After deciding that you’re going to hike the Continental Divide Trail and researching your CDT gear, most aspiring thru-hikers move to the question of resupply.
What is CDT resupply? It’s the replenishment of the food (and other consumable items) carried in a hiker’s backpack. The idea that thru-hikers simply live in the mountains/woods without emerging for five months is a lie; they go into town to buy these things.
I tell hikers not worry too much about resupply before their thru-hikes, but I am not always believed. Honestly, barring a specific dietary restriction or tight resupply schedule (i.e. you’re on a CDT speed run), there’s little reason to stress about where you’re going to buy food in Colorado before you’ve stepped foot on the trail.
Using data from the 2019 Continental Divide Trail Thru-hiker Survey, I’ve compiled the following picture of what resupply looks like over the course of a Continental Divide Trail thru-hike. Hopefully, this let’s all you would-be CDT thru-hikers focus on more important things
Continental Divide Trail Resupply Overview
Notes on the data
- This year we had 176 completed surveys – that’s a 70% increase vs. last year and the most respondents in the history of the survey.
- Some responses have been sorted and colored to present the data in a friendlier manner (e.g. northbound vs. southbound responses).
- Not all CDT hikers meticulously document the stats of their thru-hike. Therefore, the data is not going to be 100% accurate. That said, it should be fairly close to the reality of the trail this year.
- I refer to survey respondents collectively as this year’s “class“. Remember, this is a sample and not a comprehensive survey of every single CDT hiker on the trail this year.
- If you find a small and meaningless discrepancy in the data, congratulations. However, if you find a large or obvious error, please let me know and it will be corrected.
- If you’re wondering what this symbol – σ – is, it’s the symbol for standard deviation. If you don’t know what that is, I invite you to use the Google.
- For stats requiring the length of the CDT for a calculation (e.g. average mileage per day over the course of the trail), I use 3,100 mi / 4,989 km (that said, almost nobody actually hikes this distance on the CDT).
- I will be releasing more detailed survey posts focused on CDT Horror Stories and CDT Advice in the coming weeks. If you would like to be notified of new surveys, click here.
LABELS differentiating hiker segments:
- THRU: Thru-hikers (all)
- THRU-0: Thru-hikers who did NOT complete the CDT
- THRU-1: Thru-hikers who completed the entire CDT
- NOBO: Northbound thru-hikers (all)
- NOBO-0: Northbound thru-hikers who did NOT complete the CDT
- NOBO-1: Northbound thru-hikers who completed the CDT
- SOBO: Southbound thru-hikers (all)
- SOBO-0: Southbound thru-hikers who did NOT complete the CDT
- SOBO-1: Southbound thru-hikers who completed the CDT
If NO LABEL has been appended to a data point, then I used all data collected (i.e. it also includes section hiker data).
Continental Divide Trail Resupply Strategy
Every time you find yourself in a town along the Continental Divide Trail you have some options as far as resupply:
- Buy yourself a full resupply (replenish your food stocks from zero back to a level sufficient to get you to the next resupply point)
- Buy yourself a partial resupply (i.e. snacks – just a boost to your current stocks to get you through to the next resupply point)
- Pick up a package that you’ve sent ahead to yourself from a post office or a hiker-friendly place along the trail (like a hotel or trail angel)
- Get yourself a large enough meal to hold yourself over until the next town.
- Skip the town completely and crush miles to your next resupply.
Sometimes your options are limited to a gas station or a very expensive general store (which is where some hikers may prefer to send themselves packages). Other times, you may be in a large town with a large supermarket (this is usually a good place to get yourself a resupply to send ahead to yourself somewhere).
Before delving into the “best” strategy for CDT resupply, I must warn you (again) to not fall into the trap of attempting to plan your entire hike ahead of time. It (probably) is not going to work (although I’ve been proven wrong in the past). Unless you have very specific dietary restrictions or some very compelling reason, there are few reasons for you to have your resupply stops planned ahead of time.
