Cost Analysis of an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
Friday, January 6, 2017 12:48 pm

What’s an Appalachian Trail thru-hike cost? While it’s very possible to do a low-cost hike, mine wasn’t. While starting somewhat price-consciously, the final three states destroyed my budget. Read on to find out why.


Expenses Breakdown Graph
Category Cost Per Day Per Mile
Gear $3,401.35 $19.22 $1.55
Food $4,364.76 $24.66 $1.99
Lodging $2,608.17 $14.74 $1.19
Travel $849.57 $4.80 $0.39
Other $484.69 $2.74 $0.22
Total $11,708.54 $66.15 $5.35

Various internet sources cite Appalachian Trail thru-hikes as averaging between $1 and $4 per mile. My hike cost nearly $12,000, which means that at a whopping $5.35 per mile, I won’t win any awards for frugal spending. Even excluding gear, I spent $8,307.19 ($3.80/mile), which is still on the high end. (And this doesn’t include other expenses, such as health insurance or upkeep on my home.)

I spent just over $3,400 on gear ($19.22/day, $1.55/mile). Although I could likely have gotten some or all of my gear for cheaper, I was constrained in that I had to buy everything in the month and a half between when I decided to go on the trail, and when I left for Springer Mountain. This left little opportunity to take advantage of sales or discounts.

The cost of gear includes the equipment I started with, and a few pieces of additional or replacement equipment along the way. To make the rest of the numbers more comparable, I’m not including gear in the per-section breakdowns.

“Food” includes all combined food purchases. I kept track of three categories of food expenses: “groceries” (food purchased specifically at a supermarket); restaurants (including food delivery), and “convenience” stores (outfitters, gas stations, trail-side ice cream stands, vending machines, and everything else).

Fuel canisters and insect repellant, the only non-food consumables I had on the trail, are unfortunately spread over the Gear and Food categories depending on where I bought them. Being a relatively tiny expense, this doesn’t affect the rest of the analysis much.

“Lodging” includes primarily hostels and hotels, with a few campgrounds as well.

“Travel” is transportation to and from the trail. This includes the train ride to Gainesville, GA, gas and tolls for the drive back home, a couple of taxi rides, and slackpacking shuttles.

“Other” includes laundry, the Smokies permit, ATC and AMC membership, the Hiker Yearbook, and a few other expenses that didn’t fall into any other category.

To the extent feasible, bills that included multiple categories (e.g. food and a fuel canister at WalMart; or a bunk, food, and a shuttle at a hostel) were split as appropriate.

Understanding the cost of my hike is best done by splitting the trail into three major sections:

  • Springer Mountain through Harpers Ferry
  • Harpers Ferry through Mount Greylock, Massachusetts
  • Mount Greylock through Katahdin

Springer Mountain to Harpers Ferry

CategoryCostPer DayPer Mile

The first section of trail, covering “the south” up through Harpers Ferry, took 82 days over 1022.2 miles (12.5 miles/day). At $2,737.14 ($33.38/day, $2.68/mile), this section of trail was my most cost-efficient.

Transportation costs this section were largely getting from home to Springer Mountain, so are slightly higher than the next section.

The only surprise here was my $1100 restaurant bill, which was way higher than I expected. This brought my food cost up to $1.80/mile, which is a bit high. A big portion of this (and the lodging cost) were due to one unexpected and expensive hotel stay, and a couple of unplanned zeroes.

All things considered, though, I’m happy with the cost of this section of the trail.

Harpers Ferry to Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

CategoryCostPer DayPer Mile

This section of the trail, 563.7 miles in 43 days (13.1 miles/day), is, I think, largely representative of “the north”. Maryland through Massachusetts cost $2,090 ($48.60/day, $3.71/mile).

Lodging costs almost quadrupled here, due to my three-night stay in Harpers Ferry, and two unexpected stays in Danielsville, PA and Greenwood Lake, NY, all of which cost over $100/night.

