When you’re ready to explore a hiking trail, an important part of preparing for it with all your supplies is to know about how long it will take. After all, a short hike will only call for the basics, but a longer one will certainly entail bringing more along. And for all hikes, there are in-case-of-emergency things you should pack too.
But how do you determine how long a hike will take? You’ll need to use the book time to estimate it. This is a formula that will give you an estimate of how long your hike will take you and those hiking with you.
There are a few things to consider in making this estimate. For example, if the trail is flat or the terrain really doesn’t get very steep, an easy overall hike, you’d estimate it to take about 30 minutes for every mile (1.6 km). Add on an additional 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet (0.3 km) in elevation uphill. For going downhill, it takes less time and you can assume it to be the same as walking along a flat trail, or 30 minutes for each mile.
But that’s of course a basic way to average things out. You’re not accounting for your fitness level or for anyone else hiking with you. If you move fast, it will take you less time. If it’s hot out and you need to stop to have more water, rest on a rock, or you spot something cool like a deer that you want to hang back and watch, it’s going to take you more time.
Keep reading and you’ll find out how to master hike timing for your best experience!
What’s the average hiking distance?
Planning a hiking excursion? You should plan on an average of 10 miles (16.09 km) per day at your destination. Of course, if you’re bringing kids along for the adventure, you might want to halve that, and that’s being generous. Kids are great, but little ones will definitely prevent you from going very far. Be prepared to carry them and their gear too. It might be wise to choose an easy place to hike, one where you can cut things short if necessary. If your kids are bigger though, they’ll be able to carry their own gear and go more distance.
For any backpacking trip, with kids or without, with a dog or without, with friends, family, or whoever wants to come along, you’ll have to map out how far you plan to go in a day. You should never just try to wing it or you will come up short on supplies and have to head home sooner than you planned.
This distance is going to vary for every person planning the hike. First, you’ll have to be honest about your fitness level and the weight of your pack. If it’s your first hike, you shouldn’t try to move mountains. Instead, start with something easier and build your way up to those epic excursions. That pack is going to weigh you down too. You have to bring all the essentials along for survival too and that’s not light. Prepping for your hikes by hiking shorter distances at home or in your local park with a weighted pack can definitely help you build up endurance.
Other things that will come into play are the terrain you’ll be hiking on and who you’ll be with. As mentioned, kids will definitely slow down the pace.
As you plan, you need to mark any zero-days into your plan which are the days you spend in the camp without hiking. These are great for taking a break and cleaning your clothing and supplies or enjoying the finer things at a nice campsite. And even if you do plan zero-days, you may want to allow room for any potential unplanned zero-days too. If your kids come along and their feet hurt or you just love the campsite you’re staying at, you may be compelled to stay even longer.
How to Determine Trail Length and Elevation Gain
For planning, you need to find out about the trail you plan to go on. Thankfully, the internet has made this much easier than the rustic days of old. You can use Alltrails.com which has just about every trail anywhere in the world completely mapped out. There are reviews about the trails and plenty of details so you can choose if it’s a good match for you.
As an example, you can see what the length is like and how difficult it is. If this is your first big hike, or you’re taking the family along, you’ll want to look for something shorter and easier.
But when it comes to elevations, you should look at Caltopo.com. Here is where you’ll see any elevation changes and it goes deeper than that. There are convenient charts that show you all the inclines and declines. This will help you be even more detailed with your trail plans because you can see exactly where you’ll likely slow down as you climb up and where you’ll pick up speed on the way down to get your best timing estimate.
While these are definitely helpful tools, you’ll still have to delve deeper to assess how long it will take you to make the hike. Keep reading and you’ll be an old pro in no time!
What variables will affect how long it takes me to hike a mile?
We glossed over a few of the things that will impact the length of time it will take you on your hike. Now we’re going to dive right in so you can plan your hike better.
– Your Fitness Level
The length of time it will take you to traverse the land at hand will depend greatly on your level of fitness. If you’re in tip-top shape, taking on a mile will go much more quickly than if you’ve skipped out on your workout sessions. Ideally, if you want to make hiking a regular thing in your life, you should aim to get in shape before taking on a backpacking trip. You don’t have to run like a rat on the treadmill, but do find a way to keep decreasing the length of time it takes you to hike a mile. Once you get this mastered, you can better estimate the time it will take you out on the trail.
