Finance List: Appalachian Trail costs

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The questions I’ve been asked most about the Appalachian Trail:

  1. You did the whole thing? How long did it take you?
  2. How did you get the time to do it?
  3. How much did it cost?

I want to tackle question #3 in this post. The answer: the cost depends on the hike. Hike your own hike refers to more than just your speed; it encompasses all the decisions.  

Here’s a rough estimate of my expenses for my 2016 Appalachian Trail thru-hike (March 29 – September 8). For more information about these items, check out my A.T. gear list.

A few notes:

  • I had a lot of this gear before the trail.
  • In the instances where something wore out/was replaced, I’m going to list the one item I recommend, whether the original or the replacement.
  • I only pay retail about half of the time; the rest I find on sale, at REI yard sales, thrift stores, other outfitters, Amazon, etc. The price listed below is the retail price.
  • There are obviously ways to hike the A.T. for less, and for more. Take zero days in town, or on trail. Stay in a hostel, or a motel. Eat ramen, or Mountain House meals. Cook your own food, or eat out. Indulge in alcohol or not. Hike your own hike.
ITEM PRICE (USD)
Pack and Poles
Osprey Aura 50 $230.00
Black Diamond Trail Women’s Trekking Poles $99.95
REI Co-op Duck’s Back Rain Cover – 60 Liters $24.95
Trash compactor bag *
Tent
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent $389.95
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 footprint $70.00
Clothing
All trail
The North Face Thermoball Full Zip Jacket $199.00
Short sleeve moisture-wicking shirt $20.00
Ex Officio Give-N-Go Shelf Bra Camisole $38.00
Ex Officio Give-N-Go Bikini Brief $18.00
Patagonia Women’s Capilene® Thermal Weight Bottoms $89.00 (*read article in item link)
Buff $19.99
Injinji Liner Crew Socks $18.00 ($9 x 2)
Darn Tough Micro Crew Cushion Sock $40.00 ($20 x 2)
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boot $230.00
Superfeet Green insoles $49.95
The North Face Base Camp Lite Skimmers camp shoes $55.00
Dirty Girl Gaiters $23.00
Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Ion Rain Jacket $120.00
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Stuff Sack $14.95
Winter
Icebreaker Merino 260 Top Long Sleeve Half-Zip $120.00
Rab Gradient Beanie $23.95
UnderArmour rain pants $74.99
Prana Sage Convertible pant $89.00
Summer
REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Crew Top $34.50
Ex Officio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs $26.00
Ex Officio Bugsaway Damselfly pant $80.00
Technology
Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp $29.99
Cheap digital watch face *
Cell phone **
Chargers for phone, camera, SPOT **
Headphones **
Nikon Coolpix S7000 camera $229.95
SPOT Gen3 GPS tracker $149.99 (199.99 annual subscription)
Batteries *
Pocket Juice 2-in-1 Portable Charger 12,000 mAh $30.14
Cooking
MSR PocketRocket Backpacking Stove $44.95
Snow Peak Titanium Spork $9.95
Snow Peak Multi Compact Titanium Cookset $95.95
MSR IsoPro 4 oz fuel $4.95
PMI 3mm Utility Cord 50 ft $5.35
Metolius FS Mini II Carabiner $5.95
Granite Gear Drysack 18L $19.95
GSI Infinity Backpacker Mug $9.95
Lighter *
Bandana *
Ziplocs (tab, not zip!) *
Bags for trash (old ziplocs, plastic grocery bags, etc.) *
Water
MSR Hydromedary Bag, 2.5 Liter $30.00
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System $39.95
Sawyer Fast Fill Hydration Pack Adapter Kit $8.95
Aquamira Water Treatment 1 oz. drops $14.99
Sleeping
REI Co-op Joule 21 Sleeping Bag $299.00 (winter)
Mountain Hardwear Lamina 45 Sleeping Bag $159.95 (summer)
Sea to Summit Premium Silk Liner $79.99
Thermarest RidgeRest Solar $39.95
 Ear plugs  *
Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack  $34.95
Health and Hygiene
Sawyer Permethrin Repellent (spray at home and maybe once or twice on trail; just buy a new bottle and share – don’t carry) $16.00
UCO Survival Matches $2.95
Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap 2oz $3.19
Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10) $8.99
Purell/GermX, safety pins, toilet paper, bandaids, neosporin, ibuprofen, RX medicines, anti-chafe product (baby powder, body glide, desitin, etc.), sunscreen, chapstick, deet, hydrocortizone, toothbrush, toothpaste, baby wipes, nail clippers, other personal items *
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Stuff Sack $14.95
Miscellaneous
Sunglasses $48.00
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Stuff Sack $14.95
Swiss army classic knife $15.95
(AWOL) The A.T. Guide $15.95
Duct tape *

