If you’ve decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, I’m sure you have a million and one questions rolling around in your mind. We’re going to tackle a tricky one here today – how much does it cost to hike the Appalachian Trail?
The total cost varies from hiker to hiker, but I recommend you start with $4,000-$10,000 in your pocket. I recommend such a wide range because you really can be as frugal or as extravagant as you want to be on the trail. I live life on the frugal side and am excited to share how I saved up for my long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Here’s how I did it –
When I started planning my AT hike, I was making $31,000/year plus benefits, meals, housing, and all utilities were covered through my work. Since I was living at work, I rarely had to fill up my gas tank or pay for car maintenance.
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You might be thinking it already, she’s lucky she doesn’t have all those living expenses. I’m not lucky, I make the conscious decision to apply to jobs that provide housing because… I think paying rent (or a mortgage) is just silly. That’s really what it boils down to, for me.
My only bills were my cell phone (less than $25/month for a basic plan on a dumb phone), car insurance, car payments, and student loans. I put most of each paycheck towards paying way more than the minimum payments each month.
Once I got more serious about my hike, I slowly started buying gear. I would only make a ‘big’ purchase once a pay period or every other pay period. I also made some sacrifices like sticking with my old, heavy pack instead of dropping a couple of hundred dollars for a newer, lighter one.
I paid off my car completely before my hike and paid my student loans about a year ahead, which eliminated student loan payments during my hike and several months after. While my loans were still there, accruing interest, I decided it was worth it to eat the interest later on for a chance to spend 5-6 months on the Appalachian Trail. (This may not be the smartest decision for everyone! But it worked for me and I don’t regret it.)
Then I started saving aggressively! We’re talking almost my whole paycheck every period was going into my ‘trail fund’ Once I had about $4,000 saved for life on the trail and $1,000 saved as a post-trail cushion, my itchy feet took over, I gave my notice and booked my train ticket to Georgia.
This was the absolute minimum I thought I could get by with, and would definitely recommend starting with more than that if you’re planning a thru-hike. Unless you have a job lined up post trail, I would also recommend more of a cushion for after your hike.
I’ll admit that I was lucky to be young enough to be able to hop onto my parent’s health insurance. If that’s not an option for you, then unfortunately health insurance may add a significant expense to your hike.
I also almost eliminated my car insurance payments. My insurance company had an option to change my policy to only cover a parked car, and it was absurdly cheap, maybe about $10/month. This was perfect while I was on the trail, obviously not driving my car at all.
On my hike, I wasn’t as frugal as I could have been. I did eat out in town most chances I got and did stay in town about once a week. But I didn’t go crazy either, I stayed at the cheaper (or cheapest) hostels, or always split a room with other hikers, and my trail food was very inexpensive, also not the healthiest, but instead of fancy prepackaged backpacking meals, I ate a lot of knorr sides, ramen, mac and cheese, candy, and oatmeal.
Just to recap:
Pay off any and all debt before your hike, so you won’t have to make payments while on the trail. If you need more ideas on how to do this, you can follow the strategies outlined in The Cash Fueled Life. The Cash Fueled Life will help you get your spending under control so you can funnel more money into your trail fund and savings 🙂
Buy and sort out all your gear before really starting to plan and budget for your thru-hike – you don’t need to spend thousands on the best, newest, lightest backpacking gear out there, sometimes cheaper, heavier, or second-hand gear will do.
Save up as much as possible, preferably at least $6,000 for your hike plus a safety cushion for afterward, but the more the better.
Try to minimize any payments or bills that need to be paid during your hike – can you get a cheaper cell phone plan? Cheaper car insurance? Can you rent out your house or sublet your apartment?
Do plan for emergency expenses on the trail – emergency doctor’s visits for illness or injury, extra nights in town if you injured or sick, or a potential flight home. Consider purchasing traveler’s insurance for your long-distance hike.
Do set aside plenty of money for after the trail especially if you have no idea what you’re doing after the trail and don’t have a job lined up.
Do not rely on trail magic or work trades to float you through your hike. While trail magic is ah-mazing, and there is an extremely supportive community around the trail, that does not mean you don’t have to do any of the work or preparation to be able to take care of yourself out there.
Keep in mind there is no set amount of time it takes to prepare for a long hike, it might take some people years to be financially, physically, and mentally prepared and it might take others several months.
Ready for more tips on hiking the Appalachian Trail? Check out these articles to help you prepare:
- Skills You Need To Hike The Appalachian Trail
- What If A Bear Attacks??
- How To Poop In The Woods
- 22 Tips For AT Thru Hikers