How Much Does a Thru-Hike Cost? (No, Not Money)

There were 100 reasons not to take 5 months off of work at a moment’s notice. That would be ridiculous! It was already well into February. The AT was still more of a far-off concept than anything I’d actually read into or researched. I’d spent most my life getting where I was. Why do the hike now?

Fast forward – I asked for five months off and got it. I got trail-ready in four weeks. I got dropped off at Amicalola and eventually made my way to Katahdin. Taking those five months off was the best decision I’ve ever made.

AT Hike (35)

People often ask how much it costs to do a thru-hike. I’ve heard an average of $1,500 up front for gear and $1,000/month during the trail. That seems pretty accurate.

So it costs money. But, what else does it cost?

What kind of person trades a half year of dependable income for half a year of freedom? Who gives up a half year of being with friends and family? Saying good bye to boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses (and pets!). I don’t hear as much about the intangible cost of thru-hiking, but it probably far exceeds $1,500 up front and $1,000 per month.

Detaching from society comes at the cost of detaching from society.

Every aspiring thru-hiker accepts some form of trade-off before their first step on the trail. We all have to or we wouldn’t find ourselves there.

One of my best moments on the trail came in the first few days when I was making oatmeal alone near a ditch off the side of a road. I stopped to think about what I was doing. In that ditch, I was so far removed from everything I’d spent my whole life working toward – a house, living in a cool city, all my incredible friends, a decent job. My brother moved to the same city I was living in while I was gone and I missed it. I had flaked out on plans I’d made with people prior to the trail. I missed a wedding. I wouldn’t knock off any Colorado 14ers.

In that moment, making oatmeal by myself in a ditch, there were no regrets.

Evening oatmeal

Photo by LHOON / CC BY

And after finishing the thru-hike, I still had no regrets about what I missed out on back home. Thru-hiking altered my mindset.

Before you find yourself alone and making your own oatmeal in a ditch, you have already accepted that you’re going to miss out on treasured moments at home, normalcy, predictability, and life in general for six months. That’s the real price of hiking the Appalachian Trail. The only way to find out if it’s worth it is to do it.

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Comments 3

  • Brian whidden : Jul 16th

    Great post, I was waiting for someone to write about the “real costs” of thru hiking the AT. Excellent read.

  • Michael : Jul 25th

    Way over priced gear to start got everything on eBay tent sleeping bag service dogs backpack water purifiers first aid compass and GPS all for 800 food price is crazy to oatmeal cost 1.50 abox you not eating a box a day

  • dillon : Sep 22nd

    whats is all that money going on if you live in a tent ?


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