Contrary to popular belief, Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers do not carry all of their food for the entire hike with them from the beginning (and if you’re hiking the CDT then I would expect you to know this since chances are you’ve already done a long-distance thru-hike).
If you’re unfamiliar with What does your resupply strategy look like?
Using the data I collected as part of the 2018 Continental Divide Trail Thru-hiker Survey, I’ve compiled the following information to build a useful picture of what a CDT resupply strategy looks like (spoiler alert: it doesn’t involve carrying five months’ worth of food).
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NOTES ON THE DATA
- This year we had 103 completed surveys – up over 20% from last year.
- The responses to some questions have been sorted and colored in hopes of more usefully and accurately presenting the data (e.g. northbound vs. southbound).
- Not all CDT hikers document the stats of their thru-hike so the data is not guaranteed accurate (this is not science we’re dealing with).
- For simplicity, I refer to the survey respondents collectively as this year’s “class“. Remember this is only a fraction of this year’s CDT hikers and it is not necessarily representative of the entire CDT Class of 2018.
- If you find some small and meaningless discrepancy in the data, get over it. BUT – if you find large or obvious errors, please let me know.
- I will be doing more posts utilizing the data from this year’s CDT Class. If you would like to be notified of these posts, please click here.
Here are the labels used to differentiate hiker segments:
- THRU: Thru-hikers (all)
- FINISH: Thru-hikers (all) who completed the entire CDT
- NOFINISH: Thru-hikers (all) who did NOT complete the CDT
If NO LABEL has been appended to a data point, then I used all data collected.
Continental Divide Trail Resupply Strategy
If you’ve set yourself down the path to a Continental Divide Trail thru-hike, then chances are you’ve heard of this thing called “resupply”. What’s resupply? It can be a verb, as in, “I can’t wait to resupply in the next town.” Or a noun, as in, “Fuck, my resupply got lost in the mail and now I have to buy food for the next section at the gas station.” It basically has to with replenishing your food stock.
Before I get into the “best” strategy for CDT resupply, I must warn you to not fall into the trap of trying to plan out your entire hike ahead of time. It’s not going to work. It’s better to have an idea of what you would like/expect to do as opposed to a strict plan. But hey, I’m just some dude on the internet, you do whatever you want, friend.
But seriously, unless you have very specific dietary restrictions (e.g. you’re a kosher vegan who’s allergic to nuts, wheat, and soy) or some very compelling reason (i.e. a FKT, fastest known time, attempt), there is zero reason for you have all of your resupply stops planned ahead of time.
Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at what the CDT Class of 2018 did about resupply.
- THRU – RESUPPLY STRATEGY
- 5.9% mailed ALL boxes
- 81.2% mailed SOME boxes
- 12.9% mailed NO boxes
- FINISH – RESUPPLY STRATEGY
- 5.1% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 84.6% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 10.3% Mailed NO Resupplies
- NOFINISH – RESUPPLY STRATEGY
- 6.7% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 73.3% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 20% Mailed NO Resupplies
Yes, mailing SOME resupply boxes is what the cool kids do on the CDT. How do I know they’re the cool kids? Obviously because they’re doing what everyone else is doing. That’s the only way to be cool.
There are two types of resupply boxes that you can send yourself when hiking the CDT. The first box is one that you’ve prepackaged and then either send to yourself before departing or leave with a trusted person to send after a certain amount of time has passed. The second box is one that you pack and then send to yourself from somewhere on the trail.
So you want to be cool (I get it, we all do) and decide that mailing some boxes is the way to go. So the next question is how many boxes should you be packing and sending when on the trail? Well, on average, this year’s CDT Class sent themselves eight resupply boxes (or 7.9 to be exact).
- FINISH – AVERAGE BOXES SENT: 7.9 (σ = 6)
- 23% – The percentage of hikers who said they would have liked to have sent FEWER resupply boxes.
- 8.9 – The average number of resupply boxes sent by hikers who said they would have liked to have sent FEWER resupply boxes.
- 10.3% – The percentage of hikers who said they would have liked to have sent MORE resupply boxes.
- 8.7 – The average number of resupply boxes sent by hikers who said they would have liked to have sent MORE resupply boxes.
So what does this tell us? Not much really except that CDT hikers sent, on average, about nine resupply boxes over the course of the trail. There doesn’t seem to be much consensus on whether this number should be larger or smaller. Guess that just means that there’s no “right way” to hike the CDT. You do you, friend. If the idea of packing yourself resupply boxes and hiding yourself goodies to forget about and then be surprised by in the future gets you excited, then go for it. Resupply box your little heart out.
