Sore wallet=sore legs?
October 17, 2005 1:27 PM   Subscribe

AT thru-hike on $5 a day. Possible?

I'm beyond broke. I want to do the AT before the Robert Redford movie is released and traffic picks up. I'll have about $5 a day for food and whatever else comes up. I'm resigned to the fact that ramen, peanut butter and bagels will be my best friends. Is it worth the attempt or am I just plain nuts?
posted by @homer to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it worth the attempt or am I just plain nuts?

That completely depends. What else have you done to prepare? If you haven't done enough research to formulate a better sense of the question, then you probably can't do it on $5 a day. Thru-hiking is a huge project. Look for the other AskMe thread from the past couple months on thru-hiking, then consider some more.
posted by Miko at 2:39 PM on October 17, 2005

Is it worth the attempt or am I just plain nuts?

It depends on a few things, as Miko says. I'd list them like this

1. Are you really broke broke or would you have money if, say, something went wrong, you needed to go to a doctor, you lost a shoe, your food got eaten by bears, or even money for things like getting to the trail and getting from off the trail to your home? You can be a big hippie about this and say "jah will provide" [and I've seen it happen, I really have] but some of this depends how comfortable you are relying on the kindness of strangers if something unexpected pops up. In short, that amount of money will keep you fed IF NOTHING ELSE GOES WRONG. Are you a gambling man?
2. Have you done long through hiking before? Do you have all the gear you'll need including stuff specific to AT hiking like regional maps &c. If not, then yes you are just plain nuts?

Without knowing you at all, I'd say this is a long shot unless you are much more prepared than the average hiker [not even the average person]. Someone with a lot of money to patch up problems could do it with less planning and forethought, but with very little money it's a much more risky venture.
posted by jessamyn at 2:48 PM on October 17, 2005

If you have decent gear, so don't have to spend ANY money except for food, I think you'll still have difficulty but might just manage. You'll be using plenty of calories so will need to eat a lot. Only do it if you have a backup rescue plan where someone can and will bail you out in case of emergency.

Plan, plan and plan some more.
posted by anadem at 2:54 PM on October 17, 2005

I would say you can with super meticulous planning, exploitation of resources available freely on the web (cheap nutritious recipes, maps, planning, hiking message boards) however it is a super thin edge, you get diet fatigue, just as an example. You can limp along on 5 bucks a day with a roof and full kitchen, but hiking takes huge amounts of energy and you want some comfort, plus 5 bucks a day means always sleeping rough, which can suck. So I say you COULD do it, but you probably SHOULDN'T do it. As jessamyn points out, things go wrong. Hell moleskin costs more than 5 dollars, so that's a day gone with first blister. Do you have a flashlight?
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:00 PM on October 17, 2005

How long do you anticipate taking to hike? This will have the largest effect on your financial requirements.
posted by maelanchai at 3:12 PM on October 17, 2005

And remember, you can accumulate a food deficit for a few days without any impact on your hiking (you might even feel a bit of a rush) but calorie-loss accumulates over time and WILL impact your willingness to keep up the pace, or even continue on the hike.

Water and food are your most important allies during this trek, assuming that you have food and shelter already organized. I wish you all the best in your adventure.
posted by seawallrunner at 3:17 PM on October 17, 2005

Do you have the gear--a really good pack and sleeping bag, a stove and boots? If so, it might be just barely possible to buy enough food to do the trail, assuming that $5/day x 150 days (average through hike). But this would deprive you of the almost essential extras--nights in a hotel and restaurant meals when in town, a good drunk or two along the way, etc. Looking forward to these things is a big part of what keeps many people on the trail when any sane person would quit.

The great challenge of the AT is not physical, it is psychological. Only 5% of would-be through hikers get to stand on Katahdin. Most drop out in the first few hundred miles. Add financial worries to the ordinary pressures of loneliness, etc., and it is a recipe for an early bus ride home.

And I would not worry about crowds after some movie. More people might start, but but most won't get very far. And in any case the overwhelming majority of foot traffic on the trail are people out for a day or a weekend. Even on the crowded sections of trail, you can avoid most other hikers by starting at dawn, taking a 4 hour lunch/nap off the trail, and finsihing your hike in the early evening.

