Continental Divide Trail resupply is typically what will begin consuming much of your time after you finish researching your CDT gear. However, you should probably spend less time thinking about resupply and more time training with a heavy pack on. That said, it does help to familiarize yourself with your resupply options before hitting the trail.
But first, what is this “resupply”? On a thru-hike, resupply refers to the replenishment of the food (and other consumable items) carried in a hiker's backpack. This can be a verb, “I am going to resupply”, or a noun, “I just picked up my resupply”. Isn't language fun?
As alluded to above, I often advise hikers not to worry too much about resupply before beginning a thru-hike. Barring any dietary restrictions or a 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 Wyoming in a couple of months. The Continental Divide Trail is (generally) within reach of society and it's not typically challenging to get yourself to somewhere where you can pause and organize yourself and your hike.
Using data from the 2020 Continental Divide Trail Thru-hiker Survey, I've compiled the following picture of what resupply looks like on a Continental Divide Trail thru-hike. Hopefully, this lets all you would-be CDT thru-hikers focus on more important things (like spending all your money on fancy gear).
Notes on the data
- This year we had 83 completed surveys – fewer than last year, but still only two short of our first Continental Divide Trail 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. The data is not going to be 100% accurate.
- I refer to survey respondents collectively as this year's “class“. Remember, this is a sample and not a comprehensive survey of every CDT hiker who intended to hike or who did hike this year.
- If they recall only math-exam anxiety, it's suggested you familiarize yourself with the words average, median (M), and standard deviation (σ).
- 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).
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When you find yourself in town along the Continental Divide Trail, you have the following options in terms of your 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 (boost your current stock to get you through to the next resupply point – i.e. get more snacks)
- Pick up a package from a post office or hiker-friendly place along the trail (like a hotel or trail angel) that you've sent ahead to yourself.
- Get yourself a large enough meal to hold yourself over until the next town (some hikers are fond of doing this at the Cajon Pass McDonald's).
- 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'll find yourself in a large town with a supermarket (this is a good place to get a resupply to send ahead 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. It's like worrying about how you're going to get home when you reach the northern/southern terminus; it doesn't matter to you who has yet to walk a single step. There will be plenty of time on the trail to figure out your resupply, trust me (I'm an internet stranger, so you basically have to).
With this in mind, let's take a look at the CDT Class of 2020's resupply.
Number of resupply boxes sent
- 0% Mailed all resupplies
- 23.7% Mailed most resupplies (> 50%)
- 47.4% Mailed some resupplies (10-50%)
- 15.8% Mailed a few resupplies (1-10%)
- 13.2% Mailed no resupplies
- 0% Mailed all resupply
- 86.9% Mailed some resupply
- 13.2% Mailed no resupply
- 9.2% Mailed all resupply
- 82.9% Mailed some resupply
- 7.9% Mailed no resupply
As with most years (every year), the vast majority of hikers split their resupplies between buying locally and sending resupply boxes ahead.
Buying food and preparing boxes ahead of time can be tempting for the first-time thru-hiker (or experienced, but uncertain thru-hikers). A certain (false) sense of security comes from arranging your resupply before the trail – a kind of “well, I've got all that sorted out”. Except on the trail, all of that sorting out can prove more a liability than an asset.
Plans change, post offices aren't always open, boxes get lost, hikes end early – a lot can happen between starting a hike and a resupply box you hope to receive weeks or even months later.
And unless you've completed a long-distance hike, it can be difficult to predict what you, in a month (or two…or three…), is going to want to eat all day after having hiked hundreds or thousands of miles.
Number of Resupply Boxes
This is a chart of the total number of resupply boxes by thru-hikers who completed the entire Continental Divide Trail.
Average boxes: 9.2
Median boxes: 8
Number of Resupply Boxes Prepared Pre-trail
As part of CDT resupply planning, many hikers prepare resupply boxes ahead of time. Here are the stats for the number of boxes that thru-hikers prepared before setting foot on the trail.
