AT Resupply

Welcome to the Resupply page of Appalachian Services®. We offer Mail Drop/Care Package and Resupply services to any hiker within our service area. Unlike a few other hiker support services we do not require you to have been a shuttle customer of ours to qualify for this service. We DO ask that you contact us well in advance regarding this need so we can block out the necessary time frame so you are not left waiting for your supplies. Should you have any questions regarding this service, or anything else posted below, please use the “Contact Us” form at the top of the page or send us an email with an appropriately titled subject line.

There are three (3) basic ways to resupply on the Appalachian Trail. These are Mail Drops, Trail Resupply, and Bounce/Bump Boxes. We offer a wide range of services to help you accomplish the first two of these. Unfortunately we are not physically able to help you send or receive a Bounce Box. Confused? Not a problem. We will explain all of this below.

You will also find detailed tips on how to efficiently pack and send your Mail Drops or Bounce Boxes further down the page.  For information regarding what supplies you may want / need click HERE.

 Mail Drop / Drop Box

A Mail Drop or Drop Box is a package intended to replenish supplies that are sent from home, or by a friend, to a hiker at various points along the AT as that hiker moves along the trail. These packages are usually, but not always, sent to a Post Office near the AT for the hiker to pick up. Click HERE to view the U.S. Post Office Location Finder. Most Post Offices will hold the package for between two weeks (14 days) to a month (thirty days). Some outfitters, especially those in trail towns, will hold packages for hikers also. An alternate way to accomplish this would be to have the package(s) sent to someone such as a shuttle provider to deliver at a pre-determined time and place so the hiker does not have to lose valuable time going into town, picking up the package, then finding a way back to the trail.

There are several benefits to handling your resupply using Mail Drops. If you purchase your supplies in bulk, then divide them up, the overall cost is substantially lower than picking up things a few pieces at a time as they are needed. Also, these boxes can contain specialty items a hiker may want that may not be available in a small out-of-the-way town. A few things that may be difficult to find in small towns are organic/natural foods, favorite snacks, or personal sanitary/medical supplies.

A downside to sending Mail Drops / Drop Boxes to a Post Office or outfitter is it requires a reliable person to send the boxes when and where they need to be sent so they arrive at the proper time and location. It also requires you to arrive in the selected towns during business hours of the Post Office or outfitter. It’s possible to become stuck somewhere waiting for your box to become available to you, sometimes for two or more days. Click HERE for a list of official 2015 U.S. Postal Holidays.

We can serve as the receiver for these packages, then deliver them to you at certain way-points along the trail, or pick you up at a road crossing and take you to the Post Office or outfitter that is holding your box.

If you do not have someone reliable to send supplies to you for the duration of your hike we can act as the sender, shipping the supplies you request to the locations desired on the date(s) you specify. Use the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page to request full information about this service.

 Trail Resupply

Some hikers prefer to go into a nearby town to pick up the supplies they need instead of using Drop Boxes.

Some benefits of Trail Resupply are increased flexibility during your hike, never having to plan hitting a town by a certain day and/or time to pick up a drop box, and you would have a better idea of what you need, when you need it, in real-time.

One downside to this is you may find yourself in an area where the supplies needed are not available, or you may arrive on a weekend or holiday when most stores are closed. Another possible downside is the supplies you need are only available at a greatly inflated price as opposed to buying in bulk. Another thing to keep in mind is the amount of time that will be required to get to, and back from, town.

An alternate way of doing trail resupply is to have someone pick up the desired supplies for you, then deliver them to you at a road crossing.

We can provide both transportation to/from town for resupply OR we can pick up the supplies you need at our local outfitter or discount store, then deliver them to you at cost plus the delivery fee.

Bounce Box

A “bounce box”, sometimes called a “bump box”, is a box prepared by a hiker after they have started hiking. The box is sent to themself at a location they expect to pass a week or more later. A bounce box usually gets mailed from point-to-point as a hiker works their way along the trail. Bounce boxes typically contains items not currently needed but may be needed on a future date. Some examples would be excess food, extra clothing / alternate clothing such as a jacket or long-johns (perhaps even shorts and light-weight shirts/blouses), maps, etc. that aren’t needed now but will be later on. Other items may include pages from a trail guidebook or reading materials.

The benefits of using a bounce box is it allows a hiker to trade out equipment, food, maps, etc. without having to have a permanent person to support them. It can also provide a hiker with clean clothes, toiletries, etc. for town while they are doing laundry or where laundry services are not available. Occasionally a hiker will use a bounce box to forward supplies to themself from a town with excellent resupply sources to a town with either marginal or no resupply sources.

