After getting a Pacific Crest Trail permit and researching your PCT gear, the question many aspiring thru-hikers move to is that of resupply on the PCT.
What is PCT resupply? It’s the replenishment of the food (and other consumable items) carried in a hiker’s backpack. Contrary to popular belief, hikers of the Trail of Pacific Crest must leave the trail and venture into town to buy more food. They don’t just carry all their food from the beginning. And, perhaps even more shockingly, the idea that thru-hikers subsist on a diet of foraged mushrooms and edible plants is a lie.
I often advise that hikers not to worry about resupply before beginning a thru-hike, but I am not always believed. Barring any dietary restrictions or a 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. The Pacific Crest Trail runs society adjacent and it isn’t difficult to get yourself to somewhere where you can pause and organize yourself and your hike.
Using data from the 2020 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 (like spending all your money on fancy gear).
Notes on the data
- This year we had 460 completed surveys – a 45% decrease vs. last year.
- 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.
- 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 who intended to hike or who did hike the PCT this year.
- If they don’t currently recall anything more than 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 PCT for a calculation (e.g. average mileage per day on the trail), I use 2,660 mi / 4,280 km.
- I will be releasing more detailed posts focused on PCT Hikers Who Hiked vs. Those Who Canceled, PCT Demographics, PCT Horror Stories, and PCT Advice in the coming weeks. I’ve already released the PCT Gear Guide, Survey Results, and NOGO Results. 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).
When you find yourself in town along the Pacific Crest 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 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. 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 PCT Class of 2020’s resupply.
Number of resupply boxes sent
- 7.4% Mailed ALL resupplies
- 17.6% Mailed MOST resupplies (> 50%)
- 58.8% Mailed SOME resupplies (10-50%)
- 11.8% Mailed A FEW resupplies (1-10%)
- 4.4% Mailed NO resupplies
- 7.4% Mailed all resupply
- 88.2% Mailed some resupply
- 4.4% Mailed no resupply
- 4.5% Mailed all resupply
- 95.2% Mailed some resupply
- 0.3% 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 your food and preparing boxes ahead of time can be tempting for the first-time thru-hiker (or even the experienced, but uncertain thru-hiker). A certain (false) sense of security comes from packing up resupply before the trail – a kind of “well, I’ve got all that sorted out”. Except on the trail, all of that sorting out you did ahead of time 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 your start date and the resupply box you hoped to retrieve weeks or months later.
On top of all that, 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, let’s examine how many boxes were sent, how frequently they were sent, and what was done before starting vs. on the trail.
Number of Resupply Boxes
This is a chart of the total number of resupply boxes by thru-hikers who completed the entire Pacific Crest Trail.
Average boxes: 10.4
Median boxes: 8
Number of Resupply Boxes Prepared Pre-trail
As part of PCT 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: 5.2
Median boxes: 7.9
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 10.4, the median was 8, people who sent 5 wanted to send more, and people who sent over 12 wanted to send fewer. So the ideal number of resupply boxes according to this year’s class is somewhere between 5 and 12. Let’s call it 8 or 9?
Remember, there is no correct “number of PCT 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 PCT Resupply Boxes
As part of the PCT 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 PCT 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 eight or nine resupply boxes; I’ve included 10 to give you options (because, you know, hike your own hike or whatever).
- Stehekin (Washington) 75%
- Sierra City (Northern California) 39.7%
- Warner Springs (Desert) 35.3%
- White Pass (Washington) 33.8%
- Snoqualmie Pass (Washington) 33.8%
- Acton KOA (Desert) 32.4%
- Belden (Northern California) 30.9%
- Grumpy Bears Retreat* (Sierra) 26.8%
- Skykomish (Washington ) 25%
- Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) 25%
*Grumpy Bears Retreat/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 plan all of your boxes and everywhere you’re going to resupply, remember that for the first 1,700 mi / 2,700 km of the Pacific Crest Trail (assuming a northbound thru-hike), the PCT Class of 2020 suggests you send four boxes – the first of which doesn’t come until nearly 20% into the hike.
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 PCT is long. But 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 PCT class. The number of resupply boxes that you will be sending to each section of the PCT is:
- Desert: 2 (Warner Springs, Acton KOA)
- Sierra: 1 (Grumpy Bears Retreat/Kennedy Meadows)
- Northern California: 1 (Sierra City, Belden)
- Oregon: 0
- Washington: 3 (White Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, 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:
- 26.5% – Send fewer resupply boxes over the course of the trail (12.5 was the average number of boxes sent by hikers who said this)
- 17.7% – Include healthier food in their resupplies (yes, you can survive on M&M’s – but should you?)
