How much money you need to go hiking is a real barrier for many people considering taking up the hobby. I have broken down the costs for hiking based on the type of hiking you plan to do. As you might imagine, the costs increase dramatically as you go from casual day hiking to multi-day backpacking to extended thru-hiking over many weeks or months.
A day hike costs $20-30 dollars for food and gas. A three-day backpacking trip requires special gear and will cost more than $1000 if you need to purchase new equipment. Extended thru-hiking is the most expensive form of hiking and can cost more than $3000 per month in gear, food, and lost wages.
This post covers everything you need to know about how much hiking costs and includes hidden costs that people don’t think about before getting into the hobby.
Is Hiking an Expensive Hobby?
In its most basic form, hiking is simply walking in nature on a path. Because of this simplicity, hiking can be almost free. Hiker hobbyists will typically spend a considerable amount of money on gear, clothing, and footwear designed specifically for the hobby.
Hiking can be an expensive hobby if you purchase high-end gear, clothing, and footwear. If you limit your hiking to day hikes and shorter weekend trips, you can enjoy the hobby without spending too much money. All aspiring thru-hikers will find that it is a very expensive hobby.
The difference in costs in hiking as a hobby comes down to the hiking you plan on doing because weekend backpacking trips require a tent, sleeping bag, and larger backpack. The price increases dramatically over day hiking.
There is a cost versus reward. Many hikers find that overnight backpacking provides a richer experience than a typical day hike. You spend a night or two in nature, and all of the benefits of being disconnected and in tune with nature are amplified. Because of this, the higher price tag for backpacking may well be worth it.
Thru-hiking is much more expensive than multiday backpacking and day hiking, but the rewards could be life-changing. An extended thru-hike can be a significant life experience that provides a boon of personal growth and understanding. It is not cheap, though.
Thru-hikers will predominately purchase ultralight gear which is much more expensive than typical backpacking gear. It can be twice as expensive in most cases but when you are walking 10-15 miles per day with a backpack every ounce matters.
Thru-hikers purchase more expensive equipment and stop working for weeks or even months at a time. The average Appalachian Trail thru-hiker requires 5-7 months to complete the entire route. This could mean tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages. In this scenario, hiking is one of the most expensive hobbies that you can imagine.
How Much does a Hiking/Backpacking Trip Cost?
The sweet spot in cost for most hiking enthusiasts will be multi-day backpacking trips of 3-4 days. You don’t have to take a leave of absence from work, and you also don’t really need expensive, high-end equipment to have a great experience.
You can expect to spend about $1500 for a three-day backpacking trip if you are getting into hiking and don’t already own some of the essential gear. Once you purchase the gear, you can expect to spend about $250 for the same trip to cover food, gas, and other non-reusable items.
I have put together a budget for first-time backpackers that plan on being out for three days. All of these items are currently best sellers at REI.com. Once you have already purchased gear, you can see how your overall expenses for a backpacking trip will drop dramatically.
|Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boots||$240|
|REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent with Footprint||$279|
|REI Co-op Down Time 25 Down Sleeping Bag – Men’s||$199|
|REI Co-op Trailbreak Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad||$69|
|Osprey Atmos AG 65 Pack – Men’s||$270|
|Jetboil Flash Cooking System||$109|
|prAna Stretch Zion Pants – Men’s||$89|
|Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long-Sleeve Shirt – Men’s||$55|
|Food (freeze-dried packets x 10, trail snacks, etc.)||$100|
|Gasoline (depends on distance and fuel efficiency)||$40|
|Miscellaneous (toiletries, towel, sunglasses, hat, fuel, water container)||$100|
|TOTAL EXPENSES FOR YOUR FIRST THREE-DAY BACKPACKING TRIP||$1,550|
The table above focused on best-selling items from REI.com designed specifically for backpacking. These are not the most expensive hiking gear items available, so they will weigh a bit more and not perform as well as more expensive options.
For ultralight equipment you could spend $2000 or more for your tent, backpack, and sleeping system alone.
I went on a five-day hiking trip in Peru that you can read about here. My son and I were with family friends and a cadre of guides and rescue horses. It was glamour camping, to be sure, but everything was included. We only needed daypacks and water bottles. The guide service provided everything else.
We paid about $1500 per person, which seems like a lot, but when you consider hiking at very high elevations between 14,000 and almost 18,000 feet, it was well worth the money. We did not have to set up camp, cook, or carry the gear. I put together a beneficial tool for deciding if you should use a guide service for hiking.
Why is Hiking Gear Expensive?
If you consider getting into hiking as either a weekend hobby or a serious thru-hiker, you will have shopped for items online and been surprised at the cost of good hiking gear.
Hiking gear is expensive because it is specialized equipment made to the consumers’ exacting standards, and it does not have a broad customer base. Not everyone hikes, and so not everyone is buying hiking equipment. This drives up the cost in a small but competitive market.
Manufacturers invest money in quality materials, functionality, and styling to stand out in the crowded hiking equipment marketplace. Each year manufacturers launch new product lines for tents, backpacks, and footwear to remain relevant.
Another reason hiking equipment is expensive is because it is durable. A quality backpack for hiking can last 5 to 10 years if you take care of it properly. With relatively few consumers buying backpacks, manufacturers only sell a limited number each year despite all the materials, functionality, and styling investments.
So far we are talking about new retail hiking gear. You can save a significant amount of money, usually 50% under retail, by purchasing used equipment. For a complete guide on buying used hiking gear, check out my blog post where I interview an expert.