Like saving for anything else, saving for your thru-hike comes down to cash flow. Take your income, subtract your expenses, and save the difference. With some sacrifice and discipline, anyone can afford to spend time on the Pacific Crest Trail.
This section will give you some ideas on how to cut the cost of your hike. We’ll also look at how to bring home more money and cut your at-home expenses before the trip – so you have more money to save towards your hike. Finally, we’ll look at the possibility of seeking sponsorship for your hike, in case that idea interests you.
Your largest trip expenses will be: lost income (the income you don’t earn while you’re out on the trail), rent or mortgage payments while you’re on the trail, your food, your footwear, and your “three heavies” (backpack, sleeping bag, and shelter).
We can’t help you much with the lost income. That’s pretty much a fixed expense. If you are responsible for mortgage payments, you may consider renting your house out for the time you’re gone. This can help cover (or at least offset) your mortgage payment. If you are responsible for rent you also have some options. If your lease permits it, you can sublet your apartment while you’re on the trail. You could also move out of your apartment before your hike. Even if you have to put all of your belongings in storage, that’s still much cheaper than paying rent while you’re away.
Food costs can be reduced drastically with a smart resupply strategy and keen shopping skills. You will likely eat more than you do at home, have to send some of your food through the mail, and may find eating out irresistible in some expensive places. So you can expect to pay more for food than if you were to stay at home. How much more is really up to you. If you mail food to the expensive towns, buy from grocery stores at the inexpensive towns, and shop in bulk before your trip, then you can really reduce the cost of food. You can check the complete list of PCT resupply points to learn which towns are expensive and which are not. When mailing your supplies, consider using the USPS’ Flat-Rate Priority Mail service. They charge you by the box size instead of weight. Ask your local post office for ideas on how to save money on sending your resupply packages. They can be very helpful. You may also want to check out our food section – which points out inexpensive food options.
Footwear is very important. Buying cheaply-made footwear may come back to bite you. You can, however, find deals on quality footwear. First of all, shoes tend to be replaced about every 450 to 500 miles. So you’ll probably go through about 6 pairs if you plan to hike the entire trail. You can wait for shoe sales to buy all your shoes at once. You can also ask your shoe salespeople for discounts (since you’re buying so many at once). Costco often has deals on shoes – sometimes offering shoes for half their retail price. You may also find deals in online stores – with “free shipping on orders of $___ or more”. Be sure to test-hike a pair of shoes before you commit to buying 5 or 6 more pairs all at once. Also, check out our footwear page to help learn more about footwear before making a decision.
Your gear is one area where you have lots of room for saving money. In our gear section we point out inexpensive gear choices to help you cut costs. You can start reducing your trip costs by first considering what you can do without. On the Pacific Crest Trail, less is more. Every piece of gear you decide not to take is a piece of gear you don’t have to save for, and don’t have to carry on your back (all within the bounds of safety, of course).
Next, you can start looking at what gear you already have. Do you really need a new backpack, or will that old one in the closet work for you? Perhaps those empty soda bottles will do in place of new water containers from the sporting goods store. Of the gear you don’t already own, can you make any of it yourself? Maybe you can make a Tyvek tarp for $20 instead of buying that Cuben fiber tarp for $180. Perhaps you can sew your own rain shell for $15 instead of buying one at the store for $90. Creativity can save you a ton of money.
If you do have to buy gear, try not to pay top price. First check stores that aren’t outdoor stores or sporting goods stores. Maybe you can buy those waterproof windbreaker pants at Ross, then remove and throw away the cotton lining to get a pair of 8 oz. rain pants for $70 less than at the retail store. Do your local thrift-stores carry any micro-fleece uppers, gloves, or sunglasses? If you do have to go to outdoor stores or sporting goods stores, look for deals. Sometimes stores offer big savings on items whose color is unpopular. Most online stores ask for coupon codes at the check-out screen. Try googling coupon codes for your online store before you buy. Of course, you can also buy used. You might check Craigslist. REI often has used gear sales, too.
