Tag Archives: resupply

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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Vegan hikers should eat avocados in town

The Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

That’s right, I’m endorsing a fruit. Avocados are a great snack for vegan hikers. In town, on the trail, straight up or mixed right into your dinner, avocados are the perfect supplement to a vegan hiker’s minimal diet. Also, they’re delicious.

According to my favorite book on vegan nutrition: Becoming Vegan (2000) by Davis and Melina, both R.D.s., vegan athletes need to increase the fat and protein in their diet. It is commonly accepted that protein is important for high intensity activities; it is essential for muscle building. However, much of the real energy for physical activity comes from carbohydrates and fat. Fat is the longer-lasting energy source and is needed most during endurance activities (sound familiar?). Vegan thru-hikers should pay close attention to get enough protein, fat, and carbs.

Davis and Melina suggest that the best sources of fat are whole plant foods, “nut butters, tofu, and avocados” (p. 250). They also recommend oils such as olive, canola, or flaxseed. I’ve written about my experiences eating olive oil and peanut butter on the Appalachian Trail.

Avocados are especially high in calories and fat, according to the USDA. One average size whole avocado has 320 calories and 29 grams of fat. Avocados are also high in protective monounsaturated fats and have more folate and potassium per ounce than any other fruit, even bananas!

For a hiker, avocados are somewhat heavy, bruise easily when ripe, and have a heavy pit. During my thru-hike in 2009, if I found a ripe avocado in a store in town, I would eat the whole thing right there with a spoon. Sometimes I would carry a second one onto the trail with me as a first night out treat, though I’d have to carry the pit until my next resupply. As I got further into my hike, I was eating so much and subsequently carrying so much food that an extra ounce of pit didn’t bother me.

However you like avocados, or if you don’t eat them very much at home, they are a fantastic, nutritious, and calorie-dense addition to a hiker diet. In the trail world of overprocessed foods, a whole fruit is a welcome addition.

Not to shoppers: an avocado is ripe if it’s soft enough to easily depress under your finger (don’t buy a hard one, they can take several days to ripen).

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Probars Are a Great Vegan Bar

Trail in Southern Virginia

If you’ve been near a Whole Foods or REI recently, you’ve probably seen these bars on the shelf. They’ve been around for some years, and they are a really tasty, high-calorie, natural, vegan option. My dad introduced Probars to me a long time ago: he carries them for long-distance cycling.

It’s true that almost every long-distance higher gets sick of eating bars at some point in their trip. Cereal bars, protein bars, energy bars, they’re all shaped like a brick and mostly taste like bland sugar… Regardless, many hikers still eat tons of them, as there just isn’t any other way to get so many calories and nutrients in a tiny package. On my hike, my general strategy was to eat one bar a day, supplemented with my trail-made gorp, as a snack between meals. I think this helped break the monotony, and definitely provided some ingredients I wasn’t getting in other foods.

There are two things that make Probars stand out. One is that they are almost entirely made out of real ingredients like fruits, nuts, and seeds. They’re still sweet, but I think they taste something closer to real food. The other main benefit is that they are really high in calories. Ranging from 370-390 in each bar can help you quickly reach the thousands of extra calories that a hiker needs. They weigh 3 oz. each (about .5 oz and nearly 150 more calories than a Clif Bar, which will probably get its own post some day).

I’ve highlighted other options for packing in calories, but sometimes you want something more than just another spoonful of peanut butter. Bars are a natural fit in the typical trail diet. Unfortunately. It’s a common refrain at the top of Katahdin that we’re never eating another bar again. It’s quite funny for me to be writing this now—nearly four years after my thru-hike—because I still have a lingering distaste for energy bars! But sometimes, there just isn’t a better option.

And, once again, here is my standard disclaimer about yet another post that seemingly endorses a specific product from some big company. This blog is focused on accessible options for vegan hikers, which often means eating straight out of grocery stores or sometimes a gas station. When we’re on the trail, what we find is what we eat! I suppose this blog is for the discerning scavenger. Hike on!

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Trail Town Snack: Earth Balance Vegan Cheese Puffs

Julia with our new snack

I’m not usually one for hyper-processed vegan foods, nor do I regularly eat vegan cheese or fake meat. However, I recently had a chance to try the new Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs from Earth Balance. They are delicious. They’re basically corn puffs with a powdery flavored coating, sort of like a vegan version of Pirate’s Booty (I do love the vegan Veggie Booty from the same company). Just to cover my bases, each bag is 4 ounces, has 520 calories and 12 grams of protein, but that’s probably not why they’re a good snack food.

I can’t say that I expect hikers to regularly find these along the Appalachian Trail. But Earth Balance is a pretty big company, which makes me think that once they catch on, we’ll find them more and more in natural food sections in regular grocery stores. I don’t think it’s realistic to consider these puffs to be a regular trail food, but they are great for a special treat in town. We took a bag on a recent day hike in Connecticut, and they were perfect for a salty snack.

Once again, the nature of vegan hiking is that we are generally bound by what foods are accessible and need minimal preparation. That means that I end up eating a lot more processed, corporate-produced foods than I eat in regular life. The only options for eating home-cooked foods are often impractical, especially for long hikes. Cooking, drying, and sending drop boxes of meals ahead of time is intriguing (and something I would like to try more of), but it takes an extensive amount of time and preparation. As I’ve mentioned previously, part of my goal for this blog is to highlight accessible vegan options that make good trail foods.

I love that the vegan-specific food niche seems to be exploding with new options. We can hike and avoid animal products at the same time, whether for animal or environmental reasons, there’s no need to eat dairy or meat on a backpacking trip.

So that’s where we end up today, with a post that endorses another specific vegan product. Oh well, go forth and eat! (and hike!)

