Jimmy McMillan went camping last week and told me the cost of gear is too dang high. If some of you were born before this century, you’d know who this guy is. If not, don’t worry because it is true!
Welcome to our recurring series of “The Path Less Traveled.” In this series, we want to take you along for our exploits out in the wilderness while hiking, camping, exploring, and general adventuring. This will include our small daily victories, foibles, tips, tricks, and reviews of gear we authentically appreciate and frequently utilize. While a well-worn trail can often be the pathway to a leisurely day, the paths less traveled can often spur on some of the greatest memories, misadventures, and fun we could imagine. Join us in the Comments as we share our travels and hopefully, we can all come together for a greater appreciation of the outdoors.
The Cost of Gear is Too Dang High – Backpacking Edition
I’m not an economist, and there’s a high chance you aren’t either. In the 2022’nd year of our Lord, we have been facing worldwide illnesses, conflicts and political disruptions that have resulted in undesired inflation levels. On top of this, with fuel prices continuing to go up it feels like the late 70’s when that Peanut Farmer was in office.
I’ve been looking at data related to thru-hike costs lately. Most claim it takes about $1.00 to 2.00 per mile to complete any of the Triple Crown hikes. This expense does not include any off-trail expenses like health insurance, phone bills, or gear purchased before stepping foot on-trail.
These same guides mostly start out with a base number of $1000 USD to cover gear expenses for a thru-hike. I find this number to be absolutely preposterous when considering gear lists that accomplished thru-hikers post.
Lastly, we are going to look at whether the cost of being outdoors being dang high has any benefits. Don’t worry, this isn’t me telling you to stop being poor all the time.
Hiking Guides and Their Gear Prices
Looking at reliable sources for recommendations on expenses of hiking should be moderately accurate, but when times are changing faster than the sites are being updated, you have pages like these:
This is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy organization’s information above. They are the governing body for the AT. These are individuals who have potential access to thousands of beginners and hundreds of 2000-miler individuals. My assumption is they place these numbers to be a bit low to prevent people from being spooked from wanting to start. I could be wrong.
REI cites the ATC’s base numbers, but goes further into depth that you may be lugging around a four pound tent if you’re doing a $1200 gear loadout. REI even makes note for those who want to do an ultralight setup.
Backpacker Magazine states gear costs will range from $1000 to $2000, which we’ve pretty much seen at the other two sites so far. The funny thing is, if you look at their recommendations for backpack, tent,
sleeping bag quilt, and pad – these four items alone reach nearly $1100. Adding shoes, and all other clothing would throw you above $2000 about as fast as your momma can slap when you say a curse word.
Popular site TheTrek has been collecting data for a good while on various topics. In 2016, 45% of respondents claimed they spent $1000 to $2000 on gear. 2017 saw 47% spending the same on gear. 2019’s data was a little more specific with their X-Axis numbers, showing 86% of respondents spent between $200 to $3000 on gear. Lastly in their 2021 data, nearly 33% of respondents spent $1500 to $2499.
Funnily enough, their “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Gear List” gives various recommendations for gear for each category. I chose the first item from each category and the price came out to $4,581.
What It Really Costs?
So to determine what the going rate of what it would cost to hike a Triple Crown (specifically the AT), I developed a spreadsheet from three various sources.
|Backpack||Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 – M||914 g||$305|
|Waterproofing||Did not Indicate – Trash Bag||35 g||$1|
|Stuff Sacks||Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack||170 g||$103|
Tent + rainfly/guylines
|Stakes||Came with tent||–||–|
|Sleep||Bag/Quilt||Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20||822 g||$540|
|Sit Pad||Sit Pad||31 g||$10|
|Pillow||Sea to Summit Aeros Premium||195 g||$65|
|Pad||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad||340 g||$200|
|Kitchen||Stove + Canister||MSR Pocket Rocket 2 + Fuel Can||445 g||$57|
|Pot/Mug||Vargo 750 Mug||117 g||$55|
|Cup||Sea to Summit Cool Grip X-Mug||71 g||$15|
|Utensils||TOAKS Titanium Long Handle Spoon||19 g||$11|
|Ignition||Bic Lighter||1 g||$2|
|Hydration||Bottles||Smartwater 1L x 2||96 g||$4|
|Water Treatment||Aquamira Drops with pre-mix bottle||75 g||$15|
|Hygiene||Dental||Toothbrush, Floss, Toothpaste||70 g||$5|
|Soap||Purell 1oz bottle||28 g||$1|
|Trowel||Vargo Dig Tool||34 g||$25|
|Skincare||lip balm / foot balm / sunscreen||100 g||$10|
|Tools/Gear||Light||Black Diamond Spot 400||77 g||$45|
|GPS||Spot Gen 4||141 g||$150|
|First Aid + Foot Kit||See Original List||100 g||$15|
|Repair Kit||See Original List||30 g||$15|
|Bug Spray||Repel Sportsmen Pen Pump||56 g||$5|
|Pen + notepad||Write in the rain + pen||75 g||$8|
|Guide Book||AT Hiker’s Companion||436 g||$15|
|Umbrella||Silver Shadow Ultralight Umbrella||255 g||$35|
|Trekking Poles||552 g||$110|
Phone Charger + cord
|Anker Charger||204 g||$44|
|Phone||iPhone 13 Pro Max||240 g||$1,099|
|Clothing||Clothes Worn||See Original List||278 g||$110|
Crocs+ Altra Lone Peak + 2pr DarnTough
|Underwear||2x pair ExOffocio||113 g||$45|
Hat + Gloves + Glasses
|See Original List||200 g||$74|
|Weather Clothes||See Original List||878 g||$663|
|Sleep Clothes||See Original List||220 g||$75|
|Final Total||9,712 g||$4,581|
|USD per gram||$ 0.47|
|USD per ounce||$ 13.37|
|USD per pound||$ 213.97|
Five thousand dollars for a gear list is inconceivable for many. Five thousand dollars is three grand more than my first car.
