If you’re new to backpacking, you may be wondering how many miles a day you are likely to cover when you go backpacking without any prior experience.
Various factors can affect the distance covered on a backpacking trip, and you may want to plan meticulously to be fully prepared for what your hike or travel has to offer. As a beginner, you may be traveling with a more seasoned and experienced group, and you probably don't want to slow them down. The most useful approach you can take from the beginning is to be aware of exactly what to carry and how to calculate your distance based on your current fitness level. You might encounter many obstacles on your trail, meaning it is in your best interests to plan ahead and be ready for anything and everything to come. After all, you want to enjoy your backpacking adventure to the fullest and keep up with everyone in your group.
The average walking pace on a backpacking trip is between 2.5-3.5 miles an hour. You can expect to cover up to 25 miles in a day, depending on the trail length and your backpacking experience.
Depending on your location and the hike's difficulty, you will need to have at least an average fitness level if you wish to keep up with your group. Choosing the right trail is important and you should know that carrying a backpack slows you down and burdens your back and shoulders and is something you need to experience to realize fully. You may also want to consider Naismith's Rule, which was developed by a mountaineer back in the day to accurately estimate the distance you are likely to cover on steep trails. If you have any issues with shin pain when walking long distances, you might need to address that by investing in proper hiking shoes. Stretching and warming up before a hike can also loosen your body and prepare it for the upcoming challenge. If you wish to take on the challenge of an epic backpacking adventure, you will need to prepare as best you can if you wish to rise up to the challenge.
We have considered the opinions of many experts and compiled this article in a digestible form, so you are well on your