A guide to calculating and utilizing the average hiking speed on any trail.
Published: September 15th, 2020
Most people ignore their hiking speed, but it is a critical factor when planning a trip. Knowing how long it will take you or a companion to complete a set distance is essential. It allows you to plan an appropriate start time, so you're back before dark. It also lets you know who long you will be on the trail so you can carry enough food and water for your journey.
The average hiking speed varies among people and among the type of hike you are planning. Use these scenarios as a guide to learn how different factors influence hiking speed and how this applies to a hike you are planning.
SCENARIO A (Brisk Walk): Light pack, flat terrain = APPROX 3+ MPH
On flat terrain, you can really cruise even with a full pack. Most people can cover at least 3 miles in an hour. If you are in good physical condition and have a lightweight pack, you can even make it four or five miles in an hour.
SCENARIO B (Average): Full pack, moderate terrain = APPROX 2 MPH
Most hikers can maintain a 2 mph hiking speed across moderate terrain with an average backpack. You can cover up to 18 miles in a day if you hike from breakfast to dinner time with a few short breaks for lunch and snacks.
SCENARIO C (Slow Trudge): Full pack, elevation gain greater than 1,500 feet/mi = APPROX 1 MPH
When you are climbing with a full pack and traversing a steep incline, you can plan on your hiking speed to slow to one mile per hour. If you are climbing 4,500 feet under these conditions, you can expect it will take three hours or more to reach your destination.
CASE STUDY: Average Hiking Speed on the AT
Let's take a look at the average thru-hiking speed on the Appalachian Trail and see if it matches the above-stated average hiking speed of 2 mph.
The Appalachian Trail is 2,190 miles long. The average thru-hike completion time is 165 days. If a hiker takes 1 zero day per week on average, that translates to 141 days of actual hiking.
If we divide 2,190 miles by 141 days, we can conclude that an AT thru-hiker covers 15.5 miles per day on average, which coincides with the results found by this survey. So far, so good.
Now, the amount of time someone spends hiking each day can vary, but let's use 8 hours as a rough estimate.
15.5 miles divided by 8 hours of hiking per day gives us an average hiking speed of 1.94 miles per hour. Pretty darn close to 2 mph.
TRY IT OUT
We've built a simple calculator for you to play with. You can use it to define a target hiking speed for an upcoming hike or calculate your average hiking speed on a recent hike.
ELEVATION GAIN: A LOT OF UP AND DOWN SLOWS YOU DOWN
By far the most important factor when calculating hiking speed over a given distance. Elevation gain is how many feet you are climbing over a given distance. So, if you start at 5,000 feet in elevation and climb to 8,000 feet over 3 miles... that would be 1,000 feet of elevation gain per mile. Some rough guidelines on this:
100 feet per mile = Easy
500 feet per mile = Moderate
1,000 feet per mile = Difficult
The slope itself also has a direct effect on your hiking speed. The steeper the ascent, the slower you will hike. Likewise, as you head downhill, you can expect your pace to quicken. Don’t overestimate your downhill speed, though. Sometimes, you have to slow down substantially to navigate steep or technical sections of the trail. In these areas, you often can hike up faster than you can hike down.
TERRAIN: UNEVEN TERRAIN SLOWS YOU DOWN
Rough terrain on the trail (roots, rocks, sand, snow, etc) will slow the hiking speed of even the most seasoned hikers. Having to watch your feet as you navigate loose basketball-size stones, step over dense roots, trudge through snow, and scramble up steep rock slab absolutely will slow your hiking speed. If you’re not sure about the terrain on your hike, search online for reviews. Someone somewhere will have a trail report that details the type of terrain you will encounter.
LEVEL OF FITNESS (AND/OR FATIGUE): EVERYONE'S ABILITIES ARE DIFFERENT
Hiking speed is different for every person. The more fit you are, the faster and longer you can hike. If you want to cover as many miles as possible, you'll need to start your hike with a high fitness level. Don't get frustrated if you are not up to hiking machine standards. The best way to increase your fitness is to hike and hike some more. Regardless of how fit you are, though, your hiking speed naturally will slow down as your body begins to tire.