- 17.7% – Mail resupply boxes from on the trail instead of ahead of time
- 13.4% – Include more variety in their resupplies (Clif bars and Stroopwafels will only get you so far)
- 13.2% – Include less food in their resupplies (the challenge of how much food to buy remains constant over the course of the trail)
- 8.8% – Send more resupply boxes over the course of the trail (5 was the average number of boxes sent by hikers who said this)
- 8.8% – Prepare no resupply boxes ahead of time
- 8.8% – Resupply more frequently (more frequent resupplies means less weight carried – but also more time in town)
Favorite Hiker Meals & Snacks
Another big consideration of Pacific Crest Trail resupply? What food are you going to be resupplying with?
Honestly, 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 I’ve been told this isn’t healthy (and nearly 20% of PCT hikers said they wish they had resupplied with healthier food). So what do PCT hikers eat? Berries, insects, dirt, fallen PCT hikers? 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.
FAVORITE DEHYDRATED MEALS
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 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 and too much food in your pack?
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 (or die) 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 PCT
(M = 162 | σ = 23.6)
The average number of zero days taken during a thru-hike
(M = 20 | σ = 11.7)
The average number of nearo days (low mileage days)
(M = 14 | σ = 8.27)
Length of Each Section
- 58 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete the Desert
- 36 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete the Sierra
- 25 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete Northern California
- 22 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete Oregon
- 26 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete Washington
- 162 (NOBO-1) – Average days to complete the PCT
The average number of resupplies during a thru-hike
(M =29 | σ = 7.5)
The average number of days between resupplies
(M = 5.6 | σ = 2.2)
The average number of miles between resupplies
Resupplies Per Section
- 7.7 – Average number of resupplies in the Desert
- 4.7 – Average number of resupplies in the Sierra
- 6.9 – Average number of resupplies in Northern California
- 5.7 – Average number of resupplies in Oregon
- 4.9 – Average number of resupplies in Washington
- 27.3: Average number of resupplies on 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.
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 2020 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 use the following colors to indicate each resupply stop’s popularity: OVER 75%, 50-75%, 25-50%, LESS THAN 25%.
- Campo (10.6%)
- Mount Laguna (40%)
- Julian (40%)
- Warner Springs (67.1%)*
- Paradise Cafe (15.3%)
- Idyllwild (80%)
- Cabazon (20%)
- Big Bear City (48.2%)
- Big Bear Lake (38.8%)
- Wrightwood (72.9%)
- Acton (65.9%)*
- Agua Dulce (16.5%)
- The Anderson’s/Casa de Luna (4.7%)
- Hikertown (14.1%)
- Wee Vill Market (42.4%)
- Tehachapi (78.8%)
- Mojave (9.4%)
- Lake Isabella (9.4%)
- Kernville (3.5%)
- Ridgecrest (44.7%)
- Kennedy Meadows (33.3%)
- Grumpy Bears Retreat (59.5%)*
- Lone Pine via Horseshoe Meadow (17.9%)
- Bishop via Horseshoe Meadow (4.8%)
- Lone Pine via Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley (10.7%)
- Independence via Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley (13.15%)
- Bishop via Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley (52.4%)
- Muir Trail Ranch (2.4%)
- Bishop via Bishop Pass/South Lake (2.4%)
- Vermilion Valley Resort (48.8%)
- Red’s Meadow (13.1%)
- Mammoth Lakes (66.7%)
- Tuolumne Meadows (6%)
- Yosemite Valley (8.3%)
- Lee Vining (9.5%)
- Bridgeport (9.5%)
- Kennedy Meadows North (77.4%)
- Markleeville (2.4%)
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA RESUPPLY
- South Lake Tahoe (83.1%)
- Stateline (2.8%)
- Echo Lake (8.5%)
- Soda Springs (4.2%)
- Truckee (23.9%)
- Sierra City (74.7%)*
- Quincy (26.8%)
- Chester (39.4%)
- Belden (57.8%)*
- Drakesbad Guest Ranch (5.6%)
- Old Station (33.8%)
- Burney (50.7%)
- Burney Falls (14.1%)
- Burney Mountain Guest Ranch (4.2%)
- Castella (9.9%)
- Dunsmuir (32.4%)
- Mount Shasta (49.3%)
- Etna (76.1%)
- Seiad Valley (62%)
- Callahan’s (21.1%)
- Ashland (68.4%)
- Fish Lake (19.7%)
- Lake of the Woods Resort (1.3%)
- Mazama Village Store (Crater Lake) (80.6%)*
- Diamond Lake Resort (5.3%)
- Shelter Cove Resort (84.2%)
- Odell Lake Resort (2.6%)
- Elk Lake Resort (13.2%)
- Sisters (35.5%)
- Bend (63.2%)
- Big Lake Youth Camp (1.3%)
- Olallie Lake Resort (25%)
- Government Camp (17.1%)
- Timberline Lodge (46.1%)
- Cascade Locks (76.3%)
- Hood River (7.9%)
- Portland (9.2%)
- Trout Lake (55.6%)
- White Pass (71.6%)*
- Packwood (24.7%)
- Snoqualmie Pass (90.1%)*
- Stevens Pass (39.5%)
- Skykomish (43.2%)*
- Leavenworth (40.7%)
- Chelan (2.8%)
- Stehekin (77.8%)*
- Mazama (7.4%)
- Winthrop (13.9%)
- Rainy Pass (1.2%)
- Harts Pass (1.2%)
- Wenatchee (1.2%)
- Seattle (4.9%)
*Resupply stops where hikers suggest sending a resupply box.
