Appalachian Trail Prep: Affording Our 2023 Thru-Hike

Welcome back friends! I doubt I’m alone in wondering how people afford a lengthy thru-hike…

They say that it costs a hiker an average of $1000 per month to backpack the Appalachian Trail. This number might have to be adjusted to account for inflation, but the cost includes resupplies, town food, gear replacements/changes, lodging, laundry, showers, shuttles and various incidentals.

During a hike, one is not likely earning money. Homeowners, such as Paul and myself, also have the expenses of a household to cover. Lack of funds prevent many people from doing things they would like to do and is one of the leading reasons that thru-hikers leave the trail early.

We were already financially preparing, before the AT was even “a twinkle in our little eyes”.

I had just entered my thirties when I decided to quit my full-time job and complete my bachelor’s degree. Paul and I had been living together for a few years and we took the leap into joining our finances. We considered how we spent money and how to pare down expenses. So we created a budget, had weekly finance meetings, scrutinized purchases, canceled subscriptions and even went a few years without the internet.

It was painful at first.

It was also one of the smartest choices we have collectively made, affecting many aspects of our life. No more going out to eat meant developing our cooking skills and preparing more healthful meals at home. During the warm months we cultivated a garden in our small yard and worked a few hours per week at a local organic farm in exchange for fresh produce.

Aside from the cost of gasoline, hiking was a free activity and packed lunches with new areas to explore encouraged longer hikes. There were neighborhood walks, game nights and we took full advantage of our local library.

Another side-effect of this financial decision was that we started wanting less stuff.

Life became more simplified.

When I returned to work we continued to live just as frugally and used additional income to pay off debt.

More material things fell away… My older car died, so we decided to make one car work. Instead of upgrading our cell phones we shifted to sharing one – that’s right, we share one phone.

I got really good at haggling with our insurance agent annually to lower our premiums. The freed up money snowballed until one day we were debt free!

Since there was no reason to ramp up expenditures we’ve been saving money ever since. We didn’t know exactly what we were saving for but imagined it was so that we could feel secure or fund our retirement.

But what is security other than the illusion of control?

I’m 40 years old and Paul is 34, both a long way off from “traditional” retirement. What feels more important than continuing to save money is indulging this strong desire to thru-hike the AT. It seems we set the stage for this chapter through decisions we began making ten years ago.

We have saved enough money to cover our estimated costs on the trail, our household while we are away, and to offer ourselves a bit of a cushion upon our return as we shimmy back into earning money. We do not know our future, but as long as we are motivated by joy and the process feels natural I trust we will move in the right direction.

Oh, remember how I preached about wanting less stuff? Well, life is filled with delightful contradictions, so next time I will share with you our current gear choices for the AT!

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Comments 2

  • Dogwood : Dec 2nd

    Whiteblaze has an exhaustive in depth number of articles, threads, posts and comprehensive discussion on affording thru hikes and LASHes than any other source either written or digital I’m aware of that can be applied to any trail. It was a topic question that arose frequently.

    • Laura Budde : Dec 3rd

      Thank you for the information, Dogwood!


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