Hike More, Spend Less: Our Tricks For Frugal Hiking
It’s no secret Mr. Frugalwoods and I are hiking devotees. We’d hike every day (ok, maybe every other day) if we could and hey, we will once we live on our homestead of wooded land! But for the present moment, we’re relegated to hiking on the land of others, which is a wonderful experience all its own. After all, it’s unlikely we’ll ever “own” an actual mountain (although the thought has crossed our minds… ).
bored you with touted the fact that we think hiking is the perfect frugal day. So now, I want to divulge our secrets for executing a perfectly frugal hike. Last Friday, Mr. FW and I took advantage of our pre-July 4th day off and drove out to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to scale Mt. Pierce and Mt. Eisenhower–two 4,000-footers in the Presidential Range. These peaks are in the same range as the venerable Mt. Washington, and we had an unadulterated view of that famed mound from the summits.
While it might, at first blush, seem that hiking is a frugal enough pastime already, trust me, as with all things, there are plenty of ways to spend a ton of money doing it. Plus, I realllllly wanted an excuse to share our gorgeous hiking photos with you, so I had to think of some tangential tie into frugality, right? We’ll blame it on Mr. FW, who had this idea in the first place ;).
How The Frugalwoods Execute A Perfectly Frugal Hike
1) Plan your hike on the internet.
Ah yes, the magical internet provides all the maps and trail guides you need to route your ideal hiking excursion. There’s a litany of hiking guides, maps, how-to manuals, and books available for purchase, but we’ve never found any of them necessary.
The one hiking-related text we do own, which we received as a gift (thanks, mom and dad!), is a nature guide to New England. We felt we needed this after years of saying things like, “look at that yellow spiny plant-object over there.” Hooray for identifying flora and fauna on the trail!
While we typically use the internet exclusively to plan our trips, you could also check relevant materials out from the library. If you do use the wondrous internet to plan, be sure to print out a few trail maps to take with you–as we’ve discovered, the woods are never quite as straightforward as a map implies.
2) Get a friend to watch your hound.
Hiking is decidedly not in Frugal Hound’s repertoire of abilities. We’ve tried on multiple occasions to get her trail-ready, but it ain’t gonna happen. Firstly, she lacks any sort of endurance–after five miles on flat, easy city roads, she’s done. Secondly, she lacks the coordination necessary to scale the rocky terrain inherent to the nearly-vertical ascents in the White Mountains.
Due to the age of these trails, there are essentially zero switchbacks. Hence, you find yourself on an ascent that’s straight up the side of the mountain. Fairly daunting when you’re standing at the bottom; quite exhilarating when you’re at the top.
This style of trail design is decently grueling and sometimes requires climbing on hands and knees. The greyhound body is simply not built to climb in such a way–poor Frugal Hound is extremely top heavy (those lungs!) and not well balanced for anything but sprinting on flat land (and even at that, she’s an awkward one… ).
For all these reasons and more, we have to leave Frugal Hound at home while we embark on our epic treks. Though we’d always dreamed of hiking with a dog, Frugal Hound is just not that dog, but we love her all the same. Since the White Mountains are a three-hour drive (each way) from home, and last week’s hike took us a grand total of 8 hours to complete, Frugal Hound needed a break during the day.
Our very kind and generous neighbors (hi and thank you, H & B, if you’re reading!) took her out for a midday walk, which we greatly appreciate. In addition to making our trip possible, they saved us the exorbitant sum of hiring a dog walker for the day. A major frugal win! And, we’ll gladly repay their kindness by watching their dog/watering their garden/cooking them food.
3) Do it all in one day.
We typically undertake only day hikes for a number of reasons. Primarily, we can’t leave Frugal Hound alone overnight, so we’d need to impose on someone to watch her. And, if there isn’t a viable spot to camp, we’d have to pay to stay in a hiker’s hut or a hotel. The White Mountains are rife with both, but at $138/night per person just to sleep in an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hut bunk bed, it’s not exactly a frugal bargain. Plus, day hikes mean we get to sleep in our own comfy bed.
Camping is certainly an excellent frugal option and, were it not for our hound-related constraints, we’d probably do that a lot more. When Mr. FW treks alone, he camps on the mountain, which is equal parts free and fun. Plus, he gets to live out his “lone man in the wilderness” dreams.
