So Your Friend is Hiking the Appalachian Trail…

My best friend since grade school came to me a few months back excited to tell me her plans to hike the Appalachian Trail this Spring. Her definition of fun is my personal definition of a horror film, where you are forced to be in the woods all by yourself for months on end surrounded by bugs and infrequent access to showers. I’m excited for her, nonetheless, because this is her version of happiness.

This is her first “thru-hike”, which is something I had never heard of. Thru-hiking is hiking a long-distance trail end-to-end within one season (thank you, Wikipedia). Her whole journey will take somewhere between 5 and 6 months to complete the entire Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikers are typically hiking for a week, or often longer, between towns or rest stops, and they have to carry everything they need with as little weight as possible on their backs. The more weight, the more painful the hike. That’s really about as much as I understand about the entire process from online research – I’m definitely not a hiker, if that isn’t obvious already.

With these weight limitations, hikers can’t carry too many supplies or too much food at one time. If something breaks, they are out of luck until they can buy another. If they get hurt, they have to find a way back to civilization with the bandages or medication they anticipated they would need. If they run out of food, they have to barter with others to get more food, or I guess, they learn how to hunt? Honestly, it all sounds like a scary season of Survivor.

My goal was to find a way to make my friend’s life a little easier. She mentioned to me once that you can send care packages to thru-hikers via post offices in key towns along the trail. She sent me a list of 6 addresses, and I started researching online what on Earth to send someone in the middle of nowhere walking 10+ miles a day. From what I found, there are 3 genres of items you can send to hikers that will keep them happy.

Care Packages awaiting personalized notes and addresses.

The first genre is food. Depending on the hiker’s preferences, there may be particular food groups that are better than others. Some prefer veggies, some prefer sweets, some may want alcohol, my friend requested candy. One thing that was a pretty common theme from what I read online was that you should send food that is high calorie but light to carry if you send a lot of it. If you want to send something heavier, weight-wise, a hiker will probably only eat what they can at that stop, then either give the rest away or it goes to waste.

In the packages I sent, there is a lot of sugary candy (as requested) and some of the boxes contain trail mix with a heavy calorie count. I couldn’t quite remember if there was a nut allergy I should watch out for, so I only put it in a couple of boxes – this way my friend could trade another hiker with it if that’s the best use of the food. I also included little flavored water packets to add to water when she’s feeling bored of the same old taste; they’re light to carry, but refreshing.

The second genre is helpful hike items. This includes any small supplies a hiker may run out of. Though my friend only requested fabric band-aids, I gathered up a few more small items in case they’re needed. In every box, I included aforementioned band-aids, a small matchbook, some knock-off brand ibuprofen (Dollar General was out of the real deal), Clorox wipes, new socks, and a toothbrush. I also scattered some items throughout boxes because I don’t know how frequently they’re needed (and I only had so much box space): batteries (AA and AAA), a sewing kit, some Vaseline chapstick (I got you, girl), and tweezers in case of splinters.

The third genre of hiker items is ziploc baggies. I’m not joking, they get their own category. From what I read online, hikers use ziplocs for everything, since they have nowhere to dispose of food wrappers along the trail, and they have to re-use their baggies through the whole hike. As a person who has a hard time using a baggie 2 times in a row for lunch because it has remnants of yesterday’s sandwich in it, I can see how gross and torn these things get over weeks or two of re-use. I included 5-6 of these in each of the boxes as well.

Items included all 6 care packages – not including extras scattered among boxes or the excessive pile of candy.

Beyond the necessities, I also included some fun items that are disposable or easy to carry along on the trail. In my mind, the fun stuff is the most important thing I included in the boxes. I included 2 cards: a) one postcard that was pre-labeled with my address and a stamp for her to send me a quick note on how her hike is going and b) a note from me to act as encouragement to get her through the rest of the hike – I imagine your spirit goes up and down based on the day out there. I also included glow sticks – they really have no purpose other than to be glowy and cool – maybe she’ll appreciate them. The final fun thing I added were letter stickers (which made me feel like an elementary school teacher, TBH) that spell out her name. I added these because I know she is carrying a trail book that she decorated with stickers pre-hike, so I hope getting her name spelled out in stickers will be a fun encouragement as well.

To send a care package to a thru-hiker along one of the US trails, you can use the following address schema (pulled from here) to ensure they are sent and held for the proper person:

Thru Hiker John Doe
c/o General Delivery
City, State, Zip Code (given to you by hiker)
AND the notation ” HOLD FOR A.T. THRU HIKER”
(followed by the expected arrival date)

Creating these care packages has been an eye-opening experience for me, and I’m not even the one hiking. Though I’m definitely not an expert, feel free to use this care package template if you are hoping to send a friend or family member treats on their thru-hike. Of course, be sure to check with your friend about anything they might need or want while they are on their journey. Every hiker is different, but they all need support as they travel.

You can find more Thru-Hike Care Package information from some first-hand experience articles I referenced in my research: Thru-Hiker Care Package Prep A-Z and What to Send in Thru-Hiking Care Packages.

Best of luck to my friend as she travels on, and good luck to anyone thru-hiking this season!

Summer 2018 UPDATE: My friend (Bearbait) had an awesome experience on the trail, wrapping it up in late August 2017. She and her trail-mate (Droptop) are now planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) next year. She also broke her online hiatus and created an Instagram and YouTube channel to allow others to follow along on her preparation and the upcoming hike (May 2019). Follow along at @rachiehikes on Instagram and Rachie Hikes on Youtube to learn about making your own gear, what to purchase before you go, and how to practice hiking in different conditions ahead of time.

      Header image for this post found at the Appalachian Trail site.

 

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