This post is brought to by MREDepot.com, distributors of the Future Essentials brand of freeze-dried meats, cheeses, produce, and more. These products are a staple in all my weekly Meal Plans because they taste great and come in small cans, perfectly portioned for 4 days of food. Freeze dried meats only last a couple weeks once opened, but these #2.5 cans provide the exact amount needed and can sit on a shelf for months awaiting pickup. Similarly, the pilot crackers have exactly enough for 4 meals and sit protected from breakage until pickup. I cannot say enough about these great tasting and easy to use products, and MREDepot was kind enough to sponsor my trip with the assortment of #2.5 cans needed to fill all my resupply boxes. Thank you!
Preparing maildrops so far in advance of a thru-hike is not easy. For this reason, most hikers will tell you not to do it, and to just resupply at the numerous trail stops along the way. Yes, this is possible, but as I mention on my Meal Plan page, that may not be ideal for those like me looking to have a more diverse diet. I don’t want to eat pop-tarts and ramen every night, and I don’t want my hiking schedule to be dictated by whatever food is in stock at a hostel before the next trail town.
But, preparing food in advance is kind of a pain, and can be very costly if done wrong. Food could spoil, shipping costs can outweigh financial benefits, and exposed odors could attract mice/bugs while your box waits in storage for you to arrive. With so much of the trip’s cost dedicated to food, the last thing I want is for that food to go bad. Here is what I learned to help make sure my resupply does not go to waste:
1. Check Expiration Date. This is self-explanatory but has to be said. I don’t buy food unless the shelf life is stable. It can be a pain to try to line the expiration date with my pickup date perfectly, so I just used a rule of thumb that every food item in the box must be shelf stable until at least July. For items that don’t list it, there was a great article today from 21st Century Simply Living on shelf-life expectations of typical dried foods, meats, fruits, veggies, etc.
2. Buy Perishable Items in Town. For items in my plan that don’t have an expiration date 6 months out, I won’t force it with vacuum sealing nor DIY freeze-drying. For example, Meal Plan 4 calls for Honeybuns, but they only have a few weeks of shelf life. So, everything else will be boxed up, but those will be purchased in town after I pick up the box. This may cause some altered menus based on what’s available, but these are typically common items (e.g. bagels, cheeses, etc.).
3. Leave Food in Original Packaging. It’s tempting to divide out my trail-mix or home-made dinners in advance, but that will expose odors and moisture. Many of these boxes will sit in some random person or hotel’s storage closet for weeks, so I don’t want there to be any reason to tempt pests or mold. When a meal calls for instant rice, granola, dehydrated veggies, etc., I leave it in the original packaging and include empty ziplocks. When I pick up the box, I’ll divide out the portions to baggies and be ready to hit the trail (hopefully) worry free.
4. Use Flat Rate Boxes. This may cost a bit more at the end ($18.85 each), but the ease of use makes up for it. I am making sure everything for each 4-day resupply box fits into a USPS Large Priority Flat-Rate, and prepare that box ready to ship at home. This way, my wife will be able to easily print the shipping label, schedule the pickup and place it outside for the mailman. No need for a trip to the post-office. It is important to label these correctly, but there is a very helpful online tool that gives you everything you need.
5. Schedule Timely Shipping of Each Box. Versus sending them all in February and hoping for the best when I arrive 5 months later, I’ll coordinate shipping with my wife after each pickup. These flat-rate priority boxes are guaranteed to ship in 3 days or less, so it’s just a matter of sending the next box when I arrive at the previous maildrop location. (e.g. pickup box 3, ship box 4). To be safe, I’ll maybe even do 2 stops in advance.
6. Plan for Cravings. There is no way I am going to eat only what I send. I’m going to get sick of ramen and cereal if I eat it every day. So, like in any good plan, give yourself a contingency buffer. In this case, I am shipping food for half the days, then planning to buy food in town for the other half. For example, my first resupply box will be picked up at the Top of Georgia Hostel, but the next box isn’t picked up until 7 days later at Fontana Dam. So instead of packing and carrying 7 days of food, I’ll pick up 4 days’ worth, then resupply after 4 days at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for 2 more days of food.