How Our PCT Food Resupply Strategy Actually Panned Out

It’s crazy  to think that 10 months ago I was writing out our Food Resupply Strategy for our Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. For those of you planning a thru-hike of your own, I wanted to write a little article about how our food strategy actually played out on the trail. You can check out the original article here. (For the record, we completed 2400 out of 2650 miles and will be finishing up the section we missed later this year.)

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Mail Drops

Over 5 months and 2400 miles on the PCT, we stopped to resupply for food 20 times averaging 120 miles between resupplies. Of those 20 times, 10 times were from boxes we made before hitting the trail.

Our pre-trail plan included 12 boxes tentatively to be shipped to the following locations:

  • Warner Springs (Desert)*
  • Kennedy Meadows (Sierra)
  • Vermilion Valley Resort (Sierra)
  • Sierra City (NorCal)*
  • Belden (NorCal)
  • Crater Lake (Oregon)*
  • Shelter Cove (Oregon)
  • Trout Lake (Washington)
  • White Pass (Washington)*
  • Snoqualmie Pass (Washington)
  • Stevens Pass/Skykomish (Washington)*
  • Stehekin (Washington)*

In the end, only 10 boxes got sent out and only 6 (with an asterisk) of the locations listed above were used for mail drops.

From my experience on the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, I have learned that mail drops seem like a good idea, but in reality, they often are more trouble than they are worth. For example, there is nothing more annoying than realizing you will be arriving in town early Saturday evening meaning you will have to wait until Monday morning to get your box from the post office. Even worse if it’s a long holiday weekend. Also, if you are planning on buying in bulk for your boxes, you will most definitely be tired of the food you packed by box 3. Sure, buying ahead of time helps put some trail expense behind you and saves you time at the grocery store on your precious Zero Days. But, there was never really a time that a mail drop was absolutely necessary. My suggestion? If you don’t have a specific diet and are not dehydrating your own food, make 10 or less boxes ahead of time. Leave them open and without an address that way you have total flexibility. If you don’t have anyone at home to ship them out for you, you can always mail yourself a box from a bigger town to a stop you know will just be a gas station.

My two cents on mail drops…

  1. Mail drops don’t really save that much money once you calculate shipping. (Large Flat Rate box runs $18.75 and can approx. hold food for five days for one person.)
  2. Your boxes tie you to town at specific times, so fewer boxes = more flexibility which is very helpful on trail.
  3. You will very likely over pack your boxes and ditch food (that you spent money on) into hiker boxes.
  4. There was never a place on trail that a box was totally necessary. Convenient? Sometimes. Better than gas station selection? Absolutely. But you certainly could survive without making any mail drops.
  5. If you ever receive a mail drop you don’t actually need, you can “bounce it” from the post office to another address for free as long as you don’t open it. This came in handy for us a couple times.

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What We Ate

Before stepping foot on the trail, I stressed out about what exactly I would be eating in the backcountry. I searched and searched for new ideas only to find the same old things – nuts, granola bars, candy bars, tortillas, peanut butter, poptarts, pasta sides, ramen, instant mashed potatoes, etc.

And guess what?

That’s what I ate on trail for about 5 months. So much bleached flour and sugar/ high fructose corn syrup. Blech. I will say, my on trail diet is one of my least favorite things about long distance hiking. The only perk is that you can eat as much as you want whenever you want without much consequence. Like, you know, a half gallon of ice cream when you get to town…

Here’s what we typically ate on trail:

  • Bars – Clif / Various Granola Bars20150820_150634
  • Candy
  • PopTarts
  • Jerky / Meat Sticks / Summer Sausage
  • Tuna Packets
  • Spam Classic Singles (packet)
  • Ranch Corn Nuts
  • Cheeze Its
  • Nuts / Trail Mix
  • Cracker Sandwiches with Cheese or Peanut Butter
  • Ritz Crackers
  • Bagels with Cream Cheese
  • Packaged Cookies / Oreos
  • Peanut Butter / Nutella
  • Tortillas
  • Block of Cheese
  • Avocados (occasionally)
  • Pasta or Rice Sides / Ramen Noodles / Mac n Cheese
  • Chicken Packets / Spam Singles Packets / Tuna Packets  / Bacon Bits Packets

So, what should you eat?