Now that we know how many boxes we’re going to send, the next step is figuring out where to send those boxes.
Where to Mail CDT Resupply Boxes
I asked hikers where they would definitely recommend sending a resupply box and came up with the top ten responses. Why ten? Because, in case you didn’t read the above section, most hikers mailed SOME resupply boxes, and the average number of boxes mailed by thru-hikers who finished the CDT was eight. But since nobody agrees on whether this number should be larger or smaller, I’m giving you a few more options in case you fall into the “resupply happy” camp.
I’ve put the ranking at the end of each place name (that is, how many people voted for is at a place to “definitely mail a resupply box”, but I’ve ordered them geographically from south to north
- Doc Campbell’s (New Mexico) – Mile 200 (#2)
- Pie Town (New Mexico) – Mile 425 (#1)
- Ghost Ranch (New Mexico) – Mile 697 (#3)
- Lake City (Spring Creek Pass) (Colorado) – Mile 979 (#10)
- Twin Lakes (Colorado) – Mile 1,162 (#9)
- South Pass City (Wyoming) – Mile 1,747 (#8)
Brooks Lake Lodge (Wyoming) – Mile 1,918 (#5)(Brooks Lake Lodge does not accept resupply packages)
- Leadore (Bannock Pass) (Idaho/Southern Montana) – Mile 2,268 (#6)
- Lima (Idaho/Southern Montana) – Mile 2,165 (#7)
- Benchmark Wilderness Ranch (Northern Montana) – Mile 2,722 (#4)
Something many people don’t realize before beginning a thru-hike is that you can easily send yourself boxes from towns on the trail. Yes, the CDT is a long trail, but you’re really just connecting a bunch of smaller trails between resupply stops. There’s no reason that you can’t go to a supermarket during one of these stops, buy yourself a bunch of delicious hiker food, and mail it ahead to another resupply stop further up the trail (unless it’s Sunday because the post office is closed on Sunday).
In fact, 23% of hikers said, if they were to change something about their resupply strategy, they would either send NO boxes ahead of time or send more boxes from along the trail. Summing it up, here are the total number of resupply boxes you should be sending per CDT section (that is if you’re following the advice of this year’s CDT average).
- NEW MEXICO: 3 (Doc Campbell’s, Pie Town, Ghost Ranch)
- COLORADO: 2 (Lake City/Spring Creek Pass, Twin Lakes)
- WYOMING: 2 (South Pass City, Brooks Lake Lodge)
- IDAHO/SOUTHERN MONTANA: 2 (Leadore/Bannock Pass, Lima)
- NORTHERN MONTANA: 1 (Benchmark Wilderness Ranch)
I also asked hikers where they would have rather mailed themselves a box instead of buying locally. This could be either because the resupply selection is crap, the prices are high, or the store owners are assholes. The top responses were: Doc Campbell’s (New Mexico), Grand Lake (Colorado) Leadore (Bannock Pass) (Idaho/Southern Montana), and Twin Lakes (Colorado).
Two of these places, Doc Campbell’s (New Mexico) and Twin Lakes (Colorado), made the top ten places to send a resupply box, so if you’re wanting to send yourself the minimal number of boxes, consider sending boxes here.
Changes to CDT resupply strategy
I also asked hikers what CHANGES they would make to their resupply strategies if they were to do it all over with the knowledge of having now thru-hiked the CDT. The top responses were:
- 23% – Send fewer resupply boxes
- 14% – Send more variety in resupply boxes
- 14% – Healthier food in boxes
- 13% – Mail boxes from on then trail instead of ahead of time
- 23% – Send more resupply boxes
- 10% – Less food in boxes
- 7% – More food in boxes
- 6% – Prepare no boxes ahead of time
What Food to Send in CDT Resupply Boxes
We now know how many boxes we need and where we’re going to be sending them. But what exactly should we be putting in these boxes? Should you just empty ten bulk bags of M&M’s into a box and ship it off to yourself? Yes, yes you absolutely should. That would be amazing, so please do that. But if you’re not like me and the idea of surviving on chocolate bits of nostalgia doesn’t sound like your kind of party (you’re wrong, that’s everyone’s kind of party), then here’s what last year’s CDT Class told us about what they were putting inside their resupply boxes.
The TOP COMMENTS I got from hikers about the food in their resupplies were (as noted above):
- 14% – Send more variety in resupply boxes (like peanut, pretzel, and dark chocolate M&M’s – not just the originals
- 14% – Healthier food in boxes (if candy is green does that make it healthy?)