But remember, I am just some stranger on the internet, you do whatever you want, friend.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at what the CDT Class of 2019 did about resupply.
- 9.21% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 82.89% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 7.89% Mailed NO Resupplies
- 6.19% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 83.19% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 10.62% Mailed NO Resupplies
- 17.95% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 82.05% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 0% Mailed NO Resupplies
It appears that despite the option of mailing SOME resupply boxes being the most popular among thru-hikers – it’s also possible to complete the CDT without mailing any boxes at all.
The temptation to buy and prepare boxes ahead of time can be strong, but unless you’ve done a long-distance hike before (and based on the statistics from the CDT Survey – you probably have), it can be hard to imagine what you, in a month (or two…or three…), is going to want to eat all day after having hiked hundreds of miles.
But since practically all hikers send at least some boxes, how many boxes should you expect to pack and send over the course of the trail?
The average number of resupply boxes sent during a thru-hike
(σ = 6.85)
The average number of resupply boxes prepared prior to beginning a thru-hike
(σ = 6.55)
The average number of resupply boxes prepared prior to beginning a thru-hike
(σ = 5.70)
The percentage of hikers who said they would have liked to have sent fewer resupply boxes during a thru-hike
The average number of resupply boxes sent by of hikers who said they would have liked to have sent fewer resupply boxes
The percentage of hikers who said they would have liked to have prepared no resupply boxes before beginning their thru-hikes
The percentage of hikers who said they would have liked to have sent more resupply boxes during a thru-hike
The average number of resupply boxes sent by of hikers who said they would have liked to have sent more resupply boxes
The percentage of hikers who said they would have liked to have prepared all their resupply boxes before beginning their thru-hikes
It seems pretty clear – this year’s CDT class thinks you should send yourself eight resupply boxes over the course of the trail. But now the more important question – where are you going to send your eight boxes?
Where to Mail CDT Resupply Boxes
As part of the CDT Survey, I ask hikers where they definitely recommend sending a resupply box. Hiker motivations for sending a resupply box to a location on the trail can range from “the selection is bad and everything is expensive” to “the owners of the store are terrible people and we should not be supporting them”. Regardless of their reasons, here’s where the CDT Class of 2019 thinks you should send yourself resupply boxes.
In case there’s any confusion, the locations are listed in descending order (not geographical order) and the percentages reflect the percent of this year’s class that selected each location. And remember, this year’s class agreed upon sending eight resupply boxes; I’ve included 11 to give you options (because, you know, hike your own hike or whatever).
- Pie Town (New Mexico) – 72.37%
- Ghost Ranch (New Mexico) – 62.50%
- Doc Campbell’s (New Mexico) – 56.58%
- Leadore (Bannock Pass, Idaho) – 31.58%
- South Pass City* (Wyoming) – 26.97%
- Lima (Montana) – 26.32%
- Encampment (Battle Pass, Wyoming) – 25.66%
- East Glacier Village (Montana) – 19.74%
- Atlantic City* (Wyoming) – 18.42%
- Twin Lakes (Colorado) – 16.45%
- Old Faithful Village (Yellowstone, Wyoming) – 15.13%
- Brooks Lake Lodge (Wyoming) – 13.27%
*If you resupply at South Pass City or Atlantic City, it will be one or the other, not both (they are at the same point in the trail)
Before starting the CDT, many hikers fail to realize that you can easily send yourself boxes from towns on the trail (instead of having to prepare your boxes ahead of time).
The CDT is a long trail, but in reality, hikers are simply connecting a series of smaller trails between resupply stops. There’s no reason that you can’t go to a supermarket, buy yourself delicious hiker food, and mail it ahead to another location further up the trail (unless it’s Sunday because the post office is closed on Sunday – which may sound unimportant now, but will be an important thing to remember on the trail).
