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Appalachian Trail Costs & Budget

Last Updated on May 23, 2019 by mountainswithmegan

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is cheap, but it’s not free. Figuring out the cost of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike will depend upon your personal spending habits. 

I know one hiker who started with $300 and would fly signs in town asking for work.  I know a different hiker that blew through $8000 and was broke by New Hampshire.  My expenses were $2000 (not including gear) by being frugal, and I only had $5 to my name the day I summited Katahdin.

How Much Does it Cost to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail?

$3,000 is the easy answer.

This doesn’t include gear that you buy before the hike. If you aim to save $3,000 for your thru-hike, you’ll be set up to have money for all of your food resupplies, spend the night in town once a week, treat yourself to the occasional meal at a restaurant, buy new hiking shoes and gear when needed, and have a little extra fun money for beers or special treats.

The cost of your thru-hike will increase if you want to stay in motels multiple times a week, eat at restaurants in every town, do lots of partying, take shuttles instead of hitch-hiking, and buy fancy new gear when you don’t necessarily need it.

As I mentioned previously, I got by on $2,000. If you want to do the same, it is certainly possible. I wouldn’t recommend it, as I had to be very frugal with my money. I mostly bought the cheapest resupply food at the grocery store (not the healthiest), did not treat myself to meals very often, and carried inexpensive and heavy gear. Even with all this effort, I was still dumpster diving at grocery stores by the end of my hike.

How to Stick to a $3,000 Budget on the Appalachian Trail

Let’s say it takes about six months to do a thru-hike. Yes, you very well can do it faster, but I like to stay on the safe side when I’m budgeting. Then you have bonus, leftover money when you’re done or extra emergency money.

$3,000/ 6 months = $125/ week

Here is a sample budget for one week on the Appalachian Trail:

  • Motel/ $11.25 A cheap motel room is about $45, and you can split it with other hikers. There are also hiker hostels along the way. There are trail angels who will let you stay for free in some towns. Just be a respectful guest and leave a donation if they accept it. Some motels or hostels will run you closer to $20 for your share, but factor in no donation places and work-for-stay opportunities.
  • Laundry/ $2 Split laundry costs with another hiker to save a couple bucks.
  • Resupply/ $80 Resupply twice a week and try to keep expenses to $40 each time. This is a realistic goal if you don’t overindulge too much.
  • Fuel canister/ $2.50 Factor in the need for a new fuel canister every two weeks. At about $5 for a canister, this averages to $2.50 per week.
  • Total for Necessities: $95.75/ week

After spending on necessities, now you have $29.25 left over to spend on what you want. Maybe this will be a couple hot meals in town or an evening at the local bar. Maybe you want to save that money for when you need to replace gear or in case an emergency comes up.

Appalachian Trail Gear Costs

Plan to spend $1,000-1,500 on gear.

This is if you’re being budget-minded, shopping the sales, and planning out each purchase carefully. You’re not going to have the newest and best gear for this price, but you’ll have a reliable set-up.

Gear costs in general is a tough one to put a price to because you can rough it with under-performing gear and spend hundreds of dollars or you can get the lightest, most cutting-edge gear available for thousands of dollars.

If you’re down to spend a lot of money on gear, I recommend looking to Outdoor Gear Lab for advice. They regularly test and compare the newest backpacking gear, and they’ll tell you what’s worth the money or not. They also have lots of older articles on gear that is several years old.

My best money saving advice when shopping for hiking gear is to become an REI Co-op member. A lifetime membership is $20, and every spring you get 10% back on whatever you purchased the previous year.

Additionally, they will exchange your gear or accept returns for a full year after your purchase. They don’t make a big deal about it either. Think of buying from REI as insurance. If something goes wrong with your gear, they have you covered.

If you’re looking to save money on gear, start shopping during the autumn before your thru-hike. There will be lots of end-of-the-season sales as summer wraps up, and you can get last year’s gear at a discount. Backcountry has lots of older-model, discounted gear for sale. They’re another good place to shop to save some money.

Save even more money by shopping on second-hand sites like eBay or joining backpacking gear exchange groups on Facebook like Backpacking Gear Flea Market for Women. If you’re trying to get second-hand stuff, don’t be too attached to getting a specific item or brand; just be open to buying good gear that fits your needs.

You can also go to thrift stores to buy cheap fleeces and synthetic under layers. If you’re not picky, you can get most of your clothes at thrift stores. I often hike in athletic wear as opposed to traditional hiking clothes simply because it’s so much cheaper to buy.

Sample $1,000 Gear List

I made a sample list of what gear you can buy if you want to keep your costs around $1,000. This is all reliable, good gear. The sleeping bag and shelter aren’t the lightest, however. This list is a solid jumping off point for those who want to get on the trail without spending a ton of money.

For clarification, everything on this list adds up to $775. I intentionally didn’t put hiking clothes on the list because clothing needs vary from person to person. Additionally, as I previously said you can buy clothes from second-hand stores.

So you could hypothetically buy all the gear on this list for $775 and have $225 leftover to get your hiking clothes sorted.

Recurring Monthly Expenses

For those of us who are no longer dirtbag 22-year-olds with no financial obligations (let’s have a moment of silence for simpler times that have slipped away), we probably have recurring monthly expenses that we have to account for when planning our Appalachian Trail cost.

I’m sure you all have a host of annoying bills. Nowadays my recurring bills are my student loans, phone bill, and monthly blog related expenses. For me, these add up to $380 a month. (I was a dirtbag 22-year-old when I thru-hiked and didn’t have to worry about these things.) So when I go on a big trip that lasts months, I have to factor in these expenses. If I was doing a six month thru-hike, I would need an additional $2,280 on top of my $3,000 hiking expenses.

Maybe you have other things to pay for such as health insurance, storage unit fees, credit card bills, or whatever. Add up all of your monthly expenses and multiply it by six to figure out how much bills money you need.

Get rid of the monthly bills you’re not gonna need while hiking such as gym memberships, Netflix, or whatever else you pay for that isn’t a must-have. I don’t have too many belongings, so whenever I go on a big trip I always pack all my stuff up in my car, park it at my parents’ house, and cancel my car insurance.

Money Saver Tricks on the Appalachian Trail

I learned a few things after doing a thru-hike on $2,000. If you’re down to rough it for the sake of your bank account, these tips might be for you.

  • Only buy the cheapest food items at the store, like Pasta Sides and oatmeal.  Skip the Mountain House meals and Clif bars.  Instead of going to the diner in town, go to the deli in the grocery store.
  • Do work-for-stay at the hostels that allow it.  Stay with trail angels that open their homes.  Keep an eye out for free showers.  Camp right outside of town, so you can get in and get out.
  • Lots of gear companies will replace broken or worn out items because they like to keep a good reputation with the thru-hikers.  Call the companies before you make purchases to find out what their policy is.  REI is awesome about helping hikers.
  • Do everything you can to minimize bills before your thru-hike begins. Give up your apartment, and move your stuff to a storage unit or a family members basement. Cancel your car insurance. Get on a cheap phone plan (I recommend Verizon pre-paid).
  • If you’re a bit of a partier, do what you can to save money. Don’t order craft beers at the bar; order cans of PBR. If you’re struggling to quit smoking, switch to rolling cigarettes. The trail goes through the South and rural, Northeast towns. Beer isn’t that expensive unless you intentionally buy the expensive stuff.

If you found this article useful, you might be interested in my thru-hiking book The Appalachian Trail Girl’s Guide. Get it on Amazon!

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