How Much Should You Save to Thru-Hike?

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Before we start, I should obviously mention that there is no “right” amount of money to save for a thru-hike.  Finances on trail, like in normal life, fluctuate depending on who is spending the money.  We all have different wants, needs, and income, so therefore it is near impossible to give anyone an exact number.

However, based on my past experience and the past experience of other thru-hikers, I can provide an average dollar amount for anyone to use as a baseline.

I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you that on my 2018 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I spent $8,446.81 ON TRAIL.  This number does not include my gear related expenses prior to starting the the trail.  You can find those expenses here.

I averaged $3.19 per mile ($8,446.81/2,650 miles).  Or if you like to think of it this way, $345 per week on trail ($8,446.81/24.5 weeks).

(If watching + listening is more your thing, check out my video on this topic here.)

The breakdown of my expenses are as follows:

  • Food + Drinks: $2,752.74
  • Resupply: $814.89
  • Lodging: $2,651.20
  • Gear + Clothing Replaced: $1,208.89
  • Post Office: $158.41
  • Subscriptions: $482.03
    -inReach Garmin, Guthook, iCloud, Spotify, Audiobooks
  • Commuting: $231.40
    -Amtrak, Buses, Taxis/Ubers
  • Body Care: $80
    -Massage, Medical
  • Miscellaneous: $67.25
    -Wi-Fi, Bowling, Movies

From speaking with other thru-hikers, I would place myself in the middle-to-high range regarding my expenses. I drank beer whenever I was in town, ate multiple hot meals, stayed in hotel rooms in almost every town, went bowling, got a massage, took a side trip to watch a SpaceX rocket launch, went to the movies, and so on.  I treated my first thru-hike as more of an “overall experience” rather than just hiking.

However, speaking to other hikers who strictly hiked and wanted to get in and out of a town as quickly as possible, they all seemed to average $125-$150 per week.  This was mainly re-supply costs with low cost lodging built in from time to time (i.e. sharing motel rooms).

Then there are those who told me they spent well over $10,000 on their thru-hike.  Assuming it took them 5 months (22 weeks), that is around $455 per week.

So what does this mean for you?

You need to decide what kind of thru-hike experience you are looking for.  Are you wanting to have a similar hike to mine?  Where I took my time, enjoyed multiple zeroes (a day where you don’t hike at all), ate and drank merrily, and most definitely enjoyed plenty of hot baths?  Or did you want to be efficient in town and make sure to get back on trail as quickly as possible?

Saving $150 per week on trail will make your hike doable, but there is not much room for luxuries or injuries!  What if you need to rest for a week due to an ankle injury?  Will you have enough money to stay in a motel for 7+ days?  What if you have a gear failure and need to buy new trekking poles?  Or a new sleeping bag?  Will you have the money to cover that?

And don’t forget the costs of your “real life”.  Do you have a mortgage?  Or a car payment you need to make every month?  I’m sure you have a cellphone payment.  When creating a budget, don’t forget about those areas back home that are unrelated to the trail.

But strictly speaking finances for on trail itself, let’s break-down each category I listed above so you can get a feel for what areas you want to focus saving in:

  • Food + Drinks:
    Have you accounted for your hiker hunger and the fact your body will want 3000-5000 calories a day?  And the sometimes intense cravings you will experience on trail that will force you to do whatever it takes to satisfy that craving?  All I ever wanted was yellow Gatorade, Diet Coke, and burgers.  Sometimes two.  Then ice cream.  And coffee.  So yes, you might find yourself eating two entrees at one given meal.  With an appetizer.  And a dessert.

I didn’t carry a stove, so there is a chance my desire for a hot meal outweighed those who cooked on trail, but I definitely on more than once occasion would order two hot meals for dinner.  And sometimes I would still be hungry!  And I usually always had at least one beer.  So if you think you might have an appetite and thirst like mine, please save for this!  Drinking beer is not a necessity, but it sure did make my soul happy after a grueling section.

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My average: $112 per week

  • Resupply:
    I didn’t mail myself any resupply boxes, so your expense here can be lowered if you purchased most of your food before you even step foot on trail.  I bought most of my food in towns along the way, and then people like you definitely spoiled me and sent me some boxes of incredible food!

But do expect that your tastebuds are likely to change on the trail and there is a good chance what you prepared for yourself to eat months ago is NOTHING of what your body wants.  Hikers will get sick of the most random foods but are able to eat the same food every day, and you sometimes can’t guess which foods will do that to you.  I ate Clif Bars every day and still love them.  But you need to get Couscous away from me please.

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My average: $33 per week

  • Lodging:
    Alright y’all, I sure do love my private hotel rooms with a hot bath!  Which means I spent a lot in this area.  But in my defense, my now husband bought me a lot of these rooms so therefore, it didn’t come from my savings.  BUT, I did include them in the total price anyway just to give you an idea of how much it will cost if you do the same.

I shared rooms with hikers several times, but I am someone who really appreciated having a room to myself where I could edit videos and talk to family without disruption.  Trail angels are a great resource as they often provide free or low cost places to stay.  And at the end of the day, camping on the trail is free.

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My average: $108 per week

  • Gear + Clothing Replaced:
    This expense is so high mainly because I bought a new sleeping bag half way through my hike.  The sleeping bag I started with was years old and had already lost a lot of the feathers and therefore not as warm as I needed it to be.

But also, socks.  I bought so many pairs of socks it’s not even funny.  God Bless the Injinji.

My average: $49.3 per week

  • Post Office:
    There were a few times I needed to send items home or to myself ahead on the trail, which is where these post office expenses came from.  Don’t forget the postage to mail a bear canister and/or ice axe!

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My average: $6.5 per week

  • Subscriptions:
    This was all hiking related subscriptions that I used on trail.  My music, any audio books, extra phone storage, etc.  I also added my GPS subscriptions such as the Guthook app and my inReach Garmin service.

My average: $19.7 per week

  • Commuting: 
    There were some times where I needed to take a bus or Uber to and from trail when hitch-hiking was not feasible.  This also included my Amtrak train ticket for my side trip to watch the SpaceX rocket launch in Southern California.

My average: $9.4 per week

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  • Body Care: 
    Thankfully, I had medical insurance for my hike through my work I was taking a sabbatical from, but I did have a small co-pay when I injured my hip tendon and needed to get x-rays.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get health insurance.  You will never know what injury could arise and worrying about a huge medical bill could most definitely derail the rest of your thru-hike.

    Also, I got a massage once.  Totally worth it.

My average: $3.25 per week

  • Miscellaneous:
    There were various places on the trail that had Wi-Fi…but if you paid for it.  This expense included those charges plus a couple “fun” activities myself and some hikers did during a zero day: bowling and the movies.  Once again, totally worth it.  Those memories are unforgettable.

My average: $2.75 per week

If you do more research online, you will find many outlets saying to save $2-$3 per mile.  This is a great starting point to use as you save money.  However, as you continue your research and planning and saving, take that time to think about each category I detailed above and how you want that to look.  Then plan accordingly.  That means if you need to push your hike back one year in order to have enough money saved to hike how YOU want, then I 100% think that is the right decision.

Thru-hiking is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining and difficult at times, so eliminating the stress over money is something I highly recommend doing if you can swing it.  Thru-hikers have so many other worries and decisions to make on trail, trust me!

So whatever your budget may be for your next thru-hike, make sure it will fit your wants and needs and allows you to have the thru-hike of your dreams.

 

As always, happy trails.
-The Whimsical Woman

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