The questions surrounding Pacific Crest Trail resupply in this year’s Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hiker Survey were expanded to better answer what’s one of the trail’s biggest challenges (at least in the planning stages).
Hopefully, this information will help to lessen the unnecessary stress that hikers put themselves through when attempting to plan how to get more food and supplies into their packs whilst tramping through PCT wilderness.
Remember, this information is sourced from actual PCT hikers and is more than just one dude’s opinion (I’m that dude), but if we come across any anomalies in the data I will be sure to add my two cents (because I can’t afford more).
NOTE: A list of the different categories I broke hikers into and how they are identified can be found at the end of this post.
TO MAIL OR NOT TO MAIL?
First, hikers think they must decide how many resupply boxes to send.
THIS IS WRONG.
Unless you’ve chosen to mail yourself ALL your resupply boxes, which I would definitely NOT recommend doing unless you have a very legitimate reason (e.g. you only eat Vegemite and dehydrated free-range poultry), then the only boxes you’re going to want to concern yourself with sending before you begin your hike are those you’ll need in the desert.
Instead, what you do is MAIL YOURSELF BOXES FROM THE TRAIL. When you get to a stop with a large and affordable enough selection of hiker food you buy yourself an extra resupply, pack it into a box, and mail it up the trail.
This saves you the stress of needing to pack everything into boxes beforehand and allows you the flexibility to mix up your resupplies on the trail (because chances are your taste/diet will change as you being to turn into an unstoppable hiking machine).
- STRATEGY | 75% mailed SOME resupply boxes, 16% mailed ALL, 9% mailed NONE
- FINISH – AVERAGE BOXES SENT | 12 (σ = 8.5)
Let’s go with the average and mail 12 resupply boxes. Where do we want to send them?
According to this year’s class, the places you’re going to want to mail your twelve resupply boxes are (in geographical order from south to north):
- Warner Springs (Desert) – Mile 110
- Kennedy Meadows (Sierra) – Mile 703
- Sierra City (NorCal) – Mile 1,198
- Crater Lake/Mazama Village Store (Oregon) – Mile 1,830
- Shelter Cove (Oregon) – Mile 1,912
- Big Lake Youth Camp (Oregon) – Mile 2,002
- Timberline Lodge (Oregon) – Mile 2,107
- Trout Lake (Washington) – Mile 2,234
- White Pass (Washington) – Mile 2,303
- Snoqualmie Pass (Washington) – Mile 2,402
- Stevens Pass/Skykomish (Washington) – Mile 2,476
- Stehekin (Washington) – Mile 2,574
So for the ENTIRE STATE of California, you are only sending yourself THREE BOXES.
A lot of hikers also say that they wish they would have SENT BOXES FROM THE TRAIL instead of preparing all their resupplies ahead of time.
I know this might sound like a scary idea (does it really?), but trust me, it’s a smart move.
TOTAL PER SECTION:
- DESERT: 1 (Warner Springs)
- SIERRA: 1 (Kennedy Meadows)
- NORCAL: 1 (Sierra City)
- OREGON: 4 (Crater Lake, Shelter Cove, Big Lake Youth Camp, Timberline Lodge)
- WASHINGTON: 5 (Trout Lake, White Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass, Stehekin)
That’s it? Yes, that’s it.
And the idea that you don’t need to mail a lot of resupply boxes isn’t only coming from people who mailed themselves far too many. An entire 12% of people who sent FEWER than the average of 12 said they would have preferred fewer boxes when asked what about their resupply strategy they would have changed.
I also asked hikers where they would have rather mailed themselves a box instead of buying locally. This could be either because the selection isn’t very good, the prices are high, or the store owners are assholes.
The top responses were (in geographic order from south to north):
- Warner Springs (Desert)
- Agua Dulce (Desert)
- Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) (Sierra)
- Kennedy Meadows North (NorCal)
- Sierra City (NorCal)
- Belden (NorCal)
- Mazama Village Store (Crater Lake) (Oregon)
- Stehekin (Washington)
Agua Dulce, VVR, Kennedy Meadows North, and Belden did not make the “send a box here” list, so if you’re planning on resupplying at one of these locations (our “average resupply plan” is below) then you may want to consider sending an additional box.
Lastly (for this section), I asked what CHANGES hikers would make to their resupply strategies.
- Mail fewer boxes (overwhelmingly).
- Mail boxes from on the trail instead of ahead of time.
- Send less food in resupply boxes.
- Resupply more frequently.
WHAT FOOD TO SEND
Okay, but once you have your boxes, what should you be PUTTING INSIDE them? Some of the TOP COMMENTS I got from hikers about their resupplies said the following:
- More variety in boxes (you can only eat so many Snickers and tortillas)
- More dehydrated foods in boxes (if you have the means, then do it)
- Less food in boxes (you’ll be stopping more than you think)
- Healthier food in boxes (empty calories only get you so far)
- More snacks, fewer meals in boxes (forget about the idea of “meals”)
Looking for meal suggestions? The favorite (and least favorite) foods as reported by hikers were as follows:
- Mountain House
“NEVER AGAIN” FOODS:
- Clif Bars
- Idahoan Potatoes
- Assorted bars
HOW FREQUENTLY TO STOP
Another question on the resupply agenda is “How often do I want to resupply?”
This is incredibly difficult for hikers to accurately predict before starting the trail because few people know what their pace is going to be or what their still unknown trail friends will want to do (just remember to hike your own hike).
Stopping more frequently means less time spent hiking (which before starting your hike might sound like a bad thing), but it also means that you will not be carrying as much weight (in food) between your resupplies (lighter = better).
So how many stops did the Class of 2016 make on their thru-hikes?
- FINISH – AVERAGE RESUPPLY STOPS MADE | 26 (σ = 6.5)
And in their comments, many said they would have liked to resupply MORE OFTEN.
So let’s say that we’re going to just take the average plus one standard deviation to accommodate for the “more often” factor. That gives us a total of 32 resupply stops. That means you’re resupplying EVERY 83 MILES (134 km) on average. If you don’t want to carry more than seven days worth of food (which is a lot), then you would need to be doing an AVERAGE OF 11.8 miles per day (18.9 km).
How many miles per day did this year’s PCT Class average? 19.6 miles / 31.5 km.
Seems reasonable enough.
THE AVERAGE PCT RESUPPLY PLAN
Based on survey responses we can piece together what an “average” Pacific Crest Trail hiker’s resupply looked like for a 2016 thru-hike.
Now that we know how many boxes we’re mailing (12), 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 exactly are we going to stop?
A look we shall take, yes?
NOTE: The percentage of hikers who resupplied at each of 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.
- Campo (42%)
- Mount Laguna (88%)
- Julian (55%)
- Paradise Cafe (77%)
- Warner Springs (90%)
- Idyllwild (94%)
- Anza (1%)
- Cabazon (22%)
- Big Bear City (44%)
- Big Bear Lake (40%)
- Big Bear Hostel (27%)
- Wrightwood (85%)
- Acton (47%)
- The Saufley’s/Agua Dulce (78%)
- The Anderson’s (70%)
- Hikertown (74%)
- Tehachapi (80%)
- Majove (18%)
- Ridgecrest (3%)
- Kernville (1%)
- Onyx (7%)
- Lake Isabella (45%)
- Kennedy Meadows (94%)
- Lone Pine (35%)
- Independence (45%)
- Muir Trail Ranch (15%)
- Bishop (57%)
- Vermilion Valley Resort (49%)
- Red’s Meadow (50%)
- Mammoth Lakes (75%)
- Tuolumne Meadows (85%)
- Yosemite Valley (1%)
- Lee Vining (5%)
- Sonora Pass Resupply (1%)
- Bridgeport (16%)
- Kennedy Meadows North (45%)
- Markleeville (3%)
For more on the Kennedy Meadows to Vermilion Valley Resort resupply, find my detailed post here.
If you’re interested in my PCT resupply for each section then check out the following posts:
- South Lake Tahoe (90%)
- Echo Lake (26%)
- Tahoe City (9%)
- Soda Springs (7%)
- Truckee (32%)
- Sierra City (90%)
- Quincy (20%)
- Chester (57%)
- Drakesbad (45%)
- Old Station (71%)
- Belden (83%)
- Burney (38%)
- Burney Falls Guest Ranch (2%)
- Burney Falls (64%)
- Castella (42%)
- Dunsmuir (23%)
- Mount Shasta (55%)
- Etna (73%)
- Seiad Valley (85%)
- Callahan’s (49%)
- Ashland (85%)
- Fish Lake (22%)
- Lake of the Woods Resort (3%)
- Mazama Village Store (Crater Lake) (95%)
- Diamond Lake Resort (10%)
- Shelter Cove Resort (79%)
- Odell Lake Resort (7%)
- Elk Lake Resort (38%)
- Sisters (29%)
- Bend (50%)
- Big Lake Youth Camp (61%)
- Olallie Lake Resort (55%)
- Government Camp (13%)
- Timberline Lodge (86%)
- Cascade Locks (93%)
- Hood River (8%)
- Portland (1%)
- Trout Lake (51%)
- White Pass (93%)
- Packwood (23%)
- Snoqualmie Pass (96%)
- Stevens Pass/Skykomish (71%)
- The Dinsmores (22%)
- Leavenworth (4%)
- Stehekin (93%)
- Mazama (9%)
- Winthrop (10%)
That’s a lot of information.
How would our average Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker have used his or her 32 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 110: Warner Springs
- MILE 179: Idyllwild
- MILE 265: Big Bear City
- MILE 364: Wrightwood
- MILE 454: Agua Dulce
- MILE 558: Tehachapi
- MILE 652: Lake Isabella
- MILE 703: Kennedy Meadows
- MILE 790: Independence
- MILE 831: Bishop
- MILE 903: Mammoth Lakes
- MILE 942: Tuolumne Meadows
- MILE 1018: Kennedy Meadows North
- MILE 1093: South Lake Tahoe
- MILE 1198: Sierra City
- MILE 1334: Chester
- MILE 1378: Old Station
- MILE 1424: Burney Falls
- MILE 1507: Mount Shasta
- MILE 1606: Etna
- MILE 1662: Seiad Valley
- MILE 1727: Ashland
- MILE 1830: Mazama Village Store (Crater Lake)
- MILE 1912: Shelter Cove Resort
- MILE 2002: Big Lake Youth Camp
- MILE 2107: Timberline Lodge
- MILE 2155: Cascade Locks
- MILE 2234: Trout Lake
- MILE 2303: White Pass
- MILE 2402: Snoqualmie Pass
- MILE 2476: Stevens Pass/Skykomish
- MILE 2574: Stehekin
WHERE DO WE 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
- DESERT: Idyllwild
- SIERRA: Bishop
- NORCAL: South Lake Tahoe
- OREGON: Ashland
- WASHINGTON: Stehekin
- Mammoth Lakes (Sierra)
- Wrightwood (Desert)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY POINTS
- DESERT: Hikertown
- SIERRA: Kennedy Meadows
- NORCAL: Belden
- OREGON: Shelter Cove
- WASHINGTON: Snoqualmie Pass
- Seiad Valley (NorCal)
- Sierra City (NorCal)
And lastly, what about hitchhiking into town? 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):
- Lake Isabella (Desert)
- Independence from Kearsarge Pass (Sierra)
- Bishop (Sierra)
- Etna (Northern California)
- Trout Lake (Washington)
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 PCT RESUPPLY, CHECK OUT THESE POSTS.
Here are the labels used to differentiate hiker segments in this post:
- FINISH: Everyone who completed the entire PCT (regardless of direction hiked)