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  1. #1
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    Default A Cheap Hike: Breakdown of money spent on my hike

    I was going to post this in another thread where someone asked how much money is needed to complete the trail. I ended up going into more depth than intended so I made it a new thread.

    I completed the trail this year 2012 northbound from 3/22-7/23 (4 months 1 day with 10 zeros). Yes, I went kind of fast. Not because I had to, but because that was my pace. I spent under $2600. This $2600 includes everything from getting off the plane in Atlanta to stepping off the plane in Dallas. This was done with zero maildrops. I purchased all my food on the trail. I recommend starting the trail with $4000+ but that does not mean you have to spend it all.
    First, What the $2600 does not include: starting gear, plane ticket to Atlanta, first 4 days of food.

    What $2600 bought me:

    $150 spent on 2 pairs of new shoes, $50 on 3 new pairs of socks, $40 for superfeet, $35 raft at NOC, other on trail gear purchases (aqua mira, etc.), and around $300 for bus/plane ticket home from Boston.
    ~$575 on gear/trip home



    I stayed in hostels all the time and a few hotels which I always shared (all prices subject to change for 2013): Bold - likely to be around in 2013 Non-bold - unlikely to be available in 2013 ? - unsure of price


    1. Hiker hostel ($80), includes dinner, breakfast, pickup from airport, drop of at Amicalola State Park
    2. Ron Havens budget inn Hiawassee (split 4 ways, my share $16), a cheap rundown hotel
    3. Elmers in Hot Springs ($36), beautiful 1800's Victorian Mansion, $20 bed 2x per room, $10 dinner, $6 breakfast
    4. Uncle Johnnys Erwin ($8), $8 to tent, Not worth it in my opinion. Included shower and towel. Should have swam in the river 10 feet outside of the hostel and tented out of town
    5. Kincora x3 ($15 total), Donation based, lots of AT heritage, bed, shower, laundry
    6. The Place Damascus x2 ($12 total), Donation based, bed/shower
    7. Vicar's House (free)
    8. Holy Family Church Hostel Pearisburg ($5?), Donation based, bed
    9. 4 pines hostel ($5), Donation based
    10. Trail Angel's house in Daleville (free)
    11. friends house Waynesboro VA (free)
    12. trail days tent city Damascus x2 ($5 total)
    13. Front Royal Terrapin Station Hostel ($20?) bed, shower, laundry
    14. Trail Angels House D.C. from Harpers Ferry x2 (free)
    15. Ironmasters Mansion Hostel Pine Grove Furnace State Park ($20?) bed, shower, dinner
    16. Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse Boiling Springs (split 2 ways, my share $20) $40 room is thru hiker rate includes bed and shower. Is a ritzy upscale penthouse for the retired rich. Food is extra but sooooo worth it. AYCE seafood was amazing for $13. Breakfast was also AYCE.
    17. Jail House Hostel Palmerton (free) Bed
    18. Red Carpet Inn Wind Gap (split 3 ways, my share $20) bed/shower
    19. Church of the Mountain Delware Water Gap x2 ($10 total) Bed/shower, donation based
    20. High Point Country Inn (split 2 ways, my share $20) Nice hotel. bed/shower. $7 laundry.
    21. Clarence Fahnestock State Park (tented free with showers etc.)
    22. Bearded Woods hostel Falls Village ($50) $50 includes bed, shower, dinner with first beer on house, Breakfast. Nicest place I stayed on the trail. New for 2012.
    23. Upper Goose Pond Cabin (free for thrus) bed
    24. Toms house in Dalton (free)
    25. Green Mountain Hostel Manchester Center ($20) bed, shower, laundry, free Ben & Jerrys
    26. huts in the White Mountains x3 (work for stay) bed, leftovers
    27. White Mountain Lodge and Hostel Gorham ($20?) bed, shower, laundry, breakfast
    28. Trail Angel House Rangely (free)
    29. Northern Outdoors Caratunk (split 4 ways, my share $20) bed, shower, hot tub, game room, coin laundry
    30. Tented at Hiker Haven (free)
    31. Abol Bridge Campground ($10)
    32. Appalachian Trail Lodge and Cafe Millinocket ($25) bed, shower, laundry


    ~$437 for hostels and hotels, I stayed at a few more campgrounds that I can not remember that were around $5 each (showers/elec). A total of 32 stays some double and triple nights with 124 days on the trail, so roughly a bed/shower/laundry every 4 days. The biggest reason however for staying at a hostel was they typically included rides into town for groceries when stores were outside of reasonable walking distance.


