Clearly I have been slacking on the blog posts. When I am not posting once or twice a week you can assume that I am off working tirelessly to make that money. Which brings me to something we haven’t talked about yet in our planning process… money. Yes, that’s right, it’s not free to hike the PCT. I am especially feeling this after this weekend where I worked five doubles in a row at the restaurant, earning a lot of money and giving my legs a taste of what it will feel like to walk continuously for twelve hours, but without the views. So let’s talk a little bit about money, what you need for a thru hike, things to think about when saving, how to formulate a budget, and life after the trail.
I guess how to formulate a budget is kind of the first thing to start with. We broke our budget down into four sections: pre-trail costs, on trail costs, one time costs and post trail savings. We estimated costs based on how much we would spend on each item in each category monthly and these numbers reflect what we think we will spend as a couple.
On Trail costs:
- Kyle’s Loans: 350/per month
- Hotels: 500/per month
- Restaurants: 300/per month
- Resupply: 400/per month
- Laundry: 20/per month
- Misc Fun: 100/per month
- Click-n-ship account: 100/per month
Let’s go through these one trail costs and talk about what they look like for us but how they might look different for someone else. The very first thing: Kyle’s loans. This, for us, basically represents bills we will be paying while we are on trail. Luckily for us student loans are kind of the only thing we will have to worry about. Although that might change when we go switching around our health insurance… Anyway, bills, remember you have to keep paying them when you are hiking. Then we get into on trail expenses, which basically all take place in town. Town visits are pretty simple, you will need a place to sleep, eat, and do laundry. We figured we would be stopping about once a week, so five stops or so a month and if we stayed in a hotel every time it would cost around 100 dollars for lodging each stop. We also figured we would spend around 60 dollars on restaurant food at each stop. We usually only eat one in town meal, a big dinner, but even so 60 dollars is a lot of food. Many people will want to consider money for beer as well. Kyle and I really don’t drink on trail, it makes us worse hikers and I would rather spend my money on more food, but for some people it is essential, so make sure you have room for it in the budget. Laundry usually isn’t super expensive so we figured 20 bucks a month would cover it. Miscellaneous fun is to cover things like maybe going and seeing a movie in town or if we do decide to get some drinks or whatever else we might want to get up to. The last category is the click-n-ship account. Because we are putting together most of our food ahead of time my parents will be shipping it to us. By using a click-n-ship account we can kind of pay as we go for shipping. I really have no idea how much it will end up costing, 100 dollars is an estimate. Lastly, I suggest always carrying around 100 dollars in cash on you in case you loose your credit/debit card, a hostel only takes cash, or you want to help out someone who picks you up when you’re hitch hiking.
One time costs:
- Shoes: 400/per trail
- Emergency Gear: 500/per trail
- Emergency Doctor: 200/per trail
There are also costs on trail that you don’t have every month and that you might not spend at all but it is good to have money saved for them just in case. We will definitely need new shoes, a couple of pairs probably. Emergency gear money is incase we rip our tent or puncture a pad. We actually have backups of most of these things at home, so hopefully we would never need to spend this money, but it pays to have it just in case. Also, recognizing that you might have to go to the doctor, it is good to have some money set aside for co-pays and what not. We will both have insurance but that doesn’t mean it is going to cover everything.
TIP! If you can you should sign up for a membership with the American Alpine Club. If you have a membership with them and you have to be rescued from the wilderness by a search and rescue team they pay up to 5,000 dollars of the rescue costs and sometimes up to 10,000 if the right people were called in to do the rescue. Just a handy tip, although hopefully no one is going to need to be rescued…
Pre trail costs:
- Resupply boxes: 2,400/ spread out cost
- Gear: 4,000/ spread out cost
- WFR and WFR recertification: 1,400/ one time cost
- Misc life costs: 5,000/ spread out cost
This part of the budget has been the hardest to calculate because many of these costs have been spread out over the past six or seven months. For example, in order to buy food for our resupply boxes we have given ourselves 200 dollars a week. But with that 200 dollars we also need to buy food for ourselves to live off of. So usually we try to get by on the cheapest food we can for our daily lives and then whatever is left over in the budget we use to buy food to dehydrate or snacks for the trail. Two weeks before we leave for the trail we are heading down to Olympia to finish organizing everything and at that point I will have to go on some big shopping trips to purchase everything we haven’t already bought.