* Items added together are between $60-$75

**I assume you already have these

TOTAL GEAR: ~$3,740

Travel expenses vary greatly. In my case, I live 4.5 hours away from my starting point, Springer Mountain, Georgia, so I had my boyfriend drive me there. The costs associated were gas, snacks, etc. On the other hand, I finished at Mt. Katahdin, Maine, so I flew home. Some people take a Greyhound bus to and from trail. Some people need to leave trail for a few days or a week for personal reasons (graduations, weddings, illness, death in the family), and there are costs associated with that. The travel expense will really depend on your location and situation. If you are planning a trip, research the costs associated with getting to and from the termini and then add a few hundred dollars in case of emergency.

TOTAL TRAVEL: ~$1,500

Resupplying expenses vary as well. I chose not to do mail drops (pre-planned food boxes mailed by a friend or family member to post offices and hostels along the way), so I bought all my food and resupply items in town. I wrote a post about the food I packed along the Appalachian Trail, but there is a big variation in food costs. Are you in a town big enough to have a chain grocery store, or is it just a pricey convenience station? Do you need to replace a shoelace, or your pair of boots?

To be on the safe side, I’d plan to spend about $50 on food every five days. For 5.5 months on trail, that’s about $1,700. In that time, assume you take 24 zero days (days spent resting instead of walking) or days in town where there are restaurants and hostels/motels. You are going to pig out in town – trust me on this. You’ll want to eat as much as you can while food is readily available. Assume $35 in town for a meal and beer, another $30 for breakfast, lunch, and snacks the next day. Assume $20 per night in a hostel or motel (a motel stay assumes it’s you and three others, so it will cost extra if it’s just you in a room). Throw in an additional $15 for laundry and random other costs. That puts you at around $100 per zero day (walking into a town in the late afternoon and leaving the next evening). For the 24 zero days, that’s about $2,400.

You will have gear that wears out; it happens. Plan to replace your shoes at least once (damn you and your rocks, Pennsylvania!), and plan to buy new clothes along the way as yours wear out or you lose weight. A lot of things can happen on trail, like breaking your aluminum spork in a jar of frozen Nutella (Tree). These things happen. I think it’s smart to plan at least an additional $400 for replacing gear.

TOTAL RESUPPLY AND LODGING: ~$4,500

According to the Appalachian Mountain Club, the average cost of a thru-hike is $3,000 (about $1.50 per mile), not including gear or travel. My resupply number is higher, of course, because I did not keep to a minimum budget. Again, you can complete a thru-hike for much less than I did, or you can spend a lot more.  It’s all about your level of comfort, savings, situation, and plans.

Other things to keep in mind are any ongoing expenses back in the real world. Have you budgeted for your mortgage/rent and utilities (perhaps by renting out your place)? Do you have debt or legal payments (for a car, student loan, child support, alimony, etc.)? What about health insurance and continuing to contribute to retirement savings? Are you covering expenses for your pets while friends or family watch them? Will you need to continue to financially support to a spouse or partner? There are many personal situations to consider that are technically outside of trail expenses, but will still need to be included in your planning.

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