Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Postal Advice on Mail Drops for Long Distance Hiking

With hikers gearing up for the spring hiking season, the question comes forth regarding mail drops and the postal service. This blog post is not about the pros and cons of mail drops or what to put in your drops - I will blog on that at another time - but logistics for mailing them out. Fellow hiker Len B. (trail name 4eyedbuzzard) has some good advice.   

For terminology sake - a "bounce box" is a box of supplies you mail to yourself from town to town along the trail. It can contain some resupply, personal care items, town clothes, phone chargers, etc that you may want while in town. Once you are done with it, you seal it up and "bounce" it or ship it to the next town where you believe you will need it.

Also, PO = Post Office

Mails Drop and Bounce Box Postal Advice

(Courtesy of "4eyedbuzzard" - Len B)

Just a few tips regarding the mail itself

1) Don't use spackle pails or such. They are heavy and will add to the postage cost unnecessarily. Boxes get handled better and a box will survive an impact that will crack a spackle pail. (Blissful: the only time pails are required is mailing yourself a drop to Muir Ranch on the PCT - Pacific Crest Trail or JMT - John Muir Trail).

2) Do not use parcel post EVER. It is not forwardable (you must pay more postage) and only marginally less than Priority Mail to start with and can take much longer. Use Priority Mail with delivery confirmation and keep your tracking number in case it's ever needed. (Blissful: I used Parcel Post for boxes to Maine, and I can attest to the fact that delivery is unreliable. Two of my food mail drops did not arrive, including a crucial one to Monson before the 100 mile wilderness on the Appalachian Trail. ONLY use Priority Mail)

3) It is often cheaper NOT to use Flat Rate boxes if you are only moving a bounce box a hundred or two hundred miles up the trail as postage prices go by zones. Usually a 10 lb box will cost somewhere between a medium and large flat rate price.

4) Do not take possession of the box at the PO counter unless you are going to open it. If you don't need the bounce box or your mail drop, just tell them you have a General Delivery Priority box there AND that you would like it forwarded to another PO.

5) Take a list of PO phone numbers you will use so that if, for example, you arrive on a Saturday afternoon and the PO is closed, you can call the office on Monday and have it forwarded. You can then resupply in town if needed.

6) Use a small a box as is practical. If you stick to priority boxes, they are free, so if it starts getting torn up, just get a new one. Note:  you cannot use "flat rate boxes" unless you pay the flat rate postage, so pay attention to what boxes you are using.

7) As for mailing fuel canisters via the USPS - 

You can mail them (but not internationally).
They must be marked "Consumer Commodity ORM-D(other restricted materials-domestic)" and "Surface Mail Only".
You must adhere to quantity restrictions (for hiker purposes, that equals 3 small 110 gram canisters) and put "ORM-D" (other restricted material-domestic) AND "Surface Mail Only" on the box. Same goes on the ORM-D on any other restricted materials. (Blissful: for fuel canisters, I put the small sticker that show no aircraft on the box - our post office had these stickers and gave us extras to use). There's a big chart and also info in the DMM(domestic mail manual). Up to three of the smaller cannisters meet the volume restrictions, see the link
 (Blissful: I mailed fuel canisters to myself surface mail several times using the postal sticker, and they all arrived without issues when I hiked the AT) 

8) (additional comment by a viewer, thanks!) - When using the PO for mailing your packages, use your debit card to get the cash back you need on the hike and save ATM fees. 



Jonathon Black said...

Phenomenal advice! Thanks for posting! said...

That is very useful info. I plan to use your advice to send my bag of visalus shake mix ahead of me along the trail so i only need to carry my immediate supply for each couple of days or so.
Bill Francoeur