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A Hiker’s Guide to Thru-Hiking: Breakdown of What it Costs

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It is true that there are many costs associated with thru-hiking. Depending on the length of your hike, you may struggle to pay for food and shelter while out in nature. This article will discuss what it takes to get started as a thru-hiker along with how much does does thru hiking cost?

The consistent average for a thru hike from actual completions tends to work out to around $1000 per month in thru hike expenses, this covers rooms, food, and miscellaneous needs along the trail. In addition, gear can come in from $1000 on a super budget gear to $3000+ for gear to drop pounds.

The question itself will sit and stew in most hikers minds long before they set out on the long, arduous, and exciting journey. It’s not an easy task, but with careful planning and budgeting you can successfully hike the entire trail without going broke.

In this blog post we will discuss exactly how much it costs to thru-hike so you can make sure your money lasts and your experience is as enjoyable as possible!

Is Thru Hiking Expensive

This question leads many hikers in the beginning of their planning, they get it from friends, family, and maybe even from themselves. While $1000+ a month sounds pretty expensive when viewed up front for most this would be their cost for rent at home alone.

When you adjust for this change in standard bills your cost of living on the thru hike is actually immensely lower than your normal month at home as long as you aren’t paying rent any longer.

The part that will vary greatly from hiker to hiker will be in what they bring for gear, this is due to the gigantic range of different options that are available for each person and their preference, let’s take a deeper look at this below.

Travel & Home Expenses

When preparing for your thru hike you need to also think about any costs you will incur to reach your starting point along with any charges that are monthly and re-occurring like cell phone and similar bills.

This will include things like:

How Much Does Thru Hiking Gear Cost

Expect to spend around $2,000 on gear for a thru hike. Buying the most dirt cheap gear won’t help you if it falls apart in as little as 100 miles of hiking. If you focus on looking for deals you can easily cut this down closer to $1000 but will gain some weight and bulk.

For your gear your biggest investment will be in the big three (backpack, shelter, and sleep system) as they will offer the best value for your dollars, if you have extra to spend you should focus it within these items for the real value.

Focus On Your Big Three

The big three are super important to your overall comfort and warmth while out on the trail for months your big three are basically your house on your back with your home (shelter), bed (sleep system), and backpack (transportation).

These will consume a large chunk of your gear budget and each plays a part in the next one’s purchase, once you know your shelter you can figure out your sleep system, and once you have a sleep system you will know how big a backpack you need.

Shelter Decisions

You need to know what kind of shelter you want to live in while on your thru hike, the most common form of shelter is a tent, much do to comfort and the solid walls and space.

Tents though come in many forms and you can find some that use your trekking poles or you can purchase a tent that has poles that go with it, the downside being that poles add weight to your gear.

The other most popular way to shelter is using a hammock, which is strung most typically between two trees and gets you up off the ground and can lead to much improved sleep.

The last option is not for the faint of heart, the tarp, basically removing loads of weight by providing just a tarp that has to be setup just right to cover you from the elements means expertly understanding how to place for maximum benefits.

You want to start here first though as choosing your shelter leads you to what kind of sleep system you will need to purchase as each shelter has some minor differences in the best sleeping options.

Sleep System Decisions

Next up will be your sleep system, this is what you will use to stay warm and toasty during those cold nights out on the trail, many seem to think that your shelters job is to keep you warm but this is incorrect.

Your sleep system is to insulate you against the cold and to help maximize heat retention while minimizing losses to the air and ground, so your gear needs to help maximize these for your expected conditions.

This is why you need to know your shelter first so that you can build you sleep system to be correct to the needs of the shelter.

Tent Sleep System

For a tent you need to focus on heat loss to the ground with a good R-Value sleeping pad preferably over 3-4 (or 30 degree), like this Nemo for example, are good to ensure you limit loss of heat through the ground.

Next you want to insulate yourself from the air side and to build that barrier to hold in all the warmth you create, for this hikers have moved towards sleeping quilts over sleeping bags but both work with bags tending to be less expensive.

Sleeping quilts are open-back and tend to remove all excess fabric and zipper that would rest below you are those areas don’t benefit from down due to the compressions.

This helps a sleeping quilt cost less and weigh less, where sleeping bags are full zipper and full enclosure which leads to a heavier and larger piece of gear.

Hammock Sleep System

For hammocks you are lifted up off the ground so a sleeping pad isn’t necessarily the best option, though some people will still get one for insulation with a hammock you can get a under quilt which can be less weight and compress more while providing the same warmth.

From there a hammock user will typically have an over quilt for the top of them which gives them a perfect way to stay warm in their hammock with heat being managed on top and bottom.

Backpack Decisions

Once you have clearly established the above choices you will have a better idea what backpack you can purchase, since this is incredibly personal I will just say that most thru hikers can do around a 40 liter pack if light or small gear, but many will reach up to the 60 liter size.

The right pack will depend on the type of use, how much gear you plan to carry and what your budget is.

Additional Gear Considerations For Thru Hiking

Depending on where and when you are hiking you may have needs for additional gear that is outside the normal, for example on the PCT you will want at least microspikes for the Sierras and snow along with an Ice Axe.

You need to look at the trail you are choosing and figure out what additional gear is required to be safe while completing the trail. Most trails are unique to their environments, don’t underestimate them and leave yourself at risk by shorting needed gear.

