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

Picking up boxes at a post office in Pennsylvania
Picking up boxes at a post office in Pennsylvania | Source

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

Secrets of the Long Haul: Training Your Mind For Successful Long Distance Hiking
Secrets of the Long Haul: Training Your Mind For Successful Long Distance Hiking

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.

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 | Source

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


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.

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/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?

Please Sign the Trail Register! - Your comments are appreciated 30 comments

CherylsArt profile image

CherylsArt 2 years ago from West Virginia

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

liz-kibby 2 years ago

Just what I wanted to find out! Thanks!

Valerie Bloom profile image

Valerie Bloom 2 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA Author

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

jennifer88 profile image

jennifer88 2 years ago

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 profile image

Valerie Bloom 3 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA Author

@SteveKaye: What a great take on this system!

SteveKaye 3 years ago

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 profile image

Valerie Bloom 3 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA Author

@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 profile image

NibsyNell 3 years ago

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

writerkath profile image

writerkath 3 years ago

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 profile image

Valerie Bloom 3 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA Author

@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 3 years ago

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

takkhisa profile image

takkhisa 3 years ago

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

com2 profile image

com2 3 years ago

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

SusanRDavis profile image

SusanRDavis 3 years ago from Vancouver

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

xriotdotbiz lm profile image

xriotdotbiz lm 4 years ago

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 profile image

Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA Author

@tricomanagement: Thanks!

tricomanagement profile image

tricomanagement 4 years ago

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

DrBillSmithWriter profile image

DrBillSmithWriter 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

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

anonymous 4 years ago

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

Valerie Bloom profile image

Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA Author

@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!

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