Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a 2,100-plus mile adventure of epic proportions and those that finish will have accomplished something amazing. Speaking from my experience successfully thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, a successful thru-hike will require mental, physical, and financial dedication to complete the trek. Wait, financial? That’s right. Hiking across 14 states for six months isn’t free. It will require some cash and common sense financial planning to be successful. In fact, a common reason hikers fall of the trail is because they run out of money.
So just how much does it cost to Hike the Appalachian Trail? Let’s take a closer look so you can wrangle in the dough needed to thru-hike.
Off the Appalachian Trail Costs
Pre-trip costs vary among hikers, but the biggest of these costs for most will be gear. Experienced hikers who already have most necessary equipment will spend less, mainly replacing worn out gear or stockpiling consumables. First-time hikers who need a complete kit will spend $1,000-2,000 acquiring all the gear needed for the trip. Buying gear on sale from stores like REI or websites like Sierra Trading Post and Backcountry.com can make a big difference. I recommend checking out our Appalachian Trail backpacking gear checklist, which will give you a complete run down of the gear you may need to thru-hike.
HIKER HACK: When buying new gear, I highly recommend becoming a member of the REI.com Co-Op. Not only will you get a 10% rebate on REI purchases and occasional bonuses that will cut your overall cost to thru-hike, REI treats thru-hikers well and will often replace gear if it fails you on your hike.
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.
It is my recommendation that you reduce and minimize any off trail expenses while you take six months to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. For example, sublet your apartment or room to reduce the expense of maintaining a living space while you are out. Perhaps downgrade your cell phone plan. Cancel Netlix, Hulu, and other such services. You get the idea. By lowering the cash expenses associated with burdens like those described here, you can reduce the total cost to hike the Appalachian Trail.
On the Appalachian Trail Costs
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommends $1,000 per month for the average hiker thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. 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.
Let us bring you adventure every day.
Like AdventurePossible.com on Facebook.
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 fuel, or something will get busted or 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.
Total Costs to Hike the Appalachian Trail
Total costs to thru-hike will vary. Though let’s sum the above facts with conservative estimates that, if the estimates are wrong, will likely mean you have money left over versus too little left to finish the trail. You’ll need about $1,000 / month while hiking, and over 6 months of hiking that will be $6,000. Spot yourself $1,500 for upfront gear purchase, another $1,000 for gear replacement and emergencies. Add this up, and you should plan to bank about $8,500 for thru-hiking the trail over six months. This will be in addition to the cash required to cover health insurance, cell phone bills, rent, etc. that you may need to maintain while thru-hiking.
Got a question on the cost to hike the AT? Ask away in the comments below.
Also, be sure to check out our backpacking gear checklist and budgeting tool which can help you get a better sense of what your gear and hiking costs may be.