Downsides to bounce boxes are the boxes may be temporarily misdirected so the hiker would have to wait to get needed supplies, and it requires the hiker to time their arrival, as well as their departure, around whatever hours the local Post Office may have. Unfortunately Post Office hours are not consistent from one area to another so before you send your bounce box ahead verify the days and times the receiving Post Office operates.

How To Label Drop or Bounce Boxes

Packages, such as drop or bounce boxes, sent to a hiker on the Trail that are mailed to a local Post Office (as opposed to an Outfitter or other person) should be sent in care of General Delivery using the format described below. All US Post Offices will hold properly addressed packages for at least two weeks, some for up to a month. Hikers utilizing these services should check with each Post Office they intend to send a package to in order to determine what the policies are for each location. Packages can only be claimed with a valid government issued picture ID such as a driver’s license, pilot license, state ID, or passport. A college ID (even if it is a state college/university), work ID, or other such ID will not be accepted as proof of your identity when attempting to claim General Delivery mail.

Before Sealing Each Package place a duplicate shipping label inside the box immediately under the lid. The Post Office or other carrier can use this to get the package to its intended destination should something happen to the shipping label. A good practice, even when using self-adhesive shipping labels, is to tape the label down using clear packaging tape, taking care to cover the entire label. This prevents moisture or the abrasive action of other parcels from obscuring the information on the label. If you write the shipping information directly on the box, then cover this completely with clear shipping tape.

To make sure your package arrives at the intended destination, and can be picked up by only you, address labels should include:

  • a valid return address
  • the hiker’s proper full name (NOT a trail name) or the hiker’s name as it appears on their driver’s license or government issued ID
  • instructions designating the package is being sent to General Delivery
  • the receiving Post Office’s City, State, and Zip Code (Followed by – 9999 as the add-on code as shown below)
  • a request to Hold for an Appalachian Trail Hiker
  • the estimated arrival date that includes the month, day, AND year

Most hikers send these packages by 1st Class or Priority mail. Priority Mail is more expensive, but it is also the most reliable choice. An added benefit of Priority Mail is it allows hikers to send packages further along without incurring a second mailing expense. Check with your local Post Office regarding how to accomplish this.

Because Post Office regulations allow packages to be returned after two weeks of non-collection after receipt, NOT the expected collection date on the package, hikers should make sure packages are not sent too early. Several Post Offices are quite strict with this policy for some reason so as stated above we strongly recommend verifying this policy with each Post Office you intend to send a package to so you do not find yourself without much-needed supplies. Most Post Offices that see a lot of these packages during the hiking season, such as the ones at Fontana and Hot Springs, NC and Damascus, VA, are not so quick to return packages and will hold them for a full month (30 days) after receipt, however we still recommend verifying the return policy with each and every Post Office to be used.

How To Pack Mail Drop / Bounce Boxes

Post Office regulations allow resupply boxes to include clothing, dry goods like powdered milk, freeze-dried meals, shelf-stable food such as raisins, non-aromatic cheese, nuts, etc., even small batteries. Regulations do NOT allow anything considered flammable like denatured alcohol, Coleman® fuel, HEET®, etc. to be sent through the mail. They also do not allow “wet cell” batteries, and in some cases Lithium batteries. Check with your local Post Office for more detailed information about what is prohibited and how some of these “prohibited” items can be sent with additional labeling and/or in small quantities. Most Post Offices have a poster in the lobby explaining what can and can not be sent through U.S. Mail. You might consider using UPS® or FedEx® for sending packages to an outfitter or individual, however both also have similar, but not quite so stringent, regulations. Again, check with your preferred shipper for detailed information regarding this.

Post Office regulations allow resupply boxes to include clothing, dry goods like powdered milk, freeze-dried meals, shelf-stable food such as raisins, non-aromatic cheese, nuts, etc., even small batteries. Regulations do NOT allow anything considered flammable like denatured alcohol, Coleman® fuel, HEET®, etc. to be sent through the mail. They also do not allow “wet cell” batteries, and in some cases Lithium batteries. Check with your local Post Office for more detailed information about what is prohibited and how some of these “prohibited” items can be sent with additional labeling and/or in small quantities. Most Post Offices have a poster in the lobby explaining what can and can not be sent through U.S. Mail. You might consider using UPS® or FedEx® for sending packages to an outfitter or individual, however both also have similar, but not quite so stringent, regulations. Again, check with your preferred shipper for detailed information regarding this.

