The first time I went on a backpacking trip, my friend, an experienced hiker, planned the route.
We didn't walk a lot at all although I was confident - so around the campfire that night we bet on it:
I was going to hike 10 miles comfortably.
Needless to say, we didn't make it (what always happens to our challenges...) - but I was convinced it was too long for me especially considering low quality sleep during camping and bad terrain.
How do I know?
Because upon our return I set out to research what a reasonable distance would be for me to hike.
Planning a hike requires calculating your speed and choosing an appropriate route. Hiking speed varies depending on the terrain, elevation changes, gear carried and the physical condition of the hiker. I want to share with you what I learned so that you can set off on your first hike without any unnecessary surprises.
Answers to the questions below are all considering hiking in the woods - not walking from the bus stop to your home. Also, obviously, all these numbers will vary from person to person and I'm not a pro by no means, so take these numbers with a grain of salt. Still, I doubt you can find more "direct" answers to these questions from other sources.
How to calculate hiking speed
Your first step is to calculate how long it takes you to walk a mile. A typical walking speed is about 3 mph (1.4 m/s), though faster hikers may average upwards of 3.5 mph.
- Time how many minutes it takes you to go for a relatively flat 1 mile walk. Use a GPS or fitness app on your phone to track distance and time.
- Do a little bit of math:
60 ÷ ( # of minutes for 1 mile) = # of miles walked per hour (duh...)
I did it and it took me about 17 minutes to walk a mile, so I'd calculate that I can hike about 3.5 miles per hour. Of course, there are other important factors to consider, such as elevation and terrain, which brings us to the following.
Average hiking speed
Average hiking speed is 2.5 mph (1.4 m/s = 5 km/h) as explained above, but William Naismith, a Scottish mountaineer, came up with a generally accepted formula for calculating hiking speed on a slope, assuming an average fitness level :
1 hour for every 3 miles, plus 1 hour for every 2000 feet of ascent
So, if you're going for a 6 mile round-trip hike, with 1000 feet of elevation gain, then the hike would take approximately 2.5 hours to complete. Some people also correct Naismith’s rule for descent , adding 10 minutes for every 1000 ft of gentle downhill while losing 10 minutes for 1000 ft of descent.
How many miles can you hike in an hour?
In addition to the calculations we made earlier, there are other factors to consider when looking at your hiking speed.
Lower the pace by a 1/2 mph to account for challenging terrain . Uneven terrain, such as a rocky mountainside path will slow your pace more than a wide, well-groomed trail.
Hiking at night or in bad weather conditions also slows down hiking pace. Assume you will take 25% longer to walk a mile in poor weather. In extreme conditions, increase this to 50%.
Backpacking adds an additional load to consider, as hiking with a heavy pack can slow you down. While this will vary from person to person, very roughly speaking, you can reduce your miles per hour by a 0.2-0.5 miles when carrying a heavy backpack.
My first hike took us over challenging terrain, in ideal weather conditions (except the cloud of mosquitoes), carrying heavy packs. Had we planned ahead, we'd have calculated our adjusted pace to be about 2.5 miles per hour - but I'd consider myself a relatively fit person.
How far can the average person hike in a day?
Every hiker and trail is different, but on average, you can hike 8 - 15 miles a day . Even the slowest hikers can cover a considerable distance if they have the time to spare. At a pace of 2 mph (slower than average), you can comfortably hike 10 miles in a day.
For through-hikes, the distance varies but hikers can cover anywhere from 10-20 miles a day, with experienced hikers reaching distances of 30 miles a day. The best way to build your endurance is to get out and hike.
While general fitness plays a role in how far you can go, hiking long distances requires training both your body and mind. Start with shorter hikes and go slowly. As you train, gradually increase distance and pace.
How to pre-determine how long a hike will take
I've mostly hiked with people who were all about the destination, rather than the journey. They set a rapid pace and focused on speed instead of sightseeing. Others prefer to meander, packing snacks and stopping often for scenic selfies along the trail.
In order to pre-determine how long a hike will take, make sure to take into account the pace of the slowest hiker in your group and the time taken to eat and pause to put band-aids on blisters.
How to hike faster
Experienced hikers are able to tackle longer and more difficult trails while still maintaining speed. For beginner hikers, here are a few factors that can help pick up your pace as you gain experience :
- Packing light and correctly (bring enough gear to be safe, but leave the books and wine bottles behind)
- Wearing appropriate footwear (most of the time lighter is better)
- Using trekking poles (let your upper body do some of the work and distribute the load better)
- Find a steady, natural cadence (focus on keeping same distance and speed with each step)
- Walk often and on varied terrain (take the stairs, walk up hills in the park, “hike” to work)
Average miles per day on Appalachian Trail
Hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a true test of stamina and a goal for many hikers. Roland Mueser hiked the AT in 1989 and gathered extensive data from fellow hikers . He found that the average hiker started at 12.8 miles a day while those who were out of shape started doing around 9.5 miles a day.
Also, hiking the AT has its own conditioning program, Mueser found that after a month on the trail, all hikers were averaging around 16 miles a day.
I've found this to be true on long-distance hikes that I have done. By day 3, I was hiking faster and covering more distance than when I began. By day 7, I didn’t want to get off the trail to come home, I felt like I could hike forever (exaggerating, but you get the idea).
You know, with these kind of things, the most progress relative to the work done is made in the beginning.
Choosing hike length
It's VERY important to choose a route that fits your comfort level, time-frame, and motivations. Starting out, it's wise to choose a short hike or choose an option with multiple exit points.
For inexperienced hikers, try starting with no more than 5 miles and for no more than 1 night . This is also a chance to test out your gear and, most importantly, your footwear. As you gain experience, you can increase the distance and find what feels comfortable for you.
Pick a day hike that has a few loops. This way, you can choose to extend your hike if you are feeling energetic but you won’t get stranded on a remote route if you tire more quickly.