How to Resupply During Your Bikepacking Trip

There eventually comes a time in a bikepacker’s journey when the miles grow long and resources run low. No, it’s not the dark night of the soul, though I suppose it could be. But more importantly, it’s time to resupply!

I love resupplying. There’s something about rolling into a small town after days out in the wild, dusty and hungry and thirsty. I don’t need much, but what I do need, I really need. There’s a nice simplicity to it, and a sense of being in touch with my basic needs.

Also: chocolate milk and potato chips!! 🙂

If you want to bikepack for more than a few days at a time, you’ll need to resupply as you go. On a long route like the Great Divide or Western Wildlands you might do it dozens of times. It’s not complicated, but it might seem so at first.

This post is an overview of how and where to resupply, what to expect, when and how to use mail drops, and other bikepacking resupply tips. It’s tailored mainly toward rides in rural parts of the United States, but many of the basics apply to bikepacking in other countries too.

How Often to Resupply

The short answer: as often as possible. Food is heavy — around 2 pounds per person per day — so you can lighten your bikepacking load by packing only what you need to reach the next place that sells food.

In my experience, every 2 to 4 days is an ideal resupply frequency. Less and it gets hard to fit all the food on your bike. More breaks up the momentum of a ride and can feel like too much civilization. Many US bikepacking routes from the Rockies westward are designed with roughly this resupply frequency in mind.

A few other factors to consider: cost (convenience stores are surprisingly expensive), dietary needs (rural America isn’t an easy place to be vegan, gluten-free, etc), and time (it’s easy to get sucked into the “town vortex”). These might all be reasons to carry extra and skip a potential resupply stop.

Small store in rural Oregon with dear heads on the wall
Resupplying at a small town general store somewhere in Central Oregon.

What to Resupply

Food is the most obvious resupply task, by far. After a few days of pedaling through the middle of nowhere, ravenous bikepackers are excited to refill our bags with sustenance and tasty treats.

Other consumables also need to be replenished on a long trip. Items like toothpaste, sunscreen, chap stick, and first aid supplies can often be found in convenience stores even in small towns. Specialty items like prescription medications, contact lenses, and your favorite brand of chamois butter may need to be sent in a mail drop (more on that below).

Stove fuel is another common consumable, and one of the harder ones to find if you’re using isobutane canisters. In the US you can find it in larger towns at Walmart and outdoor outfitters like REI, or in smaller towns at hardware stores, hunting and fishing stores, rural lodges, and national park visitors centers. For more on stove and fuel types, see Bikepacking Stoves.

Bike parts eventually wear out on a long enough trip. After several thousand miles you may need to replace a chain, brake pads (more than once), and maybe even tires. You’ll definitely need to buy more chain lube.

Close up of oatmeal with peanut butter as backpacking meal in collapsible cup
A typical resupply-friendly breakfast made from ingredients that are easy to find at any US convenience store: oatmeal, peanut butter, and trail mix.

Types of Resupplies

Depending on what’s available along your route, you can resupply in one or more of these ways.

Grocery stores:

  • Best selection
  • Lowest prices
  • Best place to find healthy food
  • Not available in the smallest towns
  • Hard to find small and single-serve quantities (especially tough for solo bikepackers who can’t split larger packages with companions)
  • Take more time than small stores
  • Can feel big and overwhelming after days in nature (maybe that’s just me?)

Convenience stores and small-town general stores:

  • Available even in small towns
  • Quick and easy to shop in
  • Easy to find small portions and single-serving sizes
  • Expensive
  • Hard to find healthy food

Mail drops (sending yourself resupply boxes):

  • Best way to resupply hard-to-find items
  • Enables resupply in places without stores
  • Gives more control over your diet
  • Advance work and planning required
  • Adds schedule constraints to itinerary
  • Food you packed before starting won’t always suit your tastes on the road
  • Shipping costs can be expensive
Options were limited, but I did manage to buy a few days of bikepacking food at a gas station in Montana.

Resupply Shopping Tips

Shopping for food should be easy, right? But when you’re tired, hungry, and have only one shot to buy the right amount of food for the next couple hundred miles, it’s all too easy to miscalculate the number of Snickers and Slim Jims required to power your journey. These tips will help.

Eat first, resupply second. If you arrive tired and hungry, buy the sandwich and chocolate milk first. You can go back for round two once you’ve replenished your energy enough to think straight.

Count calories. At convenience stores where everything is individually packaged, a small amount of food can look like a lot more than it actually is. Until you gain experience, force yourself to actually add up the calories on the labels. I know one very experienced bikepacker who calculates her caloric needs, enters that number into her phone’s calculator, and meticulously subtracts each thing she buys until she hits zero.

Save ziplock bags. Whether you bring them from home or horde them along the way, a few ziplocks are key for repackaging food that comes in boxes and other hard-to-pack containers.

Split grocery store packages with others. You can save money and weight by splitting that box of oatmeal packets with others in your group, if any.

Carry an emergency meal and snacks. No matter how rock solid your itinerary seems, sometimes stuff happens. I always carry at least one lightweight emergency meal (ramen packets are perfect) and a handful of snacks in case I can’t make my next resupply stop when planned, or in case it’s closed.

Look one or two stops ahead, but not much further. Of course you’ll need to know how many days of food to buy, so you’ll have to know your next resupply stop and possibly the one after that. If you’re currently at a well-stocked store and the section coming up will be sparse, consider carrying some extras you may not find at the next stop. Looking further ahead than that, at least for me, isn’t useful.

Resupplying at a small general store in Central California.

Mail Drops

A “mail drop” is when you pre-pack your own resupply boxes and ship them to yourself along your route, or have a helpful contact ship them for you. It’s usually done for longer trips of about a month or more, or when you have special needs that can’t be met by shopping as you go.

Personally I love shopping for food as I go, so I use mail drops sparingly. My tastes and nutritional needs tend to shift once I’m on the road, and I like to follow my cravings and adapt to changing caloric needs. But mail drops do solve important problems and can be an essential part of long rides.

To learn more about resupplying with mail drops, see Mastering Mail Drops.

Picking up a resupply mail drop in Colorado on the GDMBR. I sent myself two resupply boxes on this trip and bought everything else as I went.

Resupply Checklist PDF

If you’d like a reference for the road, I have a free one-page PDF download with a detailed resupply checklist and shopping list. You can access it by entering your email address here:

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Town Day Checklist!

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    Trip Planning Help

    If you’re learning about resupplying for the first time, you probably also have some other bikepacking logistics to figure out. For folks tackling their first or longest bikepacking trip, the Bikepacking Trip Planner Workbook is here for you! It’s packed with interactive tables, checklists, and worksheets to walk you through the planning process, plus loads of resources and recommendations on gear, itinerary, supplies, bike prep, emergency planning, and lots more.

    About the Author

    Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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