Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Thru Hiking the Appalachian Trail on a Budget

Blissful Hiking welcomes a guest blog post by "Biscuits" who just completed his thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012. He offers advice on how to have a cheap but memorable thru hike.

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.
Hiker hostel in Georgia ($80), includes dinner, breakfast, pickup from airport, drop of at Amicalola State Park

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

Green Mountain Hostel in Vermont

  1. Ron Haven's Budget Inn Hiawassee (split 4 ways, my share $16), a cheap rundown hotel
  2. Elmers in Hot Springs ($36), beautiful 1800's Victorian Mansion, $20 bed 2x per room, $10 dinner, $6 breakfast
  3. 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
  4. Kincora x3 ($15 total), Donation based, lots of AT heritage, bed, shower, laundry
  5. The Place Damascus, VA x2 ($12 total), Donation based, bed/shower
  6. Vicar's House (free)
  7. Holy Family Church Hostel Pearisburg, VA ($5?), Donation based, bed (note - this will be closing in September)
  8. 4 Pines Hostel ($5), Donation based
  9. Trail Angel's house in Daleville, VA (free)
  10. friends house Waynesboro VA (free)
  11. Trail Days tent city Damascus x2 ($5 total)
  12. Front Royal Terrapin Station Hostel ($20?) bed, shower, laundry
  13. Trail Angels House D.C. from Harpers Ferry x2 (free)
  14. Ironmasters Mansion Hostel Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA ($20?) bed, shower, dinner
  15. Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse Boiling Springs, PA (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.
  16. Jail House Hostel Palmerton, PA (free) Bed
  17. Red Carpet Inn Wind Gap, PA (split 3 ways, my share $20) bed/shower
  18. Church of the Mountain Delware Water Gap x2 ($10 total) Bed/shower, donation based
  19. High Point Country Inn (split 2 ways, my share $20) Nice hotel. bed/shower. $7 laundry.
  20. Clarence Fahnestock State Park, NY (tented free with showers etc.)
  21. Bearded Woods hostel Falls Village, CT ($50) $50 includes bed, shower, dinner with first beer on house, Breakfast. Nicest place I stayed on the trail. New for 2012.
  22. Upper Goose Pond Cabin, MA (free for thrus) bed
  23. Toms house in Dalton, MA (free)
  24. Green Mountain Hostel Manchester Center, VT ($20) bed, shower, laundry, free Ben & Jerrys
  25. AMC Huts in the White Mountains, NH x3 (work for stay) bed, leftovers
  26. White Mountain Lodge and Hostel Gorham, NH ($20?) bed, shower, laundry, breakfast
  27. Trail Angel House Rangely, ME (free)
  28. Northern Outdoors Caratunk, ME (split 4 ways, my share $20) bed, shower, hot tub, game room, coin laundry
  29. Tented at Hiker Haven (free)
  30. Abol Bridge Campground, ME ($10)
  31. Appalachian Trail Lodge and Cafe Millinocket, ME ($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 occasional AYCE (all you can eat). I enjoyed my hike and I have no regrets 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 registries 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.

Related Blogs:
Northbound vs Southbound - the Beginning
Northbound vs Southbound - the Social Aspects
Northbound vs Southbound - Resupply
Observations of a Two Week AT Start


Marci W. said...

Wow, this was so helpful! For one thing, it's been hard finding information written by women, especially on issues like how quickly I can realistically thru-hike and what I need to do to make that happen (my goal is 5 months so that I finish before grad school starts).

Also, your information on your budget is incredibly helpful!

Unknown said...

Noting everything you've written, I have the gist of what I need and want to know. I personally planned to stay here in Denver through the winter saving up until May, June '15 being the latest I want to start and basically wing it. And being a minimalist I don't necessarily plan on sleeping in town or in payable sites. That being said is there anything you'd like to share with me that you haven't already?

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

nice post