But let’s suppose you’re following the advice of this year’s CDT class, the number of resupply boxes (eight) that you will be to each section of the CDT are:
- NEW MEXICO: 3 (Pie Town, Ghost Ranch, Doc Campbell’s)
- COLORADO: 0
- WYOMING: 2 (South Pass City, Encampment)
- IDAHO/SOUTHERN MONTANA: 2 (Lima, Leadore)
- NORTHERN MONTANA: 1 (East Glacier Village)
Changes to CDT Resupply Strategy
To help future Continental Divide Trail hikers figure out a successful CDT resupply strategy, I ask hikers what they would have changed as far as resupply. Here are the top responses from what this year’s CDT class would like to have changed in terms of resupply:
- 22.12% – Include more variety in their resupplies (Clif bars and Stroopwafels will only get you so far)
- 19.47% – Mail resupply boxes from on the trail instead of ahead of time
- 15.04% – Send fewer resupply boxes over the course of the trail (10.94 was the average number of boxes sent by hikers who said this)
- 15.04% – Include healthier food in their resupplies (yes, you can survive on M&M’s – but should you?)
- 9.73% – Include less food in their resupplies (the challenge of how much food to buy remains constant over the course of the trail)
- 7.96% – Send more resupply boxes over the course of the trail (7.59 was the average number of boxes sent by hikers who said this)
What Food to Resupply with on the CDT
Now that we have an idea of where you’ll be resupplying, where you’ll be sending yourself resupply boxes, and how you should improve upon this year’s resupply choices, let’s take a peek into what exactly you can expect to be eating on the Continental Divide Trail.
Sure, I would love to simply eat a Costco-sized bag of M&M’s accompanied by a large brick of cheese and a bottle of Sriracha for each section of the trail, but it turns out this isn’t the healthiest (or most practical) strategy for CDT nourishment. What exactly do hikers eat on the CDT? Berries, insects, and dirt? Obviously. But there’s so much more on offer at (most of the) CDT resupply stops.
Here are this year’s favorite (and least favorite) DEHYDRATED MEALS and BACKPACKING SNACKS, as well as the things they will never be eating again (that is, until their next thru-hike).
FAVORITE BACKPACKING MEALS
*These items were rated as both the favorite snacks and among the things hikers are never eating again.
How Frequently to Resupply on the CDT
Predicting (with any degree of accuracy) where you will resupply before beginning a thru-hike, is something a lot of hikers attempt to do despite my telling them it’s not necessary. Do you know how long it’s going to take you to walk 100 mi / 160 km through the snow two months into your hike?
The weather, your physical condition, the people you’re with, where you’ve just come from, where you’re going, and so many other factors make this a (somewhat) educated guess at best.
Maybe you’re going to prefer carrying more food and resupply less often. Maybe you’re going to prefer a lighter load with more frequent stops in town. Maybe you’re going to be injured or quit in the first week and none of this will even matter.
So what’s the right balance between resupply and hiking? Honestly, it’s different for everyone, but with that said, here’s a look at what this year’s hikes looked like.
The average number of days it took hikers to complete the CDT
(σ = 20.10)
The average number of zero days taken during a thru-hike
(σ = 10.48)
The average number of days to Chama, NM
(σ = 15.62)
The average number of resupplies during a thru-hike
(σ = 4.23)
The average number of days between resupplies
(σ = 1.11)
The average number of miles between resupplies
This means that hikers averaged 23.88 mi / 38.43 km per day during their thru-hikes (not accounting for zero days). If this number looks big to you right now, don’t worry, it won’t after you’ve finished the CDT.
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 2019 thru-hike.
Below is a list of all the CDT resupply stops where hikers stopped this year accompanied by the percentage of hikers who stopped at each location.
Resupply stops are listed in geographical order from Mexico to Canada (that’s south to north in case you’re unsure) and, again, I used the following colors to indicate each resupply stop’s popularity: OVER 75%, 50-75%, 25-50%, LESS THAN 25%.
