You have a long hike in a couple of weeks, and what should you expect? Will you able to cover those 50 or 100 miles that you’ve set out to hike?
Depends on how far you will be able to hike per day.
How far can you really hike in a day though?
If you are a newbie, then this question probably worries you. And it’s a pretty important question to answer to be fair if you want to prepare for the journey properly.
Well, let’s try to find out!
How Far Can You Hike in a Day?
So how far can you hike in a day? Well, the answer depends on how fast you are walking and how long you can maintain your speed.
The average backpacker walks at speeds from 2.5 and 3.5 miles per hour. If you, for example, dedicate 4 hours a day to hiking, then you can expect to cover from 10 to 14 miles. If you were to travel for 8 hours, you would cover between 20 and 28 miles at the given speeds.
Needless to say, you may increase the covered distance by walking faster or extending the hike time. However, the ability to do so will depend on your fitness level, as well as a few other factors that we will have a look at below.
Believe it or not, but there is a bit more scientific way of calculating how much distance you may cover and in how much time. This way is called Naismith’s rule. It’s a rule of thumb devised by Scottish mountaineer William Naismith in 1892.
While Naismith’s rule is fairly straightforward, we suggest that you don’t wrap your head around it if the covered distance per day isn’t that critical for you. But if you want more or less precise calculations, then you may make use of Naismith’s rule.
Ultimately, estimating how much land you can cover isn’t rocket science – your speed is the key factor here. However, Naismith’s rule allows you to more or less precisely calculate how long it will take you to travel the intended route.
Naismith’s rule’s original formulation states that you should allow one hour for every 3 miles forward and an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of elevation. That is, it will take you 2 hours to cover 3 miles of land where the elevation change is 2,000 feet from start to finish.
There are a few other formulations that could be derived from the original rule:
- Allow 1 hour for every 3 miles and half an hour for every 1,000 feet of elevation.
- Allow 20 minutes for every mile and one hour for every 2,000 feet of elevation.
- Allow 1 hour for every 3 miles and 15 minutes for every 500 feet of elevation.
These formulations should be fairly intuitive to you – for example, if you cut elevation by half, then the time necessary is halved as well.
Among other recent corrections that make the rule more precise are:
- Allow 1 hour for every 2.5 miles forward when walking on uneven terrain.
- The rule has been corrected to account for descent as well. On a 5-12-degree decline, subtract 10 minutes for every 1,000 feet. On an over 12-degree decline, add 10 minutes for every 1,000 feet.
Keep in mind that the original formulation implies a speed of 3 miles per hour on flat land. Adjusting the rule for other speeds is simple – you just substitute the desired speed into the rule.
The most interesting thing about Naismith’s rule is that it provides an estimate of how much time it takes to cover sloped land. Naismith has estimated that every 2,000 feet of elevation take an additional hour of time. By a way of a few simple calculations, we find out that 250 feet take additional 7.5 minutes, 500 feet take 15 minutes, 1,000 feet take half an hour, 4,000 feet take 2 hours, and so on.
And when you take into account the recent corrections to the rule, you can do pretty complex calculations. Not that you really need to calculate anything, but if you like math, go ahead. You may also quickly do the math using online calculators.
There are even more convoluted ways of determining hiking speed and duration. One of them is Tobler’s hiking function which takes into account the slope of the surface. This is a more difficult function involving derivatives and trigonometry, so we won’t cover it here not to make the material too difficult to read. Check out the function yourself if interested.
Factors Determining Covered Distance Per Day
We mentioned above that speed is key in your ability to cover large distances. But what are the factors that determine how fast you can go and how much land you will be able to cover a day?
First comes general fitness. Needless to say, if you are fit, then you can hike faster, and you can maintain a fast pace longer. As a result, a fit and experienced backpacker can cover much more land than a newbie.
If you are new to hiking, then assume that you will be able to do less per day than you’d expect. At the initial stages, you should work on achieving 15 miles per day without exhausting yourself or pushing yourself to the limit.
An experienced hiker also knows that it’s important to conserve stamina in the long run. Going fast the first couple of miles won’t do any good for you since you’ll get exhausted and won’t be able to continue the journey as quick. Choose a slower but steady pace instead – something like 2 miles every hour for an 8-hour day should be good enough.
Needless to say, the terrain will greatly impact your speed and your ability to cover long distances.
It probably isn’t a surprise for you that covering 8 miles on flat land is much easier than covering 8 miles upward. The same applies to steep descents – you will need to go slower downhill to keep your balance and prevent falling.