- 10% – Less food in boxes (because if you’ve never done this before, you probably have no idea what you’re doing and are going to overcompensate with way too much food)
How Frequently to Resupply on the CDT
Let’s review. We know how many boxes we’re sending, where we’re sending them, and what we’re putting in them, but this is only one (small) piece of the CDT resupply puzzle. The truth is, more often than not, you’re going to be resupplying in town at the locally available retailers (or, sometimes, at a small convenience store at a lakeside resort).
Now, the question becomes, “How often do I resupply?”
Accurately predicting where you’re going to resupply (and thus how often you resupply) before you start hiking is one of the most useless planning exercises people waste their time with. Predicting how long it’s going to take you to walk 100 mi / 160 km three months from now without knowing key variables such as the weather, your physical condition, and the people you’re with (yes, the people you’re with can have a big impact on where you resupply) is a wild guess at best.
If making it to the end of the CDT as quickly as possible is your goal, then the question of how often to resupply may seem straightforward – stop infrequently and carry lots of food. But carrying more food means carrying a heavier pack which could lead to a lower daily mileage or, worse, injury.
So what’s the right balance between resupply and hiking? Here’s a look at what the Class of 2018’s hikes looked like.
- FINISH – AVERAGE RESUPPLY STOPS MADE | 27 (σ = 3.9)
Despite the reported number of resupply stops being 27, the number of reported town stops (when hikers were asked to list specifically where they made stops) was 32. Interesting. To be safe, let’s unscientifically split the difference and call it an even 30 (I rounded up). This translates to a resupply stop every EVERY 103 MILES (166 km) on average. If you don’t want to carry more than six days worth of food (which is a lot), then you need to be AVERAGING 17.2 MILES per day (27.7 km). And remember, this number is based on a 3,100 mi / 4,989 km hike – which few people actually complete. The actual average daily mileage between stops, once you factor in the alternates that most people take, will be less.
How many miles per day did this year’s CDT Class average?
- FINISH – AVERAGE DAYS ON TRAIL | 140 (σ = 22.6)
- FINISH – OVERALL AVERAGE DAILY MILEAGE* | 22.7 mi / 36.53 km (σ = 3.8 mi / 6.12 km)
- FINISH – AVERAGE ZERO DAYS | 15 (σ = 9.7)
- FINISH – AVERAGE DAYS HIKING (SUBTRACT ZERO DAYS) | 125.7 (σ = 19.4)
- FINISH – HIKING DAYS AVERAGE DAILY MILEAGE* | 25.2 mi / 40.56 km (σ = 4 mi / 6.44 km)
- NOBO-1 – PRE-SAN JUAN AVERAGE DAILY MILEAGE* | 22.21 mi / 35.74 km (σ = 5.76 mi / 9.27 km)
- NOBO-1 – POST-SAN JUAN MEADOWS AVERAGE DAILY MILEAGE* | 22.14 mi / 35.63 km (σ = 3.4 mi / 5.47 km)
- FINISH – AVERAGE NEAR-O DAYS | 14.8 (σ = 8.2)
*these values assume a 3,100 mi /4,989 km hike (I know, very few people actually hike this many miles – this should give you an upper boundary for your estimations)
Obviously, stretches between resupply can vary greatly and some will be a lot longer (or shorter) than others, but this should give you a rough idea of what to expect.
The Average CDT Resupply Plan
Based on survey responses we can piece together what an “average” Continental Divide Trail hiker’s resupply looked like for a 2018 thru-hike.
Now that we know how many boxes we’re mailing, where we’re mailing them to, what’s going in them, and how often we want to stop for resupplies, we can focus on arguably the most important question: where are we going to stop?
NOTE: The percentage of hikers who resupplied at the following places has been coded as follows: OVER 66%, 33-66%, LESS THAN 33%. Also, stops are listed in geographical order from south to north.
