A very common question we get asked amongst hikers (both experienced and beginners) is to know how many miles can they hike in a day?
I did a little research and the average hiker can expect to walk at speeds of 2 and 3 miles per hour. Therefore if you are trekking for 8 hours a day, you will be averaging between 16 and 26 miles. However, there are a lot of factors that play a crucial role in determining this number and you need to consider them when calculating how far you can hike in a day.
For instance, an experienced thru-hiker will quite likely be able to hike at a faster pace and walk more miles than a beginner or occasional hiker.
There is another scientific way to measure the number of miles you can hike in a day called Naismith’s Rule (named after a Scottish mountaineer). He came up with an equation that basically determines how many miles you can walk and expect to cover in a given day. In general, if you are hiking in a flat terrain you should be supposed to cover an average of 3 miles per hour; you can add an extra hour if the terrain is more hilly.
Of course, this rule has plenty of varieties that we will describe and explain in detail throughout this article.
So, without any further due let’s dive in together and explore all the different factors that will help you better determine how many miles you can hike in a day.
Fitness Levels/ Overall Experience
Your fitness level will play a huge factor to determine both your pace and stamina while you are hiking. The fitter you are the more comfortable you will find to hike in general and to move at a faster pace. This is also quite related to your level of experience around hiking on different types of terrains, seasons as that will quite likely improve your chances to walk faster.
On the contrary, if you are not quite fit or you are going for your first hike, then you will definitely take more time to cover the same amount of terrain as an advanced hiker.
In addition, experienced hikers will be more used to deal with blisters and some typical and annoying difficulties you may face on your hike, enabling them to last longer than someone that is new to this sport.
The type of terrain you are hiking has a direct correlation with the amount of time it will take you to hike. If we go back to Naismith’s Rule, this is exactly what he explains.
If you are hiking on flat terrain, then you will be able to move along at a faster pace as opposed to hiking on a rocky, steep, uphill or muddy terrain. Also, bear in mind that although the general public may think that hiking down steep hills should be a fast hike, it can actually take you longer than hiking on flat terrain as you have to work on your balance and impact on your knees to protect them.
Additionally, if you have to cross rivers, or hike through slippery terrains (both snow if it’s in winter or mud if it rained) it will impact directly on the time it will take you to walk.
Time on Trail
This is another factor to consider when determining the number of miles you can hike in a day. For instance, if you´ve been hiking all day for the past 8 hours your speed for the next two hours will naturally be slower as you will have been burning most of your energy throughout the day.
This also applies if you´ve been consistently hiking the same trails for some consecutive days in a row. Your body will eventually demand you to get some rest, hence your speed will decrease. However, if you have been pacing yourself well, you may end up finding that your body becomes more accustomed to the hike, and hence your pace increases alongside.
In the hiking niche, this is also known as ´getting your legs’, or ´getting your mountain legs´and it basically means that your body gets used to walking long distances at a faster pace, building up a stronger overall endurance. As you acquire your mountain legs, your body becomes a smarter machine and becomes way more efficient in burning and using your energy on the trail.
That’s why its critical to pace yourself progressively and avoid going crazy on the first days as you may end up injuring yourself.
The weather can have a direct impact on how far you can hike in an hour or on any given day.
If you are hiking on a perfect day -sunny, not too hot, not too windy, and no rain – then you will be more likely to hike for longer hours and you will not feel too tired as the weather is quite benevolent in general.
Now, if you are not hiking on a perfect day and its cold, cloudy, windy, rainy, etc that will definitely impact your pace but also your overall stamina.
Also, not only should you consider the specific type of weather but you also need to factor the season as it has a direct correlation with the amount of sunlight you will be exposed to on any given day.
For example, if you are hiking during the summer season, you will be able to hike for longer hours as you have more sunlight. Whereas if you are hiking during the winter season, then the days tend to be shorter, consequently you have less sunlight to hike during the day. Therefore, you will be able to cover fewer miles.
This is quite straightforward: if you pack more gear you will walk slower.
You have to find a perfect balance between the amount of gear you carry and the size of your body and ability to carry that specific gear and distribute the weight accordingly, in order to manage your energy more efficiently throughout your hike.
The more often you hike, the more used you will get to carry a backpack and walk for longer distances at a faster pace.
This takes time and practice, but eventually, you will be able to carry more weight and walk for long hours and distances.
Altitude Of The Trail
Similar to the weather/season factor described above, you need to consider the altitude of your trail that you will be hiking. This is very important if you are hiking high up a mountain as your oxygen levels will dramatically increase, therefore directly impacting your body efficiency and stamina to operate.
The higher you hike, expect your body to take more time to recover and burn more energy. Consequently, you will walk at a slower pace and get tired way faster than if you were hiking in flat terrain with less altitude.
The Right Mindset
Like anything in life, your mindset controls and determines everything you ultimately want to achieve. If you haven’t built a strong, resilient mind you will find yourself struggling through some parts of your journey and wanting to quit in advance or give up to any difficulties or pain you may encounter.
That’s why it’s crucial for you to get into the right mindset before you embark on any outdoor adventure. You need to be mentally prepared for constant forward motion, knowing that it will be hard and suck at certain points. Your knees will hurt, your body will beg you for a rest but in the end, all that pain and difficulties you may face will fade away.
Throughout the course of a long hike (8-10 hours), it’s quite normal to go through a wide range of emotions (boredom, frustration, sadness, joy).
What you need to know and focus your energy and thoughts on is that you can´t control certain factors such as the weather, the terrain you have decided to hike, but what you can control are your inner thoughts which will ultimately determine if you will be successful to reach your final destination or not.
That’s why I typically live by the following motto ´don´t stop when you are tired, stop when you are done´.
We have outlined all the crucial factors you need to consider to determine how many miles you can hike in a day.
In the end, nothing can beat your determination. If you are determined to hike a specific amount of miles on a given day, you will eventually accomplish that. Anything is possible in life.
In addition, always keep in mind bringing some snacks, protein bars, and sufficient water to properly fuel your body with energy throughout the hike.
So, now it’s up to you to get out there and experience it for yourself.
Load up your pack, pick a specific place and trail and start hiking!