Hiker Resupply and Mail Drops in the US and UK

Mail Drop
Mail Drop

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)
  • Kingussie Post Office (Change to location)
  • 28 High Street (Change to location)
  • Kingussie (Change to location)
  • Inverness-Shire (Change to larger encompassing area)
  • PH21 1?HR (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.

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

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  1. 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. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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,


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

  6. 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.

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

  8. – 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.

  9. 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

  10. I’m planning to do tthe northern half of the LT later this summer after I finish teaching at a camp up near Middlebury, and was thinking of hand-delivering my dropbox at the Johnson, VT post office before I begin my hike. Do you know if I’m allowed to store fuel in the box if it’s not actively being mailed?

  11. Resupply is key if you want a successful long distance hike. A great team is nice to have as well!

  12. I really like the idea of using a bucket; I will have to give it try if I ever get around to longer hikes.

  13. The USPS has been great for bouncing my boxes the 4 other times I’ve hiked the AT. This year Purcellville, VA USPS was a horrible scene. DON’T go there! They refused to bounce the box and call the cops. The cops were very sympathetic and apologized for her ignorance but ateer clear of there!

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