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Hiking Distance Estimates
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Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
Hiking Distance Estimates on 02/09/2008 04:28:49 MST Print View

I'm wondering if anyone has figured out a good system for estimating hiking distance capabilities. My preference is to start hiking about an hour after the sun starts to rise and end the day about 1 hour before total darkness. I want to walk actively all day with short breaks. My method to planning trips is to simply measure off 15 miles and figure I can pretty much do that. Problems arise with terrain (flat I cover too quickly, lots of terrain can slow me down terribly), sunlight (winter time....oppps is that the sunning setting), streams (how many times can this trail cross this thing), etc. The problem is some days I find myself running to get to camp location (for water) and others taking a nap to slow down. Any formulas you guys use to make this easy?

Neil Johnstone
(nsjohnstone) - MLife
Time/distance estimates on 02/09/2008 04:55:00 MST Print View

Naismith's formula from 1892 works well.
The basis is 3 miles per hour, plus an additional 30 minutes per 1000ft of ascent.
Obviously, terrain and personal fitness affects this - for example ploughing through deep mud is a lot slower, but overall this is still a useful method.

Google for 'Naismith's Formula'and you'll find a lot of variations on the original.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Time/distance estimates on 02/09/2008 05:21:42 MST Print View

I think the average walking speed with a full pack is more like 2 mph plus the slowdown for climbs.

Charles Grier
(Rincon) - M

Locale: Desert Southwest
Re: Time/distance estimates on 02/09/2008 06:37:28 MST Print View

In the country where I travel, I think that Naismiths formula would be a bit unrealistic. For level terrain with no bad trail surfaces (eg. a graded dirt road), 3 mph is probably a reasonable figure and, pushing it, you could likely crank out 4 mph. The problem is that I almost never see conditions like that for any significant distance here in the west. Trails here are rocky, steep, muddy, washed-out, sandy or missing; or some combination of the foregoing. So, I usually plan on 2 mph and add 30 to 60 minutes per 1000 feet depending on how steep the climb looks and whether the trail is known to be good or bad. Even then, my estimates of travel time are generally just that, estimates, and typically will vary by 1-2 hours per ten miles, one way or the other. I just live with it and enjoy the ride!

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Hiking Distance Estimates on 02/09/2008 08:10:34 MST Print View

This is an area where I really like profile maps. They give me a much better idea of the difficulty expected overall. For actually hiking and navigating, I've found them to sometimes be fairly inaccurate, but they definitely help me figure mileage well in the planning stage. More maps than you would imagine offer profiles for longer distance trails.

James Ennis
(JimEnnis) - F

Locale: South
Hiking Distance Estimates on 02/09/2008 10:15:36 MST Print View

In the areas where I hike most (Ozark Mtns), with the usual ups and downs, I can usually figure on hiking an average of 2 miles every hour. I can usually knock out a mile every 24-26 minutes and when I figure in the rest breaks and lunch, I am looking at a 15-mile day taking right at 8 hours.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Hiking Distance Estimates on 02/10/2008 10:07:49 MST Print View

Most in-shape backpackers CAN move at three or four miles per hour but one must factor in rest breaks, scenic vista stops, eating, et al to the overall equation. When all is said and done, although I actually move at three or four miles per hour while hiking my daily average moves much closer to two miles per hour.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Slow-packing on 02/25/2008 15:05:10 MST Print View

We slow-packers usually average 1 to 1 1/2 miles per hour averaged over the entire day, taking into account lunch and breaks, a few thousand feet elevation gain/loss (as in the Cascades or White Mountains), rocky trails, etc.

