Number Crunching: Thru-Hike Budget Breakdown (Part 2!)
Do you love numbers, charts, and explanations of things? Do you aspire to take detailed data about your thru-hike and mine it for gems of information? You’ve come to the right place! This is a sequel to my last post, which contained all sorts of information about the data I tracked during my hike. If you’re planning a thru-hike, or plan on reading the post below, I would recommend taking a look. In my biased opinion, it has useful information and does provide context for all the information I share below. Without further adieu, behold: the analysis of how I spent all my money in less than 5 months!
As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the spreadsheets I created was to track our daily miles and ending locations. When I started to clean up this data and looks for interesting trends, I combined Tennessee and North Carolina because there’s a lot of walking on the border of these states, and going back and forth between the two. So if you see the label “TN/NC”, that’s why.
Total miles walked: 2,189.1
Longest day: 30 miles
Total zero mile days: 12
Straight average of miles per day: 15
Average miles hiked per day, for each state
As you can see, we started out trying to take it easy. Then it was really cold and we were worried about “the big bubble” so we picked up the pace. I find it pretty ironic that New York, the state where we vowed to slow down and enjoy our hike more, is the state where our average miles were the highest. Also pretty funny to see what a hit our miles took in New Hampshire. The Whites are no joke!
Note: I left out West Virginia and a couple other states that had very few miles in them for data clarity purposes.
Days spent in each state, versus trail miles in that state
There’s a lot going on in this chart, but I think it’s worth showing. The gray bars are the number of days spent in each state. These are represented as a percentage of our total days on the trail, to normalize with the mileage. The green bars are the number of miles of the trail included in that state. Once again, these are represented as a percent of the total trail miles to compare the data more easily. So, all of Virginia’s 550 miles becomes 25%.
Any states where the gray lines are longer than the green lines in this chart means we took our time in that state, relatively speaking. West Virginia is a good example of this. It only boasts 8 trail miles, but look at all the time we spent there! That’s because we had an epic Memorial Day holiday there with some fellow hikers. Conversely, look at Tennessee/North Carolina. We flew through! Why? Snow in the Smokies. We wanted out of there as quickly as possible.
Zero mile and low mile days, by month
I don’t care who you are, sometimes you have to be lazy. As a hiker, that means taking a zero. We took 12 glorious zero days on the trail. There were an additional 20 days that we hiked 10 miles or less. Although everyone should hike their own hike, and their definition of “low-mile” days might be different, I’m calling our <10 mile days “low mile” days. Here’s a chart that shows the distribution of those days. The yellow represents zero days, and the black represents low mile days.
May was our laziest month. In March, we only took one zero day, but had more low mile days, since we started off at a slower pace.
Alright, I know everybody wants to know about the money side of this adventure. This is the section for you. I’m a strong believer that every hike is unique. You could probably spend $20,000 hiking the Appalachian Trail if you really wanted to, but people also do it on an extremely tight budget. For this reason, I am going to disappoint everyone and not tell you the exact dollar amount Limbo and I spent on our hike.
However, I will tell you that it ended up being about $26/day. We had a budget we wanted to stick to, and that helped us be slightly more responsible, but we did go over our budget. Our weakness was food. We ate out far more than we should have. There were also a few unexpected gear changes and issues that cost some money. Other people went through their budget due to health issues. Whatever you are budgeting for your hike, just remember you’re basically taking a 4-6 month vacation. Unexpected things happen, and you don’t want running out of money to be your reason for leaving the trail. I highly recommend this post for some great budget advice.
- Most expensive states, and why:
- Virginia– Length of the state, my birthday weekend in Damascus, gear purchases, and a visit from family
- Tennessee/North Carolina
- Most expensive month:
- May – Gear purchases
- Most expensive trail towns (excluding gear):
- Damascus, Virginia – As mentioned above, we spent a full weekend here and splurged on lodging and a couple extra meals because it was my birthday
- Dalton, Massachusetts – We splurged last minute on a hotel and, if I’m being honest, a bottle of liquor…
- The town we ate the most in:
- Millinocket, Maine – Post-trail celebration food and beverages!
- The lodging we spent the most on:
- The Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, Georgia – Both Limbo and I got the thru-hiker special, which included a ride to the hostel, a private room, buffet-style breakfast, and a ride to Amicolola Falls State Park to start the trail. Funny that we spent the most money before we even were on the trail, but worth every penny.
- Average food cost per person, per day (resupply only):
- About $9
Expenses by budget categories
The chart below was provided in my previous post, but I wanted to post a refresher below. As you can see, our largest expense was Food Resupply. That just means the food we ate while actually out on the trail. This makes sense. Hikers need to eat a lot of calories. And anyway, what else would you be spending money on when you’re walking 20 miles a day?
Food costs: more details
Since buying food was our biggest expense, I think it’s worth looking at some particulars about that expense. My goal was to stay under $10 per person per day. That’s still a lot more than I spend on food in day-to-day existence, but I felt it was reasonable given that trail towns often have slightly higher food costs and that we would need to be consuming at least double what we would be consuming at home. The table below shows our average food costs, rounded to the nearest dollar. We started out strong but our costs rose rapidly. June was our most expensive month in terms of resupply, but May was the month that we splurged the most on eating out. This makes sense, as demonstrated above by the distribution of our zero days.
It was interesting to see our food cost drop again in Maine. We were pretty hungry in Maine – we knew we were low on budget, and we were getting burned out on a lot of the trail food. We opted not to resupply in the 100 mile wilderness, so we skimped on food.
Miles walked versus food consumed
I was hoping that there would be a nice correlation between food and the miles we walked. I fully expected that the states and months we walked more, we ate more. This wasn’t exactly the case, as shown below. April was the month we pushed ourselves the most physically, but our food cost did not represent that. To me, that’s a perfect illustration why I was feeling pretty down coming into Damascus on April 8th. The hiker hunger had started to kick in, but we hadn’t adjusted our diet accordingly. It was cold and we were hiking a lot to keep warm, but we weren’t taking care of ourselves.
Conversely, this chart demonstrates how easy it is to spend more money when you are taking zero days. Our food costs spiked in May and June, the two months when we spent the most time in towns.
I just want to reiterate again how much I recommend keeping track of at least some aspects of a thru-hike. It was really fun to put this post together. Some of the data was surprising! In terms of the data collection and analysis overall, the key takeaways for me were:
- Budget more! As I mentioned above, unexpected needs may arise that require additional funds.
- Plan to eat A LOT. And even when you do start eating more, you’ll still feel hungry.
- No matter how much you perfect your pre-trail gear choices, you won’t really know how you feel about your gear until you are on the trail.
And last but not least, as always, remember to enjoy the walk. If keeping a journal or tracking miles and money isn’t your thing, don’t do it! A thru-hike is a personal journey that should reflect what you find important. For me, having this data to look back on added even more value to the experience. Being able to look back on miles we hiked or towns we stopped in connects to memories I made on the trail. I think most people will agree that a thru-hike is an experience worth remembering in as much detail as possible.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.