4) Get up early.
For the hike in question, we awoke at 4:30am and left the house at 5am in order to hit the trailhead by 8am. Our early start has a number of advantages. There’s virtually no traffic on the roads at that hour, which makes our drive smooth sailing. And the earlier you hit the trail, the lighter the crowds are on the mountain. Despite it being an idyllic holiday weekend, the trail wasn’t swamped and we rarely passed another hiker. Our kind of hike!
Additionally, hiking early in the day is safer. You want to summit and be down off that mountain by the time dusk hits. We always carry headlamps and emergency supplies, but it’s a whole lot easier to hike in the daylight. Despite starting at 8am, we weren’t finished until 4pm. We’d prefer to have a conservatively safe margin until sundown rather than feel rushed during our hike. It’s no fun to be concerned about getting stuck on a summit after sundown.
The fact that I’m 5 months pregnant with Babywoods did slow us down a bit on this hike. Despite my bump not being very large yet, I definitely noticed that my pace was slower. Especially on the steep ascent, I found myself out of breath far more often than is typical for me. I can usually barrel up the mountain alongside 6’3″ Mr. FW, but this time I dragged way behind.
We decided to let me lead and be pace-setter so that we could hike next to each other (our preference as it enables conversation and the occasional trail kiss). Hence, the 10 miles took us a whopping 8 hours, which is far pokier than our usual pace. Another reason to start early–you never know exactly how long a hike will take. And, it’s more enjoyable to take all the rest (and photo) breaks you want. For us, hiking is not a race and the journey is certainly the reward.
5) Pack homemade lunches and snacks.
Hiking is another instance where cooking your own food enables you to reap serious savings. All of the fancy power bars, gold bars, Cliff bars, and greyhound bars on the market are probably tasty, but they’re super expensive and totally unnecessary.
One does not need custom hiking food in order to hike. One merely needs… wait for it… food. Yep, you can pretty much eat anything (within reason) while hiking.
We prefer lightweight, protein and carb-laden goodies that are amenable to surviving in a hot hiking pack all day long. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches on wheat bread are our #1 choice for lunch and a DIY trail mix of almonds and cranberries (bought separately in bulk at Costco for a fraction of the price of already combined trail mix) suits us just dandy for snacks.
6) Buy the brownie.
If you happen to hike a trail with a staffed hut on it (which are prevalent in the White Mountains) and said hut is selling fresh, homemade baked goods, buy one. It’s rare that I advocate buying anything, but let me tell you what, this is worth it. On our hike last week, the friendly staffer at the Mizpah Springs hut pulled a fragrant loaf of chocolate chip pumpkin bread out of the oven mere seconds before we arrived…
Being both pregnant and unabashedly inclined towards sweets to begin with, I made a beeline for the picnic table and quickly threw down the $2 the hut charges for the pleasure of a fresh baked delicacy. Best $2 I’ve spent all year as far as I’m concerned :). Plus, the purchase supports the AMC, which maintains and services the trails.
7) Use the same gear every time you hike.
A number of years ago when our hiking obsession first took hold, Mr. FW and I outfitted ourselves with appropriate hiking gear, which we’ve used on every single hike since. We bought almost everything new, because it’s imperative to get stuff that fits properly, is comfortable, and isn’t worn out already.
However, we bought everything from either the REI clearance rack using the REI credit card, which garnered us cash back to use on future purchases, or from Amazon, where we have the Amazon.com cash back rewards card. If you’re interested, I outlined the basics of our gear in 10 Shockingly Expensive Things We Own.
With hiking, as with all sports and home improvement projects, you need the right tools for the job or you’ll be in a world of woe. However, there’s no earthly reason to own more than one of any of these things, unless you’re going on a long camping trip and need to change clothes/alternate gear at some point. There’s also no reason to own the most expensive options on the market.
8) Hitchhike when necessary.
We hitched a ride from the conclusion of our hike last week back to the parking lot where Frugalwoods-mobile was hanging out. We started out walking the 3 mile journey on the road, but some nice hikers pulled over and offered us a ride. Hitchhiking near trailheads is very common (at least here in the Northeast) as it’s almost always hikers helping hikers.