Saving Money By Finding Deals

For many of us without massive resources finding the best gear at the best price is important to being fully equipped for a thru hike. I would suggest constantly keeping an eye out on sales in the area that will help to buy more for less.

In the end you need to focus on finding as high in quality gear for the best possible price, finding something for dirt cheap won’t help you for 2000 miles if it busts or breaks by 100 miles.

On Trail Expenses

This is where costs can be managed more by some planning, knowledge, and setup prior to starting on the trail. You will be spending less on food than if you were at home so if you can build in savings this drops costs.

This is especially true when you are in very small towns the costs for inexpensive food will increase by 2-3x in some circumstances, especially when they know thru hikers travel through the town.

There is many who post the expected costs come in at about $1 to $2 for every mile of trail, this would mean expenditure on the trail could be, on the AT for example,  anywhere from $2,​190 to $4,380!

Town Based Expenses

Let’s be totally honest, after a long haul in the woods and becoming super stainky sometimes what you want is to just enjoy town and all the benefits that come with a trip into town.

The only issues with the trip in is that it can be a cause for over extravagance and overindulgent, these are some of the more common ways people blow through their budgets while in town:

Spending one day in town each week while on a six-month hike leads to about 35 days in town. Add to this if you have to deal with inclement weather or meet up with fellow hikers, add an extra few days into the equation as well.

Support Fund Expenses

This is more related to issues that come up on the trail, like if you need to get an injury treated, you got issues with gear that require a different purchase, or similar high expense that could tank your budget.

There is two ways typically done to manage building this budget, either using a fixed value (example $1500), or a percentage of the overall budget (like 10%). This ensures you have money for these one off issues that doesn’t take away from your main thru hike budget.

Re-Integration Expenses

These are the costs once back home after you successfully complete your thru hike, these expenses are for things like rent, and money to help sustain you while you look to find employment.

It can be difficult to get back and organized right away so it is best to have around a month worth of expenses saved to help begin your reintegration into the world once you finish your thru hike.

Costs Associated with Thru Hiking the Triple Crown Trails

I wrote before about the Triple Crown, each has some twists that are different from each other, each has some twists that are different from each other, but they share in common the long distance of over 2000 miles each.

The Triple Crown is a collection of three well-known thru hikes: The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. Each has some twists that are different from each other, but they share in common the long distance of over 2000 miles each.

I wrote before about the Triple Crown, so let’s focus on what is different in costs and how to lower costs as much as possible along with what kind of funds you need to have bankrolled before.

How Much Does it Cost to Thru Hike the AT

For hikers who have made their personal decision to thru hike the Appalachian Trail, understanding the costs associated specifically with this trail may wonder,  what it will cost from start to finish?

For a normal thru hike with standard stops every week for resupply you are looking at around $1000 per month, typically $6000 total for six months. The AT though can be far more social which can lead to longer extended times in town and ballooning expenditures and costs if you lack discipline and self control

While the overall costs above show it is in line with other thru hikes, there is issues with the Appalachian Trail and escalating costs for many thru hikers though that you want to at least understand prior.

Unlike the PCT and CDT, the AT runs through many populated areas with access to all the things hikers love when they reach towns. This can lead to more excessive ZEROs and NEROs, more food in town and increasing costs where you wouldn’t with less town exposure.

How Much Does it Cost to Thru Hike the PCT

Choosing the Pacific Crest Trail is a different beast altogether from the Appalachian Trail, it spends longer times away from civilization and traverses up into mountains far from the safety of the indoors.

The average cost for a PCT hike is generally on track with the other hikes at roughly $1000 per month, your costs can increase though with additional equipment needs along with having to constantly change gear to deal with desert, to near alpine, and more environments.

This doesn’t mean it will be more expensive but many people will run very different gear for the desert start then they use for other sections which can lead to more gear changes and more gear expenses.

The Pacific Crest Trail has far less towns on the trail, resupply will force more hitches to get to a town or resupplies from lower class stores like gas stations and similar.

How Much Does it Cost to Thru Hike the CDT

If you are interested in a supreme hiking challenge then the Continental Divide Trail is a perfect match, unlike the AT and PCT it is still not completely signed and many places will require manual routing and pathfinding.

The Continental Divide Trail is a very complex trail where your costs may reach near $8000 for a successful completion. This is due to a much longer trail length and much less towns for resupply meaning more expensive resupplies and more gear needs.

You will want to plan out out how to manage the trip on the CDT as the start runs through a desert very similar to the PCT but with far fewer water options so getting off on the right foot is going to pay dividends.

Final Thoughts on Thru Hiking Costs

When you take on the decision to begin planning to start and complete a thru hike you have many items to plan out and begin in earnest to start saving money as it isn’t inexpensive.

You are going to have to budget out savings versus gear acquisition as you need to get training time in with your gear before you go start your thru hike and you can’t afford to not test out gear before.

None of your savings will matter if you find out gear has failed your needs for the trail, so make sure to add those gear as soon as possible to start testing and building your confidence in them and yourself, if you are really new take a look at our large thru hiking 101 guide to learn more.

I love hiking and exploring as many trails as I can find the time to get onto, my plan is to complete the triple crown and to thru hike as many trails as I can find.

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