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  1. #1
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    Default Obtaining all my food from stores along the way without relying on drops

    I'm planning my first thru hike for next year and would like to simply buy food along the way and not have to hassle with drop boxes pf pre-made dehydrated meals (yuck!). Reading the forums, it seems like most thru hikers use drop boxes/dehydrated meals for a lot of their food. How feasible is it to rely on local markets etc...? Am I setting myself up for eating mostly junk food? I am willing to take on a little extra pack weight for a few fresh vegetables and other fresh food that will keep for a few days.

  2. #2

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    Can you?, Yes Should you exclusively probably not, If you havent done so go on the white blaze home page and donwload the resupply locations PDF. What is your tolerance for hitching potentially long distance? (eating up hiking days for resupply days). Resupply sources may not be high quality food like fresh vegges in some cases the their inventory is shallow so during bubble season your selections may be very limited. Yes you may be eating junkfood or low end dehydrated meals. Walk into a Dollar General and see how appetizing your options are.

    The logical approach is do mostly local resupply with a couple of drop boxes for the notorious locations along the AT with poor resupply.

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    Most thru hikers in 2013 bought as they went. However this was the days of a easy hitch into town, IDK about how Coronavirus changed that.

    I am many thru hikers got most everything from stores at resupply. It is insanely easy to do so and no reason why a hiker could not do that 100% of the way and many do. I did it perhaps 90% because I had friends wanting to send me things, which they often sent too much so I had to send ahead some of that.

    It also helps because tastes/cravings/hunger level changes, so you can buy what you want. Also you can go where you want. Have extra food, you may decide to skip a town, or for whatever reason go into a town you didn't expect. The other factor is 'tramily', your trail family that tends to form, will move around resupply points, and will be different if you maildrop vs resupply on the go. Another reason is if you don't complete the trail you don't have food boxes hanging out all over trail towns stretching for 100's of miles.
    There are a few places where one may want to send a drop, (NOC, & Fontana Village come to mind). And some places prices are high and selection is limited (those 2 afore mentioned locations). Planning and perhaps carrying a bit more can get one over a expensive section.

    As for food choices you will learn that there is actually a lot you can get, even from dollar general, that is ideal for hiking. Your food choices will expand as you try new things.

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    I didn't do any food drops on the AT and was happy with the decision. I mailed myself some shoes and socks twice.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

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    [QUOTE=Starchild;2275352]
    There are a few places where one may want to send a drop, (NOC, & Fontana Village come to mind). And some places prices are high and selection is limited (those 2 afore mentioned locations). Planning and perhaps carrying a bit more can get one over a expensive section.

    I guess I can look through the AWOL guide to figure out where resupply is sparse.

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    I only did two mail drops on my hike. Fontana Dam because the store was not open for the season when I passed and Monson because it was rumored that resupply was limited. I had no problem resupply using the stores and shops along the way.

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    One thing I didn't see mentioned yet is the expense factor. If you are on a shoestring budget, prepacking and "bouncing" are usually cheaper, however, if money is not a problem, you will find many stores, restaurants of various types along the trail.

  8. #8

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    I have done both. The AT is pretty easy to do mostly "buy as you go" resupplies. As others in this thread have said, there are a few stops that would probably benefit from a drop box.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seatbelt View Post
    One thing I didn't see mentioned yet is the expense factor. If you are on a shoestring budget, prepacking and "bouncing" are usually cheaper, however, if money is not a problem, you will find many stores, restaurants of various types along the trail.
    I know several people that have figured out that even though prepacking and bouncing allows for lower cost of food, it increases the cost of shipping such that it didn't end up being advantageous for them.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seatbelt View Post
    One thing I didn't see mentioned yet is the expense factor. If you are on a shoestring budget, prepacking and "bouncing" are usually cheaper, however, if money is not a problem, you will find many stores, restaurants of various types along the trail.
    Have you priced priority mail lately? It's not cheap for a reasonably sized box and the cost adds up quickly. What you might save by buying in bulk is offset by the cost of postage and the way mail drops can tie you down when the timing doesn't work out right. Then there is the issue of what to do with the left over's if the hike ends early for any one of a million reasons? Or, will you still want to eat that bulk buy in 3 months?

    If you have someone to supply support and send what you need, when you need it, especially if you have special requirements, that can be made to work.

    Dollar Generals have become really common in towns along the trail. The hikers friend. They will keep you alive and reasonably inexpensively. They all have the same stuff, so go figure out your options at any of them. Supplementing with a couple of quality meals while in town is always a good idea. You can't live exclusively on pasta, tuna and sugar. Well, you can for a while.
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  11. #11

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    Hiker boxes are full with food from unused drop boxes food.....

