Top 10 Items Thru-Hikers Want in a Mail Drop

The desperate fervor in which a haggard thru-hiker tears at the tape on his mail drop is a sight to behold. Not a particularly dignified sight, but one from which you can’t look away. What could be in that box the filthy hiker crouches over outside the post office? A yelp of glee, the hiker pulls out a fistful of Ziplock bags. With a high five to their hiker friend, they lift a handful of Snickers Bars to the sky, and nearly in tears, they clutch a package of Kirkland Signature Beef Jerky to their chest before tearing the bag open with grubby nails. You’ve just witnessed the magic of a thru-hiker receiving a mail drop after a hundred miles of eating smashed energy bars washed down with Dorito crumbs.

In our poll of past and present thru-hikers (with more than 60 responses), here is what we learned: They want food, notes from home, and things that are expensive / hard to find on the trail. (I.e. specific brands of protein bars or fancy dehydrated meals.) We weren’t entirely surprised, because we know hikers are guided by their stomachs, and they are also practical and weight conscious. Here is a guide to what thru-hikers want to see when they stagger into a post office and see their name emblazoned in Sharpie across that special box.

(*** Missing a mail drop is the worst. Check out the bottom of this post for pointers on getting the box to your thru-hiker at the right place/time.)

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1) Candy Bars and Chocolate. These will melt, they won’t care. Look for their favorite variety, or find some that you know they can’t find at the local mini-mart. Snickers dominated people’s favorites in our survey.

2) Jerky or Dried Meat. Without adequate protein, thru-hikers will waste away. Okay, that’ll probably happen anyway, but this will slow the process.

3) Cookies and other Baked Goods. Straight from home, and they’re so crazy about chocolate-pb-oatmeal-no-bakes that they’ll happily carry around the two-pound brick you lovingly shipped off to them. This also serves as the ultimate currency on the trail. A slice of mom’s banana bread is worth at least 3.2 future favor points.

4) Dehydrated Meals. These things are expensive. Thru hikers are poor. There are lots of neat brands out there now, do some digging and ensure your hiker has at least one meal that doesn’t consist of them licking peanut butter from their gross spork. Two of the top-cited brands in our recent poll were Good To-Go (the Thai Curry is a crowd favorite) and Backpacker Pantry.

5) Candy. Not to be confused with chocolate. This means gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, those weird cinnamon bears that people go crazy over. Chewy things that won’t degrade in a food bag.

6) Nuts, Trail Mix. Send a few different varieties. A bag of spicy trail mix followed by a bag of chocolate trail mix is sort of like thru-hiker dinner and dessert.

7) Hand-written Card. Nothing says I Love You like an encouraging note infused with the gratitude that it’s not them out on the trail.

8) Coffee. The instant, powdered kind. Starbucks Via packets are super good and tough to find out on the trail.

9) Ziplock Bags. Ziplock should sponsor thru-hikers. Shipments of these multi-use gems are always encouraged. Your hiker will be glad to bid farewell to that baggie they’ve been taping together for 400 miles.

10) Clean Socks. Have you seen a pair of hiker’s socks after 800 miles? Those things have the structural integrity of an armored car. Darn Tough are a crowd favorite, but definitely ask what brand/style they’re into at the moment. Thru-hikers are rightfully picky about what goes on their feet.

Honorable mention / weirdly specific requests: Flavored tuna packets, airline-size alcohol bottles, powdered hummus, Gatorade powder, gift cards, money, premium toilet paper, shaving razors, and travel packs of Wet Wipes.

***If the best part of town is getting a drop box, the worst part is missing the drop. Thru hikers are always on the (2.5MPH) move, so make sure to check in with them and get an ETA for their next town stop, and what the best address is for general delivery. Here is a list of the places they will probably be resupplying. Make sure to address it correctly and write the ETA on there for the good folks at the post office / outfitter. This is another insanely comprehensive list of resupply points on the AT. AWOL’s guide and many trail apps also list resupply points and addresses. Now go start planning your gift box.

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