Getting Supplies on the PCT

On this page, I hope to answer some common questions about how I got food and other supplies during the summer. Please email me at if you want to know more.

The Basics

In the fewest possible words, I bought food as I went, stopping in various towns along the way. There were a few places where I knew that I couldn't get food and so I sent myself a box, through the postal service, that had the supplies I needed. For items that I would use frequently, but not be able to get on the trail, I used a bounce box. The following sections flesh out this very brief description.

Using the Postal Service

Hikers will get to know the USPS very well during their hike. You can send yourself a package to any post office in America using the General Delivery address. You address you package as

Your name
c/o General Delivery
Town, State, Zip
Please Hold for Hiker. ETA: Your expected date

Any PO along a major trail will recognize this and set your package aside for you. When you show up, you flash an ID and get your package. For POs away from a major trail, say if you were going to hike the Pacific Northwest trail, you would probably want to call the Postmaster to make sure they will accept the package. Most POs will hold General Delivery packages for at least 2 weeks, usually more. Don't send them a package 2 months in advance. Besides being rude, it will probably be returned before then.

If you are sending your package from far away (like Indiana to California), the cost difference between Priority Mail and Parcel Post is minimal (usually a few cents), so send Priority. If you are sending to and from the same state, Parcel Post will be a lot cheaper and the delivery time difference is usually minimal.

The Bounce Box

A bounce, or drift, box is simply a package that you mail to yourself repeatedly. That is, you keep bouncing it to yourself. For example, I sent my bounce box to: Warner Springs, Big Bear City, Mojave, Tuolumne Meadows, Sierra City, Dunsmuir, Ashland, Cascade Locks, and Skykomish. What you put into your bounce box is up to you. I put all my guidebook and data book sections in it, batteries for my camera and LED lights, film, toilet paper, vitamins, ibuprofen, extra tarp stakes, toothpaste, gelled alcohol, etc. If I would have thought of it, I would have put a bunch of mailing labels in as well. Basically, anything that you think you may need to restock along the way and don't think you can easily get. I generally mailed by bounce box 10 days in front of.

What to use for a bounce box is very simple, but few people use it: A 5 gallon, plastic paint bucket. Why?

Most people use cardboard boxes, which have zero durability and frequently die during shipping, causing lost or broken contents. Plus, you have the hassle of taping up and repairing the box after the third shipment. When you box ends up at the bottom of a stack, you have crushed stuff. A five gallon paint bucket with lid will set you back about $3.50 at any hardware store.

Buying as you go

There are several articles on the web which detail why this is a good idea; take a look for them. Buying as you go allows you maximum flexibility. You do not have to prepackage food boxes before you leave town. This can be a monumental undertaking for some and not something that is very much fun when you are also trying to put your life in order before leaving for the trail for several months. You do not need to have someone at home mailing them out. Since it is hard to know your pace before hand, you'll have to be in contact with your at-home-person to adjust mailing times. You are not constrained to certain places and certain times. If you hear about some other great place, you can go there instead. If you are moving faster than expected, you do not have to ditch the extra food in your mail drops. If you are moving slower than expected, you'll have to buy more food in the towns. Moreover, the chances of you knowing what you will want to eat when you reach Sierra City are pretty minimal. Maybe you want some oatmeal, maybe you don't. Maybe you are really hankering for some Potatoes and Stuffing. Snickers Bars rather than Power Bars. By buying as you go, you allow yourself some measure of choice. By sending mail drops you are trying to make all of your choices at the same instant. It just isn't a good idea. Hiking is about freedom. Why constrain yourself?

Many people use mail drops so that their food source is locked in. They have visions of showing up to a town to buy food and finding only a loaf of white break and jar of jam. This just doesn't happen. Towns generally don't run out of food. Even if a town gets cleared out of food by hikers in front of you, there are always hiker boxes and you can usually hitch to the next town with relative ease.

Some people believe that it will be cheaper to use mail drops, since they can buy food in bulk beforehand at a cheaper price. This might make sense if the postal system were free. Unfortunately it is not. I mailed myself one package of food for 3 days from Indiana to California. It cost $22 in postage. You'll have to come up with a lot of free food to make mail drops cost effective.

The only good reasons for using mail drops as your primary resupply method is if you have a restrictive diet or are dedicated to making and drying your own food. By restrictive, I do not mean vegetarian. It is pretty easy to stay vegetarian and buy as you go. I mean something like you are following a macrobiotic diet. Or, a diet without any preservatives. Or, a diet that excludes hydrogenated oils. If you make and dry all your own food, it will still be more expensive than buying as you go, but you will get a lot of high quality food, which is worth paying for. Of course, drying 100 or more dinners, let alone breakfasts and lunches takes awhile to do. I dried up about 20 dinners and sent a few to various points along the start of the trail through my bounce box.

The Towns

The mileage in what follows is taken from Craig's PCT planner, which probably is taken from the Data Book. Remember that times change, stores go out of business, new stores open up, etc. I was in the back of the main hiking pack up to Kennedy Meadows, just in front up to Belden, and then way out in front to the border, with only two hikers in front of me. Places which had tons of food when I was there might be empty if a bunch of hikers have gotten to it before you. There are other resupply points; these are just the ones that I happened to use. South of the Sierra I was moving a little faster than an average hiker. Past the Sierra, I was moving quite a bit faster: 30-35 miles a day, with some days in the upper 30s. This meant that a 100 mile resupply run was relatively easy: 3 days and possibly a morning. To each town I assign two letter grades. The first is based on my own opinion of how good a place it is to resupply. The second utilizes Will Tarantino and my rubric for grading resupply points: The quality of a resupply point is based on the quantity and selection of Mrs. Fields cookies.