When first researching thru hiking, the most common idea you will find online is that mailing re-supply boxes or doing bounce boxes is the way to go on the Appalachian Trail. I decided to do my section hike of the AT very last minute and I did not have enough time to prepare boxes and ship them off to my re-supply points. However, once I got on the AT I realized that not doing this was a great decision.
I will take you through my reasoning but before I do I should mention that my opinions are based off of a section hike in Georgia and North Carolina, and that people who have done the entire trail might have a different opinion about this. So I recommend fully researching food options and opinions before coming to a decision on what works best for you. I hope I can provide some insight as to why I think town re-supply works best.
Here are the main reasons I found that not doing mail re-supply worked the best for me:
1) Your Food tastes and cravings change as you hike: my first week of the trail I packed about 7 days worth of food (big mistake as it was so heavy and I could have easily resupplied within 3-4 days). I quickly found that the food items I picked out that I thought I would be eating for the rest of my section hike completely changed within a couple days. You will find that certain food items taste really bad or take too long to cook. You will also find that your body will crave random food items that you never expected in a million years you would want to eat. For example, I originally packed lots of ramen noodles which I thought I would eat for lunches on my trip but when I got out there I found I hated eating them because they took way too long to cook. The reality is, as you hike you will want to keep your momentum going, and stopping to boil water and cook up your noodles is a lot of effort. I found that having a quick tuna wrap or peanut butter wrap worked the best for me because it was easy, tasted great, quick, and gave me lots of energy. I also packed a lot of oatmeal which I loved but long term I realized that making it in the morning took up way too much time and I was better off eating a Cliff Bar or Breakfast Bar instead. If you make the mistake of sending boxes filled with the same type of food items for your thru-hike then you will end up wasting money as you will likely want to give them away to other thru-hikers. Or you may have to spend shipping money sending them as bounce boxes to your next location or quite possibly want to chuck them off a mountain top.
2) The amount of food you consume changes as you hike: I found that my concept of how much I would eat on the trail changed greatly from what I originally had planned out for. As I mentioned before, I packed way too much food for my first week on the trail. You have to keep in mind that your body is going to go through some pretty big changes and that you may loose your appetite or you may get insane hiker-hunger. Your body is burning thousands of calories everyday and you have to make sure you are eating enough food to maintain energy levels and put your health first on the trail. I found that on my 3 weeks on the trail, my appetite decreased. Some days it was smoking hot in the forest and I felt nauseous from hiking non-stop so eating a huge meal was impossible. I preferred lighter snacks like cliff bars, wraps, and backpacking instant meals. Resupplying in trail towns allowed me to adjust my food supply to my needs and not carry extra pack weight with me. However, I met other hikers that found their appetite greatly increased on the trail, as their bodies were searching to replace all the calories they were quickly burning. So plan for this. I’ve also met hikers who said their hunger increased the longer they were out on the trail for. The bottom line is you can’t predict how your body will react to thru-hiking so keep your options open to account for this. I found town re-supplying instead of mail supply, helped me go along with how I was feeling and my changing appetite levels.
3) Most of your re-supply towns have everything you’re looking for: I was really surprised when I starting hiking the AT at the amenities that small trail town’s along the trail had in their grocery stores. A lot of the trail towns cater to hikers and that means they have a great selection of backpacking meals, instant meals, and anything your heart desires. I had no problem finding all the food I needed in Georgia and North Carolina. However, there may be points along the trail where the re-supply sucks and it is important you research the entire trail as there may be a couple points where mail supply is needed. It is also important to note that if you have a very specific diet, are vegetarian/vegan, or have any allergies that re-supply will be harder for you in small towns, and that bounce boxes just may be the way to go for you. Overall though, grocery shopping for supplies was super easy and I actually enjoyed exploring the small trail towns and searching for goodies in grocery stores when the hiker-hunger got real.
4) You don’t have to worry about tracking down your box: I really liked not having a set location/town for re-supply as it allowed me to be flexible and stay or stop in whatever town I desired. This allowed me to spontaneously meet up with hiking friends in trail towns and allowed me to adjust my plans based off of my daily energy levels, food needs, and well-being. I never had to worry about small town post-offices or supply posts closing. Instead I just worshipped the hours of the grocery store which tend to be quite lenient.
5) You don’t have to pay expensive shipping fees: As a Canadian, shipping my re-supply boxes to the States means that I would be looking at some pricey fees for shipping. Paying the extra shipping fee wasn’t worth it for me when I can find exactly what I’m looking for in trail towns. I recommend looking into shipping and seeing whether it’s within your thru-hiking budget. If you live in Canada or abroad, it’s something you will want to really take into consideration.
In conclusion, I found that doing re-supply in trail towns instead of mail re-supply worked the best for me on my section hike on the AT. Make sure you research both options and find what works best for you. I hope this helps you in planning your adventure.