NEW MEXICO RESUPPLY
- Lordsburg (96.46%)
- Columbus (0.88%)
- Deming (0.88%)
- Silver City (100%)
- Doc Campbell’s (92.92%)
- Truth or Consequences (0.88%)
- Reserve (15.93%)
- Pie Town (93.81%)
- Quemado (1.77%)
- Grants (98.23%)
- Albuquerque (0.88%)
- Cuba (97.35%)
- Santa Fe (31.86%)
- Ghost Ranch (87.61%)
- Taos (0.88%)
- Chama (Cumbres Pass)
- Davila Ranch (0.88%)
- Pagosa Springs (Wolf Creek Pass) (62.83%)
- South Fork (Wolf Creek Pass) (20.35%)
- Platoro (29.20%)
- Del Norte (18.58%)
- Creede (41.59%)
- Silverton (Stony Pass) (6.19%)
- Durango (0.88%)
- Lake City (Spring Creek Pass) (46.9%)
- Monarch Mountain Lodge (Monarch Pass) (23.01%)
- Salida (Monarch Pass) (89.38%)
- Buena Vista (7.08%)
- Twin Lakes (81.42%)
- Leadville (75.22%)
- Copper Mountain (42.48%)
- Breckenridge (46.9%)
- Frisco (4.42%)
- Silverthorne (48.67%)
- Dillon (21.24%)
- Idaho Springs (2.65%)
- Winter Park (26.55%)
- Fraser (15.93%)
- Denver (12.39%)
- Grand Lake (89.38%)
- Steamboat Springs (Rabbit Ears Pass) (92.04%)
- Encampment (Battle Pass) (64.60%)
- Riverside (Battle Pass) (24.78%)
- Rawlins (97.35%)
- South Pass City (60.18%)
- Atlantic City (33.63%)
- Lander (65.49%)
- Pinedale (66.37%)
- Lava Mountain Lodge (Togwotee Pass) (5.31%)
- Dubois (Togwotee Pass) (78.76%)
- Jackson (Togwotee Pass) (15.93%)
- Brooks Lake Lodge (23.01%)
- Grant Village (Yellowstone) (52.21%)
- Old Faithful Village (Yellowstone) (83.19%)
- Mammoth (Yellowstone) (1.77%)
- Cody (2.65%)
IDAHO/SOUTHERN MONTANA RESUPPLY
- West Yellowstone (30.97%)
- Island Park (Mack’s Inn) (58.41%)
- Big Sky (2.65%)
- Ennis (2.65%)
- Lima (82.30%)
- Leadore (Bannock Pass) (79.65%)
- Tendoy (2.65%)
- Salmon (15.93%)
- Jackson (7.08%)
- Darby (Lost Trail Pass) (69.03%)
- Hamilton (Lost Trail Pass) (1.77%)
- Wisdom (2.65%)
NORTHERN MONTANA RESUPPLY
- Anaconda (71.68%)
- Butte (23.01%)
- Helena (89.38%)
- Elliston (3.54%)
- Lincoln (78.76%)
- Benchmark Wilderness Ranch (20.35%)
- Augusta (55.75%)
- East Glacier Village (98.23%)
- Two Medicine (58.41%)
- St Mary (5%)
- Many Glacier (69.03%)
How would our average Continental Divide Trail thru-hiker have used his or her 27.93 resupply stops (we’ll round up to 28) based on this information? It would look something the following (note: names in bold indicate locations where hikers suggest mailing a resupply box).
