Jessica is the wife of a CCA. She researched for hours on end to find the best gear for a newbie and now he is ready for anything.
Welcome to the United States Postal Service!
Welcome to USPS, and one of the most under-appreciated jobs available! You will brave blistering heat, whipping winds, torrential downpours, and freezing cold. You will carry thirty or more pounds on one shoulder for hours on end. You will learn that not all dogs are friendly and how to spot a stray from a mile away. You'll do all that for $16 an hour!
The Pros of Being a Mail Carrier
It's not all bad, though! You will get several hours of exercise per day, increasing your endurance and building muscle. You will learn how to intuitively navigate strange neighborhoods. Your ability to multitask will vastly improve. You may have a great sense of pride in your job, knowing that hundreds of people depend on you six days a week.
That's a lot to do! And the first step toward a successful career as a mail carrier is knowing what you need to take care of yourself while you're on the job.
In This Article
- Mail Carrier Essentials: CCA Gear
- Sunscreen: Do You Really Need It?
- The Importance of Staying Hydrated
- "Nice to Have" Gear for CCAs
- Splurge Items for CCAs
Mail Carrier Essentials: CCA Gear
There are a few things that every city carrier assistant needs—and it would be a good idea to buy them right away.
- Large water bottle(s) or jug(s): You will be sweating a lot, and it gets very hot in the summer. I suggest a large thermal water jug, at least 1/2 a gallon but preferably 1 gallon, that can hold a lot of water and ice. You can buy these at Walmart or Target for under $10.
- Sunscreen: You will be in the sun every day, so unless you want skin cancer, I highly recommend that you invest in a lot of sunscreen. Get a high SPF, at least 30, and something you can easily reapply throughout the day. I recommend a stick for your face and an aerosol spray for your arms and legs. More about sunscreen below.
- Sunglasses: The sun can be hard on your eyes as well, so buy a good pair of UV-blocking sunglasses. They will help you see farther and will help while you're driving as well. If you wear prescription glasses, be aware that transition lenses are not a very good idea because they often take a bit too long to adjust to light getting in and out of vehicles. I recommend a dedicated pair of prescription sunglasses. You can get inexpensive ones online at stores like Zenni Optical.
- Good walking shoes: As a new CCA, you won't have a clothing allowance until after your probation, so you'll have to balance quality with price. I recommend Nike Air Monarch IV (~$50) or the New Balance brand, but if you have another preference, that's fine. Get all leather (synthetic is fine, just no mesh) and black.
- Umbrella: You may think that the rain won't bother you, but when the sky opens up and it's pouring, you'll be wishing you had an umbrella while the mail is melting in your hands. Do yourself a favor and get a large and sturdy umbrella that can withstand a windy day. A cheap rain jacket or windbreaker is a great addition to an umbrella, especially when it's windy and rainy.
- Duffel bag: Get a good duffel bag to put your umbrella, extra socks, sunscreen, snacks, first-aid kit, etc. in. No need to spend a lot—Goodwill and other thrift stores usually have lots of bags to choose from at low prices. You can also use a backpack, but a duffel bag has a bit more room for a larger umbrella and any other gear you want to keep on you.
- Cell phone: It's not specifically required, but it's expected that you will have a phone on you while you work so your supervisor can contact you. I recommend a smartphone, but if you can't afford one, a regular cell phone is fine. Dollar stores like Dollar General and Family Dollar have cheap cell phones if you don't already have one.
- Lunch box/bag: You'll likely be eating on the run, so buy a good lunch box. I recommend one that you can freeze so you don't need to buy ice packs separately. Another good option is a small cooler because you can freeze water bottles as ice packs and have the water ready to drink throughout the day.
Sunscreen: Do You Really Need it?
Quick answer: YES!
Long answer: Absolutely! Even if you tan beautifully or are naturally dark-skinned, you need sunscreen. Skin cancer rates are extremely high. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 40-50% of Americans who live up to 65 years old will have skin cancer at least once. Putting on sunscreen daily is your best defense against skin cancer.
A few tips on sunscreen:
- Always choose a broad protection sunscreen! You want protection from both UVA (rays that cause skin aging) and UVB (rays that cause sunburns and, eventually, cancer).
- Choose a 30+ SPF sunscreen; higher than that isn't necessarily better, but if you prefer 50 SPF or higher, that's fine.
- If you have sensitive skin, choose a zinc oxide-based sunscreen. Zinc oxide is used in diaper rash cream, so it's a time-tested substance for sensitive skin.
- Reapply every two hours that you're in the sun. I recommend a spray sunscreen for your arms and legs because reapplication is much faster that way. You can use a sunscreen stick for your face to make reapplication faster.
- Use sunscreen even when it's cloudy or cold. The sun's rays are harsh year-round, make sure you're applying sunscreen daily.
- Don't forget your ears or your lips! You can get a lip balm with SPF for a few bucks. It's worth it.
More information is available on the Skin Cancer Foundation website.
The Importance of Staying Hydrated
You may scoff at the idea of drinking a gallon of water in a day, but dehydration is a very serious threat to anyone who works outdoors and is as active as a mail carrier. You will be walking many miles a day in the heat. So always drink plenty of water.
Load Up on Electrolytes
In addition, make sure you are getting electrolytes. If you don't know, electrolytes are essential minerals in your body. You lose them when you sweat, and if you don't replace them, you will be tired and irritable, and your muscles will ache. If you let an imbalance go for too long, you can be hospitalized.
Common electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and chloride. You can replenish these through food intake (leafy greens, milk, and nuts are a great source of most electrolytes), or you can drink an electrolyte drink mix.
