How I saved money to thru hike

 

To me the most unacceptable reason for failing to be able to complete a thru hike was and still is money.  Running out of money is a failure.  People hate the word failure these days.  That’s why I used it.  It’s uncomfortable, and definitive.  By speaking straight we will understand the importance of it.

Money is something we can actually control ahead of time.  We get to pick our launch date, including the year.  That makes it a choice and controllable.  We choose to show up to hike.  Other factors do contribute, but the choice is ours in the end.  Thru hiking costs money, a lot of it.  According to the ATC website “Most hikers spend an average of about $1,000 a month during the hike itself.”  If that’s the average per month, and the average thru hike duration is 6 months, $6,000 is a great place to start.  I’ll say I planned to complete the AT in 4.5 months, actually finished in 5 and budgeted for 6.  So I budgeted $6,000 for my on trail expenses and arrived happily to Maine with a few pesos left in the piggy bank.  I did not go without while on the trail.  I had purchased my gear using separate money so this isn’t factored into my $6,000, aside from 3 additional pairs of trail runners I needed.

In 2015 after not being able to seal the deal for a job in Montana after several rounds of interviews and one red eye flight, I was heartbroken.  So I almost set out to hike the AT in 2015 after saving for just a few months.  But I didn’t feel confident I had enough money saved up yet.  So I postponed it until April of 2016.  I can not recommend this enough.  The trail will be there for you, but you have to prepare yourself first.

How did I save the money?  First I asked myself how committed to this am I?  What am I willing to give up?  The answer was simply if I want to change my life in the future, it has to start right now.

Every year thousands of bright eyed hopefuls step foot on the AT to begin their 2,000 mile migration north, or south, or both.  Then year after year typically around late March or April it happens.  The spring blossom of GoFundMyVacation campaigns pop up on Facebook groups and newsfeeds.  Sorry to break it to everyone but unless you’re being paid to hike, you are on a vacation.  No matter how noble the intentions.  I wasn’t being paid so that made it the greatest vacation of my life.  I’m already planning for my PCT thru hike in 2018.  Including saving money and giving up free time, and luxuries to make it happen.  Here’s a few things that helped me make it happen on the AT.  As opposed to spamming groups and bugging everyone out there to just send me money. I recognize and appreciate the free market ideology.  As for me and most of the folks I have spoken to, people are getting sick and tired of GoFundMe.com being used for gear and spending money for vacations.

Here’s how I did it, and you can too.

My entire life revolved around a single spreadsheet.  I checked it every day, sometimes numerous times.  This spreadsheet had gear lists, gear I needed to buy, manufacturers I contacted asking for deals, items I already owned.  It was also the key to staying on budget, I tracked every penny of my money coming and going.  I also had every known expense from the time I started saving until April of 2016.  My rent and utilities, car payment, insurance, student loan, credit card, grocery and gas allotments but most importantly my monthly trail savings goal.  I broke each paycheck down by what bill was due.  The first thing I did on payday was take that paychecks savings and move it to a separate bank account.  I opened a Bluebird account and essentially hid my money from myself.  I still use this account for my adventure savings.  There were times I could only move $10, but I still did it.  There were other times when my bills were paid and I had food at the house I moved the rest of my entire paycheck to the trail savings account.  (If you want to use the same spreadsheet, shoot me an email and I will send it to you for free since it was free to me.)

In order to take 6 months off of work, you gotta put the hours in ahead of time.  I’m a firm believer in the rich man’s secret of having multiple streams of income.  I worked a corporate job during the week and worked part time on the weekends.  I hustled nonstop and lost sleep to make this dream a reality.  There are so many things you can do to make extra money.  Make things to sell online, work at an outdoors store, just get a part time job.  Working the standard 40-50 hours a week is going to be hard to fill up the slush fund.  It’s not gonna cut it when you want 6 months of free time.  If you can’t make time to work a part time job, you certainly can’t find 6 months of free time to go hiking.