    $2600-$575-$437= $1588
    ~$1588 is how much I spent on food/fuel/consumables.
    On the trail I typically carried around 4 days of food. Through the Smokies I carried 5 days of food. From NJ to Mass I carried around 2 days of food. The deli's from NJ to Mass are amazing other than paying $1 for fruit!
    This averages to ~$13 a day, or better ~$40 for 4 days of food from the grocery + ~$10 at a restaurant. This is actually really close to receipt purchases. In the south before the appetite hit I was spending around $30 at the grocery stores. In the northern sections I was eating more and the price of food went up, so I was spending around $50.

    Trail Food: Breakfast consisted mostly of pop tarts. In the earlier colder sections I had oatmeal and cream cheese + bagels too. Cream cheese did not survive in the summer. Cereal bars were amazing but more expensive compared to pop tarts.
    Lunch consisted of salami/cheese, or peanut butter/chocolate, or tuna on sandwich thins/tortillas.
    Dinner consisted of tuna, chicken pouches, lipton sides, mac n cheese, peanut butter sandwich thins, cheese, salami, couscous, instant mashed potatos, stuffing etc. I ate ramen a max of 5 times.
    Snacks: bars, M&Ms, raisins, mixed nuts, peanuts, almonds, fruit, chocolate, cookies, little debbies (not often), mixed fruit, gummies

    Some further break downs. Out of that ~$1588 food budget I ate ~$500 (120 days x 4 per day x ~$1 each) in bars (power bars, cliff bars, luna bars, kind bars, etc.). I ate somewhere around $150 in pop tarts.


    In my opinion I splurged often and enjoyed myself. Plenty of comfortable nights and good food. Sometimes even at nicer sit down restaurants and an occassional AYCE. I enjoyed my hike and I have no regrettes not spending more money. I got to see Washington D.C. (on Memorial Day btw), and everything else the trail had to offer. Admittedly I would have liked to see NYC, but the opportunity was not logistically simple enough. AT train only runs on weekends


    So what does this all mean or "some tips for spending less"?
    • If I did the average 6 month completion date I would have spent around $3400 if everything went perfect (no broken gear). I saved myself $800 spending 2 less months on the trail. Walk faster or walk longer (get up early or walk later into the day, spend less time eating lunch, maybe even eat lunch on the go)
    • If I varied my diet less and consumed cheaper food (peanuts instead of bars, off brand pop tarts, more ramen) I could have easily saved a lot of food money. ~$100 saved eating only ramen, ~$300 saved eating peanuts instead of bars, etc.
    • If I only went to donation based hostels and did not donate I could have saved $437.
    • Don't pay to set up your tent. You can save that money by walking out of town and setting up your tent.
    • Do not splurge on activities if money is tight. Rafting was incredibly fun, but I would not have gone if it would break the bank.
    • If money is an issue avoid tourist traps (Gatlinburg, D.C., NYC etc.)
    • Don't buy new gear until you have properly worn out your current gear. I bought 2 pairs of shoes at the same time to save on shipping when my first pair died. I never needed the third pair because the second made it barely to Katahdin.
    • Maildrops have their pros and cons. They may save you money.
    • Some towns cater to hikers. I got free food, free lunch, free drinks etc. The guide book has most of these, but sometimes trail rumors and registrys can hold some gems.
    • People are nice. They may offer you some serious trail magic if they notice you are thru hiking and live close by. Be courteous and people will open their doors for you.
    • Hiker boxes can contain just what you were looking for. Hit them before going shopping.
    • If you hike with others and they receive maildrops hit them up before they drop any extras in the hiker box.
    • Double nero instead of taking a zero. Short walk into town, sleep in town, leave town late next day and don't walk far out of town. Spend money for 1 night in hostel/hotel instead of 2 nights for a zero.
    • Take your zeros at cheap hostels instead of expensive ones.
    • Share hotels with other hikers
    • Don't pay for slackpacking.


    I personally don't think you can hike the trail under $1500 anymore. It might be possible with some serious frugal tendencies (dumpster diving), starting overweight to consume less while still hiking fast, and luck. Even if you did I think at some point you need to consider if doing so will be detrimental to the experience. If not, all the power to you. In the end, you need to hike your own hike. Use every tip I have and hike as cheap as possible, hike similar to me and splurge now and than, or don't and hike like a king. Just enjoy yourself and hike safe.

  2. #2
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    Also, stay away from alcohol... and narcotics. Stuff is expensive.

  3. #3
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    This is a nice write up, interesting to say the least. I will be looking at my expenses from my hike more in depth this fall. I spent about $2,500. I completely agree that the double nearo is KEY to saving money on the trail. It was also great being a non-drinker/smoker/druggie,
    but hey HYOH!
    "... I know it is wrong, but I am for the spirit that makes young men do the things they do. I am for the glory that they know." --Sigurd Olson, Singing Wilderness.


    AT '12, LT '13, CT '14, PCT '15

  4. #4
    AT 4000+, LT, FHT, ALT Blissful's Avatar
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    Great write up.







