Iditarod Food Drops - 6 Things You may not have Known!

Each year before the racers hit the trail toward Nome, Alaska, each musher ships out close to 2,000 pounds of food and supplies across the 22 Iditarod checkpoints.  Included in this nearly one ton of supplies that are dropped along the trail are food for the dogs, food for the mushers, and any other supplies that the mushers deem as necessary as they travel the nearly 1,000 miles North.  These supplies are packed into the "Iditarod food drop bags” labeled with the name of the destination checkpoint. food drop bags close up Iditarod Food Drop bags labeled with each checkpoint name food drop bags Volunteers help move thousands of pounds of supplies!

Iditarod food drop bags are collected about 3 weeks before the race begins and are distributed across Alaska by airplane. Commercial cargo flights, as well as a fleet of volunteer bush pilots known as the Iditarod Air-force, are utilized to deliver the Iditarod food drop bags since the race is entirely off the road system.  Mushers pay the freight charges for this delivery service which run about 50 cents per pound.

A team’s schedule will dictate how their food and supplies are distributed. Race rules mandate that at least 50 pounds of food must be sent to every checkpoint. Mushers typically send 80 to 100 pounds to major checkpoints, and twice that amount to any checkpoint that they want the option of taking their mandatory 24-hour layover at.

Anna Berrington and Harley Iditarod Food Drops Anna Berrington and Harley Kristy Berrington Food Drop Bag Kristy Berrington's Iditarod Food Drop Bag for Shageluk gets weighed and documented

The dog kibble is pre-measured and the frozen meat is pre-sliced so that feeding is quick and easy during the race. Most meat “snacks” are cut to about the size and width of half a slice of bread so that they can either be quickly melted in hot water for “sled dog soup” or passed out as easy to eat frozen snacks. Mushers put great effort into providing their team with as many meat options as they can. Some of the most common meats on the trail are beef, chicken, lamb, beaver, turkey skins, beef fat, and pork bellies. A sled dog racing Iditarod burns between 12,000 to 15,000 calories a day!

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The trail meals for the mushers are single portions of any food- lasagna, slices of pizza, stir-fry, barbecue sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and pretty much anything that can be vacuum sealed and frozen. Most commonly that meal is tossed into the dog food cooker water to thaw while the musher does other chores. Once the water reaches boiling, the meal is fished out, and the water is poured over the frozen meat to make the dog soup.  Sports drinks, water bottles, and juice pouches are also shipped out and thawed in the same way. Any bottles that are shipped must be opened and a few ounces of liquid poured out prior to freezing or the lid or bottle will break when the liquid freezes and expands.

Dogs with Non Stop Jackets Iditarod Food Drop Dogs with 'Non Stop Jackets' racing the Iditarod

Since most mushers don’t stop long enough to dry their gear, included in these bag drops are new gloves, socks, and boot liners for each checkpoint as well as a fresh set of booties for the dogs. Dog massage liniments, paw ointment, hand warmers, and candy bars are other essentials for each camp to keep these racers and their mushers in tip-top shape!  It's obvious that since each team is different that the above items aren't going to be 100% accurate from team to team, but this gives you an idea as to the immense amount of preparation and planning that goes into a race like this.  The mantra of 'better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it' is certainly in full effect if someone plans to bear the brunt of an Alaskan winter all alone on the trail, with little to no support, and oftentimes encountering brutal weather conditions.  Now, when you cheer your favorite musher, you'll have a better idea as to what might be in those familiar white Iditarod food drop bags you're going to see in this year's photos!

Non Stop 2017 start Iditarod Food Drop The dogs looking good at the start of the Iditarod decked out in their Non-Stop harnesses and bright red booties!


Author: Kale Casey, CEO North America

Non-stop dogwear North America

24850 West Gratiot Drive – Mile Marker 73

PO Box 1038

Willow, Alaska 99688

Non-Stop Dogwear

Non-Stop Dogwear Facebook Page

March 2018


I’ve been and still are a volunteer for a lot of pre race functions.

I’ve posted some short videos from the 2012 race on YouTube.

Larryinalaska on YouTube.
Larry Cheso April 17, 2021

Aww those were the days!!! I handled for a certain musher twice and remember very well the pre race work!!! I retired from mushing many years ago in the 90’s
but it will always be of the greatest joys of my life, and living in the great state for 25 years. @Gary Warner, I saw my first dog race in Michigan back in the 80’s. They hold them up north, this side of the bridge. Check it out!!

Peggy S Buck Bell April 17, 2021

I too am from Michigan and I lived up there in 2010-2013 and saw two anchorage takeoffs and once out at willow lake and I’m here to tell ya those dogs are amazing to watch and so damn happy! GOOOO!!! See it! You won’t be sad!

Dave Cole April 17, 2021

Chances are I will never witness the Iditarod, but I certainly hope to observe a sled dog race in person, in my home state of Mincigan.

Gary Warner April 17, 2021

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