Let’s check another with Andrew Skurka. This man is a well known athlete, writer, and publisher of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Tips to Hit the Trail. He knows his stuff, and no doubt knows what would be best for him on trail. His five day pack list is shown below:
|Waterproofing||Brute Super Tuff Bags 20-gallon||119 g||$2|
|Food Storage Bag||LOKSAK OPSAK – 21×12||170 g||$2|
|Stuff Sacks||Assorted, simple LW nylon (5x)||62 g||$20|
Tent + rainfly/guylines
|REI Quarter Dome Air Hammock||910 g||$200|
|Sleep||Bag/Quilt||Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt 800 35-deg||567 g||$250|
|Pad||Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated||490 g||$189|
Stove + fuel container & measure
|Trail Designs Kojin||17 g||$12|
|Windscreen||Sidewinder Ti-Tri||36 g||$80|
|Cookpot||Evernew Titanium Ultraight 900ml||96 g||$60|
|Drink Container||Starbucks Reusable Mug ($2 at stores)||43 g||$2|
|Utensils||GSI Outdoors Table Spoon||6 g||$2|
|Ignition||Bic Lighter||20 g||$1|
|Hydration||Bottles||Smartwater 1L||37 g||$2|
|Bottles||Platypus Platy Bottle 2L||26 g||$13|
|Water Treatment||Aquamira Drops with pre-mix bottle||34 g||$15|
Toothbrush, flossing sticks, Dr. Bronners
|Soap||Purell 1oz bottle||31 g||$1|
|Skincare||lip balm / foot balm / sunscreen||62 g||$20|
|Tools/Gear||Light||Nitecore NU25||57 g||$20|
|Knife||Victorinox Classic||11 g||$16|
|First Aid + Foot Kit||Gear List: DIY First Aid Kit||57 g||$20|
|Repair Kit||Gear List: DIY Field Repair Kit||28 g||$10|
|Satcom||Garmin inReach Explorer||198 g||$300|
|Bug Spray||Sawyer Premium Picaridin Repellent||113 g||$9|
|Maps in Ziploc||Maps in Ziploc||62 g||$4|
|Watch||Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS Watch||87 g||$300|
|Compass||Suunto M-3G Global Pro Compass||45 g||$60|
|Hiking Poles||Unlisted||300 g||$158|
|Phone||Pixel w/Gaia GPS||155 g||$40|
|Clothing||Clothes Worn||See Original List||773 g||$219|
|Footwear||See Original List||870 g||$191|
|Weather Clothes||See Original List||1,326 g||$781|
|Sleep Clothes||See Original List||572 g||$135|
|Final Total||8,652 g||$3,341|
|Dollar per Gram||$ 0.39|
|Dollar per Ounce||$ 10.95|
|Dollar per Pound||$ 175.15|
So not only does Skurka’s pack list come in 1100 g lighter than The Trek’s, it also costs $1240 less. That’s an entire month’s worthy of trail costs! Now this is half the value of silver on the US market, but if you consider his GPS Watch and satellite communication device is 17% of his total cost, it still shows he can do a lot more with his money than others!
