10 Frugal Thru-Hiking Tips

Frugal Thru-hikingTaking time to hike the Appalachian Trail can be expensive if you don’t spend your money wisely. Here are a few tips to keep your costs to a minimum without going primal. Being a frugal thru-hiker or section hiker can halve the estimated $5000 that it takes to hike a long trail.

Hiking Hitchhiker
Hitch-Hiking Backpacker

1. Don’t Pay for Trail Shuttles

At $1 or $2 per mile, the cost of trail shuttles adds up very quickly (even more than lodging.) Don’t take shuttles that you have to pay for. Hitchhike, ask for free shuttles in Facebook groups, or suck it up and hike where you need to go.

White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, Gorham NH
White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, Gorham NH

2. Don’t Pay for Motels or Hostels

If you need to go into town to resupply, get your food and head back to the trail before nightfall. If you want a shower, find someone who will give you one for free or at a discount, like at a YMCA, church, or campground. If you decide you have to stay in town, at least split the cost of a cheap motel room with other hikers. Seriously, you’re spending all this time outdoors hiking: why do you need to sleep indoors when you get to town. Sleep on the trail and save your dough.

Mail Drop
Mail Drop

3. Resupply by Mail

You can send boxes of food and supplies to US Post Offices where they’ll hold it for you until you pick it up. It’s an amazing service and a great way to save a ton of money on resupply costs, since food and sundries in small towns can be so expensive.  You can even send yourself “heavy” food that you can eat for a treat in town, like canned food, that you’d never want to carry on the trail. Click for instructions on sending mail drops.

Select high calorie items to reduce the weight of your food bag and repackage food to remove excess packaging,
Select high calorie items to reduce the weight of your food bag and repackage food to remove excess packaging,

4. Buy Food in Bulk

You can save a bundle by buying your food in bulk and breaking it into meal or snack size portions at home. Splitting a big order with another hiking friend is also a great way to save. Shop around. You can usually buy large lots of raw and processed food on Amazon.com or in natural food stores. Dries beans, grains, spices, and even large lots of snickers bars and M&M’s can go a long way to lowering your food costs. Food is expensive and a great place to save money.

You can purchase used backpacking gear at a steep discount on eBay
You can purchase used backpacking gear at a steep discount on eBay

5. Buy Used Gear

There’s no reason to pay full price for expensive backpacking gear when its easy to find lightly used gear such as backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and tarps online. Let your fingers do your shopping on eBay, where you should be able to save 40-50% on the gear you need for a long distance hike.

Goodwill Thrift Stores
Goodwill Thrift Stores

6. Buy Thrift Store Clothing

When was the last time you went into a Goodwill or Thrift Shop and checked out the clothing they have for sale. It’s amazing what you can find, often at a 75% or better discount over retail clothing prices. Just make Make sure it’s all synthetic (not cotton) because it will last longer and dry faster than cotton, as well as chafing less.

Look for the following clothing for a long distance hike:

  • insulated puffy jacket
  • fleece sweater (100 weight is best)
  • rain jacket
  • windbreaker
  • button down shirts
  • long pants
  • T-shirts
  • nylon running shorts
  • goofy hat
  • black dress socks – these work great for hiking
  • boxer shorts (to prevent chafing)
Inov-8 Terroc 330 Trail Running Shoes
Buy multiple pairs of shoes when they’re on-sale

7. Pre-Buy Multiple Pairs of Shoes

You’re probably going to go through a few pairs of shoes or boots on your hike. Figure getting 400-500 miles on a pair of trail runners, for instance. Try buying them all at once when they’re on sale or an end-of-year clearance. You can save up to 50% off the retail price. You’re feet at bound to grow a bit as you hike, so size up a 1/2 size.

Sewing a UL quilt
Sewing a UL quilt

8. Make Your Own Gear

You can save a bundle on up-front gear costs by making your own gear. For example, you can make an ultralight backpacking quilt from scratch or turn a used sleeping bag into one. Tarps and bug bivies are also fairly simple to make and well as alcohol stoves, of course. Here are some good places to find MYOG instructions and kits.

There's no need to pay for rent or utilities when you're not home.
There’s no need to pay for rent or utilities when you’re not home.

9. Turn Off Your Utilities and Stop Paying Rent

If you plan to drop out of civilization for a few months or more, you can save a lot of money turning off all of your utilities or moving out of your apartment so you don’t have to pay rent while you’re away. The same holds for cell phone bills: switch from a monthly plan to pre-paid one so you’re not paying for minutes you won’t use.

The best way to spend less money on the trail is to hike faster!
The best way to spend less money on the trail is to hike faster!

10. Hike Faster

Perhaps the best way to save money is by hiking the trail faster. You’ll definitely save more money on food and lodging if you’re out for a shorter period of time. Of course, that means you’ll have more time to attempt another major hike….so hiking fast may be self-defeating to your bank account in the end.

What are other ways to save money on thru-hikes and section hikes?

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  1. About buying clothing and gear at second hand stores – I once met up with two couples. One woman was complaining that a branch had caught and torn her $400 hiking shirt. $400!!??!! For a shirt!

    Listening to her remonstrate about the poor up keep of the trail, I tallied up everything between my shoes and my hat, my hands and the back pocket of the backpack. I wasn’t carrying $200. Everything I had had come from second hand stores.


    • And even if you dont buy second hand. I have gotten very nice, wicking athletic shirts from Nordstrom’s for 15 dollars. $400 dollars and going to blame a twig. I can’t even.

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