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How to Use a Bounce Box on a Long-Distance Backpacking Trip

An experienced hiker, camper, and backpacker, I love sharing tips and information about outdoor adventures.

Picking up boxes at a post office in Pennsylvania

Picking up boxes at a post office in Pennsylvania

A Simple Strategy For Your Extended Backpacking Journey

The bounce box, also called a drift box, is a very clever, easy way to take certain items along on your extended backpacking trip or thru-hike without carrying them on your back.

By sending a small package ahead to a trail town where you'll arrive in 5-10 days, you can lighten the weight of your backpack while still having access to things you only need on occasion.

For example, if you're carrying an electronic device, such as a cell phone, you can send the battery charger ahead. A battery charger makes your backpack heavier and does absolutely no good on the trail whatsoever. But it is an important piece of equipment to have when you spend the night in a trail town, since that's the perfect opportunity to recharge the batteries for the next leg of your hike.

Sending Your Bounce Box to a Post Office

Thank You, United States Postal Service!

Get a list of post offices that are located reasonably close to the trail. Remember, if you can’t hitch or otherwise procure a ride, you’ll be walking to the post office to pick up your package. Any of these post offices may be used for bounce boxes, resupply boxes (packages sent from home), or both.

Sorry, but I wasn't able to locate an online list of post offices along the North Country Trail.

(If you find one, please let me know and I'll add it to the list!)

You can go to the United States Postal Service website to find post offices anywhere in the United States.

Make Sure You Have Accurate Information

Is the post office really there?

It is critical to confirm the availability of any post office you are planning to use, particularly considering that a number of post offices are slated for closure due to budget cuts.

Check the post offices' business hours. Some rural post offices close for an hour or more in the afternoon, and all post offices are closed on Sundays and federal holidays. Take the hours of operation into account as you figure out when you will arrive in town. Business hours may also be affected by federal budget cuts.

You can mail your bounce box or drift box to a post office

You can mail your bounce box or drift box to a post office

Mailing Your Bounce Box

Timing is important

Most post offices hold packages for two weeks. Your package may be held longer, but don't count on it. Some smaller post offices may have restrictions on receiving and holding packages for thru-hikers, since they have more limited storage facilities.

Ideally, the post office won't have to hold your package for more than a few days. Storing boxes can create difficulty for the staff, particularly during their peak thru-hiking times when they have to sort and hold a number of packages.

Of course, you don't want your package to arrive after you, but do your best to pick your package up shortly after it is delivered to the post office. Writing your estimated pick-up date on the package helps the post office staff know how best to organize the boxes they are holding for hikers.

Make sure you have photo identification with you when you pick up your bounce box, and thank the post office staff kindly for their help. They are doing us a tremendous service and are not always properly acknowledged. (As with every encounter, you are representing the backpacking community. Please be a good ambassador!)

Supplies and Services at the Post Office

These folks really help thru-hikers!

During their busy thru-hiking season, post offices often keep used boxes for backpackers to re-use. This is great, since your drift box may become damaged after a number of uses. If there are no boxes available to re-use, a Priority Mail or other cardboard box can be purchased for a reasonable price. The staff at the post office will almost always tape your box securely for you, so you shouldn’t have to purchase packing tape.

Before heading back on the trail, fill out a Change of Address form at the post office so that any mail addressed to you that arrives after you leave can be delivered to another post office farther up the trail. Have the mail delivered to a post office you’ll visit in two or three weeks to make sure you get all of your mail.

Other Places to Send Your Bounce Box

You may use locations other than post offices to receive your mail. Hostels and other businesses along the trail are often happy to hold mail for hikers who will be patronizing them. They may not have very much storage space, however, so do time the arrival of your package carefully.

Check with the hostel or other establishment to make sure you understand any restrictions on holding mail, since many of them will accept delivery of only a limited number of packages and no personal letters sent by family and friends.

What To Send in Your Bounce Box

There are many items that can be sent up the trail in your drift box. Here are the things I typically sent ahead during my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Of course, you'll adapt this list to your own needs and for your specific hike.