Also, if you haven't been on long hikes before, this is not where to start. Why not take a month next summer and try the Long Trail instead? It runs the length of Vermont along the beautiful Green Mountains. It is 270 or so miles long, has a nice system of shelters, and would make a fine dry run for the AT. I did the Long Trail one summer and the entire AT the next, it really worked well.

Feel free to contact me, email in profile.
posted by LarryC at 3:21 PM on October 17, 2005

I wasn't sure which Redford movie you were talking about, so I did a little research. Back in May, there was some news around Redford trying to option Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, which is a fairly comical travelogue outlining Bryson's attempt at the AT. Redford talked about doing the movie with Paul Newman.

However, I can't find anything more recent. IMDB doesn't have anything on it. It's not currently in production, so next summer is the earliest that it could be filmed - and that's probably a longshot. Of course, if they do make it, they'll want to do it soon: Newman's 80 years old now (but is in great shape).

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: you may be able to put off the hike until you're less broke. If you manage to sock away a little money first, you're more likely to enjoy the experience, and you won't be stopped by one little thing going wrong.
posted by flipper at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2005

Can someone tell me what the AT is? I have no advice I'm afraid, but I also have no idea what you're talking about.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:40 PM on October 17, 2005

The AT is the Appalachian Trail, I believe.
posted by joshuaconner at 3:46 PM on October 17, 2005

The Applachain Trail Conservancy.

Through-hikes on the AT are usually northbound (the trail is easier in the south, and there are more amenities nearby), but then you have to start really early in the spring to get to Maine by November. If you're starting now your only option is southbound, I'd say, but I wouldn't expect to get far enough south to finish this year. Additionally, it's already hunting season.

The recommendation these days is that since many intended through-hikers don't make it, they should prepare instead for a more realistic "flip-flop" or "leap-frog" hike using parts of the trail and possibly starting somewhere in the middle.
posted by dhartung at 4:44 PM on October 17, 2005

One item of consideration I haven't seen others mention is comradery. You make all these great friends out there- I've known people who have pulled up to a camp, struck up a conversation with someone at the site, and leave the next day with a new best friend.

So your new best friend goes into town, say, for a night with shower and meals. You can only afford to shower about once a month. Either you just give in (and blow your budget), or your resentment starts building up.

One of the nicest treats in the world is to pull on some clean clothes after taking a shower when you've been in the wilderness for a week. If you had twice the budget, you would still cover nothing much more than necessities (food, postage, medical supplies, etc). Showers would be a treat indeed.

Oh, and one more thought- if you think you will get sick of ramen, you will get twice as sick of it when you are eating your same old crap in the vicinity of someone cooking a masterpiece on their stove. It will smell SO GOOD. Kinda takes the fun out of your noodles, if you ask me.
posted by Monday at 5:21 PM on October 17, 2005

I thought you were talking about the Annapurna Trail.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:23 PM on October 17, 2005

Response by poster: I had a wonderfully thought out post that agreed with all of you but the server pooped when I decided to post. The gist was you're right. I let the dream carry me away. I'll wait until I have enough so the reality can match the dream. A little bit anyway. I don't think there will be unicorns though. Will there?

I guess I shouldn't do the ADT on a buck a day?
posted by @homer at 6:19 PM on October 17, 2005

I had a wonderfully thought-out post that amplified what everybody else said but on preview I see you have alreay decided to wait -- you're doing the right thing in my opinion.

I didn't see any unicorns, if that makes your decision any easier to stomach.

Roland Mueser's analysis of a survey of through-hikers (successful and not), Long Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail quoted an average cost of about a dollar per mile (including equipment.) Today's costs are probably at least 50% over that.
posted by Opposite George at 7:15 PM on October 17, 2005

er, already
posted by Opposite George at 7:15 PM on October 17, 2005

You can do anything, if you set your mind to it.
Have you checked up on "ultralight backpacking"? a lot of the gear you can make yourself. sturdy running shoes and dress socks instead of heavy boots and socks, concentrated nutrition(jerky dates wheatgerm oil) to suplement your ramen.
posted by hortense at 7:25 PM on October 17, 2005

Does no one search anymore? Here's the thread that contains all the advice in this thread, plus more. I agree that you should put it off. It takes a great deal of planning.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on October 17, 2005

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