Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a 2,100-plus mile adventure of epic proportions and those that finish have accomplished something amazing. The mental, physical, and fiscal dedication required to complete the entire trek is immense. Wait, fiscal? Hiking across 14 states for six months isn’t free, but compared to living at home you may be surprised. Just how much does it cost?
Off the Appalachian Trail Costs
Pre-trip costs vary among hikers, but the biggest of these for most will be gear. Experienced hikers who already have most necessary equipment will spend less, mainly replacing worn out gear or stockpiling consumables like batteries and medicine. First-time hikers who need a complete kit will spend $1,000-2,000 acquiring everything. Buying gear on sale from stores like REI or websites like Sierra Trading Post and Backcountry.com can make a big difference.
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Other off-trail expenses include health insurance, transportation to and from the trail, and any kind of monthly payments (mortgage, student loans, cell phone, car, etc.). All of these costs are individual and depend on multiple factors, which makes it hard to estimate how much someone needs to save for it. As such, many cost estimates leave these expenses out of final cost calculations.
On the Appalachian Trail Costs
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommends $1,000 per month for the average hiker. Given the average completion time of five to seven months, total on-trail spending can be from $5-7,000 per person. Many hiking blogs and forums corroborate this estimate with outliers in either direction. Experienced thru-hikers with a knack for budgeting will spend less, while some treat the AT like a long vacation and spend $10,000 or more.
Most of this money will be spent on food, accommodation, and gear replacement (in descending order). Trekkers of all budgets eat similar foods on trail days – peanut butter, oatmeal, energy bars, jerky, trail mix, and so on. Accommodation between towns is in a tent, hammock, or one of the 250+ shelters on the trail, so hopefully you have a good sleeping pad!
Where budgeting can go sideways are the days spent in the many towns near the AT: dreams of beds, hot showers, restaurant meals, and beer/alcohol quickly derail many thru-hikers aspirations. To avoid this, assess yourself honestly and decide how you want to spend your money. Those who prefer creature comforts or have expensive alcohol/smoking tastes should save more than those who are fine with hostel dorms and working for their stay. Everyone takes breaks at some point to rest their body, resupply, do laundry, avoid bad weather, or temporarily rid themselves of that incessant bodily funk, so you need to budget for these days. Conventional wisdom says to plan on spending about $100 per zero day, although if you’re splurging often, plan for more.
Gear replacement is unavoidable as footwear will wear out, socks will be obliterated, you’ll run out of stove fuel or medicine, or something will get lost. Make sure to budget at least $500 as you never know how many pairs of shoes you’ll go through. You also can’t plan for medical emergencies, freak storms that keep you in town, finding out you have expensive tastes, or other unforeseen events, so have an emergency fund of another $500-1,000. Running out of money is a common reason hikers leave the trail, but having too much isn’t something that will force you to quit your dream adventure.