Obviously use caution, but it’s usually fine to hitch with other hikers from one trailhead to another. This can save the expense of bringing a second car in order to spot vehicles when your trail doesn’t make an exact loop. We did see one enterprising fellow who left his bike at the termination of the hike and then road it back to the parking lot–we thought this was a pretty darn smart idea!
9) Bring snacks for the car.
It’s an immutable rule that we’re going to want SNACKS (yes, in all caps) as soon as we finish our hike and drag our tired bodies into the car. Rather than pay top dollar at a gas station, we pack treats purchased at Market Basket (our fabulous local discount grocery store) and chomp away. Planning ahead is a golden rule of the frugal weirdo and bringing snacks is a classic example.
Another key to post-hike frugality and happiness? The cooler. We load our little red cooler up with waterbottles and icepacks so that we can imbibe ice-cold bevies as soon as we’re off the trail. Ahhh, bliss.
10) Pay the parking lot or park entrance fee.
Again, I’m telling you to pay for something! The horror! But, if the trailhead you’re parking at requires an entrance or parking fee, by all means, pay it.
These fees support the National Forest Service and are a small way to help maintain the trails. We happily paid the $3 (which is paid on the honor system by depositing money into a tube) to park at our trailhead last week.
11) Plan dinner in advance.
If we know we want snacks in the car, we really know we want dinner as soon as we get home. After 6 hours of driving and 8 hours of hiking last Friday, we were famished and exhausted by the time we rolled into Frugalwoods HQ. It was clear no one would be cooking and, since we don’t eat out, our age-old trick of frozen pizza came to the rescue! Nothing tastes better than pizza after a hike day. Having this pizza on hand and in the plan saved us from caving to take-out. Know what you’re going to chow on before you set out for the trail.
Hike Stats (If You Want To Hike This Hike)
- Location: White Mountains of New Hampshire (159 miles from Boston, MA)
- Distance: 10.4 mile loop, 4,780 feet ft elevation
- Maps and Other Info: Summit Post, 4,000 Footers, The Appalachian Mountain Club, Hike New England
- Topographical Maps: CalTopo
- Parking: We parked at the Crawford Connector parking lot in Bretton Woods, NH located off of Mount Clinton Road, just past the Mt. Washington resort on Hwy 302. The turn-off for Mount Clinton Road is right before you hit the AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch and the parking lot is a few hundred feet up on the left. We put the address of the Mt. Washington resort into our GPS, which worked well.
- Hike route: Our route took us up the Crawford Path, by way of the Mizpah Springs hut, and on up to the summit of Mt. Pierce. We then embarked on a glorious ridge walk, followed by a sheer ascent to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower. The Edmands path took us back down the mountain. It’s a fairly arduous ascent and descent, but certainly manageable as a day hike.
- Unique features: The ability to hit two summits, streams, views of Mt. Washington and other surrounding peaks, Lord of the Rings movie set look-alike.
Warnings: A challenging day hike, even for seasoned hikers. The initial climb is taxing and the ridge walk is perilous at times. Don’t hike this as a beginner. Take an insulating layer, a wind shell, hats, gloves, sunglasses, and sunscreen–we were very exposed on the ridge walk and were grateful for this protective gear! Also, check the weather forecast from the Mt. Washington Observatory in advance since, as the sign notes, these mountains have some of the worst weather in the country.
- Frugal Hound rating: There were a few hearty hiking dogs on this trail, but not many. Frugal Hound was much more content snoozing at home.
Hiking has made significant contributions to our lives over the years. Its taught us to be more self-reliant, in better shape, more adventurous, more flexible, and less stressed. Stress doesn’t exist on the trail. Sure, our muscles ache and we’re physically exerting ourselves, but there’s nothing stressful about being surrounded by calm, quiet, natural beauty.
Our love of hiking is what spurred our desire to live on a homestead–to essentially move ourselves to the proverbial mountain. The ability to hike right outside our front door is tantalizing and one of the principal motivators behind our desire to leave the city in the first place. I imagine we’ll start every single day with a quick hike through our frugal woods.
Hiking has also brought us closer in our relationship. Having a joint hobby that we’re equally invested in gives us something to enjoy together that doesn’t involve spending much money. While hiking might not be your thing, I’m an advocate for finding something you’re passionate about that enables you to step outside of yourself and experience the pure bliss of accomplishment and fulfillment.