Tag Archives: mail drops

How to ship boxes to yourself on the Appalachian Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I have mentioned several times on this blog about sending packages to yourself while hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you are in the planning stages for a thru-hike, it may not be obvious what I actually mean by that.

Over the decades a strong hiker culture and institutional support have been built up around the long trails (both the AT and the Pacific Crest Trail). Towns along the trail are used to seeing thru-hikers and are often set up to provide the resources we need. For example, many small motels sell denatured alcohol by the ounce, and other such offerings.

There are two sorts of packages you may send to yourself: resupply boxes with food and extra gear, or orders of new gear (new sneakers).

The easiest way to mail packages to yourself is through the post office. Post offices along the AT receive a large number of packages for hikers every year and are set up for this. There are a few caveats. First is that it is best to use your real name on the package (not a trail name!) because postal workers will often ask for ID before handing out mail. Second is that mail sent to a post office must be sent by the post office. That is, you can’t send UPS or Fedex to general delivery.

The third—and arguably most important—caveat is that you can only pick up packages from the post office during business hours. Post offices are closed on Sunday, and many have shortened hours on Saturday, so make sure you think ahead or you may end up waiting in town longer than you expected to. One nice option at the post office is that an uncollected package can be forwarded to another post office for free. So if you hike into town on a Saturday night and don’t want to wait until Monday, you can resupply at the grocery store and call the post office on Monday to send your package somewhere else.

Many post offices have a separate rack just for hiker packages. To mail a package to yourself, send it with this format:

Your Real World Name
c/o General Delivery
Town, State, Zip

Then somewhere on the front of the package write: “Please hold for AT hiker, Estimated arrival: date range

For boxes that you don’t pack yourself, such as orders of new gear from a company, if you are going to mail to a post office, make sure they use the postal service and not another carrier.

The alternative to the post office is to look for other places such as hostels, motels, gear stores, etc. that hold mail drops for hikers. The easiest and most reliable method of finding these is to use the most recent edition of the AT Guide or another thru-hiker guidebook. It’s generally a good idea to still call ahead to make sure they haven’t closed up since the book was printed. There are several advantages to mail dropping to a business. One is that they are usually open seven days a week, and often with longer hours than the post office. The second advantage is that you can send via any carrier you prefer.

Finally, I would advise against sending out six months worth of mail drops in advance. You never know what’s going to happen, but it’s also likely that your tastes may change, you may want different gear from home, or you may desire something you hadn’t thought of. On my hike, during a stopover at my parents’ house in New York, I packed and addressed a few boxes for New England but left them unsealed. Then I called and asked my mother to please send them as I planned ahead while on trail. Sometimes she put in a few extra vegan treats for me!

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Nutritional yeast is great backpacker food

It definitely qualifies as a vegan/veggie/healthnut food. But I really love nutritional yeast, and many people have never heard of it. As a quick introduction, nutritional yeast is yeast, it’s yellow and flaky, and tastes vaguely cheesy. It also happens to be very high in nutrients (both natural and fortified)!

At home, the classic way to eat nutritional yeast is sprinkled liberally on popcorn. It’s also possible to use it in vegan cheese sauce or vegan mac and cheese. I enjoy it sprinkled on pasta, or just on toast with earth balance.

Two tablespoons of Red Star brand nutritional yeast contains eight grams of protein and four grams of fiber. It is also high in B vitamins, including B12, B6, B2, and B1. (Source and source)

It is incredibly lightweight and a little goes a long way. When I hike I carry a half-size sandwich bag full, and put a spoonful on every dinner as a way to increase flavor and boost vitamins.

Nutritional yeast is difficult to find in anywhere but natural food stores. It also is greatly more economical to purchase from a bulk section than in containers (In bulk, it should cost $7 to $9 a pound. If it’s more than that, look elsewhere). Due to it’s rarity, as a backpacking food it is best in maildrops or when packing from home. I never counted on finding it along the Appalachian Trail, but I did put some in every maildrop.

Have any of you taken nutritional yeast on your hikes? Or come up with creative recipes for it?

As an aside, here is an obligatory note making excuses for not posting more! Here it is: I recently started grad school, and I’m super busy. But this project is really important to me so I’ll be continuing to write! As always, if you have experience as a vegan hiker and are interested in writing a guest post, please contact me!

 

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Planning resupplies on the Appalachian Trail

This summer I will be heading back out to the Appalachian Trail for a 320 mile section hike! This is a technical post on how I planned my resupplies:

First of all, I used two resources to determine the best resupply points along the trail. First is a copy of AWOL’s 2012 AT Guide (Which I’ll be carrying on the trail), and second are Baltimore Jack’s AT Resupply Information posts on WhiteBlaze.net. Though the latter are a few years old, they list every popular stop for thru-hikers and everything in between. I use the AT Guide for up-to-date information on the towns.

The next step is to use both resources and map out potential towns and the miles, looking for points about forty to seventy miles apart. As a long-distance hiker I want to minimize weight by carrying only as much as I have to, but I also don’t want to waste time going into town constantly. Two to five days in between resupplies was the average on my thru-hike.

To resupply vegan, I’m primarily looking to figure out which towns have big supermarkets and which might be better served by a mail drop to the post office.

This is the list of towns I came up with for this section, their mileages, and guide book pages:

Beginning from Duncannon, PA I’ll carry four to five days of food. What this often means for me is carrying four dinners and five lunches, with enough to stretch to a fifth dinner if I have to. As this will be my first long hike in a while, I’m not totally sure how fast I’ll be able to hike, so I’m working in some flexibility!

