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  • Emily Hayes

PCT Food Resupply, Tips From a Foreigner


I hiked the PCT in 2022, I flew in from the UK on a 6 month visa. Having not hiked at all in the USA before, it was quite overwhelming to be confronted with American groceries and the system of mailing food resupply ahead. Here are my top tips to help anyone who is not well acquainted with the USA.


1. USPS offer priority mail flat rate boxes.


-Pick up the flat rate box size of your choice for free in a USPS (United States Post Service) store. USPS website with box sizes: https://www.usps.com/ship/priority-mail.htm#flatrate

- Pack as much as you can fit in the box as it is not weight specific. Fill the box full!

- Write out the addresses on the box and tape it up. Often if the USPS office is hiker friendly they will have spare tape otherwise you will need to buy it.

- Pay the flat rate for the box and keep your receipt.

- This tends to be the cheapest and easiest option and boxes arrive a few working days later or 2 weeks depending on distance.



2. Check the address and receiving instructions carefully!


- Some receiving addresses in small towns off trail are similar but miles apart. A wrong address may mean you never see your box or have to spend a day figuring out how to get to the box.

- Post offices receive USPS parcels only not other couriers.

- Some grocery stores and accommodations will receive your parcel but may charge.

- Some grocery stores and more rural locations cannot accept USPS parcels.

- USPS offices are not open 24/7, plan ahead which day you will be in town and know the opening times.

- You will need to label the box with a sender address, this could be anywhere but must be in the US.


3. UPS also provide mail services.


- Find a UPS office to mail a box.

- Supply your own box.

- Check the mailing address can receive UPS.

- Cost is normally based on weight rather than flat rate and can be more expensive



4. Make a plan to save yourself time and disappointment.


- Know when you will be arriving into town to avoid being in town when the USPS office is closed at weekends and evenings.

- Plan to ship your boxes at least 1-2 weeks in advance of when you will be in town.

- Check what the local grocery store situation is as many towns have good, large and affordable grocery stores which may be more convenient as they are open over a weekend whereas a post office is not open.

- Getting around town between grocery stores and post offices can add a lot of extra time and add a lot of steps to your "zero" miles day.

- Sending a box ahead ultimately saves time on grocery shopping in another town. If you just want to get in and out of town as quick as possible then sending boxes ahead is the most efficient way!

- Sharing a large box with other hikers could save money although this option is inconvenient if your plans change and are relying on someone else to pick up the box.

- The addressee needs to provide their ID to receive the parcel in most cases.



5. Buy in bulk and ship multiple boxes.

- This is the most economical way of food resupply. Even if you factor in the cost of mailing.

- It is only economical to use resupply boxes often if you want to stock up on the cheapest hiker food and are strategic with how often you will receive boxes. If you have too much food and give it away, then great for other hikers but a waste of your budget!

- Washington and Oregon has fewer towns off-trail and the towns have less variety and availability of hiker foods. They also tend to be more expensive.

- You can do a big resupply while you're in big towns such as Ashland or Cascade Locks (Hood River) to resupply for a few weeks of boxes in Oregon and Washington.

- You will need to find big grocery stores to get the bulk savings.

- Sign up for the loyalty / membership schemes that grocery stores offer as they do provide great saving for members.


6. Mix it up a little


- Keep your food resupply interesting by having variety either in your boxes or not relying 100% on resupply boxes.

- Often hikers get bored and fed up of the same food they bulk bought and hoarded before the PCT. There was a lot of hiker boxes that are full of mash potatao powder, cous cous and olive oil sachets.

- As someone from the UK I found American food fascinating. I enjoyed grocery shopping and trying new products that we don't have in the UK.



7. The Grocery stores


My first resupply in a big store took more than an hour! I was so overwhelmed by the huge amount of variety and difference in costs. I didn't recognise the brands or even some of the food names. I spent ages reading the food labels to understand what everything is. I was trying to calculate the best value to calorie ratio and then add into the formula that I actually want to enjoy eating my food on trail. In the end I had to make my plan of exactly what I wanted to buy, like a meal plan for the next section on trail before the next town.


Be prepared financially for the cost of grocery shopping, I spent about $100 - $200 a week on groceries. I was not expecting this to be my main expense. The cost of food in most countries around the world has increased, USA seems to have seen an increase that is disproportional to the rest of the world.


Here are the names and a brief summary of the main stores that I encountered in multiple towns.