– Walking Speed
While your level of fitness helps, walking speed can definitely vary even if you are fit as a fiddle as they say. Human beings hit an average speed of 3 to 4 miles per hour (4.82 km/h to 6.43 km/h respectively) when walking. That’s 1 mile every 15 to 20 minutes. The speed at which you walk can indicate your overall health. But then again, other things can come into play here too. Your age, sex, and height may also work for or against you. Add to that the terrain and your efforts and the speed at which your walking can vary drastically. And let’s suppose you go hiking with your best friends and start talking about things in your lives, you might wind up slowing down the pace no matter how healthy and fit you all are.
If you want to increase your chances of hiking faster and making good time, save the chit-chat for the campsite. Before your trip, work on your muscle strength, particularly in the lower body to help boost your performance on the trail.
Average walking speed by age
Sadly, the older we get, the slower we get. Every trip around the sun means you’re walking a bit slower and slower. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but your age does play a role. That doesn’t mean it’s all set in stone though, but before we get into that, here’s a handy chart that can help you out.
|AGE IN YEARS||Meters/second||Km/hour||Miles/hour|
|20 to 29||1.34 to 1.36||4.82 to 4.89||3.0 to 3.04|
|30 to 39||1.34 to 1.43||4.82 to 5.14||3.0 to 3.2|
|40 to 49||1.39 to 1.43||5.00 to 5.14||3.11 to 3.2|
|50 to 59||1.31 to 1.43||4.71 to 5.14||2.93 to 3.2|
|60 to 69||1.24 to 1.34||4.46 to 4.82||2.77 to 3.0|
|70 to 79||1.13 to 1.26||4.06 to 4.53||2.53 to 2.82|
|80 to 89||0.94 to 0.97||3.38 to 3.49||2.10 to 2.17|
If you want to keep from having physical decline as you age, even if you’re nowhere close to being considered the standard of old, walk! Walking is one of the best ways to prevent the physical symptoms of aging. You can do it anywhere and you’ll feel better every time you do it.
Typically, older adults are less likely to get the exercise they need. Head it off at the pass by staying in shape while you’re young. And if you’re what they call “old” in terms of number, remember that age really is just a number. There’s a woman aged 103 who has the nickname of ‘The Hurricane’ who just took home a gold medal for a 50-meter and 100-meter dash. If she isn’t letting her age stop her then neither should you!
Average walking speed by sex
Sorry, ladies, but on average, men walk faster than women (of course, not including ‘The Hurricane’ mentioned above). When in their 20s, the difference is negligible. It stays mostly this way until around the 60s. Also as mentioned, older adults tend to get less exercise than they should but women are much more likely to be the ones not getting that exercise.
Again, age is just an indicator in relation to time. How you take care of yourself now can mean that when you’re 60, 70, 80, and beyond that you’re still active and outrunning everyone else around you. Take a look at this chart that gives you the stats.
|20 to 29||Male||1.36||4.89||3.04|
|20 to 29||Female||1.34||4.82||3.00|
|30 to 39||Male||1.43||5.14||3.20|
|30 to 39||Female||1.34||4.82||3.00|
|40 to 49||Male||1.43||5.14||3.20|
|40 to 49||Female||1.39||5.00||3.11|
|50 to 59||Male||1.43||5.14||3.20|
|50 to 59||Female||1.31||4.71||2.93|
|60 to 69||Male||1.34||4.82||3.00|
|60 to 69||Female||1.24||4.46||2.77|
|70 to 79||Male||1.26||4.53||2.82|
|70 to 79||Female||1.13||4.06||2.53|
|80 to 89||Male||0.97||3.49||2.17|
|80 to 89||Female||0.94||3.38||2.10|
– Brisk Pace
So, you can walk. But what if you took on a brisk pace? Basically, a brisk pace is speed walking. You’re kicking it up a notch to go faster than you normally would walk but you’re not running. Again, this speed is largely determined by your level of fitness. Fitness experts say that a brisk pace is about 100 steps per minute which translates to 3 to 3.5 miles per hour.