- Mile 85.5: Lordsburg
- Mile 124.2: Silver City
- Mile 211*: Doc Campbell’s
- Mile 424.1: Pie Town
- Mile 535.6: Grants
- Mile 642.8: Cuba
- Mile 696.4: Ghost Ranch
- Mile 792.4: Chama (Cumbres Pass)
- Mile 861.8: Pagosa Springs (Wolf Creek Pass)
- Mile 1078.8: Salida (Monarch Pass)
- Mile 1162: Twin Lakes
- Mile 1223.6: Breckenridge
- Mile 1240.9: Silverthorne*
- Mile 1364.3: Grand Lake
- Mile 1462.1: Steamboat Springs (Rabbit Ears Pass)
- Mile 1546.6: Encampment (Battle Pass)
- Mile 1692.1: Rawlins
- Mile 1750: Lander
- Mile 1915.2: Dubois (Togwotee Pass)
- Mile 2016.6: Old Faithful Village (Yellowstone)
- Mile 2054.2: Island Park (Mack’s Inn)*
- Mile 2164.7: Lima
- Mile 2267.5: Leadore (Bannock Pass)
- Mile 2398.8: Darby (Lost Trail Pass)
- Mile 2490.5: Anaconda*
- Mile 2653.6: Helena
- Mile 2699.3: Lincoln
- Mile 2779.6: Augusta
- Mile 2914.7: East Glacier Village
*These resupply points are located along alternates.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD (OR EVEN DECENT) RESUPPLY STRATEGY. For example, Silverthorne to Grand Lake (Colorado) requires that you take the Silverthorne Alternate (also, you wouldn’t stop in both Breckenridge and Silverthorne) and Lander to Dubois is a hell of a haul (although I did it with some rationing).
Between many resupply stops, you may pass a location where you can get a meal (Many Glacier, Montana) or a place where you can buy some snacks (Grant Village/Yellowstone in Wyoming). Remember that this post is meant as a tool to gently guide you towards a more successful resupply plan (whatever that means – since, as I’ve already told you, planning your resupplies is not the best investment of your time).
Favorite (and least favorite) resupply stops
I also asked about hikers’ FAVORITE and LEAST FAVORITE resupply points. Here’s what we came up with (for each section):
FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOP
via Monarch Pass (20.83%)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOP
via Bannock Pass (11.93%)
FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- NEW MEXICO: Doc Campbell’s (4.63%)
- COLORADO: Salida (20.83%)
- WYOMING: Lander (5.56%)
- IDAHO/MONTANA: Anaconda (10.19%)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- NEW MEXICO: Cuba (10.10%)
- COLORADO: N/A
- WYOMING: Rawlins (7.34%)
- IDAHO/MONTANA: Leadore (11.93%)
Other noteworthy least favorite places include Ghost Ranch (NM) and Benchmark Wilderness Ranch (MT).
What about hitchhiking to resupply stops? You may not realize it, but hitchhiking plays a big role on the CDT. It’s not unusual (and is actually quite common) for hikers to hitchhike into town to buy or pick up their resupplies. As part of the CDT Survey, I ask hikers what resupply stops (if any) they had difficulty hitchhiking to from the trail. The top responses were (from south to north):
- Steamboat Springs (Rabbit Ears Pass)
- Encampment (Battle Pass) (Wyoming)
- Lima (Southern Montana)
- Leadore (Bannock Pass) (Idaho)
- Darby (Lost Trail Pass) (Northern Montana)
- Augusta (Northern Montana)
Remember, hitchhiking can be a very subjective/random experience and it may be that you get a ride with the first passing car at a place where others waited for hours.
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?
- Plan ahead more, and have a bigger budget for resupply. I was WAY hungrier on this hike than any other, and I should have spent more time and money getting quality resupplies.
- Test your home-prepared food on a trail before you start. Some just aren’t as good as anticipated and some don’t rehydrate well or are difficult to clean up. Also, it is very important to eat heavy snacks all day. It’s hard to eat enough calories at a single sitting.
- Avoid mailing boxes to post offices, it never fails that I hike into town on a Sunday or holiday.
- If anything, to go into Pinedale during the Winds to have food for Cirque of the Towers and Knapsack Col. I went through and felt like I didn’t have enough food to go over those passes.
- Walmart.com – it makes resupply so easy. All of the advantages of boxes (except can’t send to post offices, but their hours are no good anyway), none of the planning!
- Relax, be flexible. Send fewer boxes, you can ALWAYS resupply at a gas station.
- The CDT is not like any other trail, so try not to micromanage planning from back home.
Most of all – have fun out there! And don’t die.
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.
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