The first resupply will be Port Clinton, PA. This town is on the trail, and very small. It’s possible to hitch into larger Hamburg, PA and find a grocery store, but I’m going to send myself a mail drop here to the post office. In the box I’ll include enough dinners to get to Delaware Water Gap, but only enough lunch to make it to Palmerton. I’ll discuss exactly what I put in my mail drops in another post.

As Palmerton, PA is only forty miles from Port Clinton, I expect to make it on the third day out. Palmerton looks on the small side, which is why I’ll send dinners in the last mail drop. It has a grocery store where I’ll resupply lunches and breakfasts.

Next up is Delaware Water Gap, PA. There is not much in the town, but there is a hostel, an outfitter, and a small store. Nearby Stroudsburg has big markets, but I’ll send myself a mail drop to avoid the trip. From here I’ll take three and a half days worth of food to make it to Vernon, NJ.

Vernon has a large grocery store, so I expect I’ll be able to find some good food options here. Looking for three days to make it to the Bear Mountain Bridge. Most hikers will resupply in Fort Montgomery, NY near the bridge, but this happens to be near where family lives, so they will pick me up. When I pack food for my mail drops I’ll get enough to leave there. From here I’ll carry about four days worth of food to get to Kent, CT.

I planned like this because this section is so relatively short. For a thru-hike, it probably wouldn’t make sense to do this kind of planning ahead of time for the whole trail. Before you get out there, it’s difficult to know how fast you’ll hike, how much food you need, or what your future trail friends will want! Before my thru-hike I roughly mapped out resupplies, only to determine where to send the three mail drops for the first half of the trail. The rest of our resupplies we figured out during our hike.

To eat vegan on the trail takes some planning, but it’s not much more than the average thru-hiker!

(Look out for some posts from the trail this summer!)

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Eat Indian food in the woods!

Pre-made pouched Indian meals are a great vegan trail food option. I’ve mentioned it before, but wanted to expand a bit. They’re called “ready to eat,” and are not dehydrated. Usually packaged in a strong plastic pouch, they’re plenty durable enough for carrying. I discovered them during my thru-hike while scouring the grocery store for some non-couscous meal ideas. I was able to find them in a lot of stores, especially larger ones with more food diversity. Natural food stores also stock them.

They’re super tasty, several vegan flavors, pack some decent calories, and are a really easy food to eat on the trail.

Pros: 

  • Delicious. Seriously. India has amazing vegetarian food that is often vegan or can easily be made vegan. Anyone who says vegan food can’t be flavorful should go eat at an Indian restaurant…
  • Already cooked. I’ve eaten it cold right from the pouch, but it’s better if you heat it up a little. On the trail I would boil water for some instant rice, and then just mix the pouch in with the cooked rice.
  • Relatively easy to find, especially larger grocery stores. When you find them, usually at least one or two varieties will be vegan. (Unlike Knorr Sides, which has so many flavors and so few vegan ones, that even if a store carries them, they’re probably won’t be a vegan one).
  • Approximately 400-500 calories per pouch. High in protein and fat.

Cons:

  • Reasonable weight. They usually weigh around 9-10 ounces. Light enough to carry a couple out of town, but I probably wouldn’t want to carry more than three or four…
  • Won’t find them in smaller towns. When I packed mail drops for northern New England, I included a couple in each box for dinners.
  • Probably not enough by itself for a full thru-hiker meal. I mixed mine with a little instant rice, and ate it with a tortilla or two.
Here’s some brands and nutrition info: Tasty Bite has a list of their vegan options, I love channa masala (chick peas). Kitchens of India brand has a number of vegan options, including Chick Peas Curry and Red Kidney Beans Curry. Two Indian companies make ready to eat meals, including Swad and MTR. Those two don’t have nutrition info online, but I know that both have several vegan options. Trader Joe’s stores also have their own brand of ready to eat Indian meals that are vegan too, though I didn’t find any Trader Joe’s stores along the AT.

Well, here’s to eating delicious Indian vegan food on a thru-hike!

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Peanut butter is a great vegan trail food

peanut butter on a bagel

I think so. Peanut butter is super high in calories, protein, and fat. These are obviously the main nutrients you need to be aware of when undertaking strenuous physical activity like a thru-hike. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 190 calories, 16g of fat and 7g of protein (source). There are few vegan foods comparable to the nutrient density of peanut butter. Non-vegan hikers of course eat a lot of cheese and some eat meat.

I ate peanut butter on my hike for lunch almost every day. Sometimes just by the spoonful, but usually with a bagel or tortilla. And sometimes with chocolate chips when I had them.

When I could find it, I preferred the “natural” varieties from the big companies like Skippy. They don’t have partially hydrogenated oil like most peanut butters do, but they still have a little sugar in them so they’re tastier and easier to eat daily.

Maybe you’re thinking, “really? peanut butter? tell me something new.” I believe these kinds of foods are important to affirm for vegan hikers. The reality is that most long-distance hikers–vegan or not–are surviving on an extremely limited variety of food. Most hikers carry cheese as an easy, calorie-dense trail food; peanut butter is a very strong alternative.

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Vegan cookies!

Yes, in this post I’m featuring a non-trail food: vegan chocolate chip cookies!

Though I didn’t have many food drops during my hike, the ones I did were left packed, addressed and unsealed at my parents’ house. My mom would ship them from the post office as I was getting close to each town. She often would pack a treat of some kind, though under strict (half-serious) instructions not to send too much as I would have to carry whatever I couldn’t eat/share! But the treats were always a welcome surprise…

This is one of the best chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve had, and it is the recipe she used:

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Earth Balance margarine, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Egg Replacer for 2 eggs (Energ-G brand works great)
  • 2 cups (12-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
  2. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl.
  3. Add egg replacer one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture.
  4. Stir in chips and nuts.
  5. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
  6. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Source

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