PCT. Good luck out there and happy trails!

      Reply
  • Maggie Wallace : Mar 20th

    Thank you for the positive comments! I had a lot of fun writing this so I hope it’s helpful to the 2017 class and beyond!

    Reply
  • Lance : May 12th

    Very good read. I although I will never complete the PCT I have enjoyed reading about those that do and have for years. This is one of the better and most complete blogs RE resupply I have found. Great work.

    Reply
  • Karen : Oct 25th

    Hi and I’m so happy I found this. Amazing info! I’m planning for 2018 from overseas so I don’t have a lot of time to fix it all when I arrive in the US and I “was” really nervous about that part until reading this. Thank you!! So helpful!!

    Reply
  • Brian Setzer : Nov 3rd

    Great info! Thanks. Will be referring to this plenty getting ready for next year.

    Reply

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