How much does it cost to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?
Perhaps the most popular question I have received from readers recently, and perhaps the most difficult to answer (accurately, that is, but I can make up numbers for days). As with the physical preparation required for a thru-hike, the monetary preparation required for the PCT varies greatly with each hiker.
To help reach an answer, we can divide your monetary contributions to thru-hiking the PCT into three distinct categories: gear, resupply, and town.
Starting off without any gear (like me!) adds another layer of complexity to the PCT planning process.
Looking for help on the internets often results in your being berated by ultralight forum dwellers and force-fed the idea that the only way to survive the PCT is to throw all your money at ultralight gear purchases.
Your gear is your life on the trail, but remember that more expensive does not always translate to “better”. Investing in thoroughly researched gear is definitely worth your time and money (having to replace gear on-trail sucks).
According to my thru-hiker survey (2015, 2014, 2013), hikers spend an average of $1,288 on gear before the trail (σ = $808). My own gear purchases amounted to almost $2,000 (although I did receive som substantial discounts through obsessive research).
You may hear from a lot of people, “it doesn't matter what gear you get, it will be destroyed over the course of the trail.” This is false. The only pieces of my gear that were legitimately destroyed were my shoes, insoles, shirt, convertible pants, socks, and sleeping pad (basically clothing is what you can expect to ruin). Everything else (backpack, tent, and sleeping bag included) is still in good to excellent shape. Take care of your gear and it will take care of you.
To see a complete list gear for the PCT, check out my Ultimate PCT Gear List.
GEAR TOTAL: ~$2,000
Your resupply strategy is another important part of the PCT planning process as it will determine what delicious goodness you fill yourself with out in the wild.
Your resupplies (not counting meals eaten in town) will make up a large part of your spending, but this cost can be minimized in various ways. One way to ensure you know exactly how much you are spending on food and pack all your resupply boxes ahead of time! Although I would not recommend that anyone do this without an excellent reason for doing so because you will get sick of your food.
The cost of food is incredibly variable. Some people buy hundreds of Mountain House meals for $7 each, and some people stick to a hearty diet consisting primarily of gorp and oatmeal. More on hiker food here.
Three places hikers indicated that they would have preferred to mail a resupply box instead of buying their resupply were:
- Sierra City, CA
- Vermilion Valley Ranch, CA (more on VVR here)
- Seiad Valley, CA
Of the three, Vermilion Valley Ranch (VVR) is the place that I would definitely recommend sending a box if you plan on resupplying there (although I knew hikers to successfully resupply from their hiker box).
In total, I spent somewhere around three or four hundred dollars packing my ten resupply boxes (too many), and around $1,500 on resupplies along the trail.
RESUPPLY TOTAL: ~$2,000
Towns can easily become the most expensive part of your Pacific Crest Trail spending if you are not careful; let me emphasize easily (see? I even made it boldened).
Luckily, town spending is also the most avoidable.
Hypothetically, you could get away spending zero dollars in town along the PCT, but for many of us, the temptations of town offer too great an incentive to frivolously throw away our dollars.
I avoided heading into town if at all possible, and I was sucked in by evil trail friends more often than I would have liked. Every visit to town meant an easy $100 spent at least – it might as well have been the toll to enter.
The three biggest things to watch out for in town?
- Hotels – I threw down for a room more often than I would have liked to as a result of weather, exhaustion, or laziness. Split the room as many ways as possible, people (this ensures your hotel rooms will stink badly enough to make you wish you were back on trail).
- Restaurants – If you aren't lucky enough to have someone pay for your meal (quite common, actually), then restaurants can quickly add up and even overshadow your resupplies.
- Beer – Don't drink? Good for you, problem solved. For everyone else, beer money can be a killer when it comes to your trail finances.
Town is amazing, and getting to town was usually the most exciting day of my week (especially because it meant my pack was extra light due to all my food being eaten). Town is where random acts of trail magic thrive, and where unsuspecting civilians are transformed into trail angels. Stick to the PBR (it makes you hike faster).
Town is also where you get to poop in a toilet.
TOWN TOTAL: ~$2,000
Interesting. I did not expect those three numbers to come out the way they did, but that's the best estimate I can provide for my Pacific Crest Trail spending.
Remember that the four or five months you are on the PCT are four or five months that you are (hopefully) not paying rent. That might be $6,000 right there! But you also aren't working, so I suppose it's not quite that easy.
Someone who really wants to hike the PCT, and who buys gear second-hand, buys the cheapest foods available, and spends no money in town could probably get away with a one or two thousand dollar thru-hike? Totally making this up though. A hike could also cost tens of thousands of dollars if you really love spending money (a suite at Timberline Lodge should do it).
Based on what I observed on-trail I would venture to guess that most people spend somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000 on a thru hike.
Hopefully this explanation is borderline useful to any future thru-hikers out there.