Now that we’ve briefly discussed how to label your packages, as well as what can and can not be sent by U.S. Mail, let’s discuss the “how to” about packing the desired supplies for shipment. There is not just one right way, however the information posted below is more expedient and helpful to a hiker than going at it in a random manner. A resupply package does not do much good if things do not arrive in good shape or food has become stale or gets contaminated by something else in the box. The following information is based upon personal experience and conversations with other hikers. Ultimately you will have to find what works best for you, but the following information is a good place to start.

If you would like a copy of this information, but have difficulty printing it out, click on the “Contact Us” link and ask us to email a Word Pad (.rtf) version to you at no cost.

  • Make a list of everything you feel you will need for your hike, including both what will be initially placed into your backpack and what will be sent to you in a Drop Box. For a list of suggestions regarding what you might need/want click HERE.
  • Divide your personal version of the list into “goes into my backpack”, “every box sent”, “every other/every third box sent”, and “when I request it” lists. Obviously the “when I request it” list is only helpful if you have someone reliable helping out with your Mail Drop boxes. Enlisting someone reliable to help with this is pretty much a necessity, especially for thru-hikers. Food becomes stale after a few months (sometimes a few weeks depending upon the product), scented items will eventually transfer their aromas to other things they are packed with even if double or triple bagged, not to mention what we discussed above about how long Post Offices will hold General Delivery packages. Some of you will be asking, “Why can’t I just leave things in their original packaging?” The answer is – some things you can, but for the most part the original packaging adds a lot of bulk you do not want, and often times original packaging is heavier than pressure-sealed or “vacuum seal” bags. We’ll discuss repackaging supplies in more detail below. Using either of these types of bags also reduces waste that you will have to find a way of disposing of in town or along the trail. Remember, “leave no trace” is how a responsible hiker conducts themself on the trail or in town.
  • Give a “master list” of all equipment and supplies to whoever will be sending your Drop Box(s) and put a copy of each list in its respective box(s) to help double-check what should be in there before sending, and as a check-list when received. I also keep a list of what should be in my backpack as a quick reference when it comes to re-supplying it and to see if a little-used item was/should have been packed.
  • Divide food, powders, and liquids into single-use sizes and seal in appropriately sized double-seal bags. Commercial freeze-dried foods already come this way so no repacking is necessary for these. Dividing items into smaller sizes will make packing easier and are more convenient on the trail. As stated above, freezer bags work best. They are heavier duty and protect flavors better than storage bags. Tip: If you purchase the “multi-user” size(s) of freeze-dried food, and know you will not eat the entire contents at one sitting, include an extra seal-top bag with each package so the contents can be divided up before preparing. Purchasing these larger sizes can also save you money because a “2 user” size, divided up into 2 uses, is cheaper than buying 2 separate packages of the same item. It also saves space in your backpack since a slightly larger size is smaller than 2 separately packed items.
  • If you decide to combine several smaller bags into a larger bag make sure you bag food separate from toiletries and anything else that may have a strong scent such as soap and shampoo. Also keep like (similar) items together. In other words, put snacks in one bag, cereals/breakfast items in another, etc. Do Not put liquids or creams in the same bag with dry goods.
    Double, or triple, bag anything with a strong scent (aromatics). Just about anything of this type will transfer the smell if left in a box for several weeks so wait as long as possible before packing these items. If you have one available, a vacuum sealer that utilizes heavy-duty bags would be a good alternative to other types of sealable bags, however you will still need to double or triple bag strong scented items. We will discuss vacuum sealers below.
  • Double, or triple, bag anything with a strong scent (aromatics). Just about anything of this type will transfer the smell if left in a box for several weeks so wait as long as possible before packing these items. If you have one available, a vacuum sealer that utilizes heavy-duty bags would be a good alternative to other types of sealable bags, however you will still need to double or triple bag strong scented items. We will discuss vacuum sealers below.
  • Double or triple bag all liquids and/or creams. Do Not Pack/Send Carbonated Beverages!
  • If you dehydrate your own foods store them inside a freezer if possible, then allow them to come to room temperature before boxing them up for shipment. Even though dehydrated foods have a long shelf life, storing them in the freezer for as long as possible before packing will extend their shelf life.
  • Label any item(s) that might be hard to identify or distinguish from another.
  • If you will be packing cookies or other items that crumble easily nestle their bags inside clothing or place between “soft” bags of other items. This will often times keep breaking and crumbling to a minimum.
  • When you are ready to get everything together to pack into their respective boxes, organize the work area so it will be easy to find the packaging supplies you need. Make sure you have a sturdy pair of scissors, an ample supply of boxes, sealing tape, and labels. Group like items to be packed together. Don’t just pile everything up. You will end up spending more time digging through everything trying to find what you are looking for than you would if you were to start out with everything separated into groups. Sorting things out beforehand will also lessen the chance of you overlooking something, then finding it after the box it should have gone in has been sealed.
  • Pack each box with the heaviest items on the bottom and the lightest on top. If packing clothing with other supplies, place those articles in the box last. This will make the box more stable as it is processed through whatever shipping system you have chosen and will help prevent the more fragile items in the box from being crushed.
  • If possible, keep each package under 10 pounds. Keep in mind if you send yourself “X” number of pounds of supplies and/or equipment you will have to carry that many pounds in addition to whatever remains in your backpack. Of course boots or shoes would be an exception to this rule since you would most likely either discard the footwear you have on and wear the new ones or send the old ones home.
  • Package several weeks, or months (if non-perishable), of supplies at the same time so the boxes will be ready to send. Put any aromatics, including soap, into the box at the last possible minute to lessen the amount of time other items have to absorb the scent, or leave the boxes unsealed and instruct whoever is sending your drop boxes to add these items just before sealing and delivering to the carrier.
  • As each box is packed place super-sticky or full-adhesive removable labels on the top to remind you where and when that box needs to be sent, and if it needs to be sent at the same time as another box. You might also include a summary of what the box contains. By utilizing these temporary labels you can continue getting everything packed, then come back and apply the permanent shipping labels later.
  • Before Sealing Each Box place a duplicate shipping label inside the box immediately under the lid. The Post Office or other carrier can use this to get the package to its intended destination should something happen to the shipping label. This was mentioned before but needs repeating. It could make the difference in receiving the needed supplies or the package being sent to the “dead letter” office.
  • Write your (the hiker’s) last name on every side of the box, EXCEPT the side with the shipping label, using large block letters so it is easily read.
  • Although I have never used these, I’ve been told adding other (decorative) stickers to the box(es) can help a hiker identify their box if there is some confusion at the Post Office or outfitter. While rare, shipping labels have been known to “disappear” from Mail Drop boxes after they reach their destination.