I highly recommend Emergen-C Electro Mix. It has the highest potassium and magnesium content of any drink mix I've ever seen. The retail price is $9.99, but it sometimes goes out of stock (it's that popular), so some unscrupulous Amazon and eBay sellers jack up the price to $20+ a box. If that happens, another great option is Ultima Replenisher, it's only slightly more expensive if you buy the largest canister. It has very high electrolytes (blows Gatorade and Powerade out of the water!), and the flavors are very good.
"Nice to Have" Gear for City Carrier Assistants
Some other items are "nice to have" when you have a little more money. They aren't a requirement by any means, and they're not quite a splurge—but they will make your job much more manageable.
- High-quality hat: You should receive a USPS baseball hat during orientation, but they're not the best quality. They also leave the back of your neck and your ears in the sun all day. I suggest a flap hat that covers your neck and has a wider brim. There are retired mail carriers that sell them on eBay with the USPS logo embroidered on them (pictured above). They look amazing and very professional. The fabric is SPF 50!
- Chill towel: This is a towel that you wet and ring out, and it evaporates and cools you off all day long. It's made from a special fabric that holds water but doesn't drip. I recommend getting one to hang around your neck and shoulders to keep you cool in the summer.
- Moisture-wicking socks: Your regular socks are probably fine, but I would recommend that you get a good pair of socks that wick away moisture and are designed with fewer seams to prevent blisters. Wrightsock Coolmesh II Low Quarters are my favorites. They're pricey ($10 a pair), but they are worth every penny to avoid blisters. Another fantastic option is Darn Tough socks. They keep your feet cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They're more expensive (~$15-20 per pair), but they last a lot longer than even the Wrightsocks I mentioned, so it's worth the extra cost.
- Smartphone: I almost put this under necessities, but they can be pricey if you don't have one already. They are a lifesaver for CCAs—you can listen to music through the built-in speaker, use Google Maps to find a house on a new route, call or text your supervisor, take notes, and so much more. A data plan is helpful but not required since Google Maps now has an offline feature.
- First-aid kit: You will probably get nasty paper cuts or, even worse—cardboard cuts. You might get stung by a bee or a wasp. You might get some dirt in your eye. Fix up a small first-aid kit with bandages, alcohol wipes, pain relievers, eye drops, tweezers, anti-nausea or diarrhea pills, and anything else you think you might need. You don't need a huge kit, just something small to get you through one or two minor issues. You can always restock later. A ziplock bag with even 1 or 2 of each item you think you'll need is probably enough.
- Hand warmers: You won't need these in the summer, but you will absolutely want them in the winter when you can barely feel your fingers and toes. For about $1 a day, your extremities can be nice and toasty all day long.
Splurge Items for New CCAs
If you have money to burn, here are a few pricier items that might be useful to a new mail carrier.
- Fitness Tracker: If you want to know how many miles you walk and the calories you burn every day, a FitBit or other fitness tracker is a great tool. You can set custom goals, track your food (this can help ensure you're meeting all your nutritional needs), and even track your sleep with most fitness trackers.
- Smartwatch: All the convenience of a smartphone but on your wrist. They're really pricey but can be worth it. No more fiddling with your pockets to answer the phone, just tap the screen of the watch, and you can act like a secret agent talking to your wrist. You can also use them to listen to music, get directions, reply to messages, and of course - check the time.
- Vacuum Bottle, aka a Thermos: If you want a hot meal for once, a Thermos is a nice splurge. It allows you to eat hot soup, chili, casseroles, etc. They're also great if you're a coffee drinker because your coffee can stay hot all day. They can also double as water bottles to keep cold liquids cold, so they're worth the splurge, in my opinion.
- GPS: You can easily get a GPS app (such as Google Maps) on your phone, but a standalone GPS has a ton of great features that you might prefer, especially if you don't have a good smartphone. One example of these features is that you can program in addresses ahead of time so you can have directions to all the post offices in town at your fingertips.
Resources and Links
- Postal Employees Forum
Postal Employees forum on FederalSoup.com. Good place to ask questions and read old questions and discussions.
- USPS Subreddit
This is a great place to ask questions about being a CCA and what it's like to work for the United States Postal Service.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Jessica
Jessica (author) from Southern Indiana on April 24, 2020:
@kac2868 You are afforded as many comfort (bathroom) breaks as you need during the day. If management says otherwise, get your steward involved. They cannot keep you from using the restroom. Ask which restrooms are available on your route, some may be closed right now due to COVID-19 so you may have to deviate further than normal. Common restroom locations include grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, businesses open to the public, etc. From what I understand, you can generally travel within 1 mile of your route to use the restroom without throwing up any red flags in the system.
kac2868 on April 23, 2020:
I'm reading about drinking enough liquids during the day, but as a new cca, i'm being told there's not a lot of extra time to do anything extra. Where are you supposed to go to the restrooms if the route is in a residential area and you might not be delivering to a business with a public restroom?
Jessica (author) from Southern Indiana on March 06, 2019:
Ana Maria, yes, here's a direct link: https://www.ebay.com/itm/USPS-POSTAL-SUMMER-EXTREM...
Ana Maria Weaver on March 06, 2019:
Do you happen to have a link for the pictured sun hat?
mike south jersey on October 22, 2018:
how does a carrier purchase cooling sleeves for sun protection
Jessica (author) from Southern Indiana on January 25, 2018:
Connor, unless you're on a strictly walking route (which is very rare), you'll still drive the LLV from park point to park point. You can store your lunch box and water jug there.
Connor on January 25, 2018:
Thanks for the help!
I start orientation on Monday.
One question I have is how does someone on a walking route bring their lunch and water with them? Thank you!