Long distance trails are pretty expensive to hike. Aren’t they?
I didn’t keep track of the money I spent on my first big one, the Appalachian Trail in 2007, but I started keeping track in a very detailed way when I hiked a section of the trail the next year. Here’s the data I’ve gathered so far:
Maine Appalachian Trail 2008: $442, 273 miles, $1.62/mile. 3 zero days. 11.9 miles per day.
New England Trail 2009: $790, 517 miles, $1.53/mile. 3 zero days. 14.8 miles per day.
Appalachian Trail Southern Tour 2010: $687, 324 miles, $2.12/mile. 3 zero days. 10 miles per day.
Pacific Crest Trail 2010: $5329, 2643 miles, $2.02/mile. 36 zero days. 16.8 miles per day.
Oh, that last one hurt. I counted any money spent on trail food, town food, lodging, camping fees, guidebooks specific to the trail, mailing, transportation fees, gear that was not intended to last more than one year (stuff that wears down quickly), and basically any money spent while hiking. I did not count money spent on gear that would last more than one year (sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, etc.) since that could be used again and again, and counting that for one hike might artificially lower the calculated cost of another hike.
Some simple observations I found from this data:
-The biggest expenditures are food and lodging. No surprise there. I like to splurge when I get to towns, and I eat a lot while I’m on the trail. More zero days almost always means more money spent because that’s more food and lodging to pay for.
-I expected longer trails to have exponentially higher costs, but that isn’t the case. The variations were entirely dependent on how I hiked rather than how long the trail was.
-The biggest variable was generally how fast I hiked. Faster usually meant less money per mile. The PCT broke this trend because I took 12 times as many zero days as the other three trails.
-Trails closer to home were cheaper. Staying with friends is much cheaper than staying in hotels and hostels.
-Hiking with a group was more expensive. I guess my inhibitions in town went down when hiking with two or more friends.
-Buying food along the trail versus sending mail drops didn’t make a huge difference. Mail drops were much cheaper when I planned very well, but when planned poorly they were more expensive than grocery shopping.
I’m very interested in what numbers come in for the Long Trail. I’m going to try to go for super low costs, so I’ll be scheduling only a few town stops for resupply. I’m going to plan very well (I hope) with mail drops, and only stay in town occasionally. I’m very familiar with Vermont, having lived there for over a year working on the Long Trail, so I think I can make good decisions on which towns to stay in. I’ll also be keeping a pretty good pace if everything works out right, and I won’t need to buy much in the way of gear. Also, I’m planning on taking no more than one zero day. Willpower will be the biggest tool in saving money here.
However, I’m also a sucker for really good food, and Vermont has this in boatloads. Most of the town stops will have either a really great restaurant, a great general store, a great farm stand, or some combination of those. I can’t really resist that. So we’ll see how it goes. I’ll also be with one to three other friends, which is dangerous for the wallet.
I guess I’ll have some findings to report this summer.