Financing a Thru Hike (a proactively lazy way)

The anti-procrastination lazy effect: do the bare minimum now so you don’t have to do much later.

If you’re like me, you’ve been saving up money forever to thru hike the AT. Just kidding, you probably really are just like me if you’re reading this post and suddenly decided to just do it.

Or maybe you really have made thru hiking the Appalachian Trail your life goal for a long time coming. I don’t know.

Either way you kind of have to figure out how you will financially handle it. The expenses are not the same for everybody. Here I’ll vaguely lay out how I am budgeting for my thru hike which you probably should not use as you’re own guide.

The thing is, the $1-2 per mile rule of thumb only gives you a rough estimate if you have no other expenses besides food, transportation, lodging, and small miscellaneous expenses for 6 months.

It does not include the costs you need to account for before you even step onto the trail nor does it cover unexpected problems. You can spend less if you’re thrifty or you can spend more before you even know it. But some expenses are constant and you need to be able to pay the bills once you get off the trail as well.

I’m not telling you how much $$ you need, i’m just giving an example of how I determined what I need to put aside. I’m writing this as if I’m talking to you but really I’m talking to myself. It’s a totally healthy habit to have when you’re going off into the woods by yourself.

Let’s (me) get started – there’s one basic strategy I follow.

Related: Check out The Trek’s “How to Afford a Thru-Hike” ebook

Keep It Simple Stupid

KISS the funds you put aside for whatever you’re planning for and say goodbye. Don’t regret spending money and fretting over it so you can’t enjoy what you’re spending it on. Instead of figuring out the MINIMUM amount the trip will cost, over estimate everything and add it up. Then account for how much more could be afforded. After a brutal estimate, make mental notes on how to save money in any way you can. Just brace for the high end cost and anything you don’t spend is like a rebate. If you can’t afford this overestimated budget, you simply don’t have a safety/backup fund and you should reconsider saving more money before attempting a thru hike.


Instead of just assuming the $1-2 dollar per mile thing will work out, break it down by month. Go big and figure you’ll spend $30 per day on food for example. It’s a huge overestimate if you’re planning your meals smartly and not feasting in towns every day. Add in a budget for lodging or put whatever you don’t spend on that food budget for your hostel stays. This trip isn’t about luxury is it? You have a tent for a reason.

Always have funds ready for miscellaneous costs such as gear replacement, tipping, or paying money to pet a monkey. You never know when you get a once in a lifetime experience offer. That does not mean you should spend it. Add it all up and you should have a ridiculous budget that should be a huge overestimate of what you’ll actually pay. The strategy entails making it ridiculously easy to go under budget and stay there. You’ll rest easier in the long run when you’re not spending money you’ve already mentally committed. This does not work if you’re the type of person who gets excited by finding $20 bucks in your pocket only to immediately spend it.

But you’re not done with budgeting yet. What makes you special? You know to account for gear, transportation, food, hostels/hotels, gear repair/replacement, miscellaneous, and emergency. Add in rent, insurance, repayments, or whatever else you may have going on that doesn’t simply disappear because you are disappearing.

I don’t have to worry about rent, storage costs, or property tax. What I have to account for is student loan repayments, insurance bills (including my car), and add on a extra 3 months just in case I have hard times after finishing the trail. Basically I have already spent over $5,000 here without even starting.

Any prospective thru hikers accumulating student debt, heed the formula STUDYING = STUdent DYING
I don’t know who came up with the formula, but chances are that they died.

You could file for repayment deferments or base your payments on the amount you earn per month instead of a fixed installment and what not. But I’m KISSing it away. I don’t want to deal with the complications including the increased interest I pay overall in the future. I’m just going to leave my direct debit as it is so I don’t have to keep in constant contact or refinance the ordeal once I start working again.

The whole point of budgeting is to make sure you don’t run into problems while you’re in the middle of it. The Appalachian Trail is hard enough, don’t let potential problems take you off the trail when you could have avoided it in the first place.

For example
photo (10)
My cheeks are soooo fwuffy. Your grandma has permission to pinch me.

I decided to get my wisdom teeth yanked out. Got my upper set extracted yesterday.

They were impacted for awhile and none of them had space to come out. I kept them in for years since they didn’t cause me problems. Well 6 months is a long time and my upper wisdom teeth had partially erupted. A potential complication that I resolved by dishing out another grand. Preventative maintenance.

You also have to remember to cancel any memberships you have. I have my rock climbing gym membership and lumosity account to cancel. You may have Netflix, cable, internet, phone, and so on. Don’t forget to shut off the gas and unplug anything electrical.

Contact your credit card company and your bank to let them know you’re being a total weirdo and you’re not being robbed when you’re suddenly making purchases in Georgia. Talk to your doctor and give a heads up you may need a prescription filled at some random town near the trail. I’ve got antibiotics at the ready along with backup epinephrine since I’m deathly allergic to bee stings. If you’re mailing yourself a few packages or will have a bounce box – put some single and five dollar bills in there. Maybe some quarters for laundry.

If you want to get LASIK eye surgery or anything not absolutely necessary, consult your ridiculously over estimated budget. If you can’t afford it at that high standard, you probably shouldn’t get it. Just in case.

KISS you later. I’m going to get fat off ice cream because I’m supposed to sit and watch Werner Herzog documentaries all day.

photo courtesy photobabu

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