Then there is the cost of gear. This varies widely from person to person. Maybe you want to find all your stuff at REI garage sales and on Craig’s list, maybe you want to buy everything for your hike from Zpacks, the bottom line is you can be as cheap or as extravagant with the gear you buy as you want to be. We started buying gear for the trail last summer, which made our big purchases feel very doable. We also decided to pay for Kyle to get his WFR and for me to get my recertification. These are big costs, but we felt like we could set the money aside for it because it’s important. If you can’t afford a WFR I recommend at least getting your Wilderness First Aid certification, which is just a weekend course and significantly cheaper.
The last thing you need to think about before you leave is getting everything else in order. For example, we are going to a wedding at the very end of our hike, so we booked tickets and hotel rooms now because that isn’t something we will want to think about or do from the trail. Also, we are getting married next year so we had to make sure we had money for a deposit on our venue. And even though you are saving life isn’t going to stop happening. Our car has racked up quite the mechanic bill in the last few months, which will have to be paid before we leave.
TIP! Kyle and I both have REI credit cards and we use them for everything. Yes, we spent quite a bit of money last year at REI to purchase stuff for our mountaineering class, but even with those purchases aside we have racked up a substantial dividend between the two of us. We are going to use this dividend at REI to buy a ton of freeze dried meals. Some people don’t like freeze dried meals but we love them. They are light, easy to make, and pretty yummy. People usually say not to buy them, mostly because of cost. That is why using our dividend to get a bunch of them is so awesome! I feel like our dividend is kind of like free money we got for just buying all our groceries, gas, plane tickets, and everything else we do, on our credit cards. And now we are turning all of those purchases into food. I swear REI isn’t paying me to push their credit card. Also, I can’t wait to see the look on the cashiers face when we go to check out with five hundred dollars worth of mountain houses.
After trail savings: 3,000.00 /fingers crossed
Kyle and I finished the AT with almost no money in our pockets. We had saved around 8,000 for the trail and used almost every penny. This time round we would like to finish the trail with some savings, just for peace of mind.
Once we came up with a monthly budget for on trail costs, one time costs, and what we would like to have saved for afterwards we were able to calculate our total saving goal, which we did based off an assumed six month hike (this is a over estimate because if we are still hiking after six months we will be buried under feet of snow). Our goal, starting in October, was to save around 15,000 dollars for the PCT and life afterwards. Many of our estimates are over the top, in order to leave us some wiggle room and hopefully we will finish the trail is 4.5 to 5 months instead of 6, which would save us quite a bit of money. But the bottom line is, we will be better prepared money wise this time than we were for the AT. The more money the better right?
But what if you don’t have the time or the resources to save a ton of money? Well it is possible to hike the trail for much less than we have listed above. Like I mentioned with the gear, you can find cheaper options, you can go into town less, you can eat ramen every single night. There are a million ways you can cut costs and still hike the trail. So don’t let your savings account make you feel like you can’t accomplish a thru hike. This is our budget simply because we have done a thru hike in the past and we know what it takes for us to feel comfortable and happy while on trail. We hope to not spend all of this money but we know it is safer to have it and not spend it than to potentially get off trail because we ran out of money.
Just a couple of other tips for the trail, make sure you check expiration dates on the debit/credit cards you are carrying. My debit card expired right at the end of the AT and luckily we had a backup but if I had been hiking alone that could have been disastrous. Also, have all your personal information, bank account numbers, medical information, everything typed up and leave it behind with a reliable person who you can get in touch with if you need it.