How much does it cost to hike?

Pick any activity you do and no matter what it is , here are associated costs; hiking is no different. Costs for gearing up and for undertaking trips can be almost negligible but at the opposite end of the scale they can also add up costing many thousands of dollars.

Where you sit on this budget scale very much depends to a great extent on your personal preference but also on the type of hikes you are doing. In this article we discuss options for getting on the trail and look at where you should be targeting your funds to get the best bang for your buck.

Things to consider

There are three main categories of hiking expenses that you are going to need to fund:

  1.  Travel
    • Transport
    • Accommodation
    • Food while traveling
  2. Consumables
    • Food
    • Delivery expenses if doing food drops
  3. Gear

Travel

If you never leave the country or for that matter only ever drive to your hikes, then transport costs will be less of an issue. Having said that, in December 2018 we did the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail in South Australia and drove the 1000+ km, then put the car on a ferry. Cheaper than flying, even with the fuel and ferry costs and we had our own car on the Island and in Adelaide. The biggest expense here was the approximately $400 in petrol but spilt between two. the cost was not so bad. If you want to get really picky here you should also consider the wear and tear on your vehicle.

If you do fly to your hiking destination, particularly if you’re going overseas, then travel can potentially be a big expense depending on your preferred level of comfort. I’m too old and too large to travel long haul in economy; I’ve done my time down the back end of the plane so depending on what sort of deal is available, I will travel premium economy or business (if I can get a really good deal) when heading off overseas. I also prefer to use the major carriers as I find the less well known airlines typically have poorer service, and smaller seating. Generalisations I know but one borne from my experience.

Keep an eye out for good airfare deals. As an example I was booking a flight to Chamonix in France in 2015 and sat down one Friday afternoon to book our flights. I got distracted before I completed the booking so went back to book the next morning. The flight prices had been reduced by 50%; a big saving. A word of warning its rare to get good deals close to the flight time so look at your flights at least six months in advance.

Accomodation costs can vary depending on whether you choose to stay in the local back packers or hotels/motels at the start and the end of your trips and for rest days mid trip.

Vehicles parked on the ferry on our way to Kangaroo Island

Consumables

Ahh that old chestnut! This is one of the biggest causes of arguments online.

Should you make your own food or should you use commercially prepared food?

Making your own food gives you a lot of variety and is usually cheaper than commercially prepared food. Having said that my main meal of the day is commercially prepared freeze dried meals. During the 2018 Bibbulmun Track hike my dinners cost approximately $320 for around 32 meals; not cheap! For me though my most precious commodity is time and while I do like dehydrating my food snacks, I won’t as a general rule do dehydrated meals as I just don’t have the time (perhaps the cooking skill to do a good job!).

My biggest expense was posting my food packs to the pickup locations. Also I didn’t realise the amount of time required to get from eastern Australia to small rural towns in Western Australia (I was quoted ten days on a number of occasions). What this meant was I paid a dearer postage rate which ended up for my three food drops being around $450. I could have chosen to buy food along the way but I’m really picky on my food and won’t just buy anything to eat from the local store because I know I won’t.

Food resupply in a box. Eight days worth of food ready for posting

Gear

There’s a  saying I really love; ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’.

I’m a hiker of extremes when it comes to my equipment. The oldest pieces of hiking clothing I own and still use are around seven years old. At the other end of the scale, I own three tents that are all under five years age, six stoves (four of which I use regularly), two sleeping bags (and I’m looking for a third), and seven packs (four that I regularly use).

Keep in mind that hiking is my thing and I get very good use out of my gear. I usually wear out my gear so nothing goes to waste.

My current pack is the Osprey Exos 48 and is just under 12 months of age, has done around 1800 km of trips and while it is showing signs of wear in a couple of areas, this pack still has at least another 1000 km of life left. For most people that’s years of use. My previous pack, also an Osprey Exos 48 is three years old, still in very good condition and has now been relegated to being my training pack – sits in my garage with 15 kg of rice and some towels (18.5 kg in total) as a permanent fixture so it’s easy to grab when I want to pack train.

