People who are interested in doing a thru hike themselves are often curious about the cost of taking on such an endeavor. It can be a hard thing to gauge at first. Truly it comes down to the fact that the money spent preparing for and executing an outdoor adventure will vary drastically from person to person, from trail to trail.
I’ve met a lot of hikers and everyone’s style is different. From old school external frame proud heavy weighters to Super Ultra Light minimal purists, old to young, first timers to veterans. Over time, you learn what set up works for you. What you can do without. What you absolutely must have (butt wipes for me), and then as budget allows, you slowly invest in higher quality, lighter weight versions of those items.
If you are purchasing new gear for a trip, that will be a huge portion of your expense, depending on what you are acquiring and from where (2nd hand items are a great place to save a little cash). For this trip I knew I wanted a fully enclosed shelter (unlike my last hike), so I bought a new (to me) Zpacks Altaplex for $535 through a second hand gear swap group on Facebook. There were a few small holes in the mesh screen, but otherwise it was like new. That saved me $50. I also picked up a brand new pack with accessories like extra pockets and loops for $444. That is an expensive backpack. However, it did make it through this hike looking brand new, so I know it will survive a few more; great investment in my mind (coupled with the fact that I am now selling four other backpacks that this one can replace). I picked up a few other accessories as well (see below) but the majority of my gear expense was in those main two items. I plan to use them many more times, which will bring down the cost of future hikes.
Aside from those purchases, I did have to purchase various other gear and small accessories such as shoes, stove fuel, water filter, permethrin, watch, first aid, etc before my hike and during (see below).
Food is another big expense that I’ve talked about before. It’s difficult to get high calories through good quality ingredients at a minimal weight. It’s even harder to do that cheaply. My food expense was $1200 for 63 days which is about $19 per day. The FT only took me 51 days to hike, so I can keep most of the extra “long shelf life” food for use on future hikes, which will save me cash in the future. The total cost of food for 51 days on the trail was $971, so I saved a little money there.
Another cost that most people aren’t aware of is the cost of shipping all of that pre-planned food to yourself. 63 days of food weighs about 106 lbs. To ship all of that can be a costly endeavor. Also, in my case, I was often mailing unused gear or uneaten food back home, so add that expense if you too might be mailing things back as well as out to yourself. I used flat rate shipping boxes most of the time, which can save a little dough, depending on what you are shipping. I spent $226 total on shipping through the US Postal Service.
On the subject of food: $971 is how much I spent, pre-hike, to feed myself during the actual walk. This does not include food that I supplemented my diet with along the way. I probably bought a snickers every time I passed a gas station. Also, the guidebook mentions so many delicious local greasy spoons along the way, I couldn’t have possibly stopped at them all, but I did try. I spent about $500 on restaurant and gas station food ($100 of that on my very-last-day-celebratory-after-hike-meal of burgers, booze, and oysters with Nicole).
I chose to stay in motels on seven occasions. Reasons varied from injury, to hiking into the night only to wind up in an urban area, with no feasible or safe camping options, to my girlfriend coming to meet me off trail, to extra time in a town being necessary for laundry or mail pick ups. I consider myself a purist when it comes to the actual walking; I try to take all of the steps and accept no rides to skip miles (though on this trip, I did accept a ride from a Trail Angel and her son, around a dangerous few miles through a highway construction zone in the rain in the middle of the night), but when it comes to accommodations, I don’t adhere to a set of self imposed rules.
There are many sage-like truly pure purist hikers that will not leave to trail to sleep if it requires paying any kind of fee. I spent about $500 on motels on this hike, so one could save a lot of money by only sleeping on the trail. Many of the official campsites (with RV’s and camp hosts) charged a fee to camp, but if you confided that you were a thru hiker, often times the fee was waived. If they happen to not waive the fee, you can just politely decline the site, keep walking on back into the woods and set up camp for free.
***I’m not even going to go into the costs of not having a job or income while you are away, or having to pay bills or a mortgage while you are gone, because that’s different for every person, but be aware those things may be a HUGE factor***
I am a compulsive type-A personality planner and the type of person that enjoys being in control of his situation. I travel light weight but also very comfortably. If you aren’t into planning out mileage and purchasing food before your hike and mailing it, you can save tons on your initial investment, though food purchased while on the trail is generally more expensive. If you learn what is edible on your trail, you can forage to supplement your diet. If you already have gear that will work for you, no new gear purchases are necessary. If you take advantage of the beautiful and cost free world around us, you don’t have to pay to sleep anywhere. If you can do without, which may mean brief suffering and discomfort, you can save endless amounts of money by eliminating certain pieces of gear from your set up completely.
There are plenty of simple and/or extreme ways to cut the costs of a thru hike. This is a completely honest cost analysis of my Florida Trail Thru Hike, the way that I hiked it. My hiking style for this trail was “Light and Luxurious”, and this is what it cost:
Food purchased and mailed before the hike: $971
Food / drink purchased from gas stations: $109.64
Food / drink purchased from restaurants: $415.25
Food total: $1495.89
Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack (with extra options): $444
Zpacks “Altaplex” Shelter (2nd hand): $535
Ultra light Stakes for shelter: $32.50
Cuban fiber stake stuff sac: $6
Cuban fiber stuff sac/pillow: $35
Cuban fiber Bear Bag Kit: $50
NEW Camping Gear total: $1102.50
Glasses strap: $4
Casio Watch: $11
Rohan shirt: $30
Shoes (4 pair – water shoes, Columbia’s that didn’t work, 2 pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.0’s): $90, $40, $100, $120
Misc. Resupplies at Walmart during hike: $9.65, $8, $9, $7
Esbit Stove Fuel: $24
Permethrin Spray: $34
Battery and Charger for phone: $48
Orange Headsweats Hat: $21
Water Filter: $30
Random Supplies total cost: $561
Shipping costs for food in USPS flat rate boxes (back and forth): $226.56
Campsites and Motels: $523.71
First Aid Supplies total: $38.58
FOR A GRAND TOTAL OF: $3948.35 !!!
That’s $77.41 per day
Without the motels and campground fees it’s: $67.61 per day
$3,448.11 total for 51 days.
Without the new gear it’s: $55 per day
$2805 total for 51 days.
Without the gas station/restaurant food: $45.50 per day
$2320.50 total for 51 days.
THESE NUMBERS ARE FOR TOTAL COST OF THE ENTIRE HIKE/EXPERIENCE. EVERYTHING INCLUDED.
Considering the amazing times and wonderful people I meet while thru hiking, the cost is totally worth it!
One can feasibly live like royalty, super comfortably, with no bills for this amount, and for far less depending on what you think you personally can do without.
I hope this helps folks budget and plan more effectively for their next hike.