Whatever you damn please!

We were looking for the lightest weight, least bulky, and most calorically dense foods on the market which translates into a a diet of high amounts of calories yet low amounts of nutrition. Also, affordability is key for us. Sure, I’d love Mountain House meals every day, but at $9+ for maybe 700 calories, I’ll stick to Pasta Sides. It is absolutely possible to eat way healthier than I chose to, but it will likely cost you financially and in weight on your back. So, of course, food is up to you! But unless you are making your own dehydrated food, there’s no need to waste hours searching across the internet for “backpacking food ideas” like I did. Some of your stops will be a gas station or a very small grocery store. You’re very likely going to eat a lot of the items I listed above.

Going Stoveless

We did the entire desert section (700 miles) of the PCT without a stove or pot to cook in.

Here’s what we liked about it:

  1. Dinner was so quick! Roll up a wrap, scarf it down, put stuff away. Easily saves you over 30 minutes vs. cooking (which just means you get to eat 30 minutes sooner 😀 )
  2. Save the weight of the cookset, stove, and fuel = about 1 lb
  3. Save the weight of the water. If you are in an area like the desert, you may not be camping near a water source and will have to carry extra water (around 1 L / person) to cook and clean with. Is mac and cheese worth hauling the extra 2.2 lbs for?

I will say, when we got our stove back, we were glad to have it and did use it most every day. I will go stoveless in the future when backpacking where water is scarce. If water is not an issue, I will likely carry the stove. Going stoveless is very doable, saves you weight, and makes a lot of sense in the desert.

20160518_205218
No Stove needed!

Check Hiker Boxes!!

Lots of people overpack their mail drops and food sacks and ditch their unwanted items in hiker boxes. If you’re in town, check the hostel / hotel / gas station for a hiker box for some free food! A lot of the time it’s oatmeal, unlabeled dehydrated ???, gallon size bags of nuts people didn’t want to carry, etc, but I’ve also scored tuna packets, full peanut butter jars, and Mountain House Meals. Check the boxes before you hit the grocery store. Thank the suckers that overpacked their mail drops 😉 (Note – hiker boxes aren’t just for food. I’ve seen every imaginable piece of gear, toiletries, shoes, etc.)

20150908_111403
Pretty sure part of this overpacked mail drop ended up in a hiker box…

Just Remember –

If you’re not on a limited diet, plan and stress less. You don’t need a mail drop for every (or even many) stops along the way. You do not need to pre-plan every meal or know every town stop you will make before you leave home. Assuming you have a guide, you will know how many miles between resupply points ,and you’ll continuously get better at estimating how much food to bring. Once in the backcountry, the trail life will become so routine you’ll wonder why you ever worried about resupply.

pct-food
Budget properly for town food. How could you say no to this after a week of hiking?? (Pictured above: Moments of Pure Bliss )

 

 

 

3 Comments on “How Our PCT Food Resupply Strategy Actually Panned Out

  1. Pingback: Food Resupply Strategy for Our PCT Thru-Hike | Loki Travels

  2. Great post. Coming from the UK I mainly bought all my food along the way, using a bounce box to send ahead as much food as I could from larger, cheaper towns like San Diego at the start, Burney and Ashland. Ultimately this didn’t really save me that much money and it made every town stop a huge stress to buy supplies and mail them when I would have preferred to just chill out and eat as much as possible.

    I was even naive enough to plan an entire resupply strategy with exact dates of when I thought I would be arriving in each town. Guess how long that lasted for… http://www.charlie-knight.com/pacific-crest-trail-resupply-strategy/

    • Ha! Thanks for sharing!! I remember spending way to much time and energy stressing about food when it turned out to be no big deal. Hope you enjoyed your hike!!

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