Financing a Thru-Hike: The Obvious and Hidden Costs

How much could a trip like this REALLY cost? I mean, I’m just walking, right? All of the gear mentioned in my previous post can be pricey: most is niche, some is custom, and some is made from technically advanced textiles. According to Halfway Anywhere’s 2018 PCT thru-hiker survey, thru-hikers spend an average of $1545 on their gear alone. Every person hikes the trail differently which can greatly affect how much they spend on the trail, but the survey found the average amount spent on a successful thru-hike to be $6,274.

Wait, WHAT?! Well, first of all, remember that I’m out there for FIVE MONTHS. I spend WAYY more than that in five months at home. There’s just a tiny little snafu: I also won’t be earning a paycheck, so I need all of that money saved up before I start my trek. So what costs so much? Probably the #1 expense is food. If you read my post about planning what to eat, you will remember that I will be burning 6400 calories per day- that’s more than 3x what most people consume, so instead of five months, think of this as 15 months’ worth of groceries. You can buy food along the trail at grocery stores in town, but I will not be doing this and am instead making all of my food ahead of time. I am saving money by buying in bulk, but I will then have to pay for postage to ship that food to spots along the trail. Some places will charge a fee to hold a package for you, anywhere from a few dollars to $75 in hard-to-access areas.

Another major expense is staying in town. Towns can become vortexes, pulling hikers off the trail for days with their amenities and comforts. Some businesses and individuals will allow you to camp on their lawn, but a soft, warm bed does the psyche and morale good. You can only get that from a hostel or a hotel, which also come with a private shower, flush toilets, heat/AC and outlets to charge your devices. They can get pricey, especially if you stay multiple nights because you’ve been vortexed off the trail, are waiting for better weather or are trying to recover from an injury. If I choose to camp, this often is significantly cheaper but still not free. I generally will still have to pay a fee for my spot of grass, and amenities/services like showers and laundry are additional costs. Also, when I get into town, I will need to try and make up for my calorie deficit by essentially eating as much as I can, either in restaurants or from a grocery store. We all know how expensive restaurant food can be, although locals seem to do what they can to help: the buffets and all-you-can-eat specials are well-known along the trail.

I also have to get TO the trail and back HOME again, which for me means buying an airline ticket. For the trip out, I was able hunt for deals and buy early, but I cannot know the exact date I will fly home, so I have to wait to purchase that until very close to the flight date, jacking that price up significantly. Shuttles and bus fares quickly add up, and it is typical to tip/chip in a few bucks for gas if you hitchhike.

I will likely need gear along the trail as well. Fuel canisters are considered a consumable item and I’ll go through many since I am cooking a lot. Socks and shoes will fall apart and need replaced. Items may break or tear or not function the way I want them to and therefore need replaced. Weather conditions in the mountains may require special gear, such as an ice axe or microspikes.

As far as I can tell, Halfway Anywhere’s survey only includes the obviously trail-related expenses detailed above, but there are hidden costs on top of that $6274. There are recurring expenses that you cannot escape (cell phone bill, health insurance) and things that truly depend on your situation (rent/mortgage, auto/home insurance, etc), which can add thousands more to the cost of a hike.

At first glance, it seems like hiking should be a pretty inexpensive hobby, but all the little things along the way really add up. So now I have to figure out how to pay for this grand adventure… I only need one kidney, right?


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