You Don't Have to be Rich

Cost of a Thru-Hike

There are different ways to estimate the cost of a thru-paddle. Mileage vs duration and on-trail expenses vs overall expenses.

Mileage vs Duration

Budgeting advice for hikers on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails is often presented as a function of mileage. Conventional wisdom says to estimate a cost of $3 per mile on a thru-hike, and a thru-paddle is so similar we could adopt that formula. In that case, if you plan to paddle all 1,550 miles then you shouldn't begin the trip without $4650 in the bank. $5500 would give you a cushion and sense of comfort in case of costly emergencies like buying replacement gear or visiting the emergency room — two things you hope won't happen but aren't unlikely. 


However, not everyone paddles at the same speed. Some paddlers prefer shorter days (12-16 miles) while others like to push the day to its limits and get in as many miles as possible (20-30 miles). That means the length of two thru-paddles could vary wildly. One person might take five months. Another, three months. Considering this, you should estimate your on-trail expenses as a matter of time. I think a safe estimate is $1000 per month. Do you plan on finishing in three months or five? That's a difference of $3000 dollars versus $5000.


You don't really know how long it will take

The trouble with estimating budgets by time is that you don't really know how long the trip will take until you begin paddling. Many ambitious paddlers staring at maps and bank accounts from their living room have thought they could push 20+ miles a day and finish in below-average time. But you have no way of knowing what the weather will be like or how you will feel out on the water. An overly ambitious plan may mean you begin without enough money. And a dwindling bank account may motivate you to do things you wouldn't otherwise do, like paddle through three days of storms instead of sitting it out or pushing your body to collapse with too many long days in a row without a break.

On-Trail vs Overall Expenses

The estimate of $3 per mile is only for on-trip expenses. This figure does not include the initial investment of gear and other supplies. If you do not already have a kayak, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear, this upfront cost could be two thousand dollars or more.


Your biggest pre-trip savings come from waiting for sales, buying on Craig's List, and general penny pinching when buying gear. If you can borrow gear from friends and family, all the better.

Biggest On-Trail Expenses: Food & Lodging

Hotel stays greatly affect on-trip expenses. I can't say for certain how many nights a CT paddler must spend in a hotel. Some paddlers might want to spend more time sleeping indoors and showering, others will not. The temperament and personality of the paddler is the determining factor. I recommend taking a zero day once every 7-10 days. On a five month trip, that's roughly 20 stays in a hotel/motel. If you nero into town and then zero at a hotel, that's two nights each stop, for a total of 40 nights in a hotel room.

Putting Your Finances in Order

Everyone's living situation and financial circumstances are different, so I can't give too much advice on the subject of preparing your finances before your paddling trip. However, it is one of the most important things to do and one of the first things to start thinking about. Here is a checklist:

1)  What are your fixed monthly bills?

rent / mortgage

utilities like electricity, water, garbage

health insurance

car payments

car insurance

student loans

credit cards

cell phone

internet / home phone / cable tv

other debts / bills

2)  Which of your monthly expenses can be eliminated?

Try to get rid of every expense you can. Don't pay for anything that you won't be using during the trip. In other words, cancel your internet & cable tv, suspend your newspaper subscription, move out of your apartment and put your stuff in storage. Try to pay off big debts like car payments and credit cards.

What to Do With Your Car

You will want to minimize expenses during the trip. One of the most effective ways to save money that is often overlooked, is to suspend your car insurance while you are gone. This can save you hundreds of dollars while you are gone.

However, it is only an option if you meet three criteria. 1) You own the car outright and aren't making monthly payments to a bank or other loan holder. 2) No one will be driving it. No one — not your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, et cetera. 3) You can put it in storage off the street. That means someone's backyard, a self-storage facility, a friend's garage, et cetera.

If You Have USAA

If your car is insured through USAA, then you are in luck. Call USAA and tell them what you are doing — explain that not you or anyone else will be using the car between January and March and that you don't want to keep it insured but don't want to take the license plate off either. USAA has a program for soldiers when they deploy overseas. For only about eight dollars a month (as of 2014) your car will remain legally insured in a way that satisfies state requirements, which means you can keep the license plate on your car, and it is covered in case of theft, fire, or vandalism. However, it will not be legal to drive the vehicle.


or Surrender Your Tag

Other insurance companies do not have a deal similar to USAA. You can ask your agent about reducing coverage down low enough just to keep the tag on, but this can still cost a lot of money considering that you are not using the vehicle. So, in my opinion the best option is to surrender your license plate.


1)   Take the plate off the vehicle and physically bring it to your local tax collector's office — not the DMV. The DMV only deals with driver's licenses, and won't be able to help you. (Remember to have someone else give you a ride in their car). At the tax collector's office explain your hike, that your car will be in storage for three months, and that you want to surrender your tag. They will take your tag and hand you a printout showing you have surrendered your tag.


Tags have to be re-registered every year, right? It's that sticker you pay for every year. When you surrender your tag you do not have to pay for a new sticker.


2)   After surrendering the tag — and only after — call your insurance company. And tell them you have surrendered your tag and want to suspend your policy, but not cancel it. If you cancel the insurance, then you would have to re-apply for a policy and will have lost all the discounts you have accumulated over the years for being accident free, et cetera. By suspending the policy, you can simply re-activate it with a phone call when you get back.


3)   When you return from the hike, call your insurance company and reinstate your policy. Next, and only after reinstating your insurance, take the printout back to the tax collector's office and you can get a new tag for a small fee. The fee will vary from county to county, but it will be something like 20 to 40 dollars, which is much less than carrying full insurance on the car for five months, and much less than the fee for a new tag when you register a car for the first time.