PACK LOAD: HEAVY PACKS WILL SLOW YOU DOWN
The heavier your pack, the slower you will hike. Keep this in mind on multi-day trips or after resupplies. Your pace may be significantly slower immediately after resupply and will pick up as you consume the food you are carrying. Also look at your base weight before leaving and make sure it's optimal. We've written a separate post with 42 tips to shave pack weight.
BREAKS: ACCOUNTING FOR TIME FOR TAKING PHOTOS, SNACKING, ETC.
Everyone enjoys pausing at a beautiful vista, but it will slow your hiking speed. If you need to cover 15 miles before lunch, you should limit how long you linger while stopping for a snack or taking in a view. The length of your lunch break will also matter. Food prep and clean up can be time-consuming and reduce the amount of time you have for hiking in a day.
The average hiking speed on a steep trail is around 1 mph.
Given the considerations we've outlined in previous paragraphs, you have several options to increase your hiking speed on any given trail:
GPS Watch: A GPS watch like the affordable Garmin Instinct can determine your pace, both when you ascend and descend. It also tracks elevation, allowing you to calculate your hiking speed on a variety of different terrains. Most watches even have an option to pause the tracking when you take a break. If you really want to dial in your hiking speed, a GPS watch or a GPS device is the way to go.
Phone Hiking Apps: If you don’t want to invest in a GPS watch, you can still calculate your hiking speed with a GPS-capable phone like an iPhone or an Android device. The phone alone won’t work though. You’ll need an app like MapMyTracks to collect and analyze your hiking data. Like a GPS device, these apps can calculate pace and elevation. Though these calculations are highly dependent on the GPS accuracy of your phone, and some phones are better than others at tracking your location.
Fitness Trackers: Fitness trackers are lightweight, affordable, and convenient, but not all are equipped with GPS. Most use your phone’s GPS to track your hiking pace and elevation. These measurements may vary between devices and won’t be as accurate as a dedicated GPS watch or GPS device. Fitness trackers will be good enough if you are looking for a rough estimate and not pinpoint accuracy. See Fitbit.
Manually: You don’t need technology to calculate your hiking speed. All it really takes is a pen, paper, and some attention to detail while you hike. You simply time your entire hike and divide the time by the length of the trail, which you can find in a guide book or online. Just remember to subtract breaks from the total time of the hike.
How many miles can I hike in a day?
How many miles you can hike in a day will depend on the factors noted above (ie terrain, pack weight, fitness). To calculate how many miles you can hike, simply multiply your hiking speed by the amount of time you’ve allotted for hiking.
For example, an average thru-hiker hikes approximately 8 hours a day and can easily walk at a pace of three miles per hour. On an average day, they can cover up to 24 miles especially on flat terrain. On more rugged terrain, the pace can drop to one mile per hour which cuts the distance to 8 miles or less.
How long will a 5-mile / 7-mile / 10-mile hike take?
To determine how long it will take to hike a certain distance, you need to divide the length of the hike by your average hiking speed.
For example, most people hike 2 miles per hour on an average hike. If you are walking a five-mile loop through moderate, you should allocate 2.5 hours for the hike. Likewise, a 7-mile hike will take 3.5 hours, while a 10-mile hike will take 5 hours.
What's Naismith's rule?
Naismith’s Rule was developed by Scottish mountaineer William Naismith back in 1892. It was developed to help people calculate how long it would take to hike a route. It assumes you will walk 3 miles in an hour with an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of ascent. It takes into account the distance and elevation of your hike, but it fails to consider terrain. You could climb according to Naismith's pace on a well-worn dirt path. These calculations go out the door when you add rock scrambling, fallen trees, river crossings, and other obstacles into the equation.
By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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