For many backpackers, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) looms majestically before them, at the apex of their life list. If you’re contemplating this adventure, then you already know that some serious planning is in order. One of the most important—and often overlooked—aspects of getting ready for a PCT thru-hike is the decidedly unglamorous task of budgeting.
So, how much does it cost to hike the PCT? On average it costs about $6,000 to hike the PCT. That said, the cost of your hike can easily amount to several thousand dollars higher (a common scenario) or lower (if you’re disciplined and your hike is setback-free).
Ask people how much they spent hiking the PCT and the answers vary. Feedback from REI Co-op employees who have thru-hiked the trail in recent years indicates that the cost can range from $5,000 to more than $10,000. The Pacific Crest Trail Association suggests that thru-hiking the trail can cost anywhere from $4,000 to upwards of $8,000. These figures include the price of gear plus end-to-end expenses along the trail. When creating a budget, keep in mind that there are additional expenses to account for.
How to Budget for a PCT Thru-Hike
Below are the main budget categories to help you plan your PCT thru-hike:
- Home and travel: Look at all of the bills that have to be paid while you’re away, plus the cost of transportation to and from the trail itself.
- Gear: If you’re an experienced backpacker, you have a lot of this already, but a multiple-month journey will inevitably necessitate some new gear and some replacement gear along the way.
- Trail time: Food is the biggie here and trail food is cheaper than restaurant meals, but several months of moderately priced trail sustenance is nonetheless a substantial expense.
- Town time: In-town splurges—on a motel bed, “fine diner-ing” or beers with newfound trail friends—can easily add up if you don’t plan and spend carefully.
- Contingency fund: Plan for the unexpected, like trail detours, injury downtime or a partner exiting to buy and ride a motorcycle along the way. (PCT hikers have great stories.)
- Reentry fund: The end of the trail is mentally and financially challenging. Give yourself plenty of time and money to plug back into the working world.
Home and Travel Expenses
You likely won’t be earning an income on the trail, so you’ll need to cover expenses while you’re away. Take a close look at your home budget for a complete overview of costs incurred away from the trail. Major expenses include the following:
- House payment or rent (unless you sell or sublease) and utilities (like cell phone bills).
- Loan payments, such as car loans or student loans.
- Insurance premiums (medical insurance is especially important).
- Flights to and from the trail plus meals, hotels and ground transportation.
Gear costs can range from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on how much you own already, whether you choose to upgrade and how much you choose to invest in the upgrades you make. See our comprehensive PCT Backpacking Gear List for ideas on PCT-specific gear you might want to consider. Big-ticket gear expenses include the following, with ultralight gear often commanding a premium price:
- Tent: One-person models range from $140 for a tent that weighs nearly four pounds to more than $400 for a tent that weighs less than two pounds.
- Pack: Extended-trip packs (70+ liters) range from $150 to more than $400; when you choose, focus on getting one that fits rather than one that’s ultralight. Spend what it takes to get a pack that’s comfortable on you.
- Sleeping bag: A warm 3-season bag ranges from $100 for a nearly four-pound synthetic bag to more than $500 for a water-resistant down model that’s less than two pounds.
- Hiking boots or trail runners: Most gear can be made to last the entire trail, but replacement costs definitely come into play here. A PCT hiker might go through four to six pairs of trail runners ($50 to $200 per pair), compared with just a couple of pairs of hiking boots ($150 to $400 per pair). And, just as with your pack, getting the right fit is critical. Not sure which you’d prefer to hike in? Our experts can help.
PCT Gear Tips
- Get the highest quality gear you can afford—something you’ll have a better sense of after creating your budget. Allot a few extra dollars for a high-quality pack and rainwear.
- Keeping pack weight as low as possible by splurging on featherweight gear is a worthy goal, but many PCT hikers have succeeded while carrying packs filled with more affordable heavy-duty gear.
- Get advice from a successful PCT hiker: How to Pack for a Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike is a good place to start.
Fortunately, trail life is relatively cheap. But paying for six months of consumables can still add up. And the length of your hike factors in. Let’s say you calculate on-trail costs at $20/day: over the course of five and a half months, you’ll spend $3,300; if you stretch the hike out to six months, you’ll be up to $3,600. Trail-time expenses include the following:
- Daily meals, snacks and beverages like coffee or energy drinks: Prices vary widely, but don’t over-economize by doing a major expedition solely on ramen noodles; you need variety and a daily calorie intake high enough to fuel your hiking engine during long days on the trail.
- Shipping costs for resupply boxes: These vary depending on how much you ship from home, how far away you live and how much resupplying you do in towns—most hikers do this because tastes and needs change (ask other hikers to find the cheapest grocery stores).
- Fuel, batteries, memory cards and other supplies: These aren’t a huge expense, but you will go through them along the trail.
Town time is a reward you’ve earned, as well as a necessary respite that lets you recharge your batteries. But, at $50 to $100 per day, it’s incredibly easy to overindulge, so track expenses closely and reel them in when they get out of hand. You’ll likely have a few primary town expenses:
- Hotels/hostels: Sharing rooms can save some dollars, but make sure you don’t exceed occupancy limits.
- Restaurant meals: A cheaper alternative is prepared food from a grocery store, which still seems sumptuous compared to a trail meal.
- Beer: Save by getting it at a store, rather than a bar; if you’re not a beer (or alcohol) drinker, you’ll come out ahead.
- Be sure to donate at least $20 to every trail angel who hosts you! It’s good karma to compensate these volunteers who provide meals, beds, showers and laundry services in their homes near the trail. They need this help for their budgets; for your budget, you can swap a few town days days for trail-angel days to economize.
If you take one town day per week, you’re looking at roughly 25 days on a six-month hike. And when you forecast town days, increase that number by three or four to account for trail buddies whose invitations to socialize are both hard to resist and hard to predict.
It’s the rare PCT trip that doesn’t have something unforeseen happen. Maybe you’re delayed by a wildfire that requires a massive detour or you suffer an overuse injury that requires rest. Perhaps your sleeping bag rolls off a cliff. A savvy budgeter sets aside funds for the unexpected. Some choose a fixed amount like $1,500, while others go with a percentage, like 15 percent of their overall budget.
Stepping off the trail and back into the working world is a huge transition. Many people quit their jobs in order to hike the trail; if that’s you, set aside money to pay for a few weeks of living expenses and job hunting. Even if you have a job waiting, give yourself a few weeks of transition time before returning to work. Read Life After the PCT: Post-Hike Depression for tips on easing your psyche back into society.
Some hikers cover their reentry needs with their contingency fund—this is fine as long as you make sure your contingency fund is a very flush budget category.
Budget Your Own Budget
The oft-repeated PCT advice “hike your own hike” also applies to financial planning. Craft a budget that’s as meticulous as your hiking plan, not one based on other people’s rough dollar estimates. If you aren’t a budgeter already, then practice doing it at home first. You’ll develop the skills to project a reasonable trip cost and to manage expenditures. And when you’re out on the trail, tally expenses to be sure you stay on track. (Big budget busters are towns and contingencies.) If you do your budgeting well, you’ll return home with a surplus in the bank and a wealth of stories to tell.