Planning for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike can get overwhelming fast, especially when it comes to money. To get away and hike the Appalachian Trail for six months is not easy – and I’m not just talking about the actual hike.
Here is a tough scenario: You are enjoying your thru-hike and need to get into town to buy food or to sleep, but you have already overspent. Even worse would be putting in the months and miles and running out of money before finishing your thru-hike.
We completed our northbound thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2022 and it was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of our lives. The difficulty is not only from the number of miles but also the terrain, obstacles, steep ups and downs – and the weather! We started the AT on April 13, 2022, and finished on October 6, 2022. We put this Appalachian Trail series together to get you from the start to the finish successfully.
Here is an overview of the series:
For more information on how to get to the AT and when to go.
This article will provide insights on how to make your adventure easier.
This one is essential, especially when choosing when to summit.
Your gear could be the difference between completing the trail and not!
An overview of clothes to wear.
How to budget for the Appalachian Trail and how much money we spent on our thru-hike.
For help getting back home. We wish you the best of luck on your journey!
Why do only one out of four people complete the trail? Injuries and the difficulty of hiking almost 2,200 miles are two reasons, but another common one is money. How much money will you need? The quick answer, if you Google it, is that the average hiker completes the trail in six months and spends around $1,000 per month (or $6,000 total). But there is more that goes into this equation.
We started planning for our thru-hike a year in advance so we could finance our trip, purchase equipment, save money, and pay expenses. Let’s break down what this means from a cost perspective. The purpose of providing this information is not to give you hard numbers to go off of, but to give you direction so you can figure out how to budget for yourself.
To budget for the Appalachian Trail, you need to think about a few categories:
Home expenses: These are the recurring real-world expenses and debt that you have at home.
Equipment expenses: We put together a list of expenses and what it cost us to start the Appalachian Trail. The permutations with selecting gear are endless, like the infinite colors that come from the three primary colors.
Trail-and-town expenses: This is the money we spent on the trail. Food is your biggest expense next to town money. Town money includes lodging, dinners, and beer.
Emergency fund: This is the money you want to have available on the trail in case you need it. We had money in this fund, but we were lucky that we didn’t need much of it.
There-and-back expenses: We included the transportation costs of getting to Georgia and home from Maine in this fund.
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1. Home Expenses
I wrote an extensive finance series on home expenses. Rather than rewriting this section, check out Your Road to Retirement in Seven Steps. It will get you organized (and help you become financially independent if you are interested). With that said, you need to estimate the length of time you will be on the trail. As previously stated, the average thru-hiker completes the trail in six months. We completed it in a little under that; however, we budgeted for seven months to give more time to recover once we completed the trail.
2. Equipment Expenses
How much did our initial equipment cost and how much did we spend while on the trail? We tried to go for ultralight gear, so some of our equipment was expensive. However, not everything has to be ultralight. You want to get the best equipment you can afford on the big three: your tent, hiking bag, and sleep system. Personally, I think it’s the big four: weather gear. When budgeting for equipment, these items are the place to start. Attached is a list of items we purchased and a rough estimate of what they cost PER PERSON. Remember, this is for direction only.
Most people think of hiking equipment as the Big 3. Personally, I think it's the Big 4: tent, hiking bag, sleep system, AND weather gear.
3. Trail-and-Town Expenses
We put these expense types into one category because it’s the amount of money you need to spend per month to remain on the trail.
Trail expenses were defined by how much money we needed to remain on the trail. For example, food and gas for cooking are trail expenses.
Town expenses were transportation, lodging, and restaurant expenses. We stayed in private rooms most of the time since there were two of us, so our lodging was more expensive than it might be for other options. However, we calculated the expenses to be per person per month.
One thing to note: You will see that our lodging expense for September was higher comparatively. The reason for this is in September, we were in New Hampshire with the “White Mountains,” which includes Mount Washington. This is where you are hiking at least 16 4,000-foot mountains and want to carry a lighter hiking bag. For us, this also meant the lodging increased as we stayed at more places in between.
**Updated graph on January 8th, 2023 at 7pm est to provide an improved illustration on the expected amount we would have paid Per Person Per Month on the Appalachian Trail if staying at a hostel, single bed.
4. Emergency Fund Expenses
This money is the extra money you need for contingencies. When we were hiking in Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains, we were hit with several days of rain. Unfortunately, we both contracted colds and had to stay in a hotel for a couple of days to recover. We managed this easily, though, since we had budgeted for an extra month of expenses already.
5. There-and-Back Money
When we planned our thru-hike, we wanted to make sure we could cover the basics, and part of this money included how we arrived in Georgia and how we left Maine. Read how we started and finished the Appalachian Trail for more details. Where you live will change how much money you need to spend, so this is ONLY to get you from the airports at the start and how much to get you to the airport when you leave. From the Atlanta airport to the Amicalola Lodge, it cost us $140 by taxi. From the AT Lodge in Maine to Bangor International Airport was less than $30.
We started planning for our Appalachian Trail thru-hike one year in advance to allow for enough time to save money, test our gear, and work mistakes in advance. You want to buy the best gear you can afford and only do it once, so take your time and do your research. Consider reading our complete series on the Appalachian Trail for more information. The sooner you start saving, the better.
Here is the complete list of the Appalachian Trail guides:
Meeting friends along the way boosted our spirits and saved us money on lodging!
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