A big concern and a question often asked is how does one get food and water along the way. It’s an easy question to answer up front but much harder once you get into the details, how much, what type, how many calories, vitamins, variety of flavor, fresh, dehydrated, to cook or not to cook…….the list just keeps going and can be a bit overwhelming when your trying to plan for 5.5 months. Heck for me trying to do grocery shopping for a week can be challenging. I’ll start by explaining the three major resupply options and go into more detail about the food and water considerations in a later post.
This method basically involves mailing 20-25 resupply packages to yourself. How you ask? Most people are unaware that you can mail yourself a letter or package to any post office in the United States even if you don’t live in the town or have a P.O. box. It takes some simple special addressing but the post office will hold it for a couple of weeks. Those with dietary choices such as vegetarian, vegan and those who enjoy an all natural diet will often choose this method. It involves a lot of work preparing and packaging food but you would get to eat exactly what you want every day. In fact, those who use this method probably eat the best out on the trail. The down side is that it takes a lot of work, all your food has to be prepackaged, addressed, labeled and ready to go so that some one back home can mail it to you at points along the way. Another issue with this method is if you have a major delay, packages that were mailed and now waiting for you might end up getting sent back before you get to your next resupply point.
Buy As You Go
Just like the name implies, this method involves buying all of your food and supplies in the towns near the trail. If you aren’t too picky about how you get your calories every day this is a method that is easy and requires little to no pre-planning and the freedom of not having to worry about your resupply package getting there makes this option very attractive to some hikers. This option appeals to me because it allows me to support the small businesses, towns and people along the trail that are vital to the PCT community and help make a thru hike possible. If overlooked the disadvantages of this method could seriously impact your hike. Even at a fully stocked grocery store trying to find a healthy variety of food suitable for backpacking can be a real challenge and when you consider that some resupply points are barely more than a gas station and convenience store, finding food to support a consumption of 6000+ calories a day can be very difficult unless you happen to be one of those super humans who can happily survive on candy bars and potato chips.
Here is the best strategy and the one I will be using to keep myself fueled up and equipped along the way. It is basically a combination of the Mail drop and buy as you go methods. I like it because it is adaptable not only to the trail but also to personal taste. I have a hard time deciding what I want to eat tomorrow let alone three months from now. It also allows me to support the local businesses and people in the area. I will be buying most of my food in the larger towns with access to well stocked grocery and hiking oriented stores. I will also be buying and shipping ahead supplies to the smaller towns and resupply points that are known to have a limited supply of hiker friendly food. These on trail mail drops will also be supplemented with other mail drops from my support group back home which will provide me with new gear suitable for the changing climates, new shoes (it takes 4-5 pairs) and extra treats and things from back home that I don’t think I’ll be able to find in a trail town.