    Hiking Blog
    AT NOBO and SOBO, LT, FHT, ALT
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  5. #5
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    Excellent resource for future thruhikers.

    One point to keep in mind. 2012 had very mild weather during the NOBO hiker season. Most hikers only saw a day or two of snow and there were very few periods of prolonged rain. Nothing drives a hiker to town faster than bad weather. And, nothing raises the cost of a thruhike like town stays.

    Thanks for posting SpiderDog !!!
    Order your copy of the Appalachian Trail Passport at www.ATPassport.com

    Green Mountain House Hostel
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    http://www.greenmountainhouse.net

  6. #6
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    The voice of experience, excellent, thanks for taking the time.

  7. #7
    Registered User moocow's Avatar
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    Well done.

  8. #8

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    SpiderDog,
    Excellent job! And thanks for starting a new post instead of responding to another, thus making it easier for people to find.

  9. #9

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    Thank you for an excellent post.

    I would love to see a similar post from someone who hiked a bit slower, drank and smoked, didn't share hotel rooms, and zero'd in town every 4 days [cause that's how I envision my hike someday....]

  10. #10
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    Thanks for shareing your experience. It should help some future thru-hikers. You should have given a few $ at Upper Goose Pond even though they don't require giving anything to stay.
    Grampie-N->2001

  11. #11

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    great post! thanks for sharing this

  12. #12
    Registered User canoe's Avatar
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    Thanks for the Info ...Its good to know you can hike for less than 5k.

  13. #13
    Registered User Water Rat's Avatar
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    SpiderDog - Thanks for the post! I like reading posts like this because it helps me with my research and planning. The outline of my planned hike it taking shape... Your post, and others like this, have helped me to realize where I may have forgotten to add an expense. Thanks for the tips!

  14. #14

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    That is sweet...very helpful indeed! I agree with you about Uncle Johnny's Place in Erwin. Skip it. Also, it's good see all the help that the trail angels gave you along the way. Nice that you found one in Daleville, VA

    I agree with your statement that people will open their doors for you for the reasons you stated.

    I also agree that you shouldn't ever pay for slack packing. Wise choice.

    Congrats on your completed thru hike.. WTG!!

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by SpiderDog View Post
    1. Northern Outdoors Caratunk (split 4 ways, my share $20) bed, shower, hot tub, game room, coin laundry



    Not trying to dismiss the general point of the post which I think you did a great job breaking down, but wanted to ask about this place because I'm heading up there tomorrow for some whitewater rafting and 4 wheeling for a friends bachelor party. We're staying until Sunday so I hope to to dome local trails if time permits. How was it up there?

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by HikerMomKD View Post
    I also agree that you shouldn't ever pay for slack packing. Wise choice.
    Could you explain your reasoning??
    Order your copy of the Appalachian Trail Passport at www.ATPassport.com

    Green Mountain House Hostel
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Murphy View Post
    Thank you for an excellent post.

    I would love to see a similar post from someone who hiked a bit slower, drank and smoked, didn't share hotel rooms, and zero'd in town every 4 days [cause that's how I envision my hike someday....]
    I actually do drink alcohol, but I did so sparingly on the trail. It is so much cheaper to go and buy/share a 6 pack or cans instead of hitting the bars.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grampie View Post
    Thanks for shareing your experience. It should help some future thru-hikers. You should have given a few $ at Upper Goose Pond even though they don't require giving anything to stay.
    Agreed. I arrived at 8:50p.m., ate dinner and crashed. Forgot to donate on my way out in the morning. The caretaker even made us blueberry pancakes!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sampson View Post
    Not trying to dismiss the general point of the post which I think you did a great job breaking down, but wanted to ask about this place because I'm heading up there tomorrow for some whitewater rafting and 4 wheeling for a friends bachelor party. We're staying until Sunday so I hope to to dome local trails if time permits. How was it up there?
    Great place. One of the nicer places along the trail. Weekends are busy I think, but it can accommodate crowds. Restaurant had good food but the prices are a bit sketchy (menu is old). The bar is awesome. If you don't know they have their own microbrewery downstairs that you can visit. I highly suggest trying their 5 dollar 5x 4oz sampler. The blueberry rye is amazing.

  18. #18
    Registered User Drybones's Avatar
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    Best post and useful info I've seen for a would be thru hiker. Well done!!

  19. #19
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    Thanks for this - great write-up.

    My question: You rafted at the NOC but you didn't stay there overnight? Did you just camp nearby?

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by forrest! View Post
    Thanks for this - great write-up.

    My question: You rafted at the NOC but you didn't stay there overnight? Did you just camp nearby?
    I didn't feel like paying to tent. After some talk with the locals a few other hikers and myself found out that walking down the nearby railroad (few hundred yards) there was a campsite next to the river that is outside NOC property line. Great campsite I might add with a beautiful view.

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