Affordable Thru-Hiking: Tips to Explore Without Draining Your Savings

From planning your route to gear choices and limiting town time, here are the best ways to save money on the adventure of a lifetime so you can focus on enjoying the trail.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Ouachita Trail Sign
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Thru-hiking can be a wonderful way to see the world, but it can also be expensive. Here are some tips on how to make your thru-hike more affordable.

This will help you enjoy all the amazing sights and sounds of your hike without breaking the bank, especially on a six-month hike.

Tips to Save Money on a Thru-Hike

There are some ways to save money while still enjoying all the amazing sights and sounds of your thru-hike. Here are some of my favorite tips:

Pre-Plan Your Trip Well

By carefully planning your expected route (NoBo, SoBo, Flip Flop) and budget, you can save money on transportation, food, and lodging by having this organization prior.

Additionally, with some solid pre-planning, you can also purchase gear before your hike to take advantage of sales and discounts. This can lead to massive savings down the road!

Choose a Hike Based on Cost

There are many different thru-hikes out there you can decide to take, and they all have different price tags based on distance, gear, time off, and more.

Do your research to find a thru-hike that fits both your ability level, time availability, and your budget.

There’s no sense in spending more money than you have to in order to complete a thru-hike.

Hike Off-Season When Possible

While this isn’t possible on the triple crown due to length of time and season if you’re flexible with your schedule, consider hiking during the off-season. This can help you save money on both transportation and lodging.

Additionally, you’ll often find that trails are less crowded during this time, which can make for a more enjoyable experience.

Spend Smartly on Gear

When looking to purchase your gear many spend too much money on unimportant items while skimping on the essentials.

Your Big Three (shelter, sleeping quilt, and backpack) should be your highest priority when it comes to the cost of gear and your actual overall gear costs.

These are the pieces of gear that will make or break your hike, so be sure to get high-quality items that fit both your needs and your budget.

Splurge On These Essentials:

  • Footwear – To finish thru-hikes you need to care for your feet, and that means having a good pair of shoes or boots. Spending a little extra money on a good pair of shoes can go a long way in making your thru-hike more comfortable.
  • Shelter – Your home away from home while on the trail, your shelter is worth splurging on. Be sure to find a shelter that’s comfortable, light, and will protect you from the elements.
  • Sleeping Bag/Quilt – You need to be warm at night, so make sure you have a good sleeping bag or quilt. Again, this is one of the items that can make or break your sleep and recovery, so don’t skimp on quality.
  • Backpack – Just like your footwear, a good backpack is essential to a comfortable thru-hike. Be sure to find one that fits well and can carry all of your gear without loads of extra space or too little space.

Save Money By Being Thrifty With:

  • Headlamp – Very little difference between the high cost for saving an ounce of weight, instead save your money and buy a headlamp that is under $30.
  • Base Layers – These will get torn and beat up the entire trip and replaced frequently, instead look to find cheaper and easier to replace base layers.
  • Rain Gear – You will be miserable if you don’t have rain gear, but there are plenty of cheap options that will still work great and keep you dry.
  • Stove – There are many different stove options and most will work just fine, save your money for other gear.

Minimize Stays in Town

One of the most important things a thru-hiker can do to cut down on costs and to make it all more affordable is to limit overall town stays and aim for a NERO in and out of town on the same day instead of ZEROing and staying overnight.

The more time spent in town with multiple meals and drinks in a day will dramatically increase the overall cost of any thru-hike.

Additionally, if you choose to stay in a hotel or hostel, be sure to take advantage of any rides they offer for free along with any discounts they may offer for extended stays if they are unavoidable, like heavy rain and other poor weather.

Use Free Transportation

Instead of ordering an Uber or other ride-sharing services, try hitchhiking or taking public transportation to your destination. Cutting out transportation costs can save you a lot of money, especially if you are traveling long distances.

Transportation can be a huge cost for any thru-hiker to get in and out of town as well as getting rides around in a town to the store, hostel, etc unless you find a trail angel who wants interaction more than pay.

Hitchhiking is a great way to meet interesting people and it’s also how many thru-hikers get around without spending any money on transportation.

Sell Unneeded Possessions

Getting rid of your unnecessary belongings before your hike can free up extra cash. This can help you to remove excess bills and debt, as well as declutter your life before embarking on a long journey.

The most common things to cut are selling off your car and stopping insurance, selling your house or getting out of your apartment lease, and getting rid of any unwanted furniture or material possessions to drop long-term storage costs.

By selling your belongings, you can declutter your life, reduce your monthly expenses and pay off loans or debts, and have more money to put towards your thru-hike.

Fundraise When Possible

Ask family and friends for anything they would be willing to donate as this financial support can help you cover the costs of your thru-hike, this can depend heavily on your family and friends being vested in your pursuits.

If this isn’t a possibility then you can instead look to the internet to try and raise funds for your hike, this can be done through sites like YouTube, Patreon, or through building a website about hiking or another hobby.

Additionally, you can look for paid work along the trail, whether it’s picking up odd jobs in town or working at a trail-side business. This can be a great way to earn some extra cash to help cover

Working temporary jobs along your route can help you pay for food, lodging, and transportation and help you to stay on the trail instead of running out of money and having to end your hike prematurely.

Mail Resupply Boxes

Instead of looking to make purchases from stores along the trail you can focus on pre-packaging goods and shipping them to yourself, this is also called a bounce box as many can frequently bounce them to the next post office if not needed.

This can be a great way to save money as you can take advantage of sales and discounts by buying in bulk and then packaging and sending the items to yourself.

This process can be repeated as often as needed throughout your hike and the trail costs for resupply boxes are much more favorable versus more expensive food on the trail.

Use Hiker Boxes

Additionally, many places along popular thru-hiking trails will have hiker boxes where previous hikers have dropped things they didn’t need to pass to the next hiker, you can often find perfectly good food, clothing, and gear this way for free.

This is a great way to reduce your costs as you won’t need to purchase these items new and can simply take them from hiker boxes along the trail.

The only issue is you can’t be picky as they can be very random and could also be mostly empty so they are more a supplement than a “resupply”.

Final Thoughts on Tips for Affording a Thru-Hike

By following these tips, you can live a frugal lifestyle on the trail while still enjoying all the amazing sights and sounds that a thru-hike has to offer. So get out there and start planning the trail life and fellow hikers are waiting for you!

By following these tips, you can make thru-hiking more affordable and reduce the overall cost of your trip. However, remember that the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the experience.

If you have any tips you would love to share, let the community know in the comments area below. If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it with your friends! Thanks for reading!

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