Target

This is a great store to pick up more than just groceries. It sits in the budget category but has great variety within this range. They have some outdoor equipment, cosmetics and clothes as well as the normal hiking foods that most hikers want to find. It's a good option for value bulk purchases but less interesting for more premium foods.


Walmart

The best for hiker food value. If you want multipack ramen and value energy protein bars, this is the best place to go. I found their lack of quality fresh products deterred me from choosing Walmart if there was more than one grocery store in town. Walmarts are normally huge and I found it took me ages to decide between the variety of foods that I'd never seen before.


Vons

There are Vons stores only in California but it's part of the Safeway and Albertsons group so the types of food and quality will be much the same across these 3 brands.

I really liked shopping in Vons as there is a good range of mid price and premium priced products (I'm not 50cent ramen kind of girl ;) ).

Lots of fresher products that were actually cheaper than Walmart if you use a membership number, for example cheese, bread, doughnuts, meats.


Dollar General

Cheap ambient long life groceries. You can find some bargains on energy cereal bars.

Lots of other cheap goods such as cosmetics and stationary.

If you're from the UK, it's bit like poundland but everything costs more than $1.


Grocery Outlet

This is a discount chain of grocery stores. I rarely found anything I wanted to buy such as specific brands of energy bars. 


Trader Joe's

This was one of the most expensive stores I bought groceries in however they do have lots of interesting food items that are packed in single serve packs which are easy to pack away. I found Trader Joe's similar to Whole Foods but with less variety and more own branded foods or unusual brands.


Whole foods

The most expensive grocery store in America... surely? This was a treat for me to get tasty food in town but I avoided resupply here as they don't have the brands or foods I was looking for and again, the price was some thing like 50% more on comparable items at other stores.

Great for fresh, quality prepared food but not so good for the hiker staples.


Albertsons

Owned by same company as Vons and Safeway, so they have much the same products.

Stores are in California and Oregon.


Safeway

Owned by same company as Vons and Albertsons, so much the same products between these stores.


Rays Food Place

Stores are in California and Oregon.

It's a small chain of cooperative grocery stores so there is a smaller level of availability and range as stores are quite small.

Limited open hours and more expensive than bigger grocery stores.


CVS

Not a grocery store,It is pharmacy chain but you can find some bargains on electrolytes and blister plasters!

Most big towns will have at least 1 CVS.


Big 5 Sporting Goods

Useful for stocking up on freeze dried meals and other gear supplies such as gas canisters.

Most big towns will have this store.


McDonalds 1/4 mile from the trail

8. Eat food bought on or near the trail.


You can get your calorie fill quite frequently from buying a meal in small towns. You would need to cover more miles to get to these places and would often would need to hitch a ride.

Overall more expensive but I found I ate more calories and could carry less food.

You can travel faster to cover more miles with less food in your pack. Oregon was a good place to follow this strategy.


9. NOBOS when to send boxes.


I went north bound and didn't send any boxes ahead from the trail until after San Jacinto Mountain. I shipped microspikes and some spare layers to Kennedy Meadows from Palm Springs. The first set of boxes for food resupply I sent in Ashland for all of the Oregon resupply stops.


I found in all the big towns in southern California such as Julian, Idyllwild and Big Bear there was lots of options for resupply. Even in some of the more remote places like Tuolumne Meadows General Store, I managed to find foods I wanted to buy, but it was a little pricey.



Trout Lake grocery store

10. SOBOS


There are a lot less towns in Washington and the mileage between them is higher compared to the southern California section. By the time I reached Washington I was capable of carrying heavier food carries over more miles. I was hiking about 25 miles a day compared to the 16 miles that I was doing at the start. The amount of miles you walk in a day directly relates to how much food you will need to carry and your resupply strategy.


I found the very small towns of Stehikin and Mazama offered little more than a small grocery store with some overpriced ramen. I did however eat my way through the bakeries and happily picked up my resupply boxes.


11. Useful resources.


- Guthooks/Farout app is the best source of up-to date and reliable information for town detail and addresses check the comments of the location. It is "live", as soon as hikers start commenting on what's new, what's changed and tips as the hiking season progresses, things do change.

- Google maps. Not everything is in the Guthooks apps.

- halfwayanywhere.com is a very detailed resource for planning and it is based on data collected from previous hikers. Also accessible as downloadable files https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/

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