Food and Resupply
Long-distance hikers leave the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) periodically (typically every 3-5 days) to resupply in nearby towns. In remote areas, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina and the “100 Mile Wilderness” in Maine, hikers may carry food for 6-8 days or more.
Many hikers buy food and supplies in towns along the Trail or businesses near the Trail that cater to hikers. However, many towns along the A.T. are quite small and selection may be limited. Shipping packages ahead to post offices, hostels, and businesses near the Trail can ensure you have hard-to-find items when you need them. If you need to follow a special diet or want to ensure always having healthy options, sending food ahead is the best course in most towns.
Employing a combination of purchasing food along the way and utilizing maildrops in smaller towns can also be a good strategy.
General resupply considerations
- The A.T. Thru-Hikers’ Companion (available here) provides details on grocery stores, outfitters, and businesses that offer groceries and supplies as well as post offices and other business that hold packages for hikers along the A.T. (within 10-15 miles).
- Post offices are only guaranteed to be open Monday through Friday and hours may be limited. Most are also open Saturday morning. Businesses catering to hikers are often open seven days a week during hiker season.
- Resupply points are generally further apart and further off the Trail from Georgia through central Virginia and in northern New England.
How to use post offices along the A.T.
- Anyone can have a US Postal Service (USPS) package sent addressed to their full name, general delivery, city, state, zip code. Some larger post offices from which you send packages require the street address of the post office to which you’re sending the package.
- Do not send UPS, Fed Ex, DHL and other non-USPS packages to a post office along the A.T. unless you can confirm the post office will accept them. Also be aware that you will have to pay a fee to have them forwarded.
- Hostels, outfitters, or other hiker-oriented business often accept packages, sometimes for a modest fee, and may be open seven days a week.
- Provide a return address in the upper left-hand corner. Off to the side add “Hold for A.T. hiker” and your expected arrival date.
- Writing legibly is important.
- You will need a photo ID to pick up your package, so be sure the name on your package matches your ID.
- Do not use your Trail name or initials.
- Post offices are only open Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings. Hours may be quite limited and vary from one post office to another.
- Packages are generally held for 30 days, although some post offices may hold packages with tracking numbers only two weeks. If you have an estimated date of arrival on your package, some post offices may be able to hold your package longer.
- Priority Mail is recommended for mailing packages. It’s faster, more reliable than parcel post, and you can forward an unopened package at no charge. Tracking is also provided free of charge.
- Hold on to your tracking number! If your package doesn’t arrive as expected, this is the only way for a post office to locate your package.
Using a bounce box
A “bounce box” is popular with long-distance hikers. It allows you to continually send ahead items you’ll need periodically but don’t want to carry. Hikers fill them with supplies such as extra batteries, cell phone chargers, “town clothes,” and toiletries.
A bounce box also will allow you to send ahead the extra supplies when you have to buy more of something than you need. Be sure to include mailing tape and permanent markers so you have shipping supplies to send your box ahead. Priority mail is recommended; not only is it faster than parcel post, but if you decide you don’t need any items and don’t open the package, you can forward it at no charge.