How to Use a Bounce Box on a Long-distance Backpacking Trip
A Simple Strategy to Use on Your Thru-hike or Other 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.
Books About Long-distance Backpacking
There are lots of books about the physical aspects of backpacking - gear, specifically. But the best gear in the world isn't as important as your ability to handle the mental challenges that come with long-distance hiking.
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!)
When addressing drift boxes and other mail to be sent to a post office, here's how it should be labeled, customizing the text in CAPS:
c/o General Delivery
CITY, STATE ZIP
Attn: Please Hold for Hiker (or Thru-hiker)
Estimated Arrival: DATE
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.
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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
- 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?