Trail Mail & Care Packages

One of the most amazing things about thru-hiking any long distance trail is the existence of “trail magic” that is prepared and given by “trail angels,” people who help out hikers. When Emma “Grandma Gatewood” became the first woman, at age 67, to solo hike the entire Appalachian Trail, she was astonished at how open and giving the folks were that she met along the way. Peace Pilgrim made the same observation about her thru-hike.

Trail magic comes in many different forms. Sometimes it’s a soda or candy bar someone hands you while you’re in a trail town. Sometimes it’s a lift to and from the grocery store to resupply. I’ve seen everything from large canteens of fresh water to bbqs set-up for hikers as they pass through a section of the trail. All of these are ways people help along the trail, but I have friends from all over who are asking me how they can send me something on the trail. So this post is for you.

I’ve spoken to many former thru-hikers about this, as well as reading others’ blogs, and they gave me a pretty good idea of the dos and don’ts of hiker care packages that I should share.

  1. Get a small or medium flat rate box from the United States Postal Service. The boxes are completely free-of-charge and have a flat rate of $6.80 for the small and $13.45 for the medium.
  2. Fill the box with whatever you’d like to send, provided that it’s something I have listed below or that you’ve spoken to me about. I’ve already received a care package with cotton socks, a cotton t-shirt, and a box of Clif Bars. While that was very sweet, cotton is the least comfortable material for hiking and Clif bars are not gluten-free.
  3. Once you have a care package ready to go, contact my friend Laura Evonne and arrange to either drop it off with her or, if you’re not local to Eastern Massachusetts, to get an address from her for my next resupply stop. She will help you with proper labeling and timing to make sure I get it. Plus she’s the U.S. Postal Service’s #1 fan! Laura Evonne can be emailed at handinhandarts[at]gmail[dot]com or texted at (585) 613-2612.

Okay – so now we get into the “what to send” category. Please believe me when I say that this list isn’t meant to stifle your creativity nor prevent you from surprising me with something special. The fact is, I have very serious health concerns with regard to the food I can eat. So, unless you have a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, for example, homemade cookies or brownies are probably out. But I’ve included plenty of other ways you can add something fun to the package! And THANK YOU! You have no idea how much it means to me that you want to help by sending a care package.

FOOD
Keep in mind that a hiker’s diet consists of 3000 – 4500 calories per day. So I obviously go through a lot of food.

  • Freeze-dried / dehydrated meals. I like the Good To-Go brand and Harmony House brand because they both have dedicated gluten-free facilities. I like all of the meals from Good To-Go. From Harmony House I like the Backpacking Soup & Chili Kit (which is an excellent deal).
  • Gluten-free quick oats. Quaker makes Gluten-Free Quick One Minute Oats, those would be my first suggestion.
  • Freeze-dried / dehydrated fruit. Again, I like to use Harmony House products, you can find variety of possibilities here. I’m partial to all the berries and the bananas – I use them in my oatmeal.
  • Energy / snack bars. I go through 2-4 of these per day. They are a quick energy source between meals to keep me going. I need to stress that, because of my strict gluten-free diet, I can only accept bars from two brands: KIND Bars and Lärabars. I like all the varieties of both and can never have too many.
  • Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

    Coffee / Tea / Hot Chocolate. There are tons of varieties of single serving instant coffees now, any of them are fine, though I admit that I really like Starbucks VIA. As for tea, I almost exclusively drink Earl Grey. And hot chocolate packets of any variety are probably fine – just make sure they don’t have wheat or barley malt listed as ingredients, please.

  • Cookies / brownies. I love cookies and brownies, but they need to be gluten-free. So, if you’d like send me these delicious snacks, please get them pre-packaged.
  • Chocolate. Yes, chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. I love chocolate so much and nothing makes me happier when I’m hiking than to snack on chocolate. Taza Chocolate, made in Somerville, Massachusetts, is not only local (to where I’m from) and fair trade, but it’s also stone ground – so it won’t melt as quickly in my pack. Dairy-free chocolate only, please. Otherwise it will melt anyway.
  • GORP / Trail Mix. I love this stuff, too. If you send some, please make sure it doesn’t contain gluten. Trust me, it hides is the oddest places. If you aren’t sure, consider sending something else.
  • Vegan Jerky. Yeah, you read that one correctly. If you’re so inclined, there’s Louisville Vegan Jerky Company.
  • Shabbat Meal Supplies. Single serving bottles of Kedem grape juice are a great way to help me say the kiddush prayers while on the trail and Katz Gluten-Free Oat Challah Rolls are perfect for having with Shabbat dinner.

EVERYTHING ELSE
This is where I list everything that isn’t edible.

  • Ziploc bags. Yes, Ziploc bags with the zipper thingy on them. When I receive food, I have to repackage a lot of it in order to make it fit in my bag. All the other brands are so poorly made that I might as well just skip the repackaging and just pour the food directly into my backpack, since that’s what will happen anyway. After eating, I use the same Ziplocs over again for many miles. Their last use is to hold snack wrappers and such, since I carry all trash out with me.
  • Toilet paper. I might be doing my business in the woods, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a clean butt after.
  • Hand sanitizer. This is important because it’s how hikers prevent themselves from getting sick after going to the bathroom.  See above. Small, personal sizes only, please.
  • Letters from you! I think this one is self-explanatory. I love getting cards and letters from folks. Keep in mind that I probably won’t be able to save them…  in fact they will probably end up helping me start my campfires… but I still like getting them and I promise I’ll read them first.
  • Money. This is a big one and it’s easy as heading to my campaign page on GoFundMe. Every bit helps, even $10! Of course, if you want to save yourself the time, effort, and shipping cost of getting me items on my care package list, a $36-$50 contribution will help me resupply food for a week or two.

You’ll notice that all of these things are lightweight. That’s important. I want to try to keep the pack that I carry 10-20 miles a day as light as possible. If you’re not sure, feel free to ask. Remember – I can’t really carry more than ten-ish pounds of food at any given time.

What shouldn’t you send? Please don’t send clothing items unless I request them. I just can’t carry them all and I need to make sure that it’s hiker-friendly. Also, heavy items in general are a no-go. A good example would be candy. A couple of single serve candy packs are a lot better than those 3lb “family size” bags.

Okay, some closing notes. Please keep in mind that you need to send care packages about two weeks ahead of my itinerary arrival time. Boxes should only be sent via the U.S. Postal Service’s Priority Mail. This is important because if I miss the pick up, I can have it sent up trail without additional charge. Letters, on the other hand, can be sent through regular mail.

When labeling the box, Laura Evonne will confirm all of the information with you. For now, here is the template you’ll need to use:

J. Yaakov Reef
c/o General Delivery
Town, State, Zip Code
Please Hold for Thru-Hiker
ETA: MM/DD/YYYY

Also, please make sure you write my last name in big bold letters on all sides of the box so it can be easily identified.

That’s it for now. Thank you to everyone who wants to help support this epic pilgrimage journey. I love you all and look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks are due Ed Goretoy at edhiking.com and Maggie Wallace at appalachiantrials.com for advice in helping write this blog post.