Average boxes: 6
Median boxes: 4
Note: You can buy and prepare resupply boxes from on the trail; you don't need all of your boxes ready before you even begin your hike.
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 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 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
This year's average number of boxes sent was 9.2, the median was 8, people who sent 10 wanted to send more, and people who sent over 13 wanted to send fewer. So the ideal number of resupply boxes according to this year's class is somewhere between 11 and 12. Let's round up to 12?
Remember, there is no correct “number of CDT resupply boxes”, but there are most-definitely places where a prepackaged and curated selection of your own preferences will be preferable to the local selection.
Where to Mail CDT Resupply Boxes
As part of the CDT Survey, I ask hikers where they definitely recommend sending a resupply box. Hikers' 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 2020 thinks you should send yourself resupply boxes.
In case there's any confusion, the locations are listed in descending order (not geographical order). The percentages reflect the percent of this year's class who indicated that they would “definitely send a resupply box” to each location. And remember, this year's class agreed upon sending twelve resupply boxes.
- Pie Town (New Mexico) 72.7%
- Leadore via Bannock Pass (Idaho) 50%
- Lima (Montana) 41%
- Atlantic City (Wyoming) 27.3%
Brooks Lake Lodge (Wyoming) 27.3%(Brooks Lake Lodge does not accept resupply packages)
- Doc Campbell’s (New Mexico) 27.3%
- Encampment via Battle Pass (Wyoming) 27.3%
- Twin Lakes (Colorado) 27.3%
- Benchmark Wilderness Ranch (Montana) 22.7%
- Monarch Mountain Lodge via Monarch Pass (Colorado) 18.2%
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). You are not committed to the plan you have on the first day you set foot on the trail.
The CDT is long. However, it simply connects a series of smaller trails between resupply stops. Nothing is stopping you from going to a supermarket, buying yourself delicious hiker food, and mailing it to yourself 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 whilst on the trail).
For the sake of simplicity, let's suppose you're strictly following the advice of this year's CDT class. The number of resupply boxes that you will be sending to each section of the CDT is:
- New Mexico: 2 (Pie Town, Doc Campbell’s)
- Colorado: 2 (Monarch Mountain Lodge, Twin Lakes)
- Wyoming: 3 (Encampment, Brooks Lake Lodge, Atlantic City)
- Idaho/Montana: 3 (Lima, Leadore, Benchmark Wilderness Ranch)
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:
- 18.2% – Include more variety in their resupplies (Clif bars and Stroopwafels will only get you so far)
- 13.6% – Send fewer resupply boxes over the course of the trail (13.7 was the average number of boxes sent by hikers who said this)
- 13.6% – Include less food in their resupplies (the challenge of how much food to buy remains constant over the course of the trail)
- 9.1% – Include healthier food in their resupplies (yes, you can survive on M&M's – but should you?)
- 9.1% – Resupply more frequently (more frequent resupplies means less weight carried – but also more time in town)
Favorite Hiker Meals & Snacks
Another big consideration of Continental Divide Trail resupply? What food are you going to be resupplying with?
Honestly, I would love to simply eat a party-sized bag of M&M's accompanied by a large brick of cheese and a bottle of Sriracha for each section of the trial, but I've been told this isn't healthy (and nearly 20% of CDT hikers said they wish they had resupplied with healthier food). So what do CDT hikers eat? Berries, insects, dirt, fallen day hikers? 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.
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How Frequently to Resupply
Predicting (with any degree of accuracy) where you will resupply before beginning a thru-hike, is something a lot of hikers attempt to do (usually, unsuccessfully). Do you know how long it's going to take you to walk 125 mi / 200 km three months into your hike with four days of unscheduled rain and too much food in your pack?
Your physical condition, the weather, where you've just come from, the people you're with, 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 resupplying 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? It's different for everyone. A response that many of you may not want to hear, but also the most accurate response I can offer you. That said, here's a look at what this year's hikes looked like in terms of resupply.