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    For a few years, The Trek has been doing a survey of thru and long-distance AT hikers. From their 2019 survey page on food and cooking it says "About three-quarters (75%) of hikers primarily bought food in town, rather than using mail drops." However they did find that those with dietary needs (vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, allergies) were more likely to rely on food drops. So I would conclude that relying on local food purchases is not only feasible, it is normal. Here are the numbers they reported:

    No Dietary Needs With Dietary Needs
    Purchased Food in Town 81% 65%
    Equally Both Strategies 13% 22%
    Mail Drops 6% 13%
    Number 290 60
    https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/top-stoves-and-filters-the-2019-appalachian-trail-thru-hiker-survey/?ref=author_posts

    Or you could use the strategy of a guy I met in central VA a few years ago. Every few days he would call a friend and say he was hiking the AT and had run out of food and money and asked them if they could mail him a box of food. He would then hike from PO to PO picking up food. He said he just had to be careful not to call the same friend twice. He figured he had enough "friends" to make it to HF. When I ran into him he said he was feeling very low because he was out of food and since the local PO closed early on Saturday, so he was going to have to make it to Monday before he could pick up his food. His mood improved tremendously when I told him it was Friday, not Saturday.

  13. #13

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    All my AT backpacking trips (including two treks thru Shenandoah NP)---thru Hot Springs, Mt Rogers, Etc---I shopped locally for food along the way. In Shenandoah I hitched to Luray for food---and later stopped in Front Royal for food. One time I was backpacking the BMT up to Fontana and stopped at a local Tapoco store owned by old man Jenkins. I bought some packs of Philly cream cheese and later noticed they were 2 years out of date.

    And when I resupplied like this I always carried my P-38 can opener. It's vital for resupplies if you want to get canned food.

  14. #14
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    > I'm planning my first thru hike for next year and would like to simply buy food along the way and not have to hassle with drop boxes pf pre-made dehydrated meals (yuck!).

    That's what most AT thrus do.

    >Reading the forums, it seems like most thru hikers use drop boxes/dehydrated meals for a lot of their food.

    That may be your perception but most don't use drop boxes. Dehydrated food is available to buy in some places along the way.

    >How feasible is it to rely on local markets etc...?

    Depends on your dietary approach/needs, resupply locations chosen, and how far you're willing to venture off the AT.

    >Am I setting myself up for eating mostly junk food?

    Certainly possible. Here's the lithmus test: Can you avoid junk food at home when not hiking? If so you can do it on your thru hike. Thing is, IMHO, the vast majority of the U.S. public is addicted to food - large quantities of it, much of it highly processed and nutritionally dismal to outright problematic. Opinions vary. In short, we overwhelmingly continue our off trail habits and addictions into trail life.

    >I am willing to take on a little extra pack weight for a few fresh vegetables and other fresh food that will keep for a few days.

    Me too(But peruse below). Judicious selections are certainly possible. For example, I grow nutritious Trail Sprouts on late spring summer and early fall AT hikes. It's easy. https://outdoorherbivore.com/trail-sprout-kit/ I almost always have some fresh garlic cloves, green onions/onion, ginger rhizome, maybe some turmeric rhizome, small peppers, a carrot, small apple, etc. I find it ironic some have no problem hauling a burger, sandwich/deli meats, Vienna sausage tins, chicken, etc to the AT but not fresh dense produce that stays "fresh"long enough until the next resupply which for the AT can occur as little as every three days.

    However, your statement, a belief many possess, and bristle against with a problem oriented mindset, is misleading or incomplete. WHY? Because one category of pack wt and volume, should it be above avg in wt, can certainly be UL balanced out in other wt and volume categories that are "below avg" making Total Pack Weight(TPW) still light weight or UL. It requires stepping back looking at the bigger picture. Here's another tactic to lower pack wt while eating produce: resupply more often making the total wt of food less than someone who hauls no fresh produce but resupplies perhaps every 5-6 days. The AT has more uber documented convenient access to resupply than perhaps no other N American LD trail so it's ideal for regular smaller food wt and volume hauls. Here's another tactic: sustainably forage fresh food along the way. Here's another balancing tactic: the AT is an uber H20 location documented and available LD trail. Safely avoid unnecessary heavy water wt caries.

    I completed the TC as a pescatarian always having fresh produce in the food bag. I know two others who did Raw whole foods plant based TC's. I personally know 20 or more who did vegetarian TC thru hikes who's trail diet included fresh produce.
    Last edited by Dogwood; 10-14-2020 at 14:14.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    Have you priced priority mail lately? It's not cheap for a reasonably sized box and the cost adds up quickly. What you might save by buying in bulk is offset by the cost of postage and the way mail drops can tie you down when the timing doesn't work out right. Then there is the issue of what to do with the left over's if the hike ends early for any one of a million reasons? Or, will you still want to eat that bulk buy in 3 months?

    If you have someone to supply support and send what you need, when you need it, especially if you have special requirements, that can be made to work.

