Hiker Resupply and Mail Drops

Food and Consumables Hiker Resupply

Resupply and Mail Drops

Mail drops are a common way for long distance hikers to resupply on a long hike. Thankfully, post offices here in the states and abroad will hold packages for pickup by hikers and people who are just passing through an area. Hikers often send food, batteries, cell phone and camera battery chargers, toiletries or extra clothes to a post office along their way and forward what's left in a so-called "bounce box" to another post office along their route.

General Delivery in the United States

In the US, hikers sending mail drops to post offices should label the outside of their box with the following information.

  • Your Name
  • General Delivery
  • City, State
  • Post Office Zip Code(5) "- 9999"

The 9999 at the end of the zip code tells the automated mail sorters that your package is General Delivery. Note that General Delivery works best for small towns that just have one post office. In larger towns and cities, packages may be forwarded to a larger post office for holding and pickup. When in doubt, call ahead and ask what the local practice is.

In addition, make sure you check with US postal regulations regarding the sending of hazardous materials such a stove fuel. If you intend on sending a bounce box on ahead, make sure you have tape, labels, and a pen in your box that you can use. In addition, US post offices are only required to hold packages for up to 30 days, so time them carefully, probably with the help of a confederate, especially if you plan on hiking for more than a month. Also, make sure you put a return address on your boxes. If you decide to not pick it up or it goes astray and you can't find it in a big city, the postal service will send it back to you.

Proper identification will be required to pick up your box so make sure to bring a drivers license or passport.

Post Restante in the United Kingdom

Like the US, the postal service (Royal Mail) in the United Kingdom will also hold packages for transitory visitors. To take advantage of this service, hikers should label their boxes like this:

  • <YOUR FULL NAME> (should be identical to the identification you will use)
  • POST RESTANTE
  • Kingussie Post Office (Change to location)
  • 28 High Street (Change to location)
  • Kingussie (Change to location)
  • Inverness-Shire (Change to larger encompassing area)
  • PH21 1‎HR (Change to location)

Like the US, Post Restante will work best in small towns with one post office that do not forward packages to larger, more centralized offices. Be forewarned that many post offices in Scotland and throughout the UK are located inside of shops and may have variable hours during the week. I'm told for example, that the one in Kingussie above, closes early on Wednesdays at 1pm.

UK post offices will hold Post Restante packages sent from within the UK for two weeks and those sent from international addresses for four weeks, so timing your packages is important. Make sure to include a return address, as the post office will return packages that are not picked up.

Also note, that unlike the US, you cannot send flammable materials such as cooking gas or denatured alcohol in the mail.

TGO Challenge Mail Drop

On my upcoming coast-to-coast hike across Scotland, I am going to send a box of supplies to the post office in Kingussie, the half-way point of my hike, where I plan on taking a zero day.

Here's an incomplete list of the contents of the box I'll be sending to give you a feel for what goes into a resupply box.

  1. Camera battery recharger
  2. Phone battery recharger
  3. 6 days toilet paper (the kind I like!)
  4. Change of underclothes
  5. 5 days of pre-packaged food
  6. Lithium batteries
  7. Extra first aid for feet
  8. Chlorine dioxide tablets
  9. Tape, Labels, Sharpie Pen

What's your experience been with General Delivery or Post Restante here in the US, and abroad?

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12 Responses to Hiker Resupply and Mail Drops

  1. kathryn April 20, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    I didn't start my AT thru-hike with a bounce box, but it was an absolute godsend when I cleaned out some of the crap I was carrying. It is great to have access to some things in town and not have to carry them on the trail. Timing is important though. A few times I was able to hike faster then the post could deliver!

  2. eddie s April 20, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Ok the question is, are you going to have to put the 5 gallon bucket in another box to mail it or is that just for the Photo? Your Camera and Cellphone rechargers do you have an Electrical Adpation unit to fit Scottish plugs and power differences? Are you going to rely on local sources of Clothes washing powder/liquid?

