As vacations go, hiking the John Muir Trail is pretty inexpensive. You carry your “hotel” on your back, transportation costs are confined to footwear, and the opportunities to impulse-buy souvenirs that will get tossed in a drawer when you get home are limited – at least while you are on the trail. The cost is not insignificant, though, especially if you do not have basic camping gear available. Here are a few ways to cut some costs and still complete your thru-hike.
Reduce travel costs. If getting to the trailhead involves a plane ticket there are some ways to limit the damage. Probably the cheapest alternative is to fly into LAX (as a major hub, flights tend to be cheaper into LAX), then take public transportation to the trailhead and public transportation back. Once you arrive at LAX, a FlyAway Express Coach is available to Union Station. Once there, a Metrolink will take you to Lancaster. In Lancaster, an Eastern Sierra Transit bus will take you either to Lone Pine (for an entry into the wilderness at the southern end of the JMT) or to Mammoth Lakes (where a YARTS bus will take you into Yosemite Valley). When you exit the wilderness, reverse the process. Depending on you flight schedule, and your willingness to loiter overnight in the airport, you might save yourself the cost of a hotel room.
Don’t Rely on Prepared Food. I am a big fan of Mountain House camp meals; I find them easy to prepare and satisfying. They are not cheap. If you are willing to take the time, there are tons of web articles and videos on how to prepare dehydrated food. Use home-field-advantage to shop at the cheapest places and prepare your meals yourself. Not only will you save money, you will eat your own cooking! (I leave that up to you to decide if eating your own cooking is an advantage or disadvantage.)
Spend wisely on gear. I have more on this topic here, but to summarize, I offer the following:
- Do not skimp on footwear.
- Be willing to spend a little more to save a lot of weight.
- Spend a little money for one thing is it does two things (or three, or four).
- Consider making your own gear.
- Stay out of the big camp stores; REI in particular is quite expensive. For example, my Osprey Exos 58 is $220 there, but I was able to find it for less than $135 elsewhere.
Take Your Zero Days in the Woods. The cabins and tents at Muir Trail Ranch are amazing (as are the enclosed hot springs). Mammoth Lakes has lots of fine-dining restaurants, not to mention burger places and Mexican restaurants with fine-dining prices. Taking one or two zero days, which I strongly suggest if your thru-hike is going to take a couple of weeks or more, can cost next to nothing if you just stay out in the wilderness. If you are like me and carry a camp chair and an e-reader, a day alongside a creek or small lake can be enormously recuperative. Toss in a swim and one (or more) naps, and you will have had a great day without spending a penny.
I’ll close with a couple of words of caution. First, do not sacrifice warmth. Unless you already have it (or can borrow it), buy what you need to stay warm while you sleep, during your breaks, and other times you are not hiking. Second, beware cheap gear, especially backpacks, sleep systems, and shelter. You would be far better off buying something used at any of the used-gear websites.
Completing a thru-hike of the JMT will cost you some bucks – no doubt about that – but I promise it will be money well spent!
Good hiking, Ray