Yum

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Protein for a Vegan Thru-Hiker

A bald near the NC TN border, near Overmountain Shelter
Well, it’s time to tackle the age-old debate around veganism and protein. For most folks who are vegan, when it comes up in conversation we are inevitably questioned about getting enough protein (As if animal products are the only source of protein, or that I can’t take care of myself without their helpful insights into what it takes to be vegan, oh well).

The simple reality is that for most people, if you eat a variety of vegetables and legumes, you probably get enough protein. Few vegans suffer from protein deficiency, and it very easy to meet protein needs if you eat a variety of foods. Ginny Messina, the Vegan R.D., writes about meeting protein requirements, and recommends two servings of legumes (beans, peanuts, soy foods) a day.

Obviously, meeting vegan nutrition needs while on the Appalachian Trail can be a little challenging (hence this blog!). As regular readers will know, I ate a lot of peanut butter on my hike, which is a fantastic source of great things for hikers like protein, calories, and fat. I also ate tortillas and bagels on a near daily basis, both of which are good sources of protein. An everything Thomas’ bagel has 10 grams, and a whole wheat Mission tortilla has 4 grams (I usually ate two per day).

I also made my own gorp on trail with peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips, and sunflower seeds. The latter are very high in protein, similar to peanuts.

All of these are in addition to protein bars and my dinners, which were usually bean-based. At some point, the sheer amount of food that a thru-hiker eats will be enough to meet the nutrition needs of a hiker. But of course, the big challenge is that I don’t eat anywhere near this amount of processed food when I’m at home.

For a more detailed discussion of protein needs for vegans, I strongly recommend checking out the book Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, both are respected Registered Dietitians. Besides detailed chapters on the main nutritional needs of someone on a vegan diet, it has a very good section for vegan athletes.

Figuring out what works for you is the most important thing, this strategy worked for me. What is your eating strategy on trail?

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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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Technically Vegan Part 1

In the real world I tend to eat a lot of vegetables and try to avoid eating too many processed foods (I also generally avoid buying from terrible companies like Kraft Foods, owned by Philip Morris). But with my hiker-hunger raging, I ate some foods I don’t normally buy, like delicious Oreo cookies. I jokingly refer to these as “technically” vegan, in my effort not to be one of those junk-food vegans we hear about all too often. This is somewhat of a joke in the vegan world, that something as ubiquitous, processed, and junk-foody as Oreos also just happen to not be made with any dairy or animal products; including other varieties like mint and peanut butter.

Other bloggers have written about vegan Oreos plenty before, and are in agreement that in the U.S. Oreos are in fact vegan. Though unfortunately it seems this is not the case in Europe or other places around the world, though it appears this petition garnered a positive recent response from Kraft Foods UK.

A single package has over 2000 calories and I burned through each one in just a few days. Cookies are an easy form of cheap calories on the trail when you’re burning as many as a thru-hiker. That Oreos are vegan is merely coincidental, as many of my hiker friends ate them as well. It certainly helps that they are available in almost any size grocery store.

From my personal experience with nutrition on a thru-hike, I found that I needed so many calories on a daily basis, paired with the difficulty of carrying and cooking fresh food, that I frequently padded my diet with these sorts of foods. I justified that if I ate more “nutritious” foods for the bulk of my main meals, it was ok to add in from the crappy-but-delicious-and-calorie-dense category. When I was doing well, I tried to have some semblance of vegetables included in my dinners. Though often that was just in the form of the little bits that were in packaged Indian food and rice and bean mixes… oh well.

Given the availability (and if they’re on sale) I’ll always choose organic mint Newman-O’s or Liz Lovely for a real treat.

*A disclaimer: I debated with myself about doing this kind of post that seemingly endorses a single product from a big company. Unfortunately, because of the general reality of the limited food choices along the Appalachian Trail, my intention is to highlight vegan options that are widely available for easy resupply. I encourage you to make your own decisions! And please don’t take this as an argument that it is only possible to thru-hike by eating crappy food, it’s just easier.

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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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Starting a Vegan AT Thru-hike? Some Tips:

Winter is nearing an end and it is officially the start of NOBO Appalachian Trail thru-hiker season!

Here are some last-minute tips and inspiration if you are about to start a thru-hike. Some are vegan-specific, others are just some general thoughts and food for thought for those first days:

  1. I recommend that you carry a few extra dinners with you from Springer Mountain. The first resupply, at Neel’s Gap, is rather limited. I picked up some peanut butter and bagels but was actually happy that I had overpacked from the beginning and had some extra dinners. There were plenty of snacks though, and trail magic when I passed through too (with veggie burgers!).
  2. Hiawassee, GA will be your first big resupply, there are several big grocery stores, one had a nice natural food section. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find good vegan options. We ate at the Mexican restaurant in town, they had several options with veggies and beans.
  3. Don’t get discouraged if anyone tries to tell you anything negative about hiking vegan, anyone can finish a thru-hike, promise. Stay positive!
  4. Once you start, if you find some aspect of your hike (food or otherwise) is not working out, you can change it! You have six months to figure it out, there’s no rush. Don’t worry about it.
  5. Duct-tape any spots of rubbing on your feet before they turn into blisters. Seriously.

Get ready for what will probably be one of the most incredible experiences of your life! For me it was the best and worst thing I ever did. The lows will be low, and the rain will suck, but the highs will be unbelievable. You’ll meet some wonderful people, see some beautiful country, you’ll figure out real quick what’s important and what isn’t, you’ll love it and hate it, but you’ll learn a ton and have an amazing experience. Take one day at a time, it’s the only way. Don’t forget to look up.

Happy Trails! Drop me a line some time…

Have any other tips to add? leave them in the comments

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