Are you thru-hiking this year? Curious if a bounce box would benefit you? Here is a simple strategy on how to use one and whether or not you’ll benefit from it. Your questions, answered here!
Hey everyone! I know it’s been awhile since I posted, but that’s because life got in the way of things for a bit (the holidays, family, friends, weekend shenanigans and job interviews). So, this post is strictly about Bounce Boxes, and sort of a follow-up to my post about Resupply Boxes for the PCT.
For detailed information on how to mail your packages with the United States Postal Service, be sure to read the original post, linked above. I go into depth about the plus sides of using Priority Mail, how to address and ship things properly, and planning out your parcels if you live outside the United States.
On my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, I utilized a bounce box along the way, therefore I have first hand knowledge of them. Now, I’m uncertain of other folks’ experience with the almighty Bounce Box, but I can assure you mine was fairly positive. In this post, I will outline the positives and the negatives, as well as cover who will benefit from them.
So the first question is this:
What is a bounce box?
The definition of a Bounce Box, in my own words, is a parcel that thru-hikers send ahead to various resupply points on a long distance trail, usually containing extra gear, food and some luxury items to enjoy while in town. Because you’re using the USPS to avoid carrying these items, you’re therefore ‘bouncing’ it along to the next location.
The Pros and Cons
As I mentioned above, I used a bounce box on my trip up the PCT, and I more or less enjoyed it. I sent it about every 500 miles, or when I intended on taking a zero in a motel in a trail town. I especially liked having a fresh change of clothing to wear while I ran errands in town; allowing me wash every piece of my hiking clothes (including my sleep clothes).
Doing laundry regularly was important to me for a few reasons: I like being clean! While being stinky and dirty on the trail is expected, it’s important to consider that you’re setting an example for other thru-hikers as well. There are some hikers who take on the smell challenge with whole new meaning, and like to see how far they can take it. Once when I was in Sierra City, I was flipping through the trail register at the post office and I saw an entry from a hiker who proudly declared “I haven’t showered in 2 months!” Gross. To get to your various resupply points, you usually have to hitchhike. If you smell like a combination of hot cheese and gym socks, then you may be ruining the reputation of hikers behind you. If a driver picks up someone who has a two month funk, they may never pick up a hiker again. I feel it’s best to stay on top of it and wash regularly for this reason, as well as for your health.
I also really appreciated having a few luxury items for my days off and easy access to spare gear when I needed it. Knowing that I had a package of lavender Epsom salts, a face mask and moisturizer that wasn’t sunscreen ahead in my Bounce Box kept me motivated more than a few times on the trail. Also, on one occasion, I wore a hole in my wool socks and was comforted by the fact that I had a new pair waiting for me in my box just two days ahead.
As far as the cons of a Bounce Box, they can fall in the same category as the cons of sending resupply boxes: rushing into town before post office closing times or weekends to retrieve the box so you don’t have to wait around for it the following day or Monday.
The other con would be cost, as it is in addition to the cost of sending a regular resupply box. However, there are ways of keeping that to a minimum. If you’re only sending it every 300 to 500 miles, it’s certainly more cost efficient than sending it to every town you visit, or 100 miles (see below for more details).
Who Would Benefit from a Bounce Box?
Anyone can take advantage of a bounce box. If you’re lucky enough to have family or friends supporting you from home on your journey, then you may not need one. Your ‘support crew’ can send you things as you need them, such as replacement gear or food. However, if you don’t have a ‘support crew’ as an option or if you’re a foreigner visiting the United States to hike a long distance trail, then a bounce box is perfect for you.
Imagine being from outside the U.S.A and needing a new pair of socks because your current pair has holes. What if there’s no gear shop within 500 miles or you have no way of researching the nearest town? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that in 100 miles you have a fresh pair waiting for you? It’s also a good place to ditch gear you may not need during certain sections and that you don’t want to part with in a community hiker box, such as microspikes or your stove (I bounced my stove in some California sections of the PCT because it was too hot to cook).
What’s in a Bounce Box?
This is entirely up to you, but remember that a Bounce Box is supposed to help make your life easier and is to be enjoyed. I have compiled a list of things that I feel are helpful while you’re thru-hiking:
- A couple of pairs of new hiking socks: Your favorite brand and fit, ready to replace a pair that has experienced a little too much ‘trail love.’
- Laundry Detergent and Quarters: The quarters are for coin-op laundromats, who notoriously have shady change machines (put that five dollar bill in at your own risk). Laundry soap for getting the hiker funk out of your clothes and avoiding the high markup on soap at the laundromat. I like the detergent pods because of their convenience.
- Photocopies of your permits, identification and travel documents: This means wilderness permits or entry forms (like the Canada Entry Permit for the PCT), copies of your government issued identification card and insurance cards. Are you a non-U.S. citizen? Then be sure to include copies of your passport photo page, visa and the page with your entry stamp.
