Hiking the Continental Divide Trail is no walk in the park. At 2,800 miles (4,500km) in length (give or take, there’s actually some debate here), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT, for short) is often considered the most challenging of the “Triple Crown” of long distance hiking trails in the united States.
Beyond the physical challenege of hiking for so many miles over so many months, the CDT comes with a whole host of different logistical challenges that any prospective thru-hiker will need to figure out before heading into the mountains. The biggest struggle? Well, it’s often the money.
Coming up, we’ll clue you in to how much it actually costs to hike the Continental Divide Trail and give you some insight into what you’ll need to save up for if you’re planning a thru-hike. Here we go!
So, how much does it cost to hike the Continental Divide Trail? On a hike as long as the Continental Divide Trail, you’ll need to have some funds set aside to pay for logistics, gear, and essential consumables, like food and fuel. Most thru-hikers estimate that you should save up about $1,000 per month on the CDT, plus the cost of your gear and your transport to and from the trail.
Of course, each person’s expenses are unique, so this figure should be used as a rough guideline for how much your CDT through hike will cost. While many people find that $1000 a month is more than adequate for their needs on the trail, others spend a bit more (upward of $1200 or $1500 a month) and some extra frugal hikers can make do with as little as $800 a month.
Why does it cost so much to hike the Continental Divide Trail?
If you’re like most prospective thru-hikers, this might seem like a lot of money to spend on an expedition. Especially if you consider that the CDT is approximately 2,800 miles (4,500km) long and takes most hikers at least 5 months to complete, setting aside more than $5,000 (remember, you still need to pay for your gear and your transport to and from the trail) can seem like a big undertaking.
But, if you keep in mind that hiking the Continental Divide Trail is not your regular weekend camping trip and that it’s an extended expedition, the cost can start to seem more reasonable, at least when you break it down.
It can be difficult to understand your potential CDT thru hike costs when it’s presented to you as a giant lump sum, so we’ll break things down a bit to help you get a better idea of what you’ll need to spend money on while hiking the trail. We estimate that it takes most thru hikers about 5 months to complete the trail, or an average of 150 days, so those are the numbers we’ll use to calculate an estimated total cost right here:
Perhaps your largest expense, outside of gear and transportation, will be food. Humans need to eat, as we all know, and humans undertaking major physical challenges, such as a CDT thu hike need to eat even more. Generally speaking, depending on what you like to eat and how picky you are, most thru hikers can get away with spending about $8-10 a day on food costs.
It will almost always be cheaper to prepack your food and have it sent to you on the trail, as this will limit any excessive spending at a grocery store in a small trail town when you’re really hungry. However, you’lll still want to budget some money for a treat or a meal while in town, which we estimate at about $10 – $15 for food and $5 – $10 for drinks, once a week.
- $1,200 – $1500 for pre-packed meals
- $215 – $320 for in-town meals
- $110 – $215 for in-town drinks
While the vast majority of your time on a CDT thru hike will be spent camping in the backcountry, when you do go into town, you’ll likely want to stay in a hotel or a hostel to enjoy a real bed and a proper shower every so often. This can get expensive very quickly, so you’ll want to be strategic with your hotel stays so as not to spend too much money on these luxuries too early on in your hike.
Depending on what town you stop in and what kind of accommodation you seek out, your in-town stays can run a high bill. On average, though, many thru-hikers find that they can get a night in a cheap hotel for about $50 – $70 a night. Generally, hikers will spend a night at a hotel, use their shower and laundry facilities, eat breakfast the next morning in town and head back out on the trail by the evening.
Most hikers opt for in-town accommodation either every week or every other week, so it really depends on your thru-hiking style.
- $1075 – $1500 for once a week hotel stays
- $535 – $750 for twice a month hotel stays
Stove fuel is one of the trickier pieces of gear to sort out for your thru-hike as you can’t send it in the mail. So, you’ll need to be able to find fuel for your stove in a trail town, which isn’t always possible. Plus, with new rules banning stoves without an on-off valve (e.g. alcohol stoves) on certain public lands due to the fire hazard, you’ll need to get specialized fuel canisters or white gas to cook your meals on trail.
On average, you can estimate that you’ll spend between $15 – $20 on fuel each week you’re on the trail, though it can be more or less, based on your cooking habits.
- $320 – $430 for fuel
Laundry and Showers
After a week or more of hiking, you’ll certainly want to shower and do laundry before heading back out onto the trail. Although showers and laundry aren’t necessarily a large expense, they do add up over time. We estimate that each load of laundry (washed and dried) is about $5 and each shower at a campground or RV park to be about $5.
- $215 for once a week showers and laundry
- $100 for twice a month showers and laundry
Postage for packages
If you’re going to prepack your meals and spare gear to send to yourself on the trail, you’ll need to set money aside to pay for all that postage. The US Postal Service’s flat rate boxes are a lifesaver when it comes to sending a large amount of food without spending all of your savings, though they aren’t super cheap.
We recommend setting aside $10-$20 a week for sending packages to trail towns.
- $215 – $430 for packages
Gear repair and replacements
After all those miles on the trail, at some point, you’ll need to repair or replace your gear. Many thru-hikers find that their hiking shoes need to be replaced after a couple of months, so that can be a sizeable expense. Plus, thru-hikers often destroy clothing (especially socks!), so you’ll want to plan ahead.
- $100 – $500 for new hiking shoes
- $200 – $700 for new clothing
- $100 – $150 for new hiking socks
- $100 – $150 for gear repair supplies (repair tape, etc.)
Maps and Permits
Long distance hiking requires quite a few maps. Even if you’re comfortable using your phone or a GPS app to navigate on trail, the CDT is no joke and all prospective thru hikers should have a compass, the appropriate maps, and the knowledge to use them properly.
Maps are expensive, though, so you’ll want to source out good options ahead of time and send them to yourself along with your food rerations to save weight in your pack.
You’ll also need to get permits to camp on certain sections of the CDT, especially in the National Parks, so you’ll want to apply for these ahead of time and budget accordingly.
- $200 – $400 for maps and permits
So, if we add up all these costs, we get the following:
As you can see, while some thru-hikers are able to spend as little as $700 a month on the trail, others spend upward of $1,300 per month. While this all really depends on your personal hiking style, on average, CDT thru-hikers spend about $1000 a month while on the trail. That being said, don’t forget that you also have to budget for travel to and from the trail as well as all of your gear before you head out.
If you’re worried about spending too much money on the trail, the good news is that pre-planning and thoughtful logistics can help reduce the likelihood of unforseen expenses, which can ruin the budget of any good thru-hike. So, be prepared and plan accordingly, but be ready to roll with whatever may come. Enjoy your CDT thru-hike!
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