Budgeting for the Pacific Crest Trail

In the summer of 2017, my friend and I hiked 1,833.3 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. In a previous post, I crunched the numbers on the hike, including miles hiked, hitchhiking, and town details. I was going to go through my checking account transactions and do some pivot table magic to breakdown every purchase I made on trail — but that’s too big of a project I’m willing to take on right now. Additionally, this wouldn’t account for any cash or Venmo reimbursements.

Instead I’m going to take my best shot at estimatingmy pre-trail and on-trail costs. So, take this with a grain of salt.

Look at all this stuff I bought so I could go live in the woods for four months. I ended up dropping the crocs, pack towel, notebook, iPod, two tent stakes, and my stove bag.
Look at all this stuff I bought so I could go live in the woods for four months. I ended up dropping the crocs, pack towel, notebook, iPod, two tent stakes, and my stove bag.

Pre-Trail Expenditures

  • Gear: $1,573.63 — This is not an estimation. I tracked my gear purchases. For context, I owned no backpacking gear before the PCT, with the exception of some clothing. For more information on my gear and tips on how to save money on these purchases, check out my full gear list.
  • Postage: $233.75 (11 large flat rate boxes @ $18.75/box + 2 medium flat rate boxes @ $13.75/box) — I didn’t buy the postage before hitting the trail, but I did leave an envelope full of cash for my mom to use at the post office.
  • Food: $585 (13 boxes of food @ $45/box) — Okay, honestly this is the hardest to estimate since I bought food almost nine months ago and I didn’t track it. I made multiple trips to Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Target to buy food I thought I might like at quantities I thought I might eat at, but I really had no idea what I was doing. Each box had between 3–6 days of food, which makes it hard to land on a good multiplier, but I chose $45 as an estimation because this is what I roughly spent on a 4-day resupply.

Pre-Trail Estimated Total: $2,292.38


On-Trail Expenditures

  • Resupply: $650 (13 on-trail resupplies @ $50/resupply) — We resupplied on trail 13 times. I bumped up the estimated cost per resupply to account for the increased amount of food I ate as well as the increased cost of items on trail. Your local Safeway likely has better prices than the only general store within a 100 mile radius. Also, sometimes we would stop in a town where we had boxes, but we wanted to buy extra food to supplement. If you’re reading this and trying to decide on a resupply strategy, I highly recommend that you only mail packages to places that absolutely require them (i.e. Kennedy Meadows for your Sierra gear and Stehekin for your passport), resupply in town, and make packages on trail to send to yourself at spots with limited resupply. You might end up paying a bit more, but you will have a much better idea of the foods you like and how much you eat after a few weeks of hiking.
  • Lodging: $318 (7 hotel nights @ $30/night + 3 hostel nights @ $20/night + 3 RV park nights @ $10/night + 6 in-town campgrounds @ $3/night) — As you might expect, there is a sliding scale in price between hotels, hostels, RV parks, and campgrounds. We kept our hotel costs down by 1. not staying in many hotels because of generous friends offering us places to stay and 2. cramming as many people into a hotel room as we could. It wasn’t unusual to have five hikers sleep in a double Motel 6 room wherein only two people could walk around the room at one time.
  • Eating out: $704 (44 meals @ $16/meal) — This is also an area that varied wildly. Sometimes a meal out meant a sandwich for $8 and sometimes you wanted to eat everything in your path with a beer and dessert to rack up a bill of $30. You could easily spend less if you have more self-control, a smaller appetite, or don’t drink. I saved money because I don’t eat much dairy and therefore wasn’t tempted by regular milkshake offerings.
  • Gear replacement: $43 (one water bladder @ $13 + one fleece @ $21 + one useless zipper replacement kit @ $9) — I came out pretty good in this area. Since my gear was new when I bought it, I didn’t run into too many gear replacement needs. My water bladder broke, I got super cold in Washington, and my tent zipper deteriorated. I replaced my shoes with other pairs I bought ahead of time, so those costs are within my pre-trail gear expenditure.
  • Transportation: $400 (one plane ticket home + various bus, shuttle, and train rides) — My mom gave us a ride to the trail, so our biggest transportation expense was getting home from Manning Park, BC. In addition to hitchhiking, many towns offered shuttle and bus systems. We also stopped in Seattle and toured around there.
  • Postage: $66.45 (two large flat-rate boxes @ $18.75 + one medium flat-rate box @ $13.75 + one first class box @ $12 + a roll of tape @ $3.20) — I only sent four packages, so my on-trail postage costs were low. Pro tip: send as many packages Priority mail, so you don’t have to buy tape at the post office like a dummy.

On-Trail Estimated Total: $2,231.45

With these estimations, I calculate that I spent roughly $4,500 for my PCT adventure.

This is within other noted ranges of $2,000-$6,000. The big factors that contributed to my costs were that I had to buy all my gear, which increased my pre-trail gear costs, but I also did not hike the first 566 miles of the trail, which decreased my on-trail expenses. I also did not have any on-trail expenses like regular bills (e.g. rent, health insurance, cell phone). I lived at home with my parents up until leaving for the trail and remained on their plans while on trail. I am fortunate in this regard, so it is something to consider if you are not in the position I was before setting off for the PCT.

2 thoughts on “Budgeting for the Pacific Crest Trail

  1. Thank you so much for the wonderfully informative posts. They will help with my decision on which long distance trail to tackle and what to expect in so many different areas. Happy trails!


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