I know this may come as a surprise to some of you, seeing as I am a rugged, trail-worn mountain woman (just go with me here), but I am – how shall we say – a nerd. Nerd Jor has been in hiding for a while, mostly because she’s been busy trying not to unceremoniously fall down a mountain, but luckily she’s begun to make a reappearance. Over the past several days, in between going to a wine festival and attending a symphony (i.e. being her mother’s play thing), Nerd Jor has taken some time to analyze the expenses for her entire A.T. thru-hike. Mind you, my room is still a mess, and I haven’t yet stored away all of my gear.
What do you want from me? Baby steps.
Before I delve into sharing all of my expenses, I would like to point out that there are many ways to approach an A.T. thru-hike as far as costs are concerned. I saw quite a variety of approaches among my fellow thru-hikers. Some people had limited funds and carefully preserved by, for example, avoiding nights in towns or selectively eating out (vs buying groceries). Some people had plenty of savings and spent without regard. Some people financed much of their trek on credit cards, comfortable with paying for it after the fact. Some people (for better and worse) relied on the kindness of others.
I went in with the understanding that an A.T. thru-hike would cost between $3,000 and $5,000 – not including gear and insurance, but I didn’t actually budget. And that strategy reflected in the way I traveled. Specifically:
- In the 187 days of my journey, I slept indoors 89 nights (45% of the time…seriously? Yeah, I guess so. OK, mountain-ish woman). Those accommodations included motels and hostels as well as a few nights on the floors of huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. *Worthy of note: a hiker hostel is not necessarily glamorous. It can range from someone’s garage to a church floor to a rustic bunkhouse to a single-family home – and everything in between.*
- Whenever I stayed in a donation-only hostel, I usually left $20 – and never less than $10.
- Over the course of my trek, I took 41 zeros (days without hiking), and the vast majority of those were in towns (with the exception of two shelter zeros). The more time one spends in town, the more opportunity there is to spend money.
I kept track of expenses (down to a $1 purchase), but it was more for curiosity’s sake than actual need to keep my expenses down. Even so, despite my willy nilly, “I don’t care how much I spend” strategy, I actually spent less than I thought I might and significantly less than some of my fellow hikers.
In retrospect, some of the reasons for this include:
- In over six months on the trail, not once did I sleep alone in a motel room. In fact, more often than not, I wouldn’t even be sleeping alone in a bed. I was never interested in cramming ten people in one room, but – especially in the first few hundred miles – I would share with three or four other hikers. And we would all split the cost. And when I wasn’t in a shared motel room, I was snuggled (or sardined, depending on your perspective) near a collection of other hikers in a variety of hostels.
- During the first half of the trek, when I got to town, I would yen for staples like bananas and apple sauce. And I often discovered that I had too much food in my mail drop boxes. So, while many of my fellow hikers went to chow at the local all-you-can-eat buffet, I would relax in my motel room or hostel snacking on lighter fare. As the trek wore on, I had near-constant cravings for a burger and sweet potato fries, but that was only about half of the trek.
- I didn’t spend money on alcohol, cigarettes, or…other medicinal herbs (ya know, like marigold leaves. I’m pretty sure those are medicinal). Looking back at my records, I bought one drink when I was visiting New York City, but I’m not really into drinking, smoking, or marigold. Those habits can really add up cost-wise.
- On several occasions (six nights, I believe) I was generously treated by trail angels to free accommodations and meals, not to mention the week and a half I spent with friends and my hiking buddy Lentil’s family in New York as well as the night with Lentil’s friend in Waynesboro, VA and the night with my baby sister in northern Virginia. Hm, I hope I’m not forgetting anybody.
OK. Now, without further ado, soup to nut butter, I spent $5,868 on my A.T. trek, including insurance and gear. For the record, that’s less than what my half of the rent would have been for six months in my pre-trail apartment in Arlington, VA – and it wasn’t even a fancy apartment! So that can either make me excited that I spent so little on my trek or sick at the thought that I was paying so much to have a roof over my head. I suppose I’ll choose to go with the former.
Without insurance and gear, I spent $3,930. These costs include all of the money I spent from the moment I purchased my plane ticket to get to Georgia to the clothes I bought at a thrift store in Millinocket, ME upon finishing. Once I left Millinocket, I figured any money I spent should be considered part of a new adventure.