Sintax77 is a guy living in Delaware that doesn’t fall of his bicycle and enjoys the outdoors. He has a website, youtube and has been documenting his outdoor adventures for a few years less than I have. Here’s his list:
|Backpack||Backpack – ULA Ohm 2.0||978 g||$260|
|Gallon Ziploc||Gallon Ziploc||7 g||$0|
|Sandwich Ziploc||Sandwich Ziploc||6 g||$0|
|Bear Bag||Bear Bag Line, Lash-It||14 g||$29|
Cookset Stuff sack, Mesh
|Cookset Stuff sack, Mesh||13 g||$3|
|Pack Cover||Pack Cover – Argon||50 g||$40|
|Shelter||Tarp||Tarp – Hammock Gear Cuben Hex Tarp||241 g||$299|
|Sit Pad||Sit Pad||29 g||$7|
|Stakes||Tent spike – Titanium||34 g||$17|
|Sleep||Hammock||Hammock Body – Half-Wit||284 g||$109|
|Suspension||Whoopie Hook Suspension (Pair)||99 g||$34|
|Topquilt||Top Quilt – HG Burrow 40||404 g||$240|
|Bottomquilt||Under Quilt HG Phoenix 30||397 g||$220|
|Kitchen||Stove||Alcohol Stove, DIY cat can||7 g||$3|
|Fuel||Fuel bottle, Alcohol + 4oz fuel||235 g||$4|
|Cup||Cup – 450ml Titanium||57 g||$20|
|Utensils||Spork – Sea to Summit Alloy||7 g||$18|
|Ignition||Bic Lighter + matches||25 g||$2|
|Hydration||Bottles||Water Bottle – 1 liter, Disposable||56 g||$2|
|Water Treatment||Katadyn BeFree Water Filter System||57 g||$38|
|Hygiene||Dental||Toothbrush, Floss, Toothpaste, etc||57 g||$10|
|Cleaning||Wet Wipes||21 g||$1|
|Hand Sanitizer||Purell||21 g||$1|
|Tools/Gear||Light||Headlamp, Olight Wave||113 g||$30|
|Compass||Compass, Brunton Classic||28 g||$17|
|Knife||Benchmade Bugout 535||52 g||$220|
|GPS||GPS locator – Spot||135 g||$150|
|First Aid + Foot Kit||See Original List||43 g||$10|
|Firesteel||Fire Steel – Light My Fire, Mini||10 g||$20|
|Bug Spray||Bug Spray – 100% Deet 3ml bottle||7 g||$10|
|Emergency Radio||Weather Radio, Sangean||113 g||$59|
|Phone||iPhone 13 Pro Max||148 g||$699|
|Clothing||Clothes Worn||See Original List||539 g||$60|
|Footwear||Merrell MQM mid GTX + Wool Socks||914 g||$167|
|Underwear||Adidas Performance Sport||78 g||$13|
|Packed Clothes||See Original List||765 g||$163|
|Final Total||6,065 g||$2,976|
|USD per gram||$ 0.49|
|USD per ounce||$ 13.91|
|USD per pound||$ 222.55|
Sintax remains under $3000, but his overall dollar per weight ratio is higher than Skurka’s. If you removed the calculation for the phone, it would even stay under two grand, I think. I’d like to see an updated list to determine whether this guy has maximized anything to a greater level of value.
While writing this article, I went on several rabbit holes of data scouring One was reviewing decade old pack lists all the way up to today’s. You can notice two things from this; first, costs are going up. Second, pack weights are going down. HalfwayAnywhere, a site that primarily focuses on the PCT and CDT displayed the average starting pack weight in 2016 for a CDT traveler was 18.20 lb / 8270 g. The average finishers spent on gear was $1,001.
Data from 2021’s PCT thru hikers displayed an average 9.72 lbs / 4.409 kg pack weight once out of the Sierras (ice gear). That’s almost half of the weight of the average 2016 CDT pack! (2021 pack average cost was $3,442.) I know that is not comparing apples to apples, but the lists show what items are being used and what gear has been left to the wayside.
This brings up more questions than answers for me, other than it doesn’t.
I recall upgrading my 2007 road bike in 2009 and spending an exorbitant amount of cash to go from 9.31 kg to 7.1 kg. Note, Carbon fiber and titanium were ridiculously more expensive back then and I think my upgraded bike cost double what the prior one did. Was it worth it? Totally, and I’d do it again. Did it make me faster? That’s debatable, but it made riding more enjoyable and let me think going uphill was easier, as if I were a Pro Tour rider…
As time goes on, I believe online access to sites, stores and social media pumping the idea of lightweight gear is ever-present. The average thru hiker, even if never stepping on trail is going to know about DCF and find forums dedicated to making spreadsheets of weights of recommended gear. Consumer acceptance of lightweight and even some ultralight principals are starting to to reach a tipping point. People know that less weight is one of the traits that most successful thru hikers have in common. Wanting to be like a pro happens in other circles of activity too, no?
Less weight is less pain, less pain allows you to potentially move faster. The successful thru hikers that are completing their journey in less than five months on the AT likely have significant more knowledge, experience, fitness, etc. Does weight weenie gear help? Sure does. Will it make everyone great? Nope.
This is where HYoH comes into play. Do what you can, with what you have and hike your own hike.
Could it also be online sites making lists to sell you stuff that’ll make them money? You betcha!
I’ll work on a piece on how to beat the system and have a lighter pack for less money in the near future, but for now… be wise on recommendations versus reality for gear.
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