So in an 8-hour hiking day we average about 8 miles if steep and/or rocky, and up to 12 miles if there are flat or easy sections.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Estimates for me and for kids on 03/05/2008 21:40:05 MST Print View

My lunchtime workouts are on a paved creekside trail, and I do 3.75 miles in an hour with a pack there. This weekend, I estimated six hours (1.5 miles/hour plus slack) for a 8.5 mile round-trip hike up Mt. Tamalpais with an 1100 foot gain, and we did it in 6:10. Four adults and seven boys ages 10-14. The boys tend to average 1.5 mph with packs on short backpack hikes (2-5 miles). The older boys leave me in the dust.

It was clear and very windy on Mt. Tam. My Six Moon Designs Starlite scrunched down decently to be a big comfortable daypack.

Edited by wunder on 03/05/2008 22:01:56 MST.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: Estimates for me and for kids on 03/05/2008 21:50:15 MST Print View

I have to bring someone along if only to remind me to take breaks; otherwise I move at 3-4 mph nonstop for hours and get to camp by lunchtime.

A friend who studies Autism told me that i probably find repetitive motion (i.e. walking) soothing, and I can't disagree. I can't take a break unless I have someone to talk to or something to chew on, and when that finishes I'm itching to get rolling. Not fast, just constant.

I think that your pace and range are very personal things, and unless you're "the slow one" they depend far more on the group (and of course the trail) than they do on you.

It's basic math: if each person randomly needs to pause for something once every two hours, a group of 6 will have 24 random pauses per day whereas a soloist will have 4. 24 4-minute breaks add up, especially if some of them turn into full 15-minute breaks. Add a social dynamic, and everyone moving at the pace of the slowest walker, and your "cruising speed" and "maximum speed" can be 50% or less.

Not that that's bad, just that it's important to consider when planning.

An experienced group that has their routines figured out is another story, of course...

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Estimates for me and for kids on 03/06/2008 07:22:12 MST Print View

For me (35 year old, long legg-ed athletic guy), I can plan on 3.5-4 mph for my cruising speed. When I move to the 4-4.5 range, I'm really moving.

My wife is shorter and has a more casual pace- her cruising range is 2.5-3. At 3-3.5 she's pushing herself.

That's with varied elevation, etc.

David Dietrich

Locale: Central Mississippi
Hike between roadsigns on 08/23/2014 07:46:27 MDT Print View

To really *know* your hiking mph, you must do it and track it with the gear you plan to carry, on similar terrain to that which you plan to cover, in the season you plan to hike in. The simplest way to do this is to walk along rural roads (very quiet and peaceful as a rule) in the same season and geographic area as your planned route. This way, you can mark your time at intersections. This allows you to easily calculate your mph later on a computer.

I am a 24-year-old white guy who lives in rural Mississippi, weighs about 140lbs and stands about 6' 3" (slender build, long limbs, athletic), and have done two hikes where I tracked my mph and water usage carefully. Both were in the middle of August and both were done along the roadside, not trails. I kept track of my time and distance by noting the time at which I started, finished, and reached various road junctions on the way. Afterwards, I calculated my total time, distance, and mph using map software (I used the "Navigator" Android app, but Google maps or something similar should also work).

The first hike took 4hr 4min, 10mi, and 56.9oz water (5.69oz per mile). I averaged 2.5mph. I stopped early because I ran out of water, so I packed enough water the next time. The 2nd hike was 21.8mi, ~9hr (sans lunch), and 3.47 quarts (5.09oz per mi) of water. I averaged 2.47mph.

Because it was the middle of summer in the deep South, I had to stop every five miles or so to avoid passing out from the heat. The terrain was usually flat, but it also rolled in gentle slopes in some spots. Based on all this, I would say that 2.5mph is the low end of what you should expect on average since hiking in the summer of a subtropical climate is not going to yield optimal results; however, 2.5mph should be effective for making rough estimates in cases where you haven't had time to track a test hike.

David Dietrich

Locale: Central Mississippi
Dup on 08/23/2014 07:47:57 MDT Print View

Accidental duplicate post...

