Sending Mail Drops: Yay! Presents!

I told you that I wasn’t just sitting around on my bum the entire holiday week eating ice cream (two weeks ago), but I’m not sure that you believe me. Alright, then I’ll have to prove it. One day, taking a break from slothfulness, I went to the local post office and learned how Priority Mail works so that I can better plan mail drops.

I know that mail drops are not everybody’s cup of tea (coffee? hot chocolate?). However, with my various food sensitivities, I would rather know that healthy food (that I can eat!) is waiting at my next pit stop. Also, I’m fortunate enough to have generous donors for some of my staple foods, which obviously limits the expense to just shipping cost. For other staples, I’ve done some calculations, and bulk purchasing (at Costco and maybe on Amazon) will lower the cost to the point that it’s cheaper to ship than buy in trail towns.

If any of you out there are experts in the United States Postal Service (USPS), please forgive me. I’m a novice when it comes to shipping. When I need anything shipped at work, I always ask our receptionist how it should be sent or – more frequently – I’ll ask her to do me the favor of sending my package. Not only have all of the nuanced differences among USPS, FedEx, and UPS alluded me, but then there are the different USPS offerings to understand.

For the record, the USPS is an independent government agency (there’s even a national Smithsonian museum devoted to it in DC!), whereas FedEx and UPS are privately run companies. As far as other differences, we can talk about them another time.

Suffice it to say, a few friends and family have volunteered to send me mail drops along the way, for which I am grateful, and I want the process to be as easy as possible for them.

I think Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes are the best option available considering my needs. The benefits for me include:

  • Arrives in 2-3 days, so I can plan only 1-2 trail towns ahead.
  • Flat rate means the package can be loaded up with heavy items. As long as it fits in the box, it’s the same price.
  • Packages can be sent directly to a post office OR to a place of business such as an outfitter or hostel (although they may charge a holding fee).
  • Packages sent directly to a post office can be “bounced” to another post office for free if they haven’t yet been opened (for example, if you don’t need that winter jacket or all that food yet).

The benefits for my friends/family include:

  • Flat rate boxes and supplies available free of charge and can be picked up at a post office or ordered online.
  • Click n Ship price discounts associated with online ordering.
  • Free scheduled pickup at a home or business or can easily drop off at a post office. Sender does not have to be home (and/or with package) for it to be picked up.

The Flat Rate Boxes come in three sizes, which I loaded up with the contents of a cupboard to get a better idea of capacity:

  • Small costs $5.35 (or $5.15 if ordered online) and measures 8-5/8″ x 5-3/8″ x 1-5/8″.

  • Medium costs $11.35 (or $10.85 if ordered online) and comes in two versions, measuring 13-5/8″ x 11-7/8″ x 3-3/8″ or 11″ x 8-1/2″ x 5-1/2″.

  • Large costs $15.45 (or $14.65 if ordered online) and comes in two versions, measuring 23-11/16″ x 11-3/4″ x 3″ or 12″ x 12″ x 5-1/2″. This size might be too big for a standard mail drop since everything I receive I have to carry. But, if I’m having gear shipped with my food (let’s say bulky winter gear once I hit New Hampshire or Maine), this may be the most effective size.

Once a boxed has been packed, addressing it is fairly simple. The following format should (cross fingers, sprinkle fairy dust, etc.) result in my having a package waiting for me when I hit a post office:

Hiker’s Name – THRU HIKER

c / o general delivery

post office street address

City, State, Zip Code

Hold for A.T. Thru-Hiker ETA ##/##/2013

As far as what to send and how out to package it, I found an exhaustive how-to article with hints on the White Blaze website ( It’s a little dated, but much of the information is still useful.

Some people get all of their boxes ready ahead of time, which I will not do. I’m neurotic but not that neurotic (…if you are that neurotic, more power to you). Instead, I’m going to stage all of the boxes/supplies and my staple foods before I go, and (primarily) my mom will load them up and ship them out when I call with a request.

So there you have it. Mail drops.

I will definitely be much less anxious and enjoy my trek more knowing exactly what food will be waiting for me at my next junction…although an unexpected batch of (gluten free) brownies every once in a while would be a welcome surprise too.

Meandering on,