When choosing hiking gear the key considerations are:

  1. Function
  2. Fit (comfort)

Other considerations include:

  • Weight versus cost
  • Durability
  • Colour
  • The ‘feel good’ factor

There is generally more than one option when choosing hiking gear just as there is no one right answer. Having said that, gear needs to fit you comfortably and do the job for which it was purchased. Buying a $10 sleeping bag from one of the mainstream chain stores may save you lots of money but at worst it could potentially put your safety at risk in cold conditions and at best, ruin your enjoyment to the level where you don’t want to keep on hiking.

From here the other considerations listed above come into play and really are up to you where you sit on the scale.

Osprey Exos 48 Blaze Black colour. My current pack of choice

No cost/Low cost

When you are just starting out hang off buying gear until you know what you like. At this stage use clothing you have and a pair of runners which decent tread on them. Don’t wear jeans or cotton tops in cold weather as when they get wet, they can really draw heat from your body which in turn will make you cold.

Have a series of layers (Layering) so you stay as warm as you need – avoid your ‘Sunday best’ given it is likely to get damaged.

Just about everyone has at least one backpack in their house if not more. If you are going on longer overnight hikes go with friends who can help you learn as well as loan you gear. Stick to well marked trails where navigation isn’t a consideration.

At this stage your main costs are going to be transport and food.

Layering for comfort

Just the basics

OK so you either have absolutely nothing in your cupboard you can drag out to use for your new hobby or you still aren’t totally committed and don’t want to spend a lot of money. Even at this stage, the priorities of ‘comfort’ and ‘fit for purpose’ are still your main considerations.

You look on line or go into an outdoor store and nearly have a heart attack at some of the prices. As a general rule after you have identified gear that is comfortable and does what you want it to do, you will then need to choose between weight, price and durability. Usually you can only have two of the three. If you are choosing budget gear it means you are likely to be buying equipment that is going to weight more. The difference between a brand name, high quality, three season, two-person lightweight double skin tent (around $800AUD) and the non-brand name, heavier, cheaper option (around $200) is largely weight. The cheaper tent will generally be heavier and may be up to double the weight.

Now you notice here that I say ‘brand name’. The well known mainstream tent manufacturer spends time and money developing all the ‘u-beaut’ features. Copies of these tents and other products are available online – they might be cheaper but they are not the same. You should keep an eye out at your local stores as they usually have a cycle of sales with greatly reduce the purchase prices.

You also have the option of buying second hand on items such as packs, tents and sleeping bags to help reduce the costs.

Depending on your hiking style, a full set of gear for overnight hiking (to 0º Celcius) will cost you around $2,000 all up.

Mid level

So now you’re getting serious.

At this level you are pretty much buying the same gear as the ‘basics option’ but a bit better quality, more comfortable, lighter and maybe more durable but now the price has increased. You still haven’t got full-on with all the bells and whistles but you know that hiking is something you really like. So you start looking at better options of for your gear.

Depending on your hiking style, at this price point a full set of gear for overnight hiking (to 0º Celcius) will cost you around $3,000-$4,000 all up.

Nothing is too good for me

At this stage you know what you want and are looking at the top level gear on the market. It may take you a few years to put together the ‘money is no option’ kit. You have all the electronic gadgets such as GPS with two way texting options, the lightest gear money can buy (if weight reduction is what you are chasing) and you own multiple items. You have one sleeping bag for snow conditions, another for summer and a third for the shoulder seasons. You own multiple packs, multiple stoves, multiple tents and you aren’t willing to let go of your gear just in case. You have every piece of gear you can imagine even if it is rarely used.

Alternatively you are an ultralight hiker who doesn’t have many bits of gear but what you do want is the lightest available.

Depending on your hiking style, at this price point a full set of gear for overnight hiking (to 0º Celcius) will cost you around $6,000 all up.

Garmin Inreach Explorer+. This is great for all hikers but particularly for solo hikers so family can keep track of you and also communicate with you

Last word

Where you choose to sit on this budgetary scale is really up to you.

If you want (and have the money) you can buy everything you need and replace it (on staged basis) as it wears out so your ongoing costs won’t be exorbitant. Alternatively you can turn over gear on an annual basis as you chase the best and brightest and spend up big. Most hikers will sit somewhere in the middle of this scale and may have a few pieces of high priced gear mixed in with mid level and low end gear. It’s your choice!

Our guidance is take your time and think about why you want a particular piece of gear. Look at the options, and provided the fit is good and it does the job, buy the best you can afford based on how much hiking you are likely to do.

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