How does one financially prepare to put their life on hold and hike over 2,000 miles? If this is a question you are asking yourself, you’ve come to the right place. Since deciding to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2021 over a year ago, there has been a LOT of planning and preparation. There are so many financial factors that need to be considered before being able to pick up and leave for six months. Here are six ways I have been working to prepare myself for the great adventure of the Appalachian Trail.
1. Start Saving for the Trail
This is my first topic because, in reality, it is the most important. A person can be physically and mentally ready to crush the trail, but that doesn’t matter if they can not afford to stay on it. With a goal like the AT in mind, it is crucial to save, save, save! Running out of funds is a MAJOR reason thru-hikers hang up their boots early and don’t follow through to Mt. Katahdin. Most people who thru-hike any long trail do not have a steady income during the process. I will be one of those people. This makes it crucial to plan ahead for your finances.
As my countdown to the trail flies towards me, I knew I needed to pump up my savings. I took a seasonal job working full time in addition to my regular full-time job. My regular job satisfies my bills and other necessities. That being said, I decided this seasonal job needed to be exclusively for my AT fund. I have set up direct deposit so all compensation from my second job goes to savings, not to be touched. To be clear, I am not recommending working 75 hours a week like I have been, just ensure you are planning accordingly and have a substantial amount saved up to get you through to the end. If you’re wanting to make more on your own schedule, give Instacart, Uber/Lyft, or Task Rabbit a try!
2. Purchase the Necessary Gear
When I decided to thru-hike, I had virtually no gear. Gathering the gear alone was somewhat costly (stay tuned for my official gear list!). I purchased the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Planner shortly after committing to this adventure. It has a thorough gear checklist which helped me to get a good grasp on all that I would need. With so much time and an easy-to-follow checklist, I was able to purchase my gear slowly over the last year. Not being on a time crunch to purchase gear allowed me to hold out for sales, which has saved me hundreds of dollars so far. I also bought a good chunk of my gear used through REI Co-op Good & Used which I recommend for both financial and sustainable reasons.
3. Make a Pre-Trail Budget
The easiest way I have been able to save is to follow a budget. I utilize a planner to keep on track of my bills. Each time I get paid, I pay all the necessary bills between that date and the following paycheck right away. Those are non-negotiable so once I’ve paid them, I can see how much I have left to work with. From here, I establish what I have for groceries, essentials, a little fun here and there, etc. Even though I mentioned I work a second job that solely is going towards the trail, I still try and move anything I can spare at the end of my spending.
I work well with a “loose budget” but for those who need more structure, make a plan each month and stick to it! I always ask myself, “can I take this on the trail with me” and it always helps me shy away from unnecessary spending. There are plenty of budget books or free budget planners available out there.
4. Make an On-the-Trail Budget
It is really important to estimate how much money you will need for your journey. How luxurious are you wanting this trip to be? Are you going to want to stay in a hotel weekly or stick it out on the trail as much as possible? Will you only want to buy the fancy dehydrated camp meals or will you be satisfied with Ramen and Pasta Sides? These are questions to consider in advance so you know how much you’ll need to live your best life on trail.
Another thing to consider is if you are solo hiking or hiking in a group. Some costs can be reduced by pooling together for food, supplies, and town stays. I will be leaving with my other half and we are being joined by a friend around April which will help with expenses.
5. Sell Anything You Don’t Need
Selling unnecessary items is a great way to earn some extra cash for the trail. Here’s some tips of ways to earn extra money that I’ve either done or plan to do for my thru-hike:
- Sell my clothes to Plato’s Closet
- Use Facebook Marketplace to sell any miscellaneous items like electronics, housewares, etc.
- Plasma donations (a similar process to donating blood) can earn you cash if that’s something you’re comfortable with. I’ll earn $700 for eight plasma donations before I leave for the AT.
- If you’re a creative person, selling crafts and products on Etsy is a great way to earn extra money.
I even went as far as selling my car 3 months ago. I was paying an arm and a leg each month and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up if I was thru-hiking for six months. It was a tough decision, but still better for me in the long run. Besides, who wants to pay over $6oo a month for a car states away that will just be sitting in the driveway?
6. Rent Out Your Living Space
This is something that most will need to do. I know there are some that plan their trip around the ending of a lease, but if you’re locked in, it is important to find someone to cover those rent/utility expenses. Personally, I live in a house with a relative where I will not be tied down to paying rent while I am on the trail. If you are needing to sublet your apartment or rent out your home, do not wait until the last minute to do it! For some, that rent or mortgage will be the make or break point.