Nowadays, almost every trail has its dedicated Facebook group, with the most popular trails having a Facebook group for every “class”, for example “Te Araroa class of 2018”. I have noticed that a common interrogation from people planning to hike long trails is the budget requirement for a particular trail. As an accountant, I have specific interest in budgeting and money subjects! Here are a couple tips for the budget-conscious hiker.
Steps to budgeting your hike
1. Research living costs in the area
The type of area you will be crossing impacts your costs. Touristic areas might only have restaurants and very little in terms of grocery stores. On hikes that cross urban areas you might have no choice but to stay in hostels or hotels. These costs add up quickly. For example, I am currently planning a hike on the Florida Trail but I want to start in Key West. Key West is a heavily populated area and is also very touristic. I have read that the local police has little tolerance for people camping illegally and accommodations are very expensive. Therefore, I need to plan for extra budget for those days spent crossing the Keys. On hikes that are entirely through remote areas , hikers will save money on accommodation but might end up spending more on supplies.
You will usually need to pay for hostels/hotels from time to time while on trail. Unless you can rely exclusively on the generosity of people and luck, eventually you will probably want to use laundry facilities, shower with hot water, charge your electronics and sleep in a bed for one night. Don’t underestimate the frequency at which you will want to stay in the establishments available on trail. When you have been hiking under pouring rain for a couple days, it is very hard to resist the temptation of sleeping in a dry place.
Food is usually a major expense on a thru-hike. Resupplying in a major supermarket or at the corner store won’t have the same impact on your wallet. Supplies in remote areas tend to be more expensive and/or scarse. Before leaving, try to plan the town/cities where you will resupply and look for the range of costs that you should expect. Hitchhiking to the local town can be worth the time if the next stretch of trail has only small convenience stores along it. Not only will your supplies be cheaper, you will probably be able to get healthier stuff. Healthier food = More energy to hike!
After getting your research done, you can try to come up with a daily budget for food and a monthly budget for accommodation.
2. Know your hikes peculiarities
What makes the hike you are planning particular? Is transportation to get to and leave the trail head expensive? Are there sections that might require other means of transportation? When you get in the region where you are planning to hike, will you need a couple days to acclimate, buy supplies and gear and gather local information? These are all specific to each trail. Below is a non-exhaustive list of items you might want to budget for:
● Transportation to and from the airport to the trail head
● Accommodation, food and other expenses while you acclimate, plan or get used to your surroundings
● Travel insurance
● Plane ticket + Luggage fees
● Vaccines, medication, doctor visits
● Transportation you might need to complete some sections of the trail that can’t be walked (bus, taxi, Uber, canoe, kayak, taxi boat, etc.)
● Hiking permits
● Shelter fees
● Donation to local trail association developing the trail
● Postage fees for resupply packages
● Holding fees for resupply packages at post office/hostel/hotel
● Cell phone subscription
● GPS device / beacon subscription
● Gear replacement (New shoes, hiking poles, etc.)
3. Estimate the time it will take you, don’t forget rest days (those are expensive) and room for unforeseen events
Get the total kilometers/mileage on the hike you are planning. Estimate your daily average. Divide the total mileage by your daily average. Add rest days and some room for unforeseen events. Now you have the total number of days you need to budget for.
4. Get your total budget
Add up all expenditures amount you have come up in the previous steps. Multiply your daily food budget and monthly accommodation budget by the number of days and months that you plan to spend on trail. Add all other one-time expenditures. Add 10% or whatever percentage feels right for you for unforeseen events!
5. Ask people that have hiked the trail before
Test your total budget with hikers who have completed the trail before. Get more than one opinion, as some people are able to be much more frugal than others. Also remember that hikers that stick with partners can usually save some money on accommodation and transport costs.
Things to consider when budgeting
1. Have sufficient budget for gear replacement
This is inevitable while on a long distance hike. You will most probably have to replace things as they get worn out, purchase new gear or have someone mail some items you wished you brought with you and maybe even replace lost items. You might also want to mail stuff back home at some point (season change, stuff you are not using) and have people at home mail stuff to you.
2. Don’t be too hard on yourself, know your comfort level. Plan for the occasional luxury and research where it will cost you less
If you go out with the idea that you will remain on a rice and beans regime for a couple months while only camping in the woods and hitchhiking, you might get tired of this regimen very quickly and it might affect your mood and overall performance as a hiker. Don’t underestimate the power of comfort food and the occasional treat while on trail.