  • Dental floss
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Razor
  • Q-tips
  • Ibuprofen
  • Moleskin
  • Dish soap or Doc Bronner's soap (to wash cookware and other equipment while in town)
  • Clean shirt, shorts, and socks (to smell nice in town and to wear while doing laundry)
  • Replacement journals
  • Pens, paper, envelopes, postcards, stamps
  • Foot powder (to refill the small container in my backpack)
  • Insect repellent (to refill the small container in my backpack)
  • Sport-type sunblock (to refill the small container in my backpack)
  • Hand sanitizer (to refill the small container in my backpack)
  • Batteries (for flashlight and radio)
  • Battery charger (for camera)
  • Spare lightbulbs for flashlight
  • Waterproofing treatment for boots
  • Duct tape
  • Replacement lighter
  • Freezer-strength plastic zip bags (both quart and gallon sizes)
  • Contractor-strength trash bags

The Bounce Box

Making life on the trail just a bit easier

The lighter your backpack, the more pleasant your hike! Utilizing a bounce box, also called a drift box, provides a long-distance backpacker with flexibility while reducing packweight. And what could be better than that?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Please Sign the Trail Register! - Your comments are appreciated

CherylsArt on June 10, 2014:

This is such a great idea and good for hikers to know.

liz-kibby on April 27, 2014:

Just what I wanted to find out! Thanks!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on November 04, 2013:

@jennifer88: Thanks! Just think of it as consecutive 4-day hikes!

jennifer88 on November 04, 2013:

Great advice! The longest hike I've done is 4 days but would like to do a longer trek one day. I'll remember this :)

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 29, 2013:

@SteveKaye: What a great take on this system!

SteveKaye on April 29, 2013:

Great idea! We could also mail things home after the trip. Sometimes we will travel by Amtrak (saves gas and time). On those trips it would help to send some things ahead.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 01, 2013:

@writerkath: Wow! That's amazing! I always thought it would be great to experience the "trail magic" from the other side. Yes, I always bring food to share with thru-hikers when I'm out for a day hike, but having a home-base close to the trail must be simply incredible! Thanks!

NibsyNell on April 01, 2013:

This is an ingenious idea! :) Makes so much sense!

writerkath on March 30, 2013:

Wish I'd known you during your AT days - could have offered some trail magic! We can see part of the Gulfside Trail (Mounts Madison and Adams in the northern Presidentials in NH) from our house. We help thru-hikers all the time when we're in down in town (Gorham, NH). We know a lot of folks from the trail. Enjoyed this lens, and you offer great tips!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on March 25, 2013:

@anonymous: It's definitely one of those concepts that instantly makes sense but that very few of us would ever have come up with on our own. I know I never would have thought of it myself!

anonymous on March 24, 2013:

I've never heard of sending a bounce box. This is a smart idea. I enjoyed this lens.

Takkhis on March 24, 2013:

I like the idea! It is a helpful lens :)

com2 on January 02, 2013:

I know hikers did this but did not know the details, thanks for the info.

Susan R. Davis from Vancouver on November 06, 2012:

I had no idea you could do this thing with a bounce box. What a clever idea.

xriotdotbiz lm on June 30, 2012:

We had a lot of fun in college discussing the old "Hold Until Called For" service of the USPS. Then I read of people using it just as you mentioned on the AT, didn't know it had a name. Great tips for backpackers.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 20, 2012:

@tricomanagement: Thanks!

tricomanagement on April 17, 2012:

great information - love it! Have to go back and add something to your list

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on April 11, 2012:

Neat lens with very useful information. Thanks for sharing! ;-)

anonymous on April 09, 2012:

What a great idea I am sure backpackers will appreciate the tips

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 05, 2012:

@SophiaStar LM: I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for referring your friend to this lens! I have several other lenses about hiking and backpacking, too!

SophiaStar LM on April 04, 2012:

This was really very interesting! Helpful for those who love thru-hiking. I have never done it myself but I have a friend who is looking into giving it a go, I will have to send him here to read your lens!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 04, 2012:

@Diana Wenzel: There is certainly a lot of differences between the AT, CDT, and PCT! Very different thru-hiking experiences. I've only done hiked the AT, but I'm fascinated by stories of the other long trails!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 04, 2012:

@SusanDeppner: Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the lens.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 04, 2012:

@anonymous: Yes, there's nothing like hiking with a full pack to help you realize what you don't need!

anonymous on April 03, 2012:

What a great idea. I've only done a weekend hike on the AT, but learned a lot about what not to bring. We donated several things to a shelter on the way.

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on April 03, 2012:

This is new to me....great idea and well done lens.

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on April 02, 2012:

Brilliant idea, I'd never heard of a bounce box either.

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on April 02, 2012:

I've never heard of a bounce box, but it makes perfect sense. Great information here for anyone planning a long hike. Love that you included how to address the box, as well as the reminder to thank the post office staff. Very helpful!

Country Sunshine from Texas on April 02, 2012:

It's been years since I back-packed, and had never thought about sending myself a bounce box! Great idea. Thanks for sharing!

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 30, 2012:

I don't know how thru-hikers would make it without a bounce box. I'm currently reading a book about two thru-hikers on the Continental Divide trail (_Where the Waters Divide_). They really had challenges finding provisions in the more remote areas along the hike. Finding clean drinking water was the biggest challenge for them.