The cost of hiking the Appalachian Trail has been a topic of prolonged discussion on the class of 2014 Face Book page. The range of views on this subject is wide and certainly subject to individual preference, weather, timing and budget restrictions.
In this essay I hope to offer one hiker’s observations and insights. These views are mine alone based on my individual experience of more than 600 miles to date and may not apply to anyone else. That said, I hope they are informative and helpful.
Earlier I mistakenly reported that businesses paid to be listed in David “AWOL” Miller’s guide. I got a bum steer from a misinformed shuttle driver who isn’t listed and obviously didn’t know better. Fortunately David contacted me to correct the record. I asked and several proprietors confirmed that fact. My bad. Very sorry for the misinformation.
I also learned that David regularly checks in with the businesses he lists to ensure he stays up to date and accurate.
Towns cannot be avoided. Periodically, every hiker needs to resupply, collect a mail drop, shower, do laundry and recharge their electronics. This is not to mention scoring an occasional beer.
Part and parcel to town stops are shuttles, hostels, motels, restaurants, zeros and slack packing.
I have slipped in and out of town on the same day for what is most often called a NERO (near zero mileage day). More often it’s been in town for the night at a hostel and out early the next morning. This works especially well when your arrival time is early enough in the day to accommodate laundry and a super market stop.
When the town or a hostel is a long way from the trail, or you are slack packing (shuttled ahead to hike back to the original location while lugging a much lighter pack), expect to pay between $1.00 and $1.50 per mile. This can be split among a large number of passengers in season. Being solo out of season, there’s no such luck for me. It’s been expensive.
No two hostels or motels that cater to hikers are alike. Consequently it would be unfair to compare them. Some are conventional while others are deliciously eccentric.
Just remember that these are small businesses (sometimes labors of love) operating on razor thin margins that have to earn their profit in about three months in order to survive. Costs range generally around $20 – $25 per night with laundry and other amenities often extra on an a la carte basis. It adds up but the prices are fair.
Unfortunately nearly every owner told me stories of being ripped off by hikers. Please be sensitive to their economics. Being the only guest on many occasions, proprietors have related stories of gross misbehavior, drunkenness and other activity decent folks would never contemplate at home where their reputation is at risk.
We all need to be aware that any misbehavior reflects on and affects us all. The term “hiker trash” definitely has a double meaning, which is to say that it is not always endearing.
If you are respectful, folks tend to help make your life easier, and when they do, it’s always optional. What goes around, comes around.
So far trail restaurants have varied in cost and value. A couple have been excellent and cost accordingly. Please tip the wait staff.
The economies around many of these trail towns are not very diverse, and therefore weak to nearly nonexistent. Folks are working hard to serve you. The wait staff jobs are often the best in the area and support families. Please be aware and considerate.
I’ve been in four major storms since October. Three produced sleet, snow and low single digit temps. Weather has forced me twice into unplanned town visits. I’ve also had to replace lost and damaged gear. It pays to budget for unforeseen contingencies.
In summary, a town visit with a zero, restaurant meals and shuttles can easily add up to a hundred dollars or even more. That’s a word of caution to the wise.
Hope this is helpful.