Resupply and logistics

5 months of hiking means lots of food and consumables that have to be supplied and gear that may have to be replaced (worn out shoes etc.). To resupply or not to resupply, that isn’t really the question. The question is how to resupply. From what I’ve been able to find there are two general strategies to deal with this, resupply by mail and buy as you go.
Resupply by mail means to buy, prepackage and prepare everything in advance, then have someone back home ship one and one parcel by mail to post offices along the way according to a certain timetable or request. The good thing about this solution is that you always know what you’re getting, and you can pick the food that you like and the gear that you want. The disadvantages is that it is a lot of work, for yourself to do the planning and for the kind people back home who will be running to the post office every week or two. Another point is that it can be very difficult to predict what kind of food you like after a couple of months on the trail. I’ve read many accounts of hikers who started out with mail-in resupplies, but got so tired of the food that they had believed that they would like and ended up calling home telling them to stop sending any more boxes. If you base your hike on mail-in resupplies you should be able to buy food and gear at a lower price than if you buy it along the trail. Postage isn’t free though, so I’m not convinced that there is any money to be saved using this strategy. Keep in mind also that some items can not be shipped by mail, e.g. gas canisters.
The other strategy, and the one I will follow, is to buy as you go. Every few days the trail leads you by a small town or resort where you can buy food and consumables. Instead of picking up a package at the post office you resupply at the local store. Simple as that. Keep in mind though that some of the stores may have a (very) limited selection in what they carry of hiker stuff. I’m not too picky in my diet, so I don’t think this will be a huge problem except maybe for the first few hundred miles, when hundreds of hikers herd through at the same time and the stores may not be able to restock. I will circumvent this uncertainty by mailing myself resupply packages for the second and third week on the trail (Warner Springs and Big Bear City). This will be the last thing I do before I head for the trailhead at Campo. The US Post Offices will hold packages for up to 30 days (general delivery), before returning them to whatever return address you put on it. This shouldn’t be a problem if I manage to move at 32 km (20 miles) a day. I just hope that I won’t arrive at either one place when the post office is closed. From Big Bear City and onwards I will base my resupply on buy-as-you-go. When it comes to gear replacements I am planning to order online and have it shipped to post offices with hold for pickup. REI amongst others offer this possibility.
Some other options for resupplying are to put out caches along the trail or to have someone bring you resupplies in person, but I don’t think either one is a good alternative for a thru-hike. Many hikers seem to be complementing their resupply strategy by using bounce boxes though. A bounce box is a parcel that you forward to yourself by sending it to a post office along the trail, picking it up and resending it to the next one. Bounce boxes are really not used for resupply though, but rather for holding gear that you don’t want to carry in you backpack.
This spreadsheet shows the distances between the resupply points I am planning to use. It also shows the days between them, as well as estimated time of arrival if hiking 32 km (20 miles) a day. I would like to emphasize that this is a tentative schedule. It will be interesting to see how it plays out 🙂

Leave a Comment