Cutting Down on Town Time

The amount of time you spend in town can often send your hiking budget through the roof. Lodging, meals, and all sorts of other small things can add up to a hefty "town tab" in short order. Here are some simple ways to cut your costs during a hiking trip by cutting down on your "town time."

  • Longer Resupplies
  • Nearo instead of zero
  • Make Lists
  • Set yourself up
  • Email devices
  • Zero in the field


The fastest way to cut down on your town time is to go farther between resupply stops. Food weighs about a two pounds per day, so you'll need to have a light pack weight to pull this off. It's much different starting with a fifteen-pound base weight and adding twelve pounds of food compared to a twenty-five pound base weight. As for myself, I'd rather carry a few less items in my pack and have the ability to carry more food if I want to.

A "zero day" refers to taking a day off and spending the night in a town at a hostel or motel. Sometimes you need to take a full day off to rest, but what often happens is the complete opposite. A hiker comes into town, walks all over the place doing errands, walks to several restaurants getting meals, then walks back to their motel to stay up late watching television. Then they'll sleep in, requiring another breakfast. Pretty soon it's noon and you might as well eat lunch while you're in town, right? All those "town miles" add up quickly and don't get you any farther down the trail. Another strategy to consider is to camp near town the night before and walk or hitch in first thing in the morning. Go to the closest diner for a big breakfast, run your errands, grab a "luxury meal" on the way out of town, then camp a few miles up the trail. Like the saying goes-It doesn't matter how far you get out of town, just get out of town.

Making lists for shopping and errands can help cut down on your town time. Do an inventory of your food and make a detailed shopping list. Think about all the other errands and supplies to need to buy (post office, laundry, checking email, finding stove fuel, etc.) Doing these errands efficiently not only cuts down on you town miles but also cuts down on overall town time.

Before leaving town, I like to prepare for my next resupply as much as possible. Little things like buying stamps, withdrawing cash, and clearing your camera's memory cards can be done once every few weeks instead in each town. At the very least, make sure you have enough cash or traveler's checks on hand to cover your next town visit in case something happens to your ATM or credit card. There are still several smaller towns on the trail where it is easier to just deal in cash, and besides, paying in cash makes it easier to budget.

Carrying an email device can be a great time-saver because you can send and receive your email remotely instead of hunting down Internet access. We used a Pocketmail unit when we paddled the Mississippi River with good results and I really wish that I had used one during my thru-hike in 2000. While I wouldn't want to write a book with one, they weigh only eight ounces and have been proven in the field for several years . Sometimes, what begins as a simple email check turns into hours of Internet surfing for me. Just like in the "real world."

One last strategy is to take your days off in the field. What could be better than relaxing at a great campsite and lounging around all day? Think about all the people who would love to have your view. Carry in a pizza from town, read the paper (and use it to start the campfire), do your laundry in a ziplock bag, and take a nap. Sounds like paradise to me.

For more tips and tricks about thru-hiking, be sure to check out our Mississippi and Appalachian Trail Blog.