Food costs were down slightly in this section ($1.71/mile), which seems surprising, since the north is generally more expensive than the south. I attribute this to purchasing less food from convenience stores and outfitters. In particular, I stopped buying dehydrated meals. Though they provided a nice change of pace, they’re very expensive compared to my usual fare.

Had lodging expenses not skyrocketed, this section of trail would have cost very comparably to the south. Harpers Ferry was a planned indulgence, and the expensive hotel stays in PA and NY were truly unexpected and unwanted, but the only way out of otherwise problematic situations. So with that in mind, I’m not unhappy with this section’s cost.

Mount Greylock to Katahdin

CategoryCostPer DayPer Mile

The final 603.2 miles (52 days; 11.6 miles/day) of the Appalachian Trail, through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, destroyed any semblance of budgeting, and would be hard to compare to anyone else’s thru-hike due to its unusual nature. I participated in an continuous 432-mile car- and hostel-supported slackpack from Mount Greylock through the Bigelows in Stratton, Maine, with the first 15 miles of the Hundred Mile Wilderness thrown in for good measure.

Slackpacking nearly 450 miles significantly increased transportation, lodging, and food costs well above what they would have been. As a result, this was by far the most expensive section of trail, costing $3,480 ($66.93/day, $5.77/mile), more than double the per-mile cost of the southern part of my thru-hike. (Inexpensive hiking is clearly not part of the “Slackpack Guarantee”.)

Transportation costs increased by a factor of five, mainly due to expensive hostel-supported slackpacking in Andover, Rangeley, Stratton, and Monson, Maine.

Lodging costs also increased significantly, due to nine zeroes, five of which occurred only because of the extended run of slackpacking. (The low mileage-per-day count is largely a result of the extra zeroes.) Two stays at AMC huts in the White Mountains also contributed to high lodging costs and an AMC membership (included in “other”).

Food costs increased due to higher prices and far more restaurant visits.

From a cost perspective, I’m unhappy with this part of my hike. Aside from the Whites, where lower pack weight made the steep mountains much more bearable, I’m not convinced the long stretch of slackpacking truly helped out my hike. To a great extent, the stretch from Andover to Stratton was unnecessary; I was largely trying to both extend my continuous slackpacking miles streak and avoid having to do town resupply runs. While the terrain was somewhat rugged, it was not so bad that it called for continuous slackpacking, and because of the road distances and other logistical considerations, I did fewer miles several of those days than I otherwise would have. Slacking the first section of the Hundred Mile Wilderness was especially wasteful and unnecessary.

Final Thoughts

Expenses Per Mile Graph


I was generally very happy with the equipment I purchased, and while it may have been on the pricy side, I have no real complaints about cost. Since I can re-use substantially all of it, any future hike will have a lower up-front cost.

It’s likely that with more time to prepare, I could have reduced equipment cost to around $3,000, if not lower.


Grocery expenses between the three sections were roughly the same; it was only my restaurant habit, especially in the north, that made the food expenses so high.

I’m not convinced that building up a cache of food to send via mail drops would have netted a cost savings in grocery expenses. At 43 cents/mile, groceries weren’t terribly expensive, so any reduction in groceries would likely be eaten in postage, and excess food could quickly have become problematic.

Lodging & Travel & Slackpacking

Slackpacking the north destroyed my budget, and added a lot of logistical issues that slowed the hike down and took some of the fun out of it. I’m still a fan of slackpacking when it makes sense, but I did a lot where it didn’t, and my wallet paid the price.

Final Final Thoughts

Laundry was cheap, almost a rounding error at $47, just over two cents per mile.

A bit more prudence would have cut my non-equipment expenses in half. Had my entire hike cost as much per mile as the section south of Harpers Ferry, it would have been $2,500 less (about $5,900 sans-equipment). Even fewer restaurants and hotels could easily have brought that down to less than $4,000. Factoring equipment back in, a $7,000 total cost would be possible, without being intensely frugal.

I learned a lot on this hike — both what I liked, and what I didn’t. That’s all going to play into whatever my next hike is, especially with keeping costs down.