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Thru-Hike The Appalachian Trail For 1/3rd The Cost

July 17, 2018

Disclaimer: If you don't know what you're doing - don't do it!  Ecotourism is an inherently dangerous pastime fraught with risks and has proved fatal to even the experienced.  We assume these risks individually.  This is not a "how-to" anything.  This is merely an alternative packing list of inexpensive widely available outdoor equipment that frugal would-be thru-hikers can find in a single visit to Walmart.  This is not an endorsement of any of the mentioned products or of Walmart itself.  Nor is it a suggestion that you personally take a hike or conduct one in any particular manner if you choose to.


Conventional trail wisdom is that the average Appalachian Trail thru-hike costs an individual between $5,000 and $7,000.  $2-$3 a mile and about $750-$1,500 in gear.  Some sources say about $1,000 a month for a 5-7 month trip.  This is like the mall dictating that you triple your holiday spending.


The solution presented here allows for an average Appalachian Trail thru-hike at a cost of $1,500-$2,000.  That's about ¢0.69 a mile for a 6 month hike of 2,182 miles with warmer May-September weather in mind.  A completely disposable outfitting of $400 in gear includes footwear and appropriate non-cotton clothing with about $50 a week allotted for a generous 7-8 day food supply.  More camp food than I'd actually care to carry at once.  Factoring replacement footwear every 500 miles and one hotel room stay per month, or two stays a month with a partner split, laundry and incidentals, the A.T. can be thru-hiked for under or about $1 a mile.  That's a comfy baseline figure well below current market motivated projections.


If you're a GoLight gram-weenie, gear snob, purist, or hiker-chic fashionista stop reading now!


The items are listed in the order in which they appear on the receipts and are divided into three groups: gear, clothes, and food, with pics from the single Walmart shopping visit.  Without further ado the list.




Sleeping Pad* (Cut to size later)

Trekking Poles

Croc-Like Camp Shoes*

1 Person Shelter (Bivy = 3 lbs)*

40°F Sleeping Bag* (WM sells a +?°F liner for $6 = 1/2 lb)

Hikers (Footwear)

Rain Suit*

x2 Sporks (Make a friend happy)*


First Aid Kit*

Fuel (For stove)*

x2 Pots (Ditch x1 - I weighed x1)*

Headlamp w/Batteries*

Paracord Bearline*

x2 Carabiners*

H2O Purification Tabs*

65 Liter Backpack*






Light Long Sleeve Zipping Turtleneck Poly Sweater

Short Sleeve Poly Sport Tee

"Down-Like" Poly Filled Packable Puffy Jacket*

Pocket Knife

Wet Wipes*


Bug Repellent*

Poly Sport Under Bottoms


x6 Pair Socks (Ditch x2)


Poly Pants

x2 LIFEWTR Bottles 23.7 oz ea. (For reuse as canteens)



*Starred items weighed together = 18.2 lbs including H2O for an approx. 15.2 lbs base wt.





Breakfast: x2 oatmeal w/peanut butter, fruit snack bar, coffee & cocoa, chocolate bar


1st Lunch: mashed potatoes, chocolate bar


2nd Lunch: pepperoni and cheese tortilla, chocolate bar


Dinner: Ramen noodles, tuna or salmon w/Tabasco, crackers, juice, chocolate bar





The food in the pics broken down make an 11 lb food bag with 7-8 days of this menu after ditching 1/2 the trail mix and peanut butter.  While this is not a 6,000 calorie day the prevalence of trail magic, feeds, and hiker boxes along the way will doubtlessly augment my diet.  With a sub 20 lb pack that includes H2O even if I carried all 11+ lbs of food I'd still have about a 30 lb pack.  This is my 20 mile a day menu: eat, hike 5 miles, repeat x3, sleep.  I plan on staying hungry.  Also shown are items that are found everywhere on the trail and will be invaluable: a food bag, trash bags for waterproofing, Ziploc baggies, duct tape, a lighter (included on list), and butt wipes.  Tons of food, guidebook pages, and gear are ditched on the trail and can be found in the hostel hiker boxes where laundry and showers are often sold a' la carte.  Work-for-stay?




The most popular guidebooks are around $20 and lead to the almost 100 hostels that average $20-$40 for what's typically a noisy night in a crowded smelly common room on a dirty bunk that's been used literally thousands of times by folks too tired to shower.  In order to save about $2,020 while avoiding norovirus, hantavirus, and all manner of cooties along with the burps, farts, snoring, B.O., and idiocy of drunken frat boys, I skip the books (too heavy), and the bunkhouses.


The White Blaze hostel list shows 115 hostels.  By removing the extra hostels from towns where there are more than one and adding the lowest listed price of the 86 hostels that remain a total of $1,436 is reached.  So for a hiker that hostel hopped the A.T. - stayed at every hostel and always paid the lowest price at each - and spent $1 for each of A.T.'s 2,182 miles the thru-hike would total: $3,618.  Still well below present estimates made by the trail community, but interestingly hostels just about double the actual price of a thru-hike.  Hostels also tend to have chatty know-it-all OCD chaperones chosen for their imposing beards, stink eye powers, and ancient hike histories lurking about that act as bouncers and watch over hikers like clucking den mothers on a fifth grade field trip.  Thus I recommend the roughly 14 (or 28 split calling the rooms $100 ea.) hotel room stays this hostel layout would cover for privacy, showers, TV, usually laundry, pizza delivery, etc.


Shelters that crawl with mice but have privies and springs are about every 10-12 miles.  I tent near them.  Tenting is free and so is hitchhiking - I don't buy shuttles.  The trail is 2 feet wide and only goes 2 directions.  Towns are generally 3-5 days apart and the food list items can be found at other stores like Dollar General in pretty much every one.


A word on gear snobbery: Much in the way going to the Home Depot and buying all the world's best tools won't suddenly make you the world's best carpenter, going to REI and buying all the world's best hiking gear won't suddenly make you the world's best hiker.  All the world's best hiking gear is already packed between your ears and in your chest, or not.


On the trail you'll hear lots of stories about how few thru-hikers "make it".  You'll hear all kinds of guesswork around why they didn't "make it" in hushed tones as if they died.  Folks will offer up the idea that it's because long-distance hiking is "really hard".  This is one of many trail myths you should ignore.  The fact is long-distance hiking can get really boring.  The hard part is just walking all day, every day, for months, alone, wet, cold, hot, dirty, hungry, eating crap, broke, and bored.  That's why I'm not a purist - I don't hike every mile anymore to avoid monotonously droning through the green tunnel.  What's more if you've figured out that every mile of a thru-hike costs a dollar then you've also figured out that every mile not hiked is a dollar saved.  When whatever it is I'm doing stops being awesome I stop doing it and do something else for a while.  Let no one else dictate how you enjoy your hike, how you should conduct it, or how much it should cost.



"Squanto" is an experienced long-distance hiker who has been there and done that.
























































































































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