- Lordsburg (99%)
- Columbus (1%)
- Deming (3%)
- Silver City (97%)
- Doc Campbell’s (97%)
- Reserve (14%)
- Pie Town (100%)
- Quemado (1%)
- Grants (99%)
- Cuba (96%)
- Santa Fe (6%)
- Ghost Ranch (85%)
- Taos (4%)
- Chama (Cumbres Pass) (97%)
- Pagosa Springs (Wolf Creek Pass) (85%)
- South Fork (Wolf Creek Pass) (14%)
- Platoro (1%)
- Del Norte (1%)
- Creede (28%)
- Silverton (Stony Pass) (21%)
- Durango (5%)
- Lake City (Spring Creek Pass) (72%)
- Monarch Mountain Lodge (Monarch Pass) (27%)
- Salida (Monarch Pass) (83%)
- Buena Vista (4%)
- Twin Lakes (81%)
- Leadville (53%)
- Copper Mountain (22%)
- Breckenridge (50%)
- Frisco (4%)
- Silverthorne (29%)
- Dillon (8%)
- Idaho Springs (3%)
- Winter Park (19%)
- Fraser (19%)
- Denver (18%)
- Grand Lake (97%)
- Steamboat Springs (Rabbit Ears Pass) (95%)
- Encampment (Battle Pass) (59%)
- Riverside (Battle Pass) (24%)
- Rawlins (100%)
- South Pass City (54%)
- Atlantic City (23%)
- Lander (56%)
- Pinedale (53%)
- Lava Mountain Lodge (Togwotee Pass) (4%)
- Dubois (Togwotee Pass) (76%)
- Jackson (Togwotee Pass) (15%)
- Brooks Lake Lodge (18%)
- Grant Village (Yellowstone) (38%)
- Old Faithful Village (Yellowstone) (88%)
- Island Park (Mack’s Inn) (53%)
- Lima (81%)
- Leadore (Bannock Pass) (77%)
- Tendoy (3%)
- Salmon (26%)
- Jackson (6%)
- Darby (Lost Trail Pass) (53%)
- Hamilton (Lost Trail Pass) (4%)
- Wisdom (6%)
- Wise River (8%)
- Anaconda (62%)
- Butte (44%)
- Helena (81%)
- Elliston (6%)
- Lincoln (86%)
- Benchmark Wilderness Ranch (28%)
- Augusta (49%)
- East Glacier Village (100%)
- Two Medicine (55%)
- St Mary (5%)
- Many Glacier (65%)
How would our average Continental Divide Trail thru-hiker have used his or her 35 resupply stops based on this information?
It would look something like this (COLORED NAMES indicate that sending a box was prefered by this year’s class):
- MILE 86: Lordsburg
- MILE 162: Silver City
- MILE 200: Doc Campbell’s*
- MILE 425: Pie Town
- MILE 536: Grants
- MILE 643: Cuba
- MILE 697: Ghost Ranch**
- MILE 701: Chama (Cumbres Pass)
- MILE 862: Pagosa Springs (Wolf Creek Pass)
- MILE 979: Lake City (Spring Creek Pass)
- MILE 1079: Salida (Monarch Pass)
- MILE 1162: Twin Lakes
- MILE 1234: Breckenridge
- MILE 1309: Winter Park/Fraser
- MILE 1364: Grand Lake
- MILE 1460: Steamboat Springs (Rabbit Ears Pass)
- MILE 1547: Encampment (Battle Pass)
- MILE 1629: Rawlins
- MILE 1747: South Pass City
- MILE 1750: Lander
- MILE 1828: Pinedale
- MILE 1915: Dubois (Togwotee Pass)
- MILE 1992: Grant Village (Yellowstone)
- MILE 2017: Old Faithful Village (Yellowstone)
- MILE 2054: Island Park (Mack’s Inn)***
- MILE 2165: Lima
- MILE 2268: Leadore (Bannock Pass)
- MILE 2390: Darby (Lost Trail Pass)
- MILE 2490: Anaconda****
- MILE 2654: Helena
- MILE 2722: Lincoln
- MILE 2780: Augusta
- MILE 2915: East Glacier Village
- MILE 2925: Two Medicine
- MILE 2980: Many Glacier
I know how badly you want to fit in and be really cool CDT thru-hikers (don’t worry, you are), but remember this is just one of countless potential CDT resupply examples. This is not a definitive guide by any means. It’s meant to be a tool to gently guide you as you try to not starve in the mountains (you wouldn’t want to deny the sleuth of bears that consumes your body a proper feed, would you?).
*Doc Campbell’s is along the Gila River Alternate which bypasses 74.3 mi / 119.6 km of the CDT.
**Ghost Ranch is along the Ghost Ranch Alternate which bypasses 2.5 mi / 4 km of the CDT
***Island Park (Mack’s Inn) is along the Mack’s Inn Alternate which bypasses 37.7 mi / 60.7 km of the CDT
****Anaconda is along the Anaconda Cutoff Alternate which bypasses 87.3 mi / 140.5 km of the CDT
Which Alternates Did Hikers Take?
A big question in a future CDT hiker’s mind may be, “What alternates am I going to (supposed to?) take?” Taking alternates can have a big impact on resupply strategy which is what can make attempting to plan a complete CDT resupply schedule difficult.
Many CDT hikers use an app appropriately titled “CDT” (aka “Guthook” aka “Atlas Guides”). This app shows the trail as well as many of the alternates, which are colored within the app to distinguish them from the official CDT. I’ve included the colors of each alternate below since many hikers simply use these colors to refer to/identify these other trails (e.g. “The brown alternate south of Grants”). If you’re interested in the app (and if you’re hiking the CDT, you should be), you can find it here: iOS/Android.
