Hiking is all about going off the grid, exploring new terrains and bonding with nature. As a new hiker, you may be wondering how fast does the average human hike.
Knowing how fast you can go may give you bragging rights; however, importantly it is required to ensure your trip remains safe and without unnecessary drama.
There is no exact consensus on how fast an average human can walk. However, most sources agree that the average hiking speed can be anywhere from 1.5 mph to 10 mph. This wide disparity is due to the fact that hiking speed is influenced by various factors and hence, is completely subjective.
This guide can be a useful resource in finding out how fast an average hiker can cover a trail, what is considered to be an ideal hiking pace, the factors that influence hiking speed, and how to find out your hiking speed.
By using multiple credible resources like the New York Times and high-authority outdoor activity blogs as well as my own experience with hiking, I have created this guide to help you find the hiking speed that is ideal for you.
What is the Average Hiking Speed?
According to the New York Times, the average hiking speed varies depending on the type of hiking you are undertaking. Most hikers stick to walking during a hike and can cover an average of 2 miles an hour. On the other hand, speed hikers have a hiking speed of about 4 to 5 miles an hour. If you are participating in trail running, then an average hiker will be able to cover 6 to 10 miles in a single hour.
Another hiking source, Greenbelly states that the average human can walk at a speed of 1 mph to 3mph on a trail, depending on terrain elevation and the weight they are carrying on their backs.
● 2 mph is a good average speed
● 3 mph is for fit and competitive people
● 4-5 mph is a very fast pace for regular type of hiking (not trail running)
What is the Ideal Hiking Pace?
Since hiking speed varies from person to person, a good hiking speed can only be determined by yourself. Some factors that will influence your hiking pace include your physical condition, hiking experience, the type of terrain, and so many more.
Typically, beginner to advanced hikers can cover a distance of anywhere from eight to 20 miles a day.
Your ideal hiking speed is one which allows you to fulfill your hiking goals. In general, though, covering a distance of anywhere between 12 to 18 miles in a day is an excellent hiking speed.
If you are highly competitive and experienced, you may want to aim higher, say to up to 25 miles a day.
In truth, though, any amount of hiking is a very good form of exercise.
Why You Need to Know Your Hiking Pace
Knowing your hiking speed is less about bragging to your friends and family and more about keeping safe on the trail. Whether you are a runner or simply like to plod on the journey, knowing how fast you can go is important for various reasons.
The biggest reason is that it can help you determine whether you will be able to complete the journey in a given time. For example, if it takes you four hours to cover a ground of 10 miles on a moderate incline and you are expecting a trail of 14 miles at a steep incline and you have only five hours before dark, then you will know that it is unlikely you will make it and need to change your plans.
In mountainous regions, afternoon rains or storms are quite common. Knowing how fast you can hike can help you start at the right time and be able to finish your hike before you are deluged.
Knowing how fast you can hike will also help you determine your expected time of arrival, which will ensure peace of mind for your family and friends.
If you are on a thru-hike, knowing your hiking speed will allow you to prepare for the right amount of food, find if there are any camps or stopovers on the way, and other necessary arrangements.
If you want to challenge yourself, knowing your hiking speed allows you to set goals for further improvements.
Variables that Influence You Hiking Speed on the Trail
Your hiking speed can become fast or slow depending on a number of factors. Let us take a look at some of the most common ones:
When going up a steep incline, you have to contend with the additional pull of gravity, which will inevitably slow down your hike. How much depends on how steep the incline is.
Typically, you will lose about one-third of your speed for every 5.5 degrees of incline.
This means that if your walking speed on relatively flat ground is 3 mph, then your speed on a 5.5 degree incline will be around 2 mph.
Keep in mind though that you will also need to consider the impact of variables like your body weight, leg strength, load bearing capacity, and altitude, which all impact your speed.
Elevation gain refers to how many feet you have climbed during a hike and it can have a huge impact on your speed. Typically, you will not be much impacted on hikes that are under 6,500 feet. But above that and the thinning air will make it difficult to breathe easily. Pretty soon, you will find yourself laboring for breath if you keep trying to push yourself to the speed you had at lower elevation. This can lead to quicker fatigue and will slow down your speed.
For example, if you have started at 6000 feet and expect to climb to 8000 feet in two miles, that is an average of 1000 feet of elevation per mile.
The first hundred miles may seem quite easy to you. However, as you ascend, you will do so with increasing difficulty. By the time you hit 7000 feet, it will be difficult to sustain your speed and breath.