    Dollar Generals have become really common in towns along the trail. The hikers friend. They will keep you alive and reasonably inexpensively. They all have the same stuff, so go figure out your options at any of them. Supplementing with a couple of quality meals while in town is always a good idea. You can't live exclusively on pasta, tuna and sugar. Well, you can for a while.
    I suppose you are correct, I have never done the bounce box thing myself. Come to think of it, the hikers I know who have done it had special diet needs.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    Have you priced priority mail lately? It's not cheap for a reasonably sized box and the cost adds up quickly. What you might save by buying in bulk is offset by the cost of postage and the way mail drops can tie you down when the timing doesn't work out right. Then there is the issue of what to do with the left over's if the hike ends early for any one of a million reasons? Or, will you still want to eat that bulk buy in 3 months?

    All commonly voiced problems that have easy solutions...if you're aware of the problems that MIGHT occur and focus primarily on finding solutions. This is yet a small example of what thru hikers/hikers do...adapt, flex, commit and be resilient...working out their hikes.

    When examining the comprehensive cost issue of mailing boxes we can not limit the costs expenditures nor savings to postage alone.
    Many variables exist making the ultimate costs possibly less expensive than impromptu buying along the way on a LD hike.



    I find $15.05 for USPS Flat Rate priority med size boxes to save money mailed domestically. At worse it's a financial wash compared to impromptu junk food buying. But that's me. I get about 5-7 days chow in one. This is mostly hard to find specialty food that's made at home(for taste, portion control, higher over nutritional density, wt and volume reduction and hard to find expensive supplements in convenient needed amounts. However, a resupply/resupply box does not necessarily only contain food but batteries, bug juice, meds, hygiene products, new socks, repair kits, changing out new gear, etc.


    The ultimate costs can be mitigated when 1) a hybrid approach is used mailing some boxes and buying some along the way 2) spending less in town time where trail budgets are blown. Assuming most of us on this thread are U.S. citizens we are culturally habituated to being triggered to shop shop shop spend spend spend consume consume consume. If we can get in and out of town quickly we can avoid a night under a paid roof, expensive drinking and food consumption, etc. If we can Nero, get in to town early in the day, get laundry done, pick up a box, unpack it into our backpacks, maybe get a bite of fresh food at a restaurant, do a quick gear repair, and out we are less likely to be shopping and consuming triggered. We're allocating our OVERALL trail journey time wisely doing multiple tasks simultaneously NOT wasting time as some propose. Time on a hike in Nature is precious. I know many others and myself are triggered into a shopping and spending mode by the sometimes time consuming task of buying and repackaging 5-6 days of trail food shopping at a grocery store. U.S. culture is designed for this to happen triggering spending and consumption. 3) all this means increased opps for shorter duration thru hikes. Faster thru hikes equal lower financial costs.
    Last edited by Dogwood; 10-14-2020 at 14:19.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    Then there is the issue of what to do with the left over's if the hike ends early for any one of a million reasons? Or, will you still want to eat that bulk buy in 3 months?
    Who buys the same food to eat day after day after day off trail? So why do it, plan for it, assume others do it with our on trail diets? And, if a hike has to be terminated since when can't we eat like foods on trail and at home? And since many trail foods have extended shelf lives who says food meant for trail has to be consumed over the next 3 months at home? I currently have tubs of safely stored food both for the trail and at in at home pantries with most foods that will not expire until mid 2021. If trail food is nearing an expiration date then cycle it into at home food consumption.

  18. #18

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    If you are sending very lightweight things, flat rate boxes are not a good deal. The best "bang for the buck" on these boxes is when you are sending heavy items.

    I create my own freeze dried meals and can send 7 days food for less than $15 mailing costs. The advantage is that I control the ingredients and I'm a pretty darn good cook. There are a few things I would eat when getting to trail towns - fresh foods as well as biting into a real steak would be nice.
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    Quote Originally Posted by PennyPincher View Post
    If you are sending very lightweight things, flat rate boxes are not a good deal. The best "bang for the buck" on these boxes is when you are sending heavy items.

    I create my own freeze dried meals and can send 7 days food for less than $15 mailing costs. The advantage is that I control the ingredients and I'm a pretty darn good cook. There are a few things I would eat when getting to trail towns - fresh foods as well as biting into a real steak would be nice.
    USPS Flat Rate Priority boxes have set postage so no fussing around with various rates. It enables boxes to be made up, addressed, ETA added, and postage a-fixed making it easier for a gracious at home person to simply time efficiently step up to a USPO window circumnavigating lines and drop it off. It also makes postage calculations straight forward. Tracking, returned to senders address, ability to push ahead if not open, better handling, and faster more dependable delivery times are some other positives. Mailing to locations that have sat and/or sun and/or extended hrs cuts down on potential time delays picking up a box. These days many hike with ph/smart ph to communicate timely resupply pick up. Work out your hike. We get to get to organize individually our own hikes. There are no set organized sport rules.

  20. #20
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    Thank you so much for the response. It's heartening to get such detailed/thoughtful opinions. It makes the whole process much less overwhelming to know that there is a community of experienced thru hikers that will share their experiences for the common good.

    It does seem that the consensus is that, buying food along the way, is certainly feasible albeit some careful planning would be advisable for those areas where good food is scarce.

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