When reading the guidebooks for resupply strategies, you’re given all the information you need to decide WHERE and HOW to resupply, but not necessarily WHAT and HOW MUCH to resupply. Brenda Braaten published a great article called Pack Light, Eat Right explaining how proteins, carbs, and fats all contribute to thru-hiker nutrition. Essentially, you’re going to need a lot of all three to sustain energy, weight and muscle mass, and nutrients. Packing a variety in meals and snacks are crucial to maintaining interest in your food, so don’t plan on eating beans and rice for every single meal!
Deciding on whether to buy food in a resupply town or ship yourself a box is a personal decision. Guidebooks usually give pretty good descriptions on what kinds of food you can count on buying in a town, i.e. whether the town has a full grocery store or just a convenience store. I like to count on having a variety of healthy foods that I know I’ll enjoy, so I always ship myself a box. Since it is fun to buy junk food and specialty items in town, I allow a bit of room in each resupply for spontaneous purchases.
Laying down the cash to buy 3-5 months worth of food all at once before a thru-hike can be painful, but if you look for sales and buy in bulk you’ll save yourself hundreds of dollars. I personally use Amazon Prime because it gives me free 2-day shipping and great prices on bulk and non-bulk items alike. With Amazon Prime, you can also have things shipped directly to you on the trail, like new shirts or gear. To see what foods I like to pack, check out my pages on dinners, lunches and snacks, and breakfasts.
So, what goes IN the each box?
For my 2015 PCT hike from Tahoe to Canada, I’m using Craig’s PCT Planner. This online planner helps you determine how many days it will take you to hike from one resupply town to the next. You don’t need to use an online planner to figure out the time between resupplies, but it certainly makes it easier! Once you have the number of days for a section, you can add up all the meals, snacks, and miscellaneous items that meet your caloric and personal needs. Here’s how I break it down:
Meals: 3 per day. I stopped caring whether I ate breakfast foods for dinner or vice versa. Calories are calories, and a good meal is simply that, no matter what time of day it is.
Bars: 2-3 per day. Buy more in town if you need more. This include brands like Luna, Kind, Cliff, Lara, Nature Valley Fig Bars etc.
Fruit: 2 per day. Buy more in town if you need more. This include items like dried fruit and fruit leather.
Other snacks: 2-3 per day. Buy more in town if you need more. This include nuts, packed olives, peanut/almond butter and jelly packets, cereal with milk, chips, Welch’s fruit snacks, tortillas, etc.
Cookies/Candy: 1 package per day. Buy more in town if you need more. This include Oreos, Nutterbutters, peanut M&M’s, TJ’s chocolate covered sunflower seeds, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, etc.
Instant coffee & Carnations Instant Breakfast: 1 each per day.
Ramen: 1-2 per resupply box.
Instant pudding: 1 per resupply box. Separate the dry mix into three or four baggies & add Nido whole milk and nuts. On trail, add water to the baggie. See my desserts page for ideas.
Nido whole milk: 4-6 tablespoons per day (equates to 2 cups of milk). Measure out how much milk you’ll need for a section, taking into account if you’ll add it to coffee, oatmeal, cereal, hot cocoa, etc., and put it in a ziplock baggie for the box.
Olive oil: 1-2 tablespoons per day. I measure out my olive oil into a travel size bottle, pour that oil into vacuum sealable bags and stick them in the freezer. Once frozen, you can then vacuum seal the bag and throw it in your resupply box.
Fish oil pills: 2 per day.
Toothpaste: 1 travel size tube per 5 day period. This means you won’t necessarily have a tube in each resupply box.
Wysi Wipes: 6 per day. Just add water, and voila! You’ll have yourself a little wet towelette for cleaning dirty parts.
Kleenex pack &/or toilet paper: 1 package per week. I don’t use toilet paper anymore, so I don’t pack it. I use a pee rag & wysi wipes. The Kleenex is for my face.
Flossers & Q-tips: 1 flosser per day & 1 Q-tip for every other day. These little things are supper important for not being gross on the trail. How many you choose to pack will depend on how often you personally use these items at home.
Trashbag: 1 per resupply box. I use gallon size freezer ziplock bags to store by trash while I’m hiking. It’s nice to get a fresh one in your resupply box.
Maps: pack only the map pages you’ll need to reach your next resupply town. If you need to see what’s beyond that town, use your smartphone apps.
Guidebook: tear out all the pages from your guidebook(s) and pack only the pages you’ll need to reach the next town, just like the maps. Yogi’s guidebooks intentionally have perforated pages just for this reason.
Town treats: throw in anything you think you’d like to have in a particular town: maybe sample sizes of facial wash and shampoo; maybe a nice dress because you’ll be staying in town for a while visiting family; maybe a Soduku book or a magazine.
Also, you might want to take a picture with your phone of each of the resupply lists you finalize. Then, when you’re on the trail, you can look up what’s in each box before you get to town.
Be sure to look at the ingredients and calories for the foods you’re selecting. Your body will thank you for opting for healthier foods without high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. Also, check to make sure you’re hitting enough calories for an average day. If your current food selections aren’t offering enough, then either up the amount of food you’ll pack for each day or choose foods with more calories.
Putting It All Together
Designate one room in your home to being the PCT resupply center. Print out the lists for each resupply box. Lay out all your food items and put out a paper bag for each resupply. Then start throwing things from your resupply lists into each bag and check them off your list as you go. Make sure you label which bag is which. When the bags are ready for packaging, throw all the contents in the appropriate sized box for shipping.
You might want to have whoever is mailing the boxes leave them open, just in case you need them to throw something else in before they ship it (like new shoes or additional food). Or maybe you want everything sealed and ready to go because then you can pay for the postage on all the boxes before you leave for your hike. It’s a pretty fun process, so try not to panic at how heavy you think your resupply is going to be when you have to carry it out of town!