And yet again, this is all relative. It all depends on how much you exert yourself which all goes back to that fitness level. Brisk pace walking involves raising your heart rate and your breathing rate too. You should be a little out of breath and maybe a hint sweaty when you go for a brisk pace. An app or using a speedometer can help you keep tabs on how fast you’re clocking in. Fitness bands and pulse monitors will also do the trick in a nice, hands-free way.
Brisk walking is a great idea to get prepared for your hiking excursion. It’s moderately intensive and boosts your heart rate for healthy blood flow. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) says you should aim for getting around 150 minutes of this kind of moderate intensity in exercise every week. Want to exercise for a shorter amount of time? Then go for vigorous intensity for 75 minutes per week.
Basically, the faster you walk, the better off you’ll be. Don’t go from zero experience to pushing yourself over the edge though. The key is to build up that stamina and boost your technique. Focus on your posture and how you carry yourself in your stride. Pay attention to the way your arms move too. And don’t forget that wearing the right kind of shoes and attire makes all the difference in building up your pace.
– Obstacles on the trail and terrain conditions
What’s ahead on your trail will also be important for your hiking time. If the terrain is flat and uneventful, it will take no time at all. But what if there are lots of roots from the towering trees and it’s just rained, making them slippery? What if you have streams to cross or boulders and rocks to navigate around? These natural elements will all add time to how long it takes you to go a mile on your hike no matter how fit you might be. This is why you should research the trails you plan to take to find out what obstacles you should plan on encountering.
With the terrain, it is a big factor too, even if no streams or rocks are in the way. When you go uphill, it’s going to take longer. Being surefooted so you don’t slip down a steep incline is important, and even the strongest of us is capable of taking a nasty spill.
Not everything will be known on your trail though. There could have been a massive thunderstorm just days before your hike, leaving a downed tree right in the path you plan to take. This will add more time to your hike, though if you have everything else planned right and factor in extra time for unknowns, you’ll be able to navigate accordingly.
A place that’s popular and well-traveled will likely be a smooth hike. But if you’re trying something a little lesser-known, estimate that you’ll go 2 miles per hour (3.21 km/h) on flat terrain just to be on the safe side.
Another consideration, of course, is the weather. You’ve been planning your trip for weeks or even months and then you get out there and it rains like crazy. Or the snow is piling up. While you can’t make the weather change on a whim (wouldn’t that be nice though?), you can plan for possible weather conditions for the time of year of your hike. If possible, try to time your hiking excursions during seasons when the weather is more favorable.
– Weight on Your Back
It might be obvious, but the heavier your backpack is, the more strenuous this hike is going to be. Even the fittest people will slow down after hiking mile after mile with a heavy pack. You can either lighten your load which might be impossible since you need to bring enough supplies or better yet, choose a lightweight backpack to help you out.
By using a lightweight pack, you can move faster and further without feeling fatigued. You’ll also prevent back and neck pain from carrying so much weight.
For a day hike, you really only need the essentials. In this case, you’ll move much more quickly than you would if you were going on a week-long excursion. This is why it’s so important to gear up for hikes with a loaded pack. It helps you build endurance for the long haul. Plus, it’s a great workout.
When all is said and done though, if you’re reasonably fit, the weight of your pack will have an impact. Let’s say it’s about 35 or 40lbs (15.87 kg or 18.14 kg respectively). At that weight, you’ll likely go 2.5 miles per hour max (4.02 km/h).
If you’re serious about hiking, a worthy investment is the Teton Sports Scout 3400 (Amazon link). It features an internal frame that can comfortably hold all your essentials for a 2 to 4-day hike. We love that it is easy to adjust for a wide range of sizes so it can fit on just about anyone from teens to adults. It’s highly durable with a lumbar pad and molded channels so your back gets the support it needs while allowing airflow to keep you from sweating into oblivion.
The narrow size is great too, allowing for squeezing into tight quarters. But don’t be fooled by that since it has 3400 cubic inches of space ready for you (55 Liters). It has easy-access side pockets so you won’t have to stop to get out things you need on the trail. Definitely check this pack out because it can make your hikes much easier, not to mention lift some of the burdens off your back.