Vacuum Sealers vs. Zip-Top Bags

I am a big fan of zip-top bags (again not Zipper-top but the press-together type), especially the double-seal ones, however vacuum sealed bags have their advantages when it comes to long-term storage. With a vacuum sealed bag you can get virtually all of the air out, and keep it out, thus allowing the food stored inside to last longer. Traditional zip-top bags seal pretty good but are not as airtight long-term like they are depicted in commercials. If you do not believe this get a towel or a piece of clothing, fold it up so it will fit into a quart or gallon size zip-top bag, seal the top of the bag most of the way shut, press all of the remaining air out of the bag by rolling it up, then finish sealing it. In a few days you will find the contents are no longer tightly compressed like they were when you left them, and when you press on the bag you will notice a significant amount of air has crept into the bag. That is not so bad with clothing and such, but will ruin food and drink products stored long-term. Vacuum sealed bags do not have this problem because the tops are fused shut. The disadvantage is vacuum sealed bags are not resealable after opening. If you only need part of what is in a traditional zip-top bag all you have to do is press it closed again.

Another advantage of vacuum sealed bags is they allow you to seal smaller quantities of food in a greatly reduced space. If you want to have food items divided up into snack sizes the vacuum sealed bags will shrink down to just the size of the portion without a lot of extra plastic to deal with on the trail.

Vacuum sealed bags will also allow many food items to be stored without refrigeration for eight or more weeks. Some of these items are cooking oils such as Olive Oil, hard cheeses like Parmesan or Sharp or Super Sharp Cheddar cheese, dried fruits and vegetables, even dried or smoked meats. Softer cheeses and other perishable foods do not fare so well even though they will last longer in a non-refrigerated vacuum sealed bag than in a traditional zip-top bag under the same conditions.

Vacuum sealed bags are also good for single-use packages of soap, lotions, and shampoo because of their compactness and the fact they seal completely thus eliminating any leaks under normal circumstances.

Regardless of the type(s) of bags used I still recommend double, or triple bagging certain items as discussed above. You should not need to double or triple the number of vacuum sealed bags, just do the initial vacuum sealing, then place that bag inside one or two freezer-rated zip-top bags. This provides extra protection against accidental punctures and added layers of security in case the fused seal should somehow fail.

What brand or size of vacuum sealer should you purchase? That depends upon your personal preferences, however I recommend using one that uses at least freezer quality bags. Light weight bags will not be as durable as you need. Make some phone calls to determine what is available in your area, Google® it, or go to such sites as Amazon® or “Ebay®” .

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