Edited by Hinds on 08/23/2014 07:50:29 MDT.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Hiking Distance Estimates on 08/23/2014 09:49:08 MDT Print View

About 2.5 mph trying to start at dawn, factoring in pictures and video, .... then getting in to inspect camp for previous occupant food waste/trash before dusk. About 30 min for every 1000 ft.

Edited by hknewman on 08/24/2014 18:38:13 MDT.

rick .

Locale: NYC
Naismith 2nd'd on 08/24/2014 06:48:35 MDT Print View

I use Naismith with factors for terrain. Slick trail adds 50% bushwaxs add 100%. I'm within a few percent usually.

I trace my route in Garmin Basecamp and input the distance into a simple excel chart, so I can have a reasonably accurate moving time estimate in an hour or two computer time.

Kevin Haskins
(kevperro) - F

Locale: Washington State
The best hikes on 08/25/2014 21:39:38 MDT Print View

I break my day up. Ten before noon and then a long lunch or nap then I do 5 or 6 later in the day. I try not to put myself into situations where it matters how many miles I cover and I let my body dictate how far I go on a given day.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 08/25/2014 23:08:05 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 06/19/2015 09:39:19 MDT.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Re: Hiking Distance Estimates on 08/26/2014 11:04:05 MDT Print View

3 mph? Sure there are people that hike upwards of 4mph but that's hardly average.

I'll hike 3 mph on flat trails. Good luck finding a flat trail in the Cascades.

I conservatively estimate 30 minutes per mile and 30 minutes per 1000' of climbing. I normally do better than this but this gives me a better idea of how much night hiking to anticipate with a margin of error.

For hiking through scree and talus, I average 1 mph.

Everyone is different so it's best to learn from experience.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Forget formulas, use Jamies formula on 08/26/2014 11:39:13 MDT Print View

From the OP, it sounds to me like you a) have found the flaws in following formulas and b) know your pace pretty well and how it relates to conditions.

The problem is you are trying to find an easy formula that you can apply to all your trips and not have to think. I think as long as you do that you will end up with unexpected timing issues (which is okay too if you just accept them as part of the fun, as I often do).

If you want to minimize surprises, you have to do the work. Study the maps, read the trail beta, study your previous hike stats. Understand your typical pace in particular conditions and then, cut the trail down into sections and estimate your pace for each section instead of an average number for a whole day.

ie. 1 mph up to the summit. break for lunch. 3mph down the back side. 2 mph to negotiate this canyon with creak crossings. etc.

If that's too much work, then you'd be wise to accept that surprises will be part of the program for you as it is for me. I dont enjoy micro managing my hikes so I often wing it, even without a map some times, and I enjoy a few suprises along the way. But I do notice that my hiking partners tend to see this as an inconvenience/annoyance and try their best to know where they will sleep, when, how, etc.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
"Equivalent Miles" on 08/26/2014 11:44:25 MDT Print View

I've long used the concept of "equivalent miles" by taking horizontal miles and adding an addition mile for every 500 vertical feet (up AND down). For all non-USA/Liberia/Burma countries, that's horizontal kilometers plus 1 km for every 100 vertical meters.

e.g. Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim: 42 horizontal miles + 21,000 vertical feet (10,500 up + 10,500 down) make it like 42+42 = 84 horizontal miles. And, yeah, after doing it, I felt like I'd done 84 horizontal miles!

e.g. Half Dome: 16 horizontal miles RT + 5,000 up + 5,000 down = 36 equivalent (horizontal) miles.

Those equivalent miles are a good predictor of how long the day will take (divide by 3 mph to 4 mph, depending on your personal speed) and is even better at predicting how much you can reasonably do in a day, how tired, and how sore you'll feel afterwards.

It does not work as well if you are excellent shape and in condition for the hills and are able to power up them. Then you'll beat the predicted times in steep terrain. But when carrying more weight or in a larger party, they work well to equate one trail to another. And also to dictate training. If you can effortlessly bang out day hike of half the equivalent miles, your event should go just fine.