You don’t always need the latest, greatest gear being advertised by the sporting goods companies. A warm fleece is a warm fleece – no matter how much (or how little) it costs. If you let your style be dictated by your budget you’ll do just fine. Hike your own hike.
It’s hard to save money when there is nothing left over after paying expenses. Depending on your financial situation, you may need to make some sacrifices to fund your hike. Here are some ideas to help you cut your expenses. Some may seem severe, but remember that they are not permanent. They are just temporary sacrifices to help you get out on the trail.
Look for all the things you are paying for instead of paying for your hike. Cut those things out and put that money away for your hike. Smaller things may come to mind first. Canceling your cable TV and not eating out from now until you start your trip can add more than $100/month to the trip fund for some people.
Other small things come to mind too. Can you get by without a cell phone for a while? Your Internet connection? What about all those coffees and sodas you buy while you’re at work? Saving just $5/day by not buying coffee and soda adds up to $150/month. Cutting out just the few things mentioned above could save you several hundreds of dollars every month. To some it may seem like Spartan living, but it’s just temporary.
Moving on to the larger expenses, we take a look at rent, car insurance, and gas. If you’re an apartment renter consider this: if you moved in with a friend or a relative for just a few months before your trip, you could put all (or most) of that would-be rent money towards your hike. Do you think you can get by without your car for a while? If riding public transportation or a bicycle is practical for you, think about how much money you could save by not paying for car insurance or gas for a few months.
The more expenses you can cut out, the more money you’ll have left over at the end of the month to put towards your hike. It’s just temporary and, when you finally hit the trail, your sacrifice will be rewarded ten fold.
We’ve seen that reducing expenses lets us have more money to save for our hike. Another way to have more money to save is to bring more money home. To earn more money.
Earning more money is often just a matter of sacrifice. Getting a second (or third or fourth) job is a common and effective solution. Remember, it’s only for a few months. You won’t be beating yourself to death for the rest of your life. Part-time evening or weekend jobs can add several hundreds of dollars to your trip budget every month.
Selling some of your belongings is also a sacrifice you can make to earn money for your trip. A yard or garage sale is a good start. Selling larger items obviously brings in more money. Your big-screen HDTV and your car are two examples of larger items.
Another short term sacrifice you can make is renting out a room in your house or apartment. This can bring in hundreds of extra dollars each month to help you save for your hike. Again, these sacrifices aren’t forever. They are just for a few months so you can have an awesome time in the backcountry.
Unless you are Andrew Skurka, you’d probably find it difficult to get big named brands (like REI, Clif Bar, Mountain House, etc.) to sponsor your hike. But small, local companies might be into it. Don’t expect monetary contributions. If you get anything, it will likely be gear, or a big box of food samples.
You may start by spreading the word around with your friends and family. Let everyone know about your hike and that you are looking for sponsorship. They might be able to give you some leads. It tends to help if you are introduced to someone from the company through word of mouth.
Food and snack companies may be the most generous – as their inventories tend to be much larger than a gear company’s would be. Be sure not to limit yourself to just sports food companies. Candy bar companies, breakfast bar companies, dehydrated food companies, and any companies that make food are good for the asking.
Make sure you let your prospective sponsors know that you will be hiking the most popular trail in the western United States for several months. That you will meet hundreds of other hikers along the way. You will camp, cook, and eat with lots of other hikers, and you’ll share with them how wonderful [insert company name]’s food is.
If you do land a sponsor, don’t expect them to give you enough food for your entire hike. Common offerings entail a few boxes of food. With diligence, luck, and good connections, you may land several sponsors. Be sure to send ‘thank you’ cards after you get your packages. Also send photos taken on the trail of you and other hikers with the company’s product. They’ll like that.
Has the information above changed? Know something other hikers should know? Leave a comment below.