- My travel insurance, which I got for its comprehensive medical coverage, cost $805 and covered me for 180 days (until September 1). Thankfully I didn’t have to use it, but I’d heard too many stories of hikers that required medical care to feel comfortable risking it.
- In total, I spent $1,132 on gear, about $800 prior to beginning my trek and the remainder during the trek. Keep in mind that I only had a winter sleeping bag to my name before I decided to thru-hike, so I was more or less starting from scratch. On the other hand, I did get several items donated by gear companies – including my Gregory Deva 60 pack, JetBoil Sol cooking system, SuperFeet shoe insoles, and LifeStraw water filter – as well as several items used (i.e. for cheap). In other words, it wouldn’t have been difficult to spend twice as much as I did.
- Before I left for Georgia, I sent myself 10 mail drop boxes via USPS. By the time I hit the middle of Virginia, those boxes were exhausted, and my mom sent another 14 over the remainder of my trek, all the way through Monson, ME. The total cost on mail drop boxes was $298, and they varied in size between medium and large.
- I spent $1,156.58 on groceries overall. That amount includes the money I spent (and that my mom spent, for which I paid her back) on food that went in mail drop boxes (mostly beef jerky and dried fruit, as much of my food was donated by generous sponsors) as well as food that I purchased on my own when in trail towns. No matter whether or not I had a mail drop, it seemed inevitable that I would spend at least $20 every time I went into a grocery store. Never go shopping when hiker hungry?
- Remember all the times I slept indoors? What was it, like 89 nights? Yeah, they added up. I spent $1,276.75 on accommodations. I would like to point out that, with the exception of the night I spent at the Hiker Hostel in Georgia before starting my trek (which included shuttling and meals), I never spent more than $37 dollars on any night’s sleep and more often than not spent in the $20-25 range – or less (in particular in the southern states). In fact, if you do some quick math, you’ll see I spent on average about $14/night indoors.
- Those dag-nabbed burger cravings…meant $607.82 on restaurants. And don’t even think I regret one cent I spent on sweet potato fries.
- Transportation costs summed to $406.19. This includes the flight down to Atlanta as well as bus and train tickets back and forth…and <guilty cough> back and forth to the trail in New York. July was a rough month; we needed a break…or two. Oh, it also includes the cost of a rental car and gas for when I went to a friend’s wedding in April.
- Last little tidbits: I spent $84.50 on entertainment since I mostly entertained myself with alternately frolicking through the woods and staring into space. But I did see the occasional movie and show. I spent $25 on laundry, which doesn’t sound like much, but I promise I did laundry 34 times (and always smelled like roses). It’s just I combined loads with others, and sometimes laundry was included with a stay. And then I spent $75 on miscellaneous items (i.e. I gave up trying to figure out what I spent on that Walmart visit four months ago).
I also took the time to break down costs by state. Since there were costs that were not state-specific and the length of the trail in each state varied, I figured it’d be best to present the data in terms of “dollars spent per mile” per state. And this is what I got.
- Georgia $2.07
- North Carolina $1.83
- Tennessee $1.18
- Virginia $1.49
- West Va/Maryland $0.97
- Pennsylvania $0.91
- New Jersey $1.05
- New York $3.68
- Connecticut $0.50
- Massachusetts $1.42
- Vermont $0.97
- New Hampshire $2.39
- Maine $2.12
Obviously, there are many factors that affect dollar per mile. For example, despite its significant length (229 miles), I only took one town zero in Pennsylvania – at a church hostel in Delaware Water Gap. And it so happens that I had several family members come visit me over a two-day period there and so was (gratefully) treated to several meals out, which cut down on my expenses. And, on the other hand, all of my travels during the month of July in New York – to Brooklyn and Queens, and then to Syracuse – served to increase the cost per mile in that state.
So, I’m not really sure how useful that data is, but I wanted to share it since many hikers talk about how the northern states are more expensive. Really, now that I look at it, it’s pretty unhelpful. But it’s already in, so you’ll just have to deal with it.
On that note, if there’s any other info regarding cost that some of you out there might find useful, I have plenty more detail that I can share. I might not be able to tell you how much I spent per sweet potato fry, but I might be able to get pretty close.
Seriously, though, if you’re planning a thru-hike and have questions, just let me know if there’s anything you might be looking for – whether specific costs or broad general statements to help you set expectations, and I’ll do my best to shed light.