The colors used to identify the popularity of each alternate are as follows: OVER 66%, 33-66%, LESS THAN 33%
- Columbus Alternate (Teal): 3%
- Gila River Alternate (Pink): 95%
- Gila River High Route Alternate (Orange): 15%
- Pie Town Alternate via Mangas Mountain (Blue): 64%
- Cebolla Wilderness Alternate (Brown): 54%
- Bonita-Zuni Alternate (Blue): 47%
- Mount Taylor Alternate (Purple): 71%
- Ghost Ranch Alternate (Green): 82%
- Other: 3%
- Great Divide Alternate (Green): 1%
- Elwood Pass (Blue): 8%
- Creede Cutoff (Brown): 19%
- Mirror Lake Alternate (Purple): 10%
- Silverthorne Alternate (Teal): 27%
- Montezuma Alternate: 1%
- Argentine Spine (Pink): 28%
- Rocky Mountain National Park Shortcut (Orange): 46%
- Other: 6%
- Ley Alternate south of Rawlins: 55%
- Lava Mountain Lodge: 2%
- Wind River High Route: 4%
- Cirque of the Towers (Blue): 81%
- Knapsack Col (Pink): 53%
- Leeds Creek (Teal): 17%
- Teton Alternate: 5%
- Other: 10%
- Mack’s Inn Alternate (Blue): 63%
- Big Sky Alternate: 10%
- Super Butte Cutoff: 3%
- Anaconda Cutoff (Blue): 55%
- Butte Connector (Brown): 10%
- Spotted Bear Pass (Orange): 33%
- Chief Mountain (Pink): 82%
- Other: 15%
“Ley Alternate” refers to an alternate route on the Ley Maps – maps produced by CDT hiker Jonathan Ley. More on the Ley Maps here.
Where Did Hikers Like (and Not Like)?
I also asked about hikers’ FAVORITE and LEAST FAVORITE resupply points. Here’s what we came up with (for each section):
FAVORITE RESUPPLY POINTS
- NEW MEXICO: Pie Town
- COLORADO: Salida (Monarch Pass)
- WYOMING: Pinedale
- IDAHO/SOUTHERN MONTANA: Darby
- NORTHERN MONTANA: Helena
- Leadville (Colorado)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY POINTS
- NEW MEXICO: Grants
- COLORADO: N/A
- WYOMING: Rawlins
- IDAHO/SOUTHERN MONTANA: N/A
- NORTHERN MONTANA: Benchmark Wilderness Ranch
- Cuba (New Mexico)
- Ghost Ranch (New Mexico)
And what about hitchhiking into town? You know, that thing you do when you want someone to axe-murder you. It’s commonplace on the CDT, in case you were unaware. I asked hikers what resupply stops (if any) they had difficulty making it to from the trail. The top responses were (from south to north):
- Chama via Cumbres Pass (New Mexico/Colorado)
- Lake City via Spring Creek Pass (Colorado)
- Encampment via Battle Pass (Wyoming)
- Lander (Wyoming)
- Leadore via Bannock Pass (Idaho)
- Augusta (Montana)
CDT Resupply Advice
We’ve covered a lot thus far, but enough with the numbers and colored labels and bulleted lists of places you may or may not have ever heard of. What did thru-hikers have to say about resupply on the CDT?
- Always use the post office if there is one. I often sent boxes to hotels since you sometimes get into town after the post office is closed, but then if a fire forces a reroute your box is stranded.
- Carry more food in the beginning.
- Don’t use Benchmark! Either carry heavy or go into Augusta!
- I would have sent less food to myself in the beginning and raided hiker boxes more. Really only works in New Mexico for NOBO hikers.
- Pinedale was expensive for resupply, but I’m not sure if it was that much more expensive than it would have been worth posting a box. Hitch in and out of Dubois was a nightmare, would send a box to Brooks Lake Lodge next time.
- Send boxes earlier. Postal service sucks. Especially in Colorado for some reason.
- Notching was not as bad as I thought. Resupply as often as you can!
- Send more “town food” in boxes to places without any food options, like Brooks Lake Lodge and South Pass City
Changes For Next Year
- If you have any suggestions to improve this post for next year, please leave a comment below and I might add it to this list.
If there is ANYTHING you can think of that would make this information more useful (or any more resupply related cross-referencing you would like to see), then please LEAVE A COMMENT and let me know.
FOR MORE ON CDT RESUPPLY, CHECK OUT THESE POSTS.