The Path Less Traveled #055: The Cost of Gear is Too Dang High

   06.20.22

The Path Less Traveled #055: The Cost of Gear is Too Dang High

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 gear expensive thru hike appalachian trail cost too much
Photo from ?2015? when I was building some things in the woods and cutting down some saplings.

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:

price of being outdoors is too dang high price of rent is too damn high
EDITED SCREENSHOT OF APPALACHIANTRAILCONSERVANCY.ORG

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.


hiking gear costs appalachian trail gear costs expenses
EDITED SCREENSHOT OF REI.COM

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 website gear too expensive liars
EDITED SCREENSHOT OF BACKPACKER.COM

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.

The Trek

Packweights : The Trek At Thru Hike
Gear TypePurposeItemWeightPrice
List Maker:
Pack System
BackpackGossamer Gear Mariposa 60 – M914 g$305
WaterproofingDid not Indicate – Trash Bag35 g$1
Stuff SacksSea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack170 g$103
Total1,119 g$409
Shelter
Tent + rainfly/guylines
1,133 g$400
StakesCame with tent
Total1,133 g$400
SleepBag/QuiltWestern Mountaineering UltraLite 20822 g$540
Sit PadSit Pad31 g$10
PillowSea to Summit Aeros Premium195 g$65
PadTherm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad340 g$200
Total1,388 g$815
KitchenStove + CanisterMSR Pocket Rocket 2 + Fuel Can445 g$57
Pot/MugVargo 750 Mug117 g$55
CupSea to Summit Cool Grip X-Mug71 g$15
UtensilsTOAKS Titanium Long Handle Spoon19 g$11
IgnitionBic Lighter1 g$2
Totals653 g$140
HydrationBottlesSmartwater 1L x 296 g$4
Water TreatmentAquamira Drops with pre-mix bottle75 g$15
Total171 g$19
HygieneDentalToothbrush, Floss, Toothpaste70 g$5
TPTP28 g$1
SoapPurell 1oz bottle28 g$1
TrowelVargo Dig Tool34 g$25
Skincarelip balm / foot balm / sunscreen100 g$10
Total260 g$42
Tools/GearLightBlack Diamond Spot 40077 g$45
GPSSpot Gen 4141 g$150
First Aid + Foot KitSee Original List100 g$15
Repair KitSee Original List30 g$15
Bug SprayRepel Sportsmen Pen Pump56 g$5
Pen + notepadWrite in the rain + pen75 g$8
Guide BookAT Hiker’s Companion436 g$15
UmbrellaSilver Shadow Ultralight Umbrella255 g$35
Trekking Poles552 g$110
Phone Charger + cord
Anker Charger204 g$44
PhoneiPhone 13 Pro Max240 g$1,099
Total2,166 g$1,541
ClothingClothes WornSee Original List278 g$110
Footwear
Crocs+ Altra Lone Peak + 2pr DarnTough
1,133 g$248
Underwear2x pair ExOffocio113 g$45
Hat + Gloves + Glasses
See Original List200 g$74
Weather ClothesSee Original List878 g$663
Sleep ClothesSee Original List220 g$75
Total2,822 g$1,216
Final Total9,712 g$4,581
21.41 Lb
USD per gram$ 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.

Andrew Skurka

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:

Packweights : Andrew Skurka
Gear TypePurposeItemWeightPrice
List Maker:
Pack System
Backpack1,122 g$200
WaterproofingBrute Super Tuff Bags 20-gallon119 g$2
Food Storage BagLOKSAK OPSAK – 21×12170 g$2
Stuff SacksAssorted, simple LW nylon (5x)62 g$20
Total1,473 g$224
Shelter
Tent + rainfly/guylines
REI Quarter Dome Air Hammock910 g$200
Total953 g$200
SleepBag/QuiltSierra Designs Nitro Quilt 800 35-deg567 g$250
PadSea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated490 g$189
Total1,057 g$439
Kitchen
Stove + fuel container & measure
Trail Designs Kojin17 g$12
WindscreenSidewinder Ti-Tri36 g$80
CookpotEvernew Titanium Ultraight 900ml96 g$60
Drink ContainerStarbucks Reusable Mug ($2 at stores)43 g$2
UtensilsGSI Outdoors Table Spoon6 g$2
IgnitionBic Lighter20 g$1
Totals218 g$157
HydrationBottlesSmartwater 1L37 g$2
BottlesPlatypus Platy Bottle 2L26 g$13
Water TreatmentAquamira Drops with pre-mix bottle34 g$15
Total96 g$30
HygieneDental
Toothbrush, flossing sticks, Dr. Bronners
26 g$5
SoapPurell 1oz bottle31 g$1
Skincarelip balm / foot balm / sunscreen62 g$20
Total139 g$27
Tools/GearLightNitecore NU2557 g$20
KnifeVictorinox Classic11 g$16
First Aid + Foot KitGear List: DIY First Aid Kit57 g$20
Repair KitGear List: DIY Field Repair Kit28 g$10
SatcomGarmin inReach Explorer198 g$300
Bug SpraySawyer Premium Picaridin Repellent113 g$9
PenBallpoint6 g$1
Maps in ZiplocMaps in Ziploc62 g$4
WatchSuunto Ambit3 Peak GPS Watch87 g$300
CompassSuunto M-3G Global Pro Compass45 g$60
Hiking PolesUnlisted300 g$158
PhonePixel w/Gaia GPS155 g$40
Total1,176 g$938
ClothingClothes WornSee Original List773 g$219
FootwearSee Original List870 g$191
Weather ClothesSee Original List1,326 g$781
Sleep ClothesSee Original List572 g$135
Total3,541 g$1,326
Final Total8,652 g$3,341
19.08 Lb
Dollar per Gram$ 0.39
Dollar per Ounce$ 10.95
Dollar per Pound$ 175.15
Skurka doesn’t beat around when it comes to what gear he is using.

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

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:

Packweights : Sintax77’s Gear List
Gear TypePurposeItemWeightPrice
List Maker:
Pack System
BackpackBackpack – ULA Ohm 2.0978 g$260
Gallon ZiplocGallon Ziploc7 g$0
Sandwich ZiplocSandwich Ziploc6 g$0
Bear BagBear Bag Line, Lash-It14 g$29
Cookset Stuff sack, Mesh
Cookset Stuff sack, Mesh13 g$3
Pack CoverPack Cover – Argon50 g$40
Total1,067 g$332
ShelterTarpTarp – Hammock Gear Cuben Hex Tarp241 g$299
Sit PadSit Pad29 g$7
StakesTent spike – Titanium34 g$17
Total304 g$323
SleepHammockHammock Body – Half-Wit284 g$109
SuspensionWhoopie Hook Suspension (Pair)99 g$34
TopquiltTop Quilt – HG Burrow 40404 g$240
BottomquiltUnder Quilt HG Phoenix 30397 g$220
Total1,184 g$603
KitchenStoveAlcohol Stove, DIY cat can7 g$3
FuelFuel bottle, Alcohol + 4oz fuel235 g$4
CupCup – 450ml Titanium57 g$20
UtensilsSpork – Sea to Summit Alloy7 g$18
IgnitionBic Lighter + matches25 g$2
Totals331 g$47
HydrationBottlesWater Bottle – 1 liter, Disposable56 g$2
Water TreatmentKatadyn BeFree Water Filter System57 g$38
Total113 g$40
HygieneDentalToothbrush, Floss, Toothpaste, etc57 g$10
TPTP21 g$1
CleaningWet Wipes21 g$1
Hand SanitizerPurell21 g$1
Total120 g$13
Tools/GearLightHeadlamp, Olight Wave113 g$30
CompassCompass, Brunton Classic28 g$17
KnifeBenchmade Bugout 53552 g$220
GPSGPS locator – Spot135 g$150
First Aid + Foot KitSee Original List43 g$10
FiresteelFire Steel – Light My Fire, Mini10 g$20
Bug SprayBug Spray – 100% Deet 3ml bottle7 g$10
Emergency RadioWeather Radio, Sangean113 g$59
PhoneiPhone 13 Pro Max148 g$699
Total650 g$1,215
ClothingClothes WornSee Original List539 g$60
FootwearMerrell MQM mid GTX + Wool Socks914 g$167
UnderwearAdidas Performance Sport78 g$13
Packed ClothesSee Original List765 g$163
Total2,296 g$403
Final Total6,065 g$2,976
13.37 Lb
USD per gram$ 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.

Pack Weights

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…

pack weights thru hike cost appalachian trail
Photo Circa 2011?

In Summary

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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Interested in some freeze dried meals? - https://www.trailspoon.com Still debating how small town life compares to metropolitan living. Big cities do not have close green open land and roads that I have come to love for various activities. They do have more opportunities, events, modern culture, dining, and individuals whom seem more interesting. Even after a decade of acclimation, I still feel displaced.

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