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.
- Camera battery recharger
- Phone battery recharger
- 6 days toilet paper (the kind I like!)
- Change of underclothes
- 5 days of pre-packaged food
- Lithium batteries
- Extra first aid for feet
- Chlorine dioxide tablets
- 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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