At nearly 2,190 miles long, the Appalachian Trail (AT) passes through 14 states, eight national forests, six national park units, and countless state parks, forests and game lands, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Thru-hiking this national scenic trail is a dream for many. And if it’s a dream for you, you know the importance of planning. A key part of planning: creating and managing your Appalachian Trail budget.
So, how much does it cost to hike the AT? Appalachian Trail costs typically net around $6,000 for thru-hikers. However, you can easily spend far more, usually because of a lack of budgeting, or less, if you maintain self-control and have a setback-free hike.
We reached out to a few AT thru-hike veterans and found a wide variety of answers for the total cost. REI Co-op employees say on-trail costs can range from $3,500 to $6,000—and that doesn’t include gear, which can cost between $700 and $5,000. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), most hikers spend about $1,000 a month, and the majority take nearly six months to complete their hike.
How to Budget for an AT Thru-Hike
We have a few categories to help you plan your Appalachian Trail budget:
- Home and travel: Your recurring bills plus the cost of transport to and from the trail.
- Gear: Even if you’re a seasoned backpacker, you’ll likely have to pick up some new items or replacements along the way.
- Trail time: Food is your biggest cost, and that can be big.
- Town time: Motels, diners and beers add up quickly.
- Contingency fund: The unexpected does happen—like trail detours or injuries.
- Reentry fund: It’s tough to return to the “real world.” Give yourself the time and money you need to get back to work.
Home and Travel Expenses
Unless you’re really resourceful, you probably won’t have an income on the trail. That means you’ll have to pay for expenses back home while you’re away. Major expenses include:
- House payment or rent (consider subleases) and utilities (like your cellphone).
- Loan payments, like car or student loans.
- Insurance premiums—because medical insurance is something you definitely should add to your hiking the Appalachian Trail cost.
- Flights to and from the trail, plus meals, accommodations and ground transportation before and after.
A new set of backpacking gear, according to the ATC, starts around $1,200 and $2,000 and up. It all depends on how much you own already and what and how you choose to upgrade. Check out our AT Backpacking Gear List for what you’ll need before you hit the trail. The biggest-ticket items you’ll want to spend time thinking about are:
- Tent: Most one-person models range from $140 for a four-pound tent to more than $400 for a two-pound tent.
- Pack: Packs are similar to tents in price—ranging from $150 to $400. Make sure your pack fits you well and is large enough to carry everything you need—most carry between 40- and 75-liter packs.
- Sleeping bag: For a three-season sleeping bag, costs range from $100 for four-pound synthetic models to more than $500 for two-pound water-resistant-down models.
- Hiking boots or trail-running shoes: Although these might not be your most expensive single piece of gear ($50 to $400 per pair), a typical AT thru-hiker can go through four to six pairs of trail runners or boots over the course of the hike. Not sure which is right for you? We have the answers.
AT Gear Tips
- Purchase the best gear you can afford (but figure out your budget first). You’ll want to focus on those big-ticket items, plus quality rainwear.
- Keep your pack weight as low as possible, but know that many AT hikers carry heavier packs and make it through just fine. You don’t need to break the bank on ultralight gear to make it to Katahdin.
- At a certain point, there’s a diminishing return on your investment. “The difference between a $150 sleeping bag and a $250 sleeping bag is huge, both in quality and in weight savings. But the difference between a $350 and a $450 sleeping bag is maybe a few ounces or a small design feature,” said Tim Bird, REI Co-op employee and AT thru-hiker.
- Do your research beforehand. You might want to start with How to Pack for an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike.
Trail life is often cheaper than “real” life. But six months of food and supplies can still add up. Most people spend between $1 and $2 for every mile of trail—that’s anywhere from $2,190 to $4,380. And remember, pacing has a lot to do with how much you’ll spend. “It seems obvious, but the longer you are going to be on the trail the more money you are going to spend,” Bird said. You’ll need to account for:
- Meals, snacks and beverages: Prices vary, but you don’t want to rely on ramen the entire time to save a few bucks. You’ll want a variety of high-calorie meals and snacks to fuel your hike.
- Shipping costs for resupply boxes: Depending on where you live and how much you ship from home, this could be a big factor. Most thru-hikers resupply in town, especially because tastes and needs change along the way.
- Fuel, batteries and more: These don’t cost too much, but they’re something to track.
Town time can be amazing—drinks, showers and meals that aren’t dehydrated! But it’s so easy to overindulge. Make sure you have a budget and stick to it. Here are the usual culprits and some ways to save:
- Hotels/hostels: Share a room to save some costs.
- Restaurants: You can save some dough by purchasing prepared food from a grocery store.
- Alcohol: Get it at a store instead of at the bar, or skip it altogether.
- Donations: Consider giving at least $20 to every trail angel who hosts you. They’ll appreciate you offsetting the costs of meals, beds, showers and laundry services.
Even if you spend just one day in town a week, that adds up to 25 days on a six-month hike. You’ll also want to add a few extra days in there for inclement weather or waiting to meet up with fellow hikers.
You are beyond lucky if nothing unexpected happens on your hike. So, it’s best to add some pad to your Appalachian Trail budget for those unplanned moments. Maybe you have to wait for a resupply box with warmer clothes, you suffered an overuse injury and need to rest or you get a surprise wedding invite in the middle of your hike. Some people set a fixed amount ($1,500, for example) while others do a percentage (10 percent of their overall budget).
It can be really hard to get back to your normal life after the trail. If you quit your job to hike, you’ll want to set aside money for a few weeks (or months) of job hunting. Even if you have a job lined up, having a few weeks off can help with the transition. Read Life After the PCT: Post-Hike Depression to learn more about easing back into society.
BYOB (Budget Your Own Budget)
You’ll hear the term HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) a lot on the trail. The phrase applies to budgeting too. Make a plan that works for you—don’t just take the word of someone else. In order to cover all your Appalachian Trail costs, start saving early. “I started putting away money two years before hiking the trail in order to be able to take the time off and just focus on my hike. This allowed me ample time to collect gear, read blogs and speak with other hikers about their experience,” said James Hank, REI Co-op employee and AT thru-hiker. And if budgeting doesn’t come easily to you, practice at home first. That way, when you’re on the trail, it will be easier to stay on track. If you do it right, you’ll come back home with a life-changing experience and some extra dough in the bank.