The Problems With Mail Drops (And How We Solved Them)

The following is a sponsored post written by 2014 thru-hiker, Kyrsten “Slayer” French from HikerBox

In 2012, Zach posted this article– 

“How many mail drops should you send on the Appalachian Trail?”

His answer is that sending mail drops is generally a waste of effort, because you can just buy your food on the trail, unless you have some serious dietary restrictions and need specific foods.

Before starting my hike last spring, I read this, and was totally deflated. All of my efforts at preparing foods and dehydrating them for my mail drops seemed completely wasted! Oh, there are stores on the AT? What the heck am I doing all this for? So I stopped preparing. It was true, my food fixation was an attempt at calming my pre-thru-hike nerves rather than a means of putting myself at an advantage for the actual hike. 

Flash forward to hiking in the spring of 2014, and I learned that while there are many areas that have ample opportunities to buy good food, there are just as many areas that are overpriced, under-stocked, and completely void of decent resupply options. But even the best of grocery stores present their own challenges to the thru-hiker: there are no white blazes inside, leading to long confusing resupply experiences; the food is packaged in quantities larger than necessary for a few days of hiking; there aren’t enough dehydrated food options; and some stores don’t offer much variety.

So why were mail drops so bad again? Let’s review. The problems with mail drops basically comes down to three big issues:

  1. You need to prepare your food in advance. That means you need to spend a big chunk of your food budget before you even start hiking, which leaves you committed to the food you bought, and less flexible during the trip.
  2. You need someone at home to help. Somebody needs to send those packages, and pay for the postage, and keep inventory for you.
  3. You might not like the food you chose for yourself two, four, six months back, and you will have wasted a lot of time and money on it.

I thought about these things as I walked through North Carolina, frustrated by another expensive resupply at a small convenience store. I came up with one solution to all of these issues (and then I walked for five more months, considering the solution and walking, considering, and walking).

So, what’s the alternative to all these frustrations? The solution is very simple, actually: buy your groceries online. HikerBox is a simple online grocery store with products stocked specifically to suit the needs of thru-hikers. Add the items you want to your basket, and during the check-out process, indicate the location you would like your box sent. Instead of preparing your mail drop months ahead of when you’ll use them, you now only need to think of where you will be and what you will need three days in advance. Prices are very competitive, and new products are added all the time! Plus, if you spend $50 in one purchase, your shipping cost will be just $6, which is a huge discount from regular shipping charges, and a price for flexibility, quality and convenience that is certainly worth paying for.

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Comments 4

  • Moses : Feb 27th

    During my 2014 thru-hike I received maildrops along the whole length of the trail. I was always so excited to come into town and find out what I had prepared for myself so long ago. The only thing that made this possible and sensible for me was that I had my mother back at home helping me out. Not only did she take the time to package and send the boxes, she was also buying new products and dehydrating new foods to keep up a variety and to suit my changing dietary tastes. For anyone who doesn’t have that sort of help from home, this sounds like an awesome alternative. I heard a lot of different people talk about similar ideas, but this is the first I’ve seen it actually become a reality. Cool site, and great thinking!

  • Jeanne Church : Feb 27th

    Sounds like a great idea! Thanks.

  • Bushy : Feb 28th

    Excellent!! Wish I had known this months ago. Putting together 35 packages and using the flat rate box that created quite a financial loss but only way my trail angel could have time is to get the PO to pick the boxes up at her shop. I would have jumped on this with both feet! If we survive this hike I have saved you in my favorites and will definitely use you on the PCT! Thanks so much for giving us choices keep up the great work.

  • K-Womp : Mar 1st

    I agree with Moses….I thru hiked in 2014. I dehydrated food and filled my mail drops before leaving for my hike. My Mom supplemented as necessary and it worked out great. There were several instances where I planned to resupply myself in town. I found that when resupplying in town I, not only, spent more money but ended up with alot of the same stuff….you have to buy a whole box of the same granola bars…who wants to eat that much of the same thing?? I think this is a great option and adds the option of dried veggies and other dried stuff and food you can’t get in a grocery store or a convience store. So for anyone that does not have the option of a mail drop support person, this is a great option.


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