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The idea of spending several months in the woods on a long distance hike can be a daunting task, physically, mentally, and financially. It’s not uncommon that hikers must leave the trail because they ran out of funds. Don’t let that be you! With some simple planning and preparation ahead of time, you can afford this, and even sustain yourself after your hike.
Tips to save money and financially prepare for a thru hike:
Get your backpacking gear sorted out. Before you start straight up saving for your thru hike, or think about quitting your job, get all the backpacking gear you’ll need. This is a fairly fixed cost, and once you have the gear you need, you should be set for at least a couple years. Most of us may not be able to afford to just go out and buy a whole set of backpacking gear – that’s fine! Spread out your big purchases over time. Save up a little to just buy a backpack, then after a few more paychecks, buy a tent, then your sleeping bag and so on.
Go on a weekend long, or week long, shake down hike. This gives you a chance to test out your backpacking gear and get your feet wet to make sure you actually truly do enjoy backpacking and just hiking day in and day out. This is important to confirm before you go all in on a long distance hike.
After you have your gear and are committed to your hike, start saving aggressively! I was able to save up a lot of money quickly because I only apply for and accept jobs that include housing, utilities, and some even include meals and awesome benefits packages. On top of not having any housing costs or bills, I didn’t have to spend money on gas or car maintenance because you don’t drive much when you live and eat where you work. While that may seem like an extreme lifestyle choice, it really is a win-win all around and has provided me with some fun and unique opportunities over the years.
Negotiate or eliminate your monthly bills. List out all your monthly and semi-annual bills and brainstorm ways to save. For example, can you downgrade to a cheaper cell phone plan or service provider? Can you cancel cable or Netflix or any other subscription service that you don’t really need? Would you choose a higher deductible on your car or health insurance plan to pay less per month? Can you ask for a lower interest rate on your loans, if you have any? Can you offer a service instead of payment – for example, I used to clean a small yoga studio once a week in exchange for classes.
If you need to buy something, make sure you can afford it first. Instead of buying a new phone on a payment plan, which you probably aren’t going to want to make payments on during your hike, just buy it outright so you only have to pay your service plan – which we already switched or negotiated down to the cheapest option in the last step, right? Same with a car, if you must buy a car, stick to whatever used car you can afford instead of taking on long term payments.
Overpay on your debt for a while to either pay it off or pay far enough ahead so you don’t have to make payments during your hike.
Once your debt and regular bills are taken care of, pump every extra penny into your trail fund. Most people recommend anywhere between $4,000-$6,000 to thru hike the Appalachian Trail, to cover transportation costs, town stays, resupplies and surprises along the way. I actually recommend starting the trail with way more than that, like $7,000-$10,000 in the bank, because – hear me out – while you won’t need that much money on the trail, you’re going to need to support somehow when you get off the trail. It may take longer than you expected to get a job after your hike, so you want some savings to live off of while you find a new job and somewhere to live that isn’t a dirty trail shelter.
If you already own your own house, consider renting it out while you’re on the trail to make some extra cash to fund your adventure.
If you own a car, call your car insurance company to let them know you won’t be driving your car for 4-6 months. They may have an option for you to ‘deactivate’ your collision coverage. That’s what I did during my long distance hike and it was ridiculously cheap, like maybe $12/month just to prevent a lapse in coverage and would still cover it as a parked car, so like if a tree fell on it.
Explore health insurance options. If you’re retired or a senior, you’ll probably already have your health insurance set up. Or if you’re young enough, you may still be on your parents insurance, which is awesome. But for those in between, look into short term traveler’s insurance, backpacker’s insurance or teledoc/telemedicine plans just for while you’re on the trail. I can’t recommend that you just skip health insurance because shit happens out there, and chances are you’re going to have to see a doctor or go to a walk in clinic or ER at some point during a long distance hike.
I hope this helps you get all your ducks in a row before you head out on your thru hike.
Let us know your frugal hiking hacks in the comments below!
For more help preparing for a long distance hike, check out:
- How to save money DURING your thru hike
- Is it safe to hike the Appalachian Trail alone?
- 6 things I thought I needed on the trail, but didn’t
- Backpacking gear I wish I had on my long distance hike