Gear, cheap motel rooms and greasy spoons: How I’m budgeting for my Southbound Thru-Hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018.
Okay, I know budgets and financing in general is yawn inducing, but it is a necessary evil of thru-hiking (unfortunately). This post will probably be my most boring topic yet.
I get asked a lot how I am able to afford adventuring for half the year, so this post is a general run down of how I make it work. I am not a wealthy person, nor do I come from rich family. If you are a ridiculously rich person, then you can skip this post and also know that I hate you (kidding). Spoiler: I work hard and pinch pennies for several months, then disappear into the wilderness for several more. If you have a taste for designer handbags and luxury cars and simply can’t imagine life without them, then maybe thru-hiking isn’t really your niche in life.
So if you haven’t already heard, I’m attempting another thru-hike of the PCT this summer which will benefit The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. My campaign is called ‘Hiking for Hope and Healing,’ and I want to raise $1 for every mile that I hike on the trail, for a total of $2,650 going towards suicide prevention.
As of publication, I’ve raised 20% of my goal, and before I’ve even set foot on the trail! Please consider donating to my campaign, and help save lives and raise awareness about mental health. All the money donated goes directly to community programs sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Now, as for the money that I need for expenses for my actual hike, that is coming out of my own pocket. I’m not doing any crowd-funding for my thru-hike because I kind of feel like it’s a bit self entitled to ask for handouts. But hey, that’s my own opinion. So how am I saving for my hike? Let’s get down to business!
My budget for my southbound thru-hike is $5000, and no less. This is the money I will spend on the trail. This amount is pretty average, although some people have done it on a tighter budget. A typical budget for a thru-hike looks to be anywhere from $3500 to $10,000, depending on how large you want to live it up along the way. Some say that it costs about $2 per mile to hike the PCT, which includes restaurant food, the occasional motel room, donations to trail angels, mailing boxes at the post office, transportation and some gear replacement (if needed). You can definitely get by with less, but I need a motel room at least every 500 miles or so because I value rest and good hygiene. I also like to reward myself with tasty food when I get to town, whether it’s a burrito the size of a baby from the local taco truck, or eating an entire Key Lime pie while I lay in bed watching HBO in my motel room (true story).
I try to set a strict budget for every town that I enter along the trail, so I don’t go overboard on restaurant food and upscale hotels. It’s easy to spend a lot of money in town, especially on three square meals at a diner during a zero day.
How I’m Making It Happen
I’m about two months into my new job, working at a trade that I apprenticed for several years ago. Since it’s a union job, I get pretty decent benefits that allow me continue being a dirt bag hiker every so often. This includes health insurance (a must when thru-hiking in the U.S.), paid overtime and some family leave. Do I love this line of work that I’m in? It’s okay. I’m not in love, but it certainly allows me to save for what I’m passionate about: long distance hiking and eating tacos. My supervisor and coworkers are great, and I like making new friends every day.
I am happy to say that this job pays fairly well, and I’ve already saved half of my budget towards my thru-hike since I started there in mid January. By the time my start date rolls around, I should be sitting pretty.
I get paid every week, which is convenient for saving and getting the things I need for my adventure. Here’s a breakdown of my finances per week, and where it goes:
- I put at least half of my paycheck into my savings account, which is strictly for my trail expenses.
- I save a bit of money for a new piece of gear that I need. For example: I needed to replace my sleeping bag, and a new ultralight bag was around $400. I saved $100 per week for a month to purchase it.
- I shop the sales at my local supermarkets for deals on food for my resupply boxes, make a list and set a budget for the food I need on trail. If Cliff Bars are on sale for $1 or less each, I might spend around $30 stockpiling them to put in my boxes.
- I live frugally, and the rest of my weekly pay goes to groceries needed for the week, transportation, and the occasional outing to the brewery with my friends. I don’t live on a Top Ramen diet by any means, and actually eat pretty healthy and well for my budget. Again, it’s all about shopping the sales at the supermarket.
Resupply Food Budget
My strategy for my resupply is a combination of things. I’ve been stockpiling protein bars, tuna packets, pasta, rice, chocolate and nut butters for a few months and lovingly packing them away into USPS Flat Rate boxes. I pay special attention to their expiration dates, and try to purchase items that don’t go out until after October (about when I expect to wrap up my hike).
I’ve also been dehydrating my own meals, therefore I shop for ingredients that are on sale and will work well in the dehydrator. Just last week, I did a batch of marinara sauce, mushrooms and Morning Star ‘crumbles’. I was able to make up several packages of instant Spaghetti Bolognese with these ingredients, with each serving costing me around $1. This is a much healthier option than my former go-to of Knorr Sides.
I find that prepping is easier and less stressful to do over the course of a few months instead of trying to do all the shopping, dehydrating and assembling just weeks or days before my departure. It also gives me peace of mind that I packed everything that I need to get by with for that particular stretch of trail, and I probably haven’t forgotten to include anything important.
Cutting Costs on Gear
Gear is always such a costly factor in my adventures. Thankfully, finding discounted clothes is fairly easy, it just takes a little time and effort. I bought almost all of my hiking attire for this year’s hike from REI garage. This includes my shirt, bra, shorts, rain mitts, baseball cap, beanie, and sleep clothes (wool long underwear and socks). If you don’t mind some funky mismatched colors in your wardrobe, then this is a great way to save some cash on gear that is going to be absolutely wrecked by the time you finish.
I also bought my ultralight sleeping bag when the REI Dividend and members discount rolled around, saving me a good chunk of change. I did, however, pay full price for my ultralight rain jacket from Outdoor Research, 3 pairs of Darn Tough socks (I’m super particular about fit), my four pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trail runners, and my shelter from Six Moons Designs.
I will be doing a detailed gear post soon, so stay tuned! And thanks again for everyone’s continued support as I hike another long-ass trail. Also, a very special thanks to those who have made a contribution to my campaign with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. You’re helping to save lives and raise awareness about mental health in your communities!
If you’re interested in further reading about resupply boxes along the PCT, please check out my post ‘Anatomy of a PCT Resupply Box’ for some insight as to what to pack and how to use the USPS to your advantage along the trail!
Happy trails, and I’ll see you out there PCT Class of 2018!
P.S. If you’re interested in following my journey, please follow my blog: If you’re on a PC, you’ll find the following options to the right on this post (scroll up). If you’re on a smartphone, click the arrow at the top and choose how you’d like to follow (see below)! Cheers!