The average number of days it took hikers to complete the CDT
(M = 133 | σ = 15.9)
The average number of zero days taken during a thru-hike
(M = 13 | σ = 9.6)
The average number of nearo days (low mileage days)
(M = 10 | σ = 5.9)
Length of Each Section
- 34 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete New Mexico
- 39 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete Colorado
- 34 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete Wyoming
- 51 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete Idaho/Montana
- 143 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete the CDT
The average number of resupplies during a thru-hike
(M =24 | σ = 3.7)
The average number of days between resupplies
(M = 5.3 | σ = 1.2)
The average number of miles between resupplies
Resupplies Per Section
- 7 – Average number of resupplies in New Mexico
- 7.3 – Average number of resupplies in Colorado
- 5.3 – Average number of resupplies in Wyoming
- 6.4 – Average number of resupplies in Montana
- 24.3: Average number of resupplies on 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 out there.
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 2020 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 use the following colors to indicate each resupply stop's popularity: OVER 75%, 50-75%, 25-50%, LESS THAN 25%.
NEW MEXICO RESUPPLY
- Lordsburg (92.3%)
- Columbus (0%)
- Deming (0%)
- Silver City (100%)
- Doc Campbell’s (92.3%)*
- Truth or Consequences (0%)
- Reserve (7.7%)
- Davila Ranch (7.7%)
- Pie Town (92.3%)*
- Quemado (0%)
- Grants (92.3%)
- Albuquerque (0%)
- Cuba (92.3%)
- Santa Fe (11.5%)
- Ghost Ranch (4%)
- Taos (0%)
- Chama via Cumbres Pass (100%)
- Pagosa Springs via Wolf Creek Pass (52%)
- South Fork via Wolf Creek Pass (4%)
- Platoro (4%)
- Del Norte (8%)
- Creede (40%)
- Silverton via Stony Pass (4%)
- Durango (0%)
- Lake City via Spring Creek Pass (36%)
- Monarch Mountain Lodge via Monarch Pass (68%)
- Salida via Monarch Pass (68%)
- Buena Vista (16%)
- Twin Lakes (60%)*
- Leadville (40%)
- Copper Mountain (12%)
- Breckenridge (16%)
- Frisco (36%)
- Silverthorne (16%)
- Dillon (16%)
- Idaho Springs (0%)
- Winter Park (16%)
- Fraser (0%)
- Denver (12%)
- Grand Lake (88%)
- Steamboat Springs via Rabbit Ears Pass (84%)
- Encampment via Battle Pass (44%)*
- Riverside via Battle Pass (4%)
- Rawlins (100%)
- South Pass City (36%)
- Atlantic City (28%)*
- Lander (48%)
- Pinedale (64%)
- Lava Mountain Lodge via Togwotee Pass (0%)
- Dubois via Togwotee Pass (56%)
- Jackson via Togwotee Pass (16%)
- Brooks Lake Lodge (24%)*
- Cody (8%)
- Grant Village in Yellowstone (24%)
- Old Faithful Village in Yellowstone (64%)
- Mammoth Village in Yellowstone (12%)
- West Yellowstone (22.7%)
- Island Park / Mack's Inn (50%)
- Big Sky (18.2%)
- Ennis (4.5%)
- Lima (68.2%)*
- Leadore via Bannock Pass (68.2%)*
- Tendoy (9.1%)
- Salmon (9.1%)
- Jackson (9.1%)
- Darby via Lost Trail Pass (41%)
- Hamilton via Lost Trail Pass (9.1%)
- Wisdom (9.1%)
- Anaconda (58.8%)
- Butte (29.4%)
- Bozeman (11.6%)
- Helena (64.7%)
- Elliston (17.7%)
- Lincoln (41.2%)
- Benchmark Wilderness Ranch (35.3%)*
- Augusta (35.3%)
- East Glacier Village (17.6%)
- Two Medicine (0%)
- St Mary (5%)
- Many Glacier (0%)
- West Glacier (17.6%)
*Resupply stops where hikers suggest sending a resupply box.