Buying and selling used gear is a great way to not only figure out what works, but also save money.  This week I sold 2 backpacks, my tent, a hammock, a stove and some other miscellaneous camping gear and made $550.  I honestly could have sold it for more.  In 3 hours I sold all that stuff on Facebook.  That’s half a month of hiking from gear I wasn’t even going to use anymore.  There are a ton of fleamarket groups on Facebook just for hiking gear.  Some are better than others, join them all and post gear you don’t use on them.  Or buy your gear on there and try it out.  If it doesn’t work, resell it.  This goes for anything in your house.  If you don’t use it, sell it otherwise it’s going to cost you each month to store it while you are away.

What luxury expenses can you rid your life of to save money?  Maybe your cell phone(even just a plan downgrade)?  How about cable TV?  Can you cut other utility expenses?  Going out to dinner too often?  What about going out to the bar?  How about buying booze for the house? Booze, bar tabs, and restaurant bills alone will destroy your trail savings.  You must ask yourself how committed you are to doing this.

All of this being said there is going to be the naysayers talking about the exception to the rule.  Folks hiking the entire trail on a $2000 shoestring budget.  A friend of mine hiked it for $3400, including gear, food, off trail expenses etc.  He’s a very frugal man!  Yes it can be done, I won’t deny that.  But the RULE is called the rule for a reason.  It’s been proven to work time and time again by successful thru hikers.  I asked myself “Do I want to be part of the 80% of unsuccessful thru hikers, or do I want to enjoy the trail, the people, the towns, the zero day in Harpers Ferry tubing down the river with my 4 newest best friends?”  The answer was simple, I won’t fail because of money.

What about the person with a mortgage or a spouse?  How about folks with children?  A now great friend of mine sold his home and took a leave from his job to thru hike.  Another one waited years until his contract with his employer was up.  Planning the entire time for his day to step foot on Springer. Yet another moved back in with their parents(don’t judge) temporarily.  What about getting another roommate or downsizing your apartment?  It will help prepare you for living in a tent!

With all the information out there about saving money to take off for 6 months it all boils down to 1 single thing.  Asking ourselves one simple question.  The same question I asked myself during my planning process.

How committed to this am I?

 

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Comments 4

  • Lucky : Mar 30th

    “I would love to hike the trail, but I never could…” was my least favorite thing to hear on trail, generally followed by belly aching about a job, or a family… etc. They were making the choice, conscious or not to not hike the trail because their life priorities were not hiking a long trail. If you prioritized having children, or you prioritized your career, or you prioritized… xyz… It’s a lot less likely you are going to be thru-hiking a long trail. Nothing wrong with making those things a priority over thru-hiking, I just hated hearing that from ~privileged~ people (aka, not living paycheck to paycheck/in poverty) that they couldn’t do it because they were so burdened by the things they chose to prioritize. Responsibilities to families and children are serious things, they should indeed be priorities. I have prioritized hiking over having a family and children at this time in my life, this gives me the flexibility to be able to prioritize hiking over other things, like going to SE Asia (which is like, really popular with the bay area techies right now). Thru-hiking is a privilege, and if you are not making a thru-hike a priority, it ain’t happening. Too many people aren’t real with themselves about what they have prioritized. A big sign of what you’ve prioritized is where you are spending your money. Thanks for writing this article! Maybe it will save us from one more GoFundMe link on our collective facebook feeds!

    Reply
  • Christine Taylor : Mar 31st

    Thank you for the great article. People need to know what it takes. With this sort of planning and commitment you are sure to make it to the end.

    I planned and prepared for 4 years. My children are grown, husband was unsupportive of the hike. After trying to change his mind for a year and a half I left him and moved to Calgary. I rented a room and got a full time job. I lived very frugally, always did really. I saved my money for the hike. I purchased all my gear. I trained in the mountains on days off. I flew back home to a much changed husband. We drove to Georgia together and I was off. He become the head of my fan club. I successfully completed my dream Sept 21 2016. It was the best thing I ever did. The hike was 159 days, but it really was 4 years:)

    Reply
    • Eric adda : Apr 4th

      What an inspiring story. We need more people like you.

      Reply
  • Katie : Apr 6th

    Dylan,

    Would it be possible for you to send me a copy of your spreadsheet? I would greatly appreciate it!

    Reply

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