    On my PCT hike I never had any trouble with my resupply box, I used a Bear Cannister inside a heavy duty waxed meat box from a butcher, cost extra but was worth it, other than that I had to make sure I understood the hours of some of the back Country P.O.'s and now some won't be open even on Saturday. So now I make sure my resupply point has a Hotel or Motel so if I have to wait a couple of days it will be in a nice warm Tub of soapy water which I can afford now, but not then,…Do you have a list of Scottish Inn's or B&B's? or are my questions being redundant for you..

  3. Earlylite April 20, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    The 5 gallon bucket is getting packed with food to keep the scottish mice out of it. Yep – power adapters in the box too. Washing soap – yes, but I'm thinking about just packing an extra set of base layers and sending the dirties home. I will be doing a lot of fords and should stay pretty clean in a relative way.

    I'm sending the box to the post office to savor the experience. Seriously. I'll be taking a zero in the town, but haven't booked an inn in case I decide I'd rather skip the zero and climb an extra mountain or two. Happy to just wing it. Magical things happen when you don't have a plan.

  4. Ken knight April 20, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    I've not used mail drops recently but I have used them in the past when hiking longer stretches of the AT. I've found that they work well.

    I could see using a mail drop for the TGO if I felt confident I could get things all sorted while in th e UK but it won't be happening this year.

  5. James April 22, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Great article. My friend hikes but he doesn't used this service. I wonder if he knows about it but I am going to let him know about this. I think this would be very helpful.

  6. Jugglernick April 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi Philip, I mailed you before about the gas canister – I have put a 4oz butane/propane screw fitting canister aside for you. Let me know if this is not correct, there will be gas available en route, Fort Augustus should be able to provide. I have watched your route development with interest as it closely mirrors my own, maybe we'll see you for a pint some time.

    Happy hiking,

    Nick.

  7. Earlylite April 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    Aye – I'll meet you at the Kintail Lodge bar on May 13th at 21.00.

  8. Shepherd of the Hill April 25, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    When I hiked the IAT in 2003, the Canadian post offices were no longer providing general delivery service. We had to call ahead to each post office, let them know we were coming, and confirm that they would hold our boxes.

    Question: When you use the bucket, do you also tape the lid on or just snap it on? Do you tape down the handle? I've heard of the bucket method, but haven't used it myself.

  9. Earlylite April 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    The lid just snaps on. I've never used the bucket method before…I was just going to tear off the handle, or try to anyway.

  10. Earlylite November 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    I ended up using boxes – much easier to dispose of.

  11. Seth November 12, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    - Bucket is mail-able without any secondary packaging. Put postage and address on top of the lid rather than on the side or bottom of the bucket.

    - Have a backup piece of paper inside the bucket with the to/from addresses. (If the label gets ripped off the package, the post office will open it to look for an address.)

    - Removing or taping the handle down is a nice touch.

    - Buckets can often be obtained for free from restaurants.

    - Buckets can be disposed of in a recycling bin.

    - Mailing of fuels is highly regulated and/or prohibited. If fuels are allowed, there are rules about how you package and label your mail piece, the quantity/volume allowed, what else can be packed in the mail piece with the hazardous material, etc. For US Mail, start with publication 52 http://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/welcome.htm. This publication also provides guidance for perishables, foodstuffs, and other items we may pack. Private couriers like FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc. have their own rules. Failure to follow the rules can lead to fines and/or imprisonment. I realize some people ignore this stuff and just toss in a couple propane/butane canisters, a bottle of alcohol or white gas, and drop their box in the mail. I strongly advise against that. For the safety of the postal workers and to protect yourself from fines or jail time, take the time to learn the HazMat shipping rules that apply to you and follow them.

  12. ray bruce June 24, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    planning on hiking between Rutland and Canadian border, N to S, in Aug 2013. wondering if that section is ok after Hurricane Irena 2 yrs ago. also have guides and map from 2 yrs ago r they still accurate. welcome suggestions on shuttle from Rutland to northern end and mail drops. thanks

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