Last week I posted about how costly long-distance hiking can be. Today, I’ll go over some strategies for saving money on these trips. Naturally, being away from the normal world will not be cheap, but it doesn’t need to break your bank. The PCT broke my bank, even though I’d prepared for it, but none of my other trips did quite as much. It’s all about strategy.
Since the two most expensive things for me were food and lodging, these are the areas I’ll focus on for now.
-Cheap lodging is one option, but often it will depend on the town. This means the cost of lodging is mostly dependent on how long you stay in town. A full zero day means two nights in town. One common alternative is to get into town early in day, then leave late the next day. Then you have almost a zero day, but at the cost of only one night’s lodging.
-Be on the lookout for hotels or hostels that offer rooms for a flat rate. If you are hiking with friends, you can split a relatively expensive room between several people. Just remember that hiker stink is exponentially multiplied when several hikers are in an enclosed space.
-It doesn’t hurt to be picky about town stops. I’ve paid for nights in hostels that I later regretted because they were filthy, noisy, not relaxing, or just not worth the time I spent there. You don’t need to stop in every trail town, and sometimes skipping one opens up a great opportunity at another.
-See if you have any friends in the area. If your friends don’t mind stinky hikers sleeping on their couches, you’ve got a very inexpensive option right there.
-I like to send a few mail drops with food that I was able to get at good prices back home, but this doesn’t always save money since mailing costs can erase those savings. How to get around this? Resupply less often, or at least send less mail drops. My ideal resupply timing is to have one big resupply every five or six days. That means a heavy pack when leaving town, but less time spent getting stuff in town and less packages to send.
-Check discount stores like Ocean State Job Lot or Big Lots, surplus & salvage stores, or whatever local equivalents you have for good hiking snacks. Usually they just have junk food, but sometimes you can strike gold. I’ve found cases of fifty cent Clif Bars at Ocean State on several occasions, along with lots of those tuna pouches that through-hikers love so much. You can always stockpile stuff, too. I’ve got a pile of Clif Bars that are at varying ages, and I can tell you that the ones that are five years past expiration date taste no different than when brand new (eat them at your own risk, though).
-For some expensive trail foods, make sure to check out Amazon.com to see if you can get good deals there. Many varieties of energy bars can be purchased by the box at pretty good prices (and with free shipping). I’ve also seen bulk cans of Mountain House freeze-dried stuff on there, too. You can find just about anything, although the prices aren’t always better than you’d get at a store.
-Of course, drying your own meals and making your own snacks is almost always cheaper than buying ready-made things.
-If you don’t do mail drops, make sure to get the member card at whatever grocery stores you hit along the way, and try to use that to buy things that are on sale. Maybe it’s not always the food you’d normally get, but you can do quite well. If the grocery store will let you just use a phone number rather than a card, you don’t even have to carry that annoying bit of plastic around with you. Entertainingly enough, I found that the Safeways, Vons, and Albertsons out west had an account using the local area code and 867-5309. I’ve never even heard that song…
-One of my hiking buddies wrote letters to a bunch of trail food companies and got a few freebies for his effort. It helps if you have a good reason why they should give you stuff (like a blog that gets a lot of hits, a hike for charity, a speed record, or whatever), but it certainly can’t hurt to ask.
-And, of course, for big trips you can always get piles of things at Sam’s Club, BJ’s, or Costco. Just remember, you will get sick of the stuff eventually. Unless you know for sure that you can eat an entire 50-count box of Snickers bars, it’s probably best not to get it.
-Try to reuse gear as long as you can. This should be obvious, but sometimes you need to remind yourself that if it worked once, it will work again and again as long as it doesn’t break.
-Footwear will inevitably wear out, so if you can find your favorite footwear at good discounts you might as well stockpile those. Just be sure to know you really, really love the fit. The last thing you want is a pile of brand new sneakers that you later decide don’t fit you as well as you thought they would. This is especially a problem for very long trails. People say your feet grow larger while hiking, but in my experience it’s not that the feet grow larger, they just get more sensitive to the fit of the shoe. Maybe a sneaker that you thought felt great at the beginning of the trail turns out to be a bit too tight in the toes, or rubs the heel after a hundred miles. If you’re not one hundred percent certain, it’s best not to buy too much ahead of time.
-Try to be as self-sufficient as possible, and test your gear and techniques thoroughly before starting the trail. Sending gear back and forth from home and using bounce boxes is expensive. If you don’t need to send excessive mail, don’t!
-Your second long-distance hike will most likely be less expensive than your first (per mile, at least). Experience is a great teacher.
That seems like enough to digest for now. Time to go spend money on something!