Trekking poles can help improve your hiking speed
Perhaps you did a lot of hiking in your youth, or you’re still young and plagued by sports injuries that have left your knees a little weak. Not to worry because trekking poles can really help you out. They also help you go faster when you’re on an incline. It’s easier to traverse rocky terrain or small streams with them too.
Even if your knees aren’t weak though, trekking poles can help you speed up by anywhere from 5% to 10% during your hike. They’re a worthy investment.
Foxelli Trekking Poles makes a great set you’ll want to get. Go for the Collapsible Lightweight Shock-Absorbent Carbon Fiber Hiking Sticks (Amazon link). They’re ultralight because they’re made from 100% carbon fiber. This material also makes a minimal impact on your joints. You’ll go more quickly while using up less energy. They’re pretty indestructible too, built to last for all weather and all-terrain. With a quick-lock, you can snap them to just the right length for your height to get a custom fit. The grips are natural and made from cork so even when you’ve got sweaty palms, you’ll have full confidence. And even if you do have butterfingers, the wrist straps will ensure you don’t lose one and have to move forward without it. These are a gamechanger, even for seasoned hikers.
Don’t Forget to Factor in Breaks!
Interestingly, there’s something many hikers forget to calculate when determining how long a hike will take… breaks! You might really want to get to a campsite, but breaks are necessary for hydrating with water and conserving energy for the long haul. You’ll want to plan on stopping every 20 to 30 minutes. If you have kids, you’ll need to shorten that to every 10 or 15 minutes.
Yes, you need water and sustenance, but sometimes, taking a break to soak up nature is what it’s all about. With the well-traveled routes, you’ll often see tips posted from other hikers about what to look for in the area. Try to incorporate stops in these areas and remember why you’re out there in the first place – to disconnect from the modern world and enjoy the roots of nature!
Tips to help you make your hiking distance longer
So, now that you know how to figure out how long a hike should take you, you might want to know how to hike longer for each duration. Keep reading and you’ll find things to improve on that will really help you go the distance!
– Think About Your Posture
When you’re walking, pretend you’re a puppet with a string going from the top of your head and that someone is pulling that string gently upward. Lift up and out in this fashion to help utilize the muscles in your midsection and have a better, more powerful posture that speeds up your pace.
– Use the Most Powerful Muscles
Step off from your heels when you walk. It will take focus to program this into your brain on hikes, but when you do, you rely on those stronger muscles of your glutes and your hamstrings. This small move also reduces strain for knees, ankles, calves, and quads while boosting your efficiency.
– Maintain a neutral spine
Practicing core maintenance before your hike is always a good idea. You want to keep that spine neutral so you have a balance between your trunk muscles and your lower back.
– Build Strength Naturally
As mentioned earlier, the more you gear up for your hike before the hike, the better off you’ll be. Try hiking outdoors locally in the park to practice with a full pack. And don’t forget to do exercises that target and strengthen the muscles you’ll use. This set of them, called the Daily Dozen, hits all the right ones.
– Work on Your Speed
On a hike, you don’t want to be the slowpoke in the group. Keep up your endurance by doing interval training. Go for a training walk and find a large tree or rock, something to aim for. Then speed up your pace and clock how quickly you get there. When you work in several faster intervals during a practice hike, you make a big impact. You’re stimulating the neuromuscular system. Your goal here is not to push yourself too hard but to work on agility and quickness.
– Practice Your Balance
Balance is so important in life. This is especially true as we age. Elderly people suffer many injuries because they lose their balance. It’s not because they got old. It’s because they stopped practicing harmonizing their balance. Try standing on one leg as long as you can. Increase the length of time with every set. After you master this, try doing it with your eyes closed. By doing this simple thing every day, you’ll boost your balance and stay healthy no matter your age!
Knowing how long a hike will take you makes it easier to plan your excursion. Even if you’re not venturing that far from home, this information is important for knowing how much of your supplies you’ll need. You don’t want to undershoot your estimate and have to ration out food and water. By the same token, you don’t want to plan on making it to camp too quickly if you’ve got children along. You’ll wind up tiring them out.
With trail websites to help you see what’s out there and by practicing to get in better shape, you’ll be able to conquer trails much more quickly. Still, having a good plan with a conservative estimate will always be the best course, no matter which course you choose on your hike.