Backpacking Made Easy… (On the Pocketbook)

Updated: Sep 17, 2018

Written By: Mrs. Horizon

On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend Mr. Horizon and I were just itching to leave work. Why? Because we had an adventure waiting for us!!! As you may have picked up on by now, Mr. Horizon and I are adventurers. We like to get out and explore and see everything that the outdoors has to offer. This is not to be confused with an adrenaline junkie, our goal is much different. We do not want to perform death defying stunts like skydiving from a plane. We want to push ourselves to our limits to reach places that others only get see in pictures. Our plan was to head down to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and backpack the Smokey Mountain section of the Appalachian Trail. Our route was planned to go from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap. I say planned because things never go as planned… We ended up having to get off the trail at Clingmans Dome because of a tropical storm hitting the Smokies pretty hard.

Before we start I would like to say that nothing is easy about hiking 15 plus miles a day with a pack on. Those that through hike the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail or any long-distance trail have my respect. We currently have only ever section hiked and our longest hike was about 80 miles. We enjoy backpacking because it continues to challenge us both physically and mentally. This trekking guide goes over how we planned an amazing backpacking trip without breaking the piggy bank.

The trip was amazing! After months of being weekend warriors it was nice to put a pause on our normal lives and enjoy a brief but much more enjoyable lifestyle. We learned a lot about how to be better backpackers which was fun and interesting. The best part though was meeting a wide variety of people on the trail and listening to their stories. There we all were, getting soaked to the bone in the rain of Tennessee (or maybe North Carolina since it is right on the border), all from different walks of life, challenging ourselves in new ways, and enjoying ourselves beyond what most would believe.

So how did we do this trip? How much did it cost? How can we afford to swing multiple trips a year?

Backpacking is as expensive as you decide to make it. If you are willing to sacrifice name brands and maybe a little comfort you can do it on the cheap! Mr. Horizon and I are pretty new to backpacking. We only started small trips about 4 years ago. On our first trip (a 3 day weekend) we borrowed all of our gear from family and friends. Granted the gear was heavy, waaaaay too heavy, but it helped give us a taste of the backpacking community and lifestyle. So our three day weekend trip cost us the price of our food and the gas to get us there and back. Not bad for a 3 day trip!

Since then we have begun to buy backpacking gear slowly and borrowing any gear we haven’t bit the bullet and bought yet. We generally do a lot of research on our gear to find the piece that meets our needs and won’t break the bank. Recently Mr. Horizon and I found three videos put up by Darwin Onthetrail which were reviews on good ultralight gear for people on a budget. We loved them and are planning to buy some of the mentioned gear for our trips next year. Below are links to the videos and to Darwin’s YouTube channel:

When it comes to food, we steer clear of name brand freeze dried meals. These meals can be solo expensive! Trail food is usually not all that tasty anyway and you just need to get your calories so we generally stick with ramen noodles and hamburger helper meals (minus the hamburger). We found buying tuna packets, the bulk freeze dried chicken or dried beef and adding it is a very good way to get the protein you need while cutting down on cost. By sticking with the dried box meals that you can pick up when they go on sale 10 for $10 dollars and adding to them it is easy to avoid over spending on food. Now we understand that these foods may not sound that appealing but after a day spent hiking around in the woods, everything tastes great! I am sure you have all at least had one experience where you have eaten food when you are really hungry and it tastes amazing and you cook it up a different time and realize it isn’t very good. The same thing happens on the trail. You are so hungry everything tastes amazing!

Transportation on a trip can add up fast! Mr. Horizon and I drive to all of our destinations. It works for us to tag team driving through the night. We are still in the infancy stages of travel hacking. Eventually we would like to learn more about effectively travel hacking to get free (or almost free) flights, rental cars, and hotel rooms, but when it comes to backpacking it is difficult to fly with all of your gear (the TSA doesn’t really like lighters, fuel canisters, and knives) so we drive. Driving also gives us the opportunity to stop at different places and see things on our way to our final destination. For example on this trip we stopped at Mammoth Caves National Park and toured the world’s largest cave system!

Hotels can also put a dent in the vacation budget. Mr. Horizon and I don’t care to spend a lot of time in a hotel so we try to find cheap places to stay. On this particular trip the hotel rates were through the roof for the holiday weekend so we decided to sleep in our car (only two days). It’s not the most glamorous accommodations and we probably looked a little odd but it worked for us! On top of that it allowed us to be parked at the trail head to get an early morning start.

Food, travel, and lodging is where most people spend the majority of their money on a trip. We hit on all the major expense areas above for this trip, below is the list of what we spent on our backpacking trip this year (all numbers are rounded):

Backpacking Permit Fee: $40.00

Gas: $300.00

Food: $100.00

Return Shuttle (he drove us back to our car, link to his site below): $140.00

Mammoth Cave Tour Tickets: $40.00

Hotel room (for after the trip so we could shower): $40.00

Misc. (pizza after the trip, road food, coffees, other random small purchases): $100.00

Total Backpacking Trip Cost: $760.00

Highland Shuttle Service:

In the above chart we didn’t account for the cost of the gear that we have purchased and we justify that because our tent, boots, sleeping bags, etc. are all items that will be used over and over again for many years to come. Therefore, the cost to us per trip is very minimal compared with how many trips we will take with them. The chart also doesn’t account for wear and tear to the car which is a variable to be considered, but we save money on our cars by always buying used and making sure we buy fuel efficient and reliable vehicles.

So, for less than $800 we were able to have a memorable backpacking trip (7-day vacation) and got to see a new part of the country! The majority of the locations cannot be accessed by cars so the only way to create these memories is to get out there. Get out there and HYOH!!!

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Crossing the Event Horizon