Your hiking speed will also be affected by the terrain you are traversing. As you can probably guess, flat terrains that have been maintained can help you walk at a good and constant speed. However, if the trail is not well-maintained or if you are hiking off-trail, you will encounter rocks, roots, snow, and muddy ground, all of which will slow you down considerably.
Therefore, it is important to know what kind of terrain you will be facing, so that you can plot your route and determine how long it will take you to complete the hike in those conditions.
You can do this easily by going online and reading reviews, calling the park information stations, and making educated guesses based on the recent weather reports.
Weather also plays a big role impacting your hiking speed, no matter how well-maintained the trail is. High temperatures, strong gusts of winds, heavy rainfall, and snow can all hinder your hiking speed.
Weather can complicate matters by not just making it hard to navigate the terrain but also make it difficult to find the right route, force you to take shelter, or make you change your gear frequently.
Your overall fitness level contributes towards determining your average hiking speed. If you are inexperienced in hiking or know that you are not very fit, it will take you longer than average to complete the hike and you may not be able to maintain your max speed for long either.
Therefore, when planning a hike, keep in account your fitness level and fatigue, and add an extra 5% of walking time for every mile you walk beyond your fatigue point.
For example, if your speed is 2 mph, you can cover one mile in 30 minutes. So, if your fatigue point is after three hours, you should allow yourself 31.5 minutes for every mile after that. Also keep in mind that the longer you walk, the more your fatigue will set in, making you go even slower after each mile.
The best way to increase your fitness level and extend your fatigue point is to continue hiking. With time, your body will develop the muscles to keep you going long after you reach your previous fatigue point.
The heavier your backpack is, the slower your hiking speed. Carrying a backpack filled with heavy gear and lots of food supply will make you slow from the get go. In addition, every time you refuel your backpack with supplies, your speed will naturally fall.
To find out how much to pack, you need to know that every 1% of bodyweight you carry on your back will reduce your speed by about 6 seconds per mile. So if you weigh 160 pounds and your backpack weighs 16 pounds and the trail that you have to traverse is 10 miles, then the backpack will increase your entire hiking time by 10 minutes.
Although 10 minutes might not seem like a big deal, if you add in the elevation, the roughness of the terrain, your fatigue level, weather conditions, and other factors, you can only imagine how far back a heavy backpack will set you.
When out hiking, it can seem like a missed opportunity if you do not just sit down for a while and take in nature. Although it is a good idea to take breaks during your hiking trip, you need to factor that into your ETA and route planning as well.
If you need to cover 10 miles before your lunch, you should limit how much time you spend on breaks. Lunch breaks can unintentionally become quite long since you need to prepare the food and also clean up after that, so make sure you consider this when going on a hike.
Your hiking speed also depends on the goal of your hiking. Some hikers want to reach their limits and complete the hike in the fastest way possible, so naturally they will try to maintain a good speed throughout the journey. However, those who are more interested in being out in the wild and bonding with nature will probably like to walk at a leisurely pace.
Ultimately, your speed depends on what you prioritize and your level of experience in hiking.
How to Measure How Fast You Can Hike
There are several ways you can measure the speed of your hiking.
Walk across a 100-feet flat trail three times and calculate the time it takes you to do so every time. Then take the three numbers, add them together and divide them by three to come up with your average hiking time on a flat 100-feet terrain. Multiply it by 52.8 to come up with a number which would tell you how long it will take you to cover one mile of flat terrain.
Do the same steps on inclines of 5.5 degrees and 11 degrees to see how much they slow you down and factor them into your calculation.
For a more accurate estimate, also consider the rough terrains and weather you expect on a journey.
GPs watches and mobile apps are a very accurate way of providing you with a wealth of hiking data. They can help you record your hiking distance, your average speed, time it took you to complete various stages of your journey, your fastest and slowest speed, and the number of calories that you have burned.
Aside from this information, they also let you know your accurate location, display temperature, and show data on barometric pressure and elevation.
Using Naismith’s Rule
This refers to a formula created by Scottish mountaineer William W. Naismith. The rule states that it should take you an hour to hike on flat ground. You should add an extra half hour for every 1000 feet of elevation gain.
This rule was further refined by Eric Langmuir who claimed that it should take you an hour to cover 2.5 miles of flat hiking terrain. He also added 10 minutes for every 300 meters (984.25 feet) of ascent on inclines that were 12 degrees and over and to minus 10 minutes for every 300 meters of descents on inclines of 5 degrees to 12 degrees.
It is a good idea for you to bear in mind the several variables we mentioned above, including your fitness level, the weather, the conditions of the terrain, your pack load, and more to come to a more accurate estimate.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks