The USPS is Under Attack and Thru-Hikers Need to Care

Unless you’ve been living in the woods without cell service for the last month (jealous), you’ve heard something about the USPS. Amid a worldwide pandemic and national emergency, the efficacy of the United States Postal Service has been called into question.

As this battle turns into yet another political fight in Washington, we outdoorsy folk may feel compelled to roll our eyes. Yet the Postal Service is essential to thru-hikers and the small communities lining our long trails.

“Even the smallest places we pass through, such as Seiad Valley and Stehekin, have a post office. Their communities rely on them, and for us they’ve been a low-cost, sure method to send yourself food and supplies.” – Barney “Scout” Mann

What in the Heckin’ Heck is Actually Happening?

So many things, but here’s a summary:

The post office has been under fire lately for everything from its budget to its delivery speeds. Recent cost-cutting measures enacted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have exacerbated delivery delays brought on by the pandemic.

These cuts were heavily criticized amid fears that they could impact the November elections and endanger Americans who increasingly rely on the post office to deliver essential mail such as medications.

According to the New York Times, the Trump administration has since reversed course and vowed to halt cost-cutting measures until after the election.

This temporary reprieve notwithstanding, the Postal Service isn’t out of the woods yet. What about the threat of future cuts? Small communities would likely take the hardest hit. In small towns, USPS is often the only shipping option because it isn’t profitable for private businesses like UPS or FedEx to deliver everywhere.

These are the trail towns we pass through as we walk from Mexico to Canada or Georgia to Maine, guys. These are the post offices we rely on to receive resupply boxes and mail home excess gear. That’s why any thru-hiker who plans to use the USPS for a future trip is significantly impacted by these decisions in Washington.

Thru-Hikers Need the USPS

Scout and Frodo’s in the swing of hiker season. Photo via Scout.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, Barney “Scout” Mann is a legendary PCT trail angel. He and his wife, Frodo, host hikers in their San Diego home before providing them with shuttle services to Campo, or the Southern Terminus of the PCT. And don’t even think about kicking him some money—all of it will go directly back to the PCTA.

Thru-hikers bring vital business to small-town post offices.

Because his place is the first stop for many thru-hikers, Scout works closely with the USPS to get hikers their supplies. According to him, USPS employees look forward to us hitting the trail as much as we do.

“Our University City postal workers love having the hikers troop in and out with flat rate boxes over the eight weeks we host hikers. It’s unique, having hikers from all over the world, and that volume of boxes, thousands each year, help keep our post office open.” – Barney “Scout” Mann

Resupply boxes sent to the Saufleys, AKA Hiker Heaven. Photo via Scout

The post office is sometimes the best option in town.

The USPS loves hikers, and the relationship is mutual. There is a reason countless resupply guides lists USPS as the best way to send packages. Scout attributes this to the convenience of “General Delivery” services, whereas other methods require a street address. Sending your resupply or gear to a business can also incur risks not present with General Delivery.  Some businesses are lax about how they manage hikers’ packages, whereas the USPS requires an ID for pickup. Furthermore, post offices can be a cheap and reliable method of resupply—especially for those with specific dietary or medical needs.

The Postal Service keeps shipping costs down.

Though some resupply-specific businesses have popped up along the trail, Scout doubts if these methods are sustainable. “If shipping costs rise too much, hikers will resupply as they go more, and the days of sending out 25 resupply boxes for the whole trail will be over,” Scout shares.

Hikers both send and receive mail through the post office.

Even for hikers who choose to resupply as they go, many find themselves using USPS to mail items home. Who wants to be carrying an ice axe through Oregon in July?

Post Office Tips for Thru-Hikers

Photo via Woods Hole Hostel

Neville of the Woods Hole Hostel in Virginia sees hundreds of Appalachian Trail resupply boxes come through her hostel every hiking season. Here are a few tips Neville shares about USPS services for thru-hikers:

*Editor’s note: these quotes are lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

  • If you don’t know where you want to stay in town, USPS tends to be a nice, user-friendly, central place to mail to. However, the USPS isn’t open on Sundays and closes at noon on Saturdays and holidays. Also, what hikers don’t always know is that they can call the USPS the day before the weekend or holiday and ask to forward their box to their desired location (motels or hostels usually). It’s a great way to avoid weekends and still use the post office as a central location.
  • USPS does not have to accept a package delivered to them from UPS or FedEx. In some towns, they won’t accept packages delivered from UPS, for instance, an Amazon jacket. They tend to be sticklers for the rules, so they will send your package to a local motel. It can be a real frustration for hikers, but it’s a rule they have.
  • Flat rate is not cheaper, it’s just more convenient. It’s only cheaper if you are mailing heavy items to faraway destinations.
  •  If hikers have winter or summer gear and they don’t want to send it home because they may need it, they can send it ahead to the next town via the USPS. If they get to the next town and decide they still don’t need it, they can ask the USPS to forward it to their next destination at no cost. Usually, you have to send your box to the USPS to take advantage of this luxury.
 Neville notes that along the Appalachian Trail, “USPS is the way to ship. In small, rural areas you simply won’t find a FedEx or UPS office to ship from.” The USPS provides services that ultimately make our hikes possible. This is their purpose as an American institution, whereas private businesses “don’t have to step in and make it ‘their job'” to offer these services to hikers.

Thank-you cards sent to Woods Hole Hostel, via the USPS. Photo from Woods Hole Hostel

Stay Updated and Get Involved

“I could not imagine America or the trail without the USPS. It’s the backbone to the mailing system… Sometimes, we just need consistency. And this is what the USPS gives us.” – Neville of Woods Hole Hostel

Budget cuts or not, we owe a tip of the cap to our friends at USPS. They truly make our thru-hikes possible, from being our resupply mainstay to providing mail forwarding services. Though the news changes daily, there are ways to help the USPS:

  • Consider buying priority boxes and packaging resupplies early or stocking up on stamps for future letters home to family members.
  • Contact your elected representatives and urge them to act to protect the USPS.
  • Thank your local postal workers next time you see them. Between the pandemic and the turmoil within their own agency, they could probably use some moral support right now.

For more information, check out these informative articles:

Featured photo via Red’s Meadow Pack Station and Resort

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments are closed here.