- Luxury and Toiletry items: Shaving razors and cream, moisturizer, first aid needs, feminine hygiene items, skin care items, shampoo and conditioner, hair elastics, comb, spare toothbrushes and toothpaste, first aid bandages and creams, Q-tips, Epsom salts for soaking sore muscles and feet, and pain relief to refill your trail needs.
- Gear repair items: new o-rings and cleaner for a water filter, tent and mattress patch kit, pole repair kit and duct tape.
- Food you just can’t part with: Got too many chocolate bars in your resupply box? Bounce ’em ahead. You’ll thank yourself later.
- A small sewing kit: for repairing clothing and gear.
- Town clothes: A pair of shorts, a fresh T-shirt and some flip-flops allow you to move freely in town while you do laundry and run errands without offending the locals. I recommend cotton clothes, as wearing all your synthetic stuff gets pretty old. Trust me, you’ll feel like a millions bucks.
- Gear that you made need later on: microspikes, warmer clothing, spare bag liners, snow baskets for trekking poles, stove, spare sunglasses, etc.
- Other useful items: a reusable grocery tote for making errand running in town easier, spare cutlery, some USPS Priority address labels, a Sharpie marker for addressing your box and making hitchhiking signs, and some packing tape for re-sealing your box (some post offices have the tape and labels for free when you’re shipping via Priority, the recommended way).
What you should NOT put into a Bounce Box
- Fuel: This is considered a hazardous material and needs special labels and shipping instructions. There’s no need to ship fuel ahead on long distance trails anyway, so just avoid the hassle. There will likely be some available to purchase in towns along the way, or for free in hiker boxes.
- Glass: Your package is going to get beat up. Anything glass will get broken and could be dangerous.
- Liquids: I’m not talking about your travel size toothpaste or conditioner here. When the post office clerk asks if your box contains liquids, they’re referring to things like bottles of wine or beer.
- Perishables: Again, this isn’t about your snickers bar. It’s more about things like fruit, vegetables or a whole fish.
- Electronics and Lithium Batteries: Electronics could very well get damaged, plus they contain lithium batteries which the Postal Service considers hazardous. This also means you can’t ship just straight up lithium batteries too.
Bouncing Your Box
After you’ve decided what to put into your Bounce Box, you’ll need to decide which box to put it in. I recommend using the free USPS Priority boxes available at the post office. This obviously means you will have to mail your Bounce Box through the USPS Priority service. This is the recommended route, as shipping via First Class means your box may not make it to its destination. There are other advantages to using Priority, such as it comes with insurance, and being able to forward your box for free (in case you don’t want to stay in the town where your box is, you can tell the clerk to forward the unopened parcel to your next choice).
Also, shipping with USPS Priority means that your Bounce Box will be held in General Delivery for you to pick up at the post office. This is not available if you choose to ship with UPS or FedEx as they won’t deliver to post offices.
If you do choose to send your Bounce Box every 500 miles or so, I would recommend using the Priority Mail Regional Rate Box B. It measures 12 x 10.25 x 5 inches, and should have plenty of space for everything, so long as your things aren’t too bulky. Sending a regional rate box is much more affordable, and a box that weighs about 10 pounds will cost around $8 to ship. Now, this is cost-effective for a reason: the USPS is cutting you a deal on a box that is traveling a shorter distance, hence the ‘regional’ thing. That means you can’t really pack a bunch of stuff into one of these boxes and mail it 1000 miles ahead or out of the country.
If you have a lot of stuff you would like to bounce, then you may want to consider shipping it in a Large Priority Flat Rate box, which at the time of publication, costs $18.85 and has a weight limit of up to 50 pounds.
Both of these Priority Boxes are free and you can order them to be delivered to your home:
Bling Your Bounce Box
Once you’ve packed everything you need into your Bounce Box and you’ve addressed it with your full legal name, you need to make it stand out from the rest. This way, it’s easier for the post office clerk to find it in the back room. Use stickers, brightly colored duct tape or highlighter pens to make your parcel pop. Be sure to write your name on all sides of the box in bold letters, along with your estimated time of arrival, or ETA.
Note: Remember that here in the U.S. we put the month before the day when writing out dates. Example: July 15th would be written as 7/15.
When you’re ready to mail it off to your zero day location, you’ll need to tape the hell out of it. Don’t worry about being over zealous about this, more is better. You’re box is going to get abused in transit, be sure to secure it with layers of packing tape across all openings and edges.
Once you’ve stood in line at the post office for an hour and mailed the box off, snap a pic with your phone of your tracking number on the receipt that the clerk will give you. This way you don’t have to pack around receipts while you hike and you can check if your package arrived.
Now hike on, for hundreds of miles in anticipation of the day you can actually enjoy what’s inside that Bounce Box of yours.
P.S. Want more information on thru-hiking? Check out these posts: