Posted on August 28 2019
There’s no doubt that hiking the PCT requires money. How much money do you need to thru-hike? That’s debatable. I can tell you that PCT thru-hikers spend an average of $1-$2 per mile to hike and another $500 - $1,000+ for gear swaps/replacement excluding shoes. That’s the cost ON trail. Before the trail, thru-hikers report spending $1k-$3k on gear. As you can see, hiking the PCT is not cheap and can become quiet expensive. Below are 5 cost saving tips for your upcoming PCT thru-hike.
TIP #5: DO YOUR RESEARCH - In your research you should learn about the environments you will travel through, the challenges associated with those environments, and how you can best prepare for them. You should learn about as many different types of gear as possible and the pros and cons of each of them. You should think about what type of food you will eat on trail and if you feel comfortable buying along the trail vs mailing resupply boxes. Research can play a big role in how much you end up spending on your entire trip from the gear you purchase before, upgrades you make on trail, and all the money spent in town along the way. When you have done your research you are more informed and better prepared to make your most difficult decisions - what tent, sleeping bag, and backpack will you need.
TIP #4: DON'T BUY EXTRA GEAR- I see it every year. Hikers go to their local outdoor store and are told they NEED all these “extra” things. “What if (fill in the blank) happens? You should to be prepared!” they try and tell you. “Oh, you have to have this too. I never go backpacking without it, and it’s so comfortable!” They continue. The cost keep adding up and they end up selling you way more than you planned. Know that the vast majority of these people have never spent 5 months walking in the wilderness. Mostly they’ve done a 1-2 week trip if that. Some may not have ever done any backpacking, they just sell the gear. They have no idea what it’s like to be a thru-hiker and how little you need to actually hike big miles every day and be safe, warm, and comfortable. If you’ve done your research, you know what you don’t need and hopefully have narrowed it down to what you do need.
TIP #3: OPTIMIZE YOUR RESUPPLIES - The debate: buy in town or resupply along the trail. Here are a few considerations. If you are a serious foodie or have dietary restrictions you probably want to send yourself boxes. If you are an average hiker who isn’t super picky about what you eat, plan to purchase most of your food along the trail. You’ll still need to make boxes for a few places, but this can be done on the trail and is a good option for international hikers or others who don’t have someone at home to send them boxes. Also, if you purchase food along the trail you buy exactly what you need and want for the upcoming section. You get to make food choices based on your appetite and you won’t dump half of your resupply box into the hiker box then purchase the food you really want eat. Additionally, you’ll never spend more time in town waiting on box that’s late or got lost. Determining the resupply strategy that is best for you will help you save money on wasted food along the trail.
TIP #2: BUY ULTRALIGHT GEAR - I know, you’re on a budget and it’s more expensive. Here’s the truth. Investing in ultralight or lightweight gear will actually save you money on your thru-hike. Here’s how!
~ You won’t buy gear twice - No one thinks they will actually buy more gear once they begin the trail. The truth is most hikers swap something and many swap one of the big 3 - tent, sleeping bag, or backpack in the first couple hundred miles. Gasp! It sounds insane, until you actually began walking 15-20 miles a day every single day knowing you will be doing this for the next 5 months, not just this week or next week or even for another month. This is real now. 5 months of carrying all your essentials on your back is a serious endeavor that you’re reminded of every step you take and every time you lift your backpack to put it on your back. Suddenly the 4 lb tent is heavy, the 5 lb backpack isn’t that comfortable, the 3 lb sleeping bag isn’t worth the extra weight. And once you start hiking you see so many others carrying lighter gear that is just as functional as your heavier items and you decide that you’d like to have lighter weight gear too because…
~ You’ll get fewer injuries - You’ve trained and have never been injured before so you think this doesn’t apply to you. Getting injured is one of the top 3 reasons thru-hikers leave the trail. Being injured on trail is expensive, very very expensive. You’re spending money on lodging and probably eating 2-3 meals a day at a restaurant. The cost adds up quickly. Unlike at home where you can take days or weeks off from training and continue working you don’t have that same luxury while thru-hiking. If you end up spending even 5 days injured on your thru-hike with an average cost of $100/day in town that’s a full $500 you could spend on gear that makes you comfortable EVERYDAY for 5 months! It’s best to avoid or reduce injuries from the get go and buying ultralight gear is a good way to start. With less weight on your back you’ll have less wear and tear on your aching body and your chance of injury will go down; your chance of completing the trail also goes up. This does not mean that you should hike without critical items just to keep the weight down. This means you should invest in lighter weight gear to begin with. Having fewer injuries also means…
~ You’ll be more comfortable on the trail and therefore spend less time in town. Think of it this way. If you are comfortable hiking and living in your shelter, if your backpack is light enough that you don’t dread picking it up after every break, if you aren’t injured, then what are town stops for? They are for resupplying, showering, charging electronics, washing clothes, and hopefully making a few phone calls. You won’t need to nurse injuries and delay getting back on trail carrying your miserably heavy backpack. All this adds up to lots of money saved when you consider the average town stop costs $100 excluding groceries. And lastly, if you are carrying ultralight gear…
~ You don’t need as much food - How’s that? With less weight on your back you actually cover more miles each day. If you are walking more miles it decreases how much food you need to carry between resupplies. Over 4.5-5.5 months, this can add up to hundreds of dollars you aren’t spending on additional food!
TIP #1: SPEND LESS TIME IN TOWN - By far the most expensive part of thru-hiking is being in town. This is where ALL your money gets spent. You need groceries which are unavoidable unless you mailed yourself a box. You will also eat at restaurants, stay in a motel/hostel, do laundry, swap gear, etc. Minimizing time in town is by far the easiest way to trim money from your hiking budget. Here’s how you do it!
~ Camp close to town, but not in town unless you know of free camping like in Warner Springs, Idyllwild ($3/night), Tehachapi ($5/night), Lone Pine, etc. I often camped 3-5 miles before town so I could arrive in the morning and do my chores and return to the trail in the afternoon avoiding costly lodging and additional restaurant meals.
~ Make town time efficient! Get in, do your chores, and get out! I was able to get in and out of numerous towns in a handful of hours. I’d arrive, shower, eat, plug my electronics in somewhere safe, do laundry, organize my resupply, repack, and hitch back to the trail after a short call home. Sometimes I’d simply do laundry on trail in a couple of gallon ziplock bags when I was in a place with plenty of water. I’d rinse everything out a couple times, then add a little soap to the washing, then do a final rinse. It took me approximately 3 gallons of water and about half an hour or so of good scrubbing to do this.
~ Restaurants get very expensive very fast. If you are staying in town consider purchasing food from the market instead of a restaurant. Or at least purchase 1 meal from the market and 1 from the restaurant. It’s hard to think about hiking the entire trail without enjoying some meals in restaurants. Once hiker hunger kicks in, you’ll be ordering 2 entrees instead of one. A good way to reduce this is to buy a bag of salad from the grocery store and eat that before going out to eat. This helped me to keep my budget down and gave me a big boost of veggies to boot. That single bag of salad saved me more than $10/restaurant meal.
If you implement even a couple of these strategies you’ll end of saving hundreds of dollars on your thru-hike. If you implement all of these strategies you could easily save a $1,000 or more. Take your time when preparing for your hike, do your research, buy the absolute best gear you can afford and know that it will save you $100’s over the course of your 5-month journey.