Based on this information, how would our average Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker have used these 27.32 resupply stops (we’ll round up to 28)? It would resemble 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 City
- Mile 364: Wrightwood
- Mile 442: Acton
- Mile 530: Wee Vill Market
- Mile 558: Tehachapi
- Mile 703: Grumpy Bears Retreat
- Mile 789: Bishop via Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley
- Mile 879: Vermilion Valley Resort
- Mile 903: Mammoth Lakes
- Mile 1018: Kennedy Meadows North
- Mile 1093: South Lake Tahoe
- Mile 1198: Sierra City
- Mile 1284: Belden
- 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
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 (Timberline Lodge in Oregon, for example) or a place where you can buy some snacks (Mount Laguna in the 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 resupplies is a not great investment of your time).
Favorite (and least favorite) resupply stops
The Pacific Crest Trail is mostly about hiking (the worst), but the towns along the trail also play a role in the PCT 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
The Sierra (58.22%)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOP
Northern California (29.4%)
FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- DESERT: Idyllwild (38.2%)
- SIERRA: Bishop (45.6%)
- NORCAL: Etna (25%)
- OREGON: Ashland (45.6%)
- WASHINGTON: Stehekin (27.9%)
- DESERT: Wrightwood (13.2%)
- SIERRA: Mammoth Lakes (19.1%)
- NORCAL: South Lake Tahoe (13.2%)
- OREGON: Bend (23.5%)
- WASHINGTON: Leavenworth (17.7%)
LEAST FAVORITE RESUPPLY STOPS
- DESERT: Acton KOA (19.1%)
- SIERRA: Grumpy Bears Retreat (10.3%)
- NORCAL: Belden (29.4%)
- OREGON: Crater Lake National Park (7.4%)
- WASHINGTON: Stehekin (11.8%)
- DESERT: Warner Springs (14.7%)
- SIERRA: Vermillion Valley Resort (7.4%)
- NORCAL: Seiad Valley (16.2%)
- OREGON: N/A
- WASHINGTON: White Pass (7.4%)
NOTE: For the second year in a row, Stehekin took the #1 position for favorite and least favorite resupply stop in Washington.
Hitchhiking to Town
What about hitchhiking to resupply stops? You may not realize it, but hitchhiking plays a big role on the Pacific Crest Trail. 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 via Onion Valley/Independence (Sierra) – 11.8%
- Big Bear Lake (Desert) – 11.8%
- Lone Pine via Horseshoe Meadow (Sierra) – 7.4%
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 Pacific Crest Trail resupply?
- What I packed, by the time I got to the box a month later, I was sick of eating that food. Put in some things you weren’t eating prior to getting there!
- I planned one box ahead of time. Resupply is not complicated, just figure it all out as you go along. By the time you need to mail boxes in Oregon/Washington, you will be able to send a much better box of food to yourself.
- Definitely don’t buy overpriced food at Kennedy Meadows North or Sierra City. If trying to minimize the number of boxes sent, don’t exclude these California stops.
- Cheese sticks are an excellent way to add flavor and calories to many entrees.
- Don’t stress about resupply boxes. Towns aren’t as far apart or hard to get to as they might seem. Hitching is really easy.
- Only pack a few boxes ahead of time for the spots that are notoriously bad for resupply, have maybe one extra packed but not addressed so you can be flexible. Resupplying as you go is much less stressful than trying to catch boxes, just accept that you might not get the perfect resupply every time.
- The more you think about it, the more it’ll be a problem. Make sure that you have enough to stay alive but other than that give yourself the space to make mistakes. You have a long time to figure this out and you need to accept that you won’t get it right on your first try. Once you move past that it actually becomes a lot more fun!
- Dehydrated refried bean flakes are the bomb – quick and healthy(ish). Don’t send a million bars in your resupply boxes, you will hate them. Send way less food than you think you’ll need, you’ll end up wasting a bunch of food otherwise and you can always supplement everywhere you pick up your boxes.
- Pack toilet paper, wet wipes, and laundry tablets in each box.
But most of all – have fun out there! And don’t die.
Support the 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 survey is to contribute via 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.
If you’re not into Patreon, that’s cool, you can instead Venmo @halfwayanywhere, Cash app $halfwayanywhere, or PayPal [email protected]
This is not expected. The data collected in the 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 PCT Resupply, check out these posts.
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