Based on this information, how would our average Continental Divide Trail thru-hiker have used these 24.3 resupply stops (we'll round up to 25)? It would resemble 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 792.4: Chama via Cumbres Pass
- Mile 861.8: Pagosa Springs via Wolf Creek Pass
- Mile 1078.8: Salida via Monarch Pass
- Mile 1162: Twin Lakes
- Mile 1364.3: Grand Lake
- Mile 1462.1: Steamboat Springs via Rabbit Ears Pass
- Mile 1546.6: Encampment via Battle Pass
- Mile 1692.1: Rawlins
- Mile 1795.1: Pinedale
- Mile 1915.2: Dubois via 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 via Bannock Pass
- Mile 2398.8: Darby via Lost Trail Pass
- Mile 2490.5: Anaconda*
- Mile 2653.6: Helena
- Mile 2699.3: Lincoln
- Mile 2779.6: Augusta
*These locations are located along CDT alternates.
NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD (OR EVEN DECENT) RESUPPLY STRATEGY.
Between many resupply stops, you may pass a location where you can get a meal (Doc Campbell’s in New Mexico, for example) or a place where you can buy some snacks (Twin Lakes in Colorado, for example). 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 resupplies is a not great investment of your time).
Favorite (and least favorite) resupply stops
The Continental Divide Trail is mostly about hiking (the worst), but the towns along the trail also play a role in the CDT experience. This is why I ask hikers' favorite and least favorite resupply points. Take note that when asking this question I specify “‘Favorite/Least Favorite' means where [hikers] most/least enjoyed, not where had the best/worst resupply options (although these could be the same).”
Here's what we came up with (for each section).
FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOP
Doc Campbell’s, NM
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOP
FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- NEW MEXICO: Doc Campbell's (26%)
- COLORADO: Salida (21%)
- WYOMING: Dubois (26%)
- IDAHO/MONTANA: Darby (11%)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- NEW MEXICO: Cuba (24%)
- COLORADO: N/A
- WYOMING: Old Faithful Village (13%)
- IDAHO/MONTANA: Leadore (11%)
Hitchhiking to Town
What about hitchhiking to resupply stops? You may not realize it, but hitchhiking plays a big role on the Continental Divide Trail. It's not unusual (and is fairly 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):
- Chama via Cumbres Pass (New Mexico)
- Steamboat Springs via Rabbit Ears Pass (Colorado)
- Encampment via Battle Pass (Wyoming)
- Lander (Wyoming)
- Augusta (Northern Montana)
Remember, hitchhiking can be a very subjective/random experience. It may be you get a ride with the first car past at a place where others stand waiting for hours.
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 Continental Divide Trail resupply?
- Bars (especially Clif Bars), instant oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit, electrolytes, and desserts (candy) were easily found in the vast majority of resupply towns. I suggest that your resupply boxes should contain mostly hard to find items, such as specialty dinners, protein shake mixes, multivitamins, maps, travel size deodorant, etc.
- Carry butter out from town. Carry town food (pizza, burgers, fresh fruit) from each trail town.
- Carry less weight by resupplying more often but get in and out of town faster. Do more research – there were smaller resupply towns/places that I didn't know about beforehand.
- Make sure to send yourself some special treats occasionally for a morale boost.
- The CDT has a lot of decent grocery stores to resupply at, mix it up a bit, and try out new things along the way.
- Eat as much variety as possible. Eat more than you think you should. Pack out an onion and a bell pepper whenever you can and add them to meals. Only go stoveless if you’ve done so already and really know you like it. Many hikers we spoke with regret not carrying a stove. No need to send any boxes in Colorado. Barely any need to send any boxes on the CDT period.
Support the CDT Survey
I get a lot of people asking every year how to support the surveys and beyond sharing them with your close-knit bubble of weird hiker friends, the best way to support the Continental Divide Trail is to donate on Patreon. You'll get access to exclusive posts, discount codes, live streams, and super extra cool stickers so that everyone will know how cool you are.
This is not expected. The data collected in the CDT Survey will always be free and accessible to everyone who wants/needs it. That said, your support is very much appreciated and helps to pay the website (and survey) bills.
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.
Planning to hike the CDT?
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