It’s obvious that hiking for a longer time in the day translates to longer distances covered. You are going to cover much more land in 8 hours than in 4 hours.
With that said, 10-12 hours of hiking a day aren’t too optimal since it’s very easy to burn out during excessively long walks. You may cover a lot of land in those 10-12 hours, but exhaustion may dramatically decrease your productivity the next day.
Just like things are with hiking speed, you need to pick a good balance of hiking time. It needs to be right in the middle where you can cover as many miles as possible without burning out.
Is heavy rain, heat, cold, or strong winds good for your hiking productivity? Surely not. If the weather is bad during the day, then you probably won’t be able to cover as much distance as you had hoped for.
Bad weather will slow you down – heavy rain can limit visibility and make you more careful, while the scorching heat of the sun may exhaust you quicker. Due to this, if you want to cover as much land as possible, you will need to choose a cool and clear day for your hike.
Having 20 pounds on your back will make you burn more energy while hiking. If you have plenty of stuff with you, then you will need to spend more energy to keep up the pace. Or, you will need to slow down to keep your energy expenditure at the same level, but you will cover less land this way.
You will also need to make some compromises by taking only as much stuff with you as necessary. If this means that you will have to leave your trusty laptop at home, then so be it.
If you are a lowlander, then getting high up the mounts will probably make you feel dizzy. The oxygen levels will inevitably decrease the higher you go, and your body will have to work harder to get the required amount of energy out of the scarcer supplies of oxygen. You will, of course, get used to the altitude changes eventually, but you will be much slower high up in the mountains.
In summer, you will be able to cover more miles since the day can last 10 hours or longer. In winter, you will most likely cover somewhat less than in summer, unless you are willing to hike in low light.
How to Cover More Miles During Your Hike?
We now know the main factors affecting your speed and covered distance during a day of hiking. Can you do anything to optimize your day and make the most out of it?
Yes, you can! Below are a few tips that should be able to help you with covering more land per day of hiking.
Pack as light as possible
First and foremost, you should pack as light as possible! As mentioned above, you’ll spend more energy if packed heavy, and your efficiency will drop if you don’t plan ahead.
Only take items that you will absolutely need. However, do not leave out items that will be genuinely useful to you throughout the hike – the added weight is the sacrifice that you need to be willing to take, but no more than necessary.
Pick an easier route
Remember that difficult terrain makes you slower? Well, to go faster and cover more distance, you should pick easier routes and avoid dramatic changes in the slope.
Take a flatter route even if it means that you’ll need to walk a couple of miles more. However, don’t overestimate the benefits of choosing easy terrain – even if the alternative route seems easier, it may actually make you lose time. Whether an easier route will benefit or harm you will depend on the terrain, and an experienced hiker should be able to determine which route is optimal.
Wear good footwear
Your footwear should be light, breathable, comfortable, and supportive. Sweaty or aching feet will make the journey a hell for you.
Aside from picking a good pair of shoes, make sure to use high-quality socks and insoles.
If you want to maximize the miles covered throughout the day, then you should start the hike early. As soon as it’s bright enough outside, you should get going.
This tip will be especially important to follow in winter. You will have less daylight time in winter anyway, but you should still get up early and do all your preparations so that you can get moving with the first light.
Hike before breakfast
Having a breakfast first may seem a good idea – you need energy for the day, right? Well, if you have a heavy breakfast, you may actually bring your performance down. Not only that but by not having breakfast, you will be saving time and will be able to get going earlier.
As your first meal, have a very light snack if you absolutely need to eat something. As for a full breakfast, postpone it until your first stop.
Rest every 2 hours or so
Rest and food breaks take time, but they also keep your physical and mental performance at the peak. You should have a break every 2 hours or so to rejuvenate and have a light meal to recover energy.
Having a 15-minute power nap can also be insanely helpful. Take your shoes off, keep your feet elevated, and close your eyes to rest a little. Even if you don’t fall asleep, the 15 minutes of calm lying should give you a decent boost for the rest of the journey.
Maintain a moderate pace
It may be very tempting for you to give it all right now to cover 20 miles on the first day. Well, you shouldn’t rush things and should instead keep everything at a moderate pace. Giving it all at the beginning will exhaust you, and you will most likely be unable to recover throughout the remaining portion of the hike.
Maintain a moderate pace. If you need to cover 45 miles in 3 days, then cover 15 miles each day. Aside from that, try to maintain a moderate speed throughout the day to conserve your energy.
You can read more of our Hiking articles here.