What is PCT resupply? It's essentially the replenishment of the food (and other consumable items) carried in a hiker's backpack. Yes, it's true, hikers of the Trail of Pacific Crest leave the trail and go into town to buy more food. The idea that thru-hikers simply live in the mountains/woods without emerging for five months is a lie.
I tell people they need not worry too much about resupply prior to beginning their thru-hikes, but I am not always believed. Honestly, bar any incredibly specific dietary restriction or tight resupply schedule (i.e. you're on a PCT speed run), there's little reason to stress about where you're going to buy food in Northern California in a couple of months before you've even stepped foot on the trail.
Using data from the 2019 Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hiker Survey, I've compiled the following picture of what resupply looks like over the course of a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. Hopefully, this let's all you would-be PCT thru-hikers focus on more important things
Pacific Crest Trail Resupply Overview
Notes on the data
- This year we had 846 completed surveys – that's a 68% 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 PCT hikers meticulously document the stats of their thru-hike (yes, I'm weird). 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 PCT 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 PCT for a calculation (e.g. average mileage per day over the course of the trail), I use 2,660 mi / 4,280 km.
- I will be releasing more detailed survey posts focused on PCT Demographics, PCT Horror Stories, and PCT 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 PCT
- THRU-1: Thru-hikers who completed the entire PCT
- NOBO: Northbound thru-hikers (all)
- NOBO-0: Northbound thru-hikers who did NOT complete the PCT
- NOBO-1: Northbound thru-hikers who completed the PCT
- SOBO: Southbound thru-hikers (all)
- SOBO-0: Southbound thru-hikers who did NOT complete the PCT
- SOBO-1: Southbound thru-hikers who completed the PCT
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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Pacific Crest Trail Resupply Strategy
Every time you find yourself in a town along the Pacific Crest 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 PCT 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 (and everyone else) are just some strangers on the internet, you do whatever you want, friend.
With this in mind, let's take a look at what the PCT Class of 2019 did about resupply.
- 4.46% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 95.23% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 0.31% Mailed NO Resupplies
- 3.43% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 96.34% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 0.23% Mailed NO Resupplies
- 5.95% Mailed ALL Resupplies
- 92.94% Mailed SOME Resupplies
- 1.12% Mailed NO Resupplies
Yes, mailing SOME resupply boxes is what the cool kids do on the PCT. What are the not cool kids doing on the PCT? Mailing NO resupply boxes (except for one person). But let's be real, you're all pretty cool (just be careful of that complex).
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 PCT Survey – you probably haven't), 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 = 5.76)
The average number of resupply boxes prepared prior to beginning a thru-hike
(σ = 5.60)
The average number of resupply boxes prepared prior to beginning a thru-hike
(σ = 5.45)
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 PCT 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 PCT Resupply Boxes
As part of the PCT 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 PCT 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 15 to give you options (because, you know, hike your own hike or whatever).
- Stehekin (Washington) 61.97%
- Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) 34.74%
- Sierra City (Northern California) 34.27%
- Stevens Pass/Skykomish (Washington) 33.80%
- White Pass (Washington) 32.63%
- Snoqualmie Pass (Washington) 32.16%
- Kennedy Meadows* (Sierra) 26.53%
- Big Lake Youth Camp (Oregon) 26.06%
- Agua Dulce (Desert) 23.47%
- Warner Springs (Desert) 19.72%
- Seiad Valley (Northern California) 19.01%
- Timberline Lodge (Oregon) 16.67%
- Shelter Cove Resort (Oregon) 16.43%
- Belden (Northern California) 15.73%
- Kennedy Meadows North (Northern California) 15.49%
*Kennedy Meadows is where most (northbound) hikers begin carrying bear canisters. The most popular bear canister from this year? (And every year.) The BV500. Personally, I'm a fan of the BV450, but more on that in the gear guide.
Before you start planning your resupply, consider this: for the first 1,700 mi / 2,700 km of the Pacific Crest Trail (assuming a northbound thru-hike), the PCT Class of 2019 suggests that you send yourself TWO BOXES (assuming you follow the recommendation of this year's class and stick to eight boxes).
Before starting the PCT, 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 PCT 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 whilst on trail).
But let's suppose you're strictly following the advice of this year's PCT class, the number of resupply boxes (eight) that you will be to each section of the PCT are:
- DESERT: 0
- SIERRA: 1 (Kennedy Meadows)
- NORCAL: 1 (Sierra City)
- OREGON: 2 (Crater Lake/Mazama Village Store, Big Lake Youth Camp)
- WASHINGTON: 4 (White Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass/Skykomish, Stehekin)
Changes to PCT Resupply Strategy
To help future Pacific Crest Trail hikers figure out a successful PCT resupply strategy, I ask hikers what they would have changed as far as resupply. Here are the top responses from what this year's PCT class would like to have changed in terms of resupply:
- 20.66% – Send fewer resupply boxes over the course of the trail (8.68 was the average number of boxes sent by hikers who said this)
- 20.42% – Include more variety in their resupplies (Clif bars and Stroopwafels will only get you so far)
- 19.95% – Include healthier food in their resupplies (yes, you can survive on M&M's – but should you?)
- 15.02% – Mail resupply boxes from on the trail instead of ahead of time (remember, only two boxes for the entirety of California – according to this survey)
- 10.80% – Send more resupply boxes over the course of the trail (7.59 was the average number of boxes sent by hikers who said this)
- 8.92% – Prepare no resupply boxes ahead of time
- 7.75% – Include less food in their resupplies (the challenge of how much food to buy remains constant over the course of the trail)
- 6.81% – Resupply more frequently (more frequent resupplies means less weight carried – but also more time in town)
What Food to Resupply with on the PCT
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 Pacific Crest 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 trial, but it turns out this isn't the healthiest (or most practical) strategy for PCT nourishment. What exactly do hikers eat on the PCT? Berries, insects, and dirt? Obviously. But there's so much more on offer at (most of the) PCT 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
- Backpacker's Pantry Pad Thai
- Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce
- Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles
- Mountain House Chili Mac With Beef
- Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki with Rice
FAVORITE BACKPACKING SNACKS
*These items were rated as both the favorite snacks and among the things hikers are never eating again.
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How Frequently to Resupply on the PCT
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 two months into your hike with three days of unscheduled rain to cope with?
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 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? 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 PCT
(σ = 23.25)
The average number of zero days taken during a thru-hike
(σ = 9.64)
The average number of days to Kennedy Meadows
(σ = 15.19)
The average number of resupplies during a thru-hike
(σ = 5.52)
The average number of days between resupplies
(σ = 1.40)
The average number of miles between resupplies
This means that hikers averaged 20.19 mi / 32.49 km per day during their thru-hikes. If this number looks big to you right now, don't worry, it won't after you've finished the PCT.
Stretches between resupply can vary greatly (for example, if you want to attempt a Kennedy Meadows to VVR resupply) 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.
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 2019 thru-hike.
Below is a list of all the PCT 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%.
- Campo (6.34%)
- Mount Laguna (33.80%)
- Julian (51.88%)
- Warner Springs (76.76%)
- Paradise Cafe (6.81%)
- Anza (0.47%)
- Idyllwild (87.32%)
- Cabazon (20.66%)
- Big Bear City (32.16%)
- Big Bear Lake (64.55%)
- Wrightwood (86.62%)
- Acton (9.62%)
- Agua Dulce (74.88%)
- The Anderson's/Casa de Luna (16.20%)
- Hikertown (23.24%)
- Wee Vill Market (24.65%)
- Tehachapi (92.25%)
- Mojave (3.05%)
- Onyx (0.94%)
- Lake Isabella (18.08%)
- Kernville (7.04%)
- Ridgecrest (36.85%)
- Kennedy Meadows (67.84%)
- Grumpy Bears Retreat (33.33%)
- Lone Pine (40.38%)
- Independence (13.15%)
- Muir Trail Ranch (11.03%)
- Bishop (75.82%)
- Vermilion Valley Resort (34.04%)
- Red's Meadow (6.57%)
- Mammoth Lakes (84.98%)
- Yosemite Valley (19.95%)
- Tuolumne Meadows (26.29%)
- Lee Vining (3.52%)
- Bridgeport (23.24%)
- Sonora Pass Resupply (0.94%)
- Kennedy Meadows North (62.44%)
- Markleeville (0.47%)
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA RESUPPLY
- South Lake Tahoe (88.97%)
- Echo Lake (5.63%)
- Tahoe City (3.29%)
- Soda Springs (3.05%)
- Truckee (36.15%)
- Sierra City (74.41%)
- Quincy (27.00%)
- Belden (50.70%)
- Chester (68.08%)
- Drakesbad (8.45%)
- Old Station (23.94%)
- Burney (55.40%)
- Burney Falls (16.67%)
- Burney Mountain Guest Ranch (3.05%)
- Castella (11.97%)
- Dunsmuir (49.06%)
- Mount Shasta (35.68%)
- Etna (74.88%)
- Seiad Valley (70.66%)
- Callahan's (7.75%)
- Ashland (88.73%)
- Fish Lake (12.44%)
- Lake of the Woods Resort (0.47%)
- Mazama Village Store (Crater Lake) (80.05%)
- Diamond Lake Resort (6.10%)
- Shelter Cove Resort (68.54%)
- Odell Lake Resort (1.41%)
- Elk Lake Resort (10.33%)
- Sisters (21.13%)
- Bend (43.19%)
- Big Lake Youth Camp (39.44%)
- Olallie Lake Resort (17.37%)
- Government Camp (8.92%)
- Timberline Lodge (42.49%)
- Sandy (0.09%)
- Cascade Locks (73.47%)
- Hood River (8.92%)
- Portland (18.31%)
- Trout Lake (67.31%)
- White Pass (79.09%)
- Packwood (19.23%)
- Snoqualmie Pass (92.79%)
- Stevens Pass (48.80%)
- Skykomish (39.18%)
- Leavenworth (33.17%)
- Chelan (0.72%)
- Stehekin (86.30%)
- Mazama (9.38%)
- Winthrop (7.93%)
- Holden Village (5%)
- Seattle (6.97%)
How would our average Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker have used his or her 27.63 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 110: Warner Springs
- MILE 179: Idyllwild
- MILE 266: Big Bear Lake
- MILE 364: Wrightwood
- MILE 454: Agua Dulce
- MILE 558: Tehachapi
- MILE 703: Kennedy Meadows
- MILE 789 or 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 1284: Belden
- MILE 1329: Chester
- MILE 1411: Burney
- MILE 1600: Etna
- MILE 1662: Seiad Valley
- MILE 1727: Ashland
- MILE 1830: Mazama Village Store (Crater Lake)
- MILE 1912: Shelter Cove Resort
- MILE 2001: Bend
- MILE 2155: Cascade Locks
- MILE 2234: Trout Lake
- MILE 2303: White Pass
- MILE 2402: Snoqualmie Pass
- MILE 2476: Stevens Pass/Skykomish
- MILE 2574: Stehekin
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD (OR EVEN DECENT) RESUPPLY STRATEGY. For example, Big Lake Youth Camp (Oregon), the eighth-most recommended place for a resupply box, did not make it onto this list (although it was close). Also, the stretch between Burney, CA and Etna, CA typically involves a stop at either Castella/Dunsmuir/Mount Shasta.
Between many resupply stops, you may pass a location where you can get a meal (Timberline Lodge, Oregon, for example) or a place where you can buy some snacks (Mount Laguna, Desert, 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 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
The Sierra (58.22%)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOP
The Desert (24.65%)
FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- DESERT: Idyllwild (56.10%)
- SIERRA: Bishop (58.22%)
- NORCAL: Etna (26.29%)
- OREGON: Ashland (51.41%)
- WASHINGTON: Stehekin (28.17%)
- DESERT: Wrightwood (27.23%)
- SIERRA: Mammoth Lakes (39.44%)
- NORCAL: South Lake Tahoe (23.47%)
- OREGON: Cascade Locks (51.41%)
- WASHINGTON: Leavenworth (17.61%)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- DESERT: Hikertown (24.65%)
- SIERRA: Kennedy Meadows (11.50%)
- NORCAL: Belden (20.89%)
- OREGON: Crater Lake National Park (13.85%)
- WASHINGTON: Stehekin (10.09%)
- DESERT: Agua Dulce (12.68%)
- SIERRA: Grumpy Bears Retreat (8.69%)
- NORCAL: Sierra City (17.61%)
- OREGON: Timberline Lodge (3.52%)
- WASHINGTON: White Pass (5.16%)
Note that Stehekin took the #1 position for both favorite and least favorite resupply stop in Washington.
What about hitchhiking to resupply stops? You may not realize it, but hitchhiking plays a big role on the PCT. 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 PCT 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):
- Bishop (Sierra)
- South Lake Tahoe (Northern California)
- Bridgeport (Northern California)
- Independence (Sierra)
- Kennedy Meadows North (Sierra)
- Yosemite Valley (Sierra)
- Lone Pine (Sierra)
- Mount Shasta (Northern California)
- Chester (Northern California)
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.
PCT 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 PCT?
- It’s very easy to plan as you go. I think many people over-prepare and are disappointed with the food they send prior to the trail.
- In areas where shipping boxes is very common, pack a day or so less. You may have leftovers or can top off from a hiker box.
- If you're packing boxes ahead of time, pack food you otherwise wouldn't get. It's frustrating just getting cheap ramen in the mail that you can get anywhere.
- It turned out Stehekin and Stevens Pass were the only places in Washington I really was glad I sent a box. White Pass, Trout Lake, and Snoqualmie Pass were all doable. Also mailed to Shelter Cove and that was unnecessary.
- Don't trust anyone else to do your resupply, unless you want to hate it.
- If you dehydrate your own meals, be aware of the possibility that they may go bad. Not using oil to cook with will help them keep longer.
- Don’t send laundry soap, hotels and hostels have it and if it’s in your box your food will taste like soap. Even if it’s double bagged. You’re going to smell anyway.
- I regret letting other hiker's bad resupply make me go into towns and spots that I didn't want to go to. The ultralight hikers made it difficult for our group because one person with a tiny pack always had to go into each town because they couldn't carry enough food for 4+ days.
- I would have started packing out bakery items earlier – they stay fresher longer than expected and help with food monotony.
- Don't rely on hiker boxes at Muir Trail Ranch (Sierra) late in the season!
- I was actually pretty satisfied with my experience being pretty unprepared.
- The key is to buy frequently to keep the weight down and to not travel very far off trail to resupply to maximize trail time.
- I would have sent a few more boxes to places with very limited resupply for vegans, namely Seiad Valley and Dunsmuir.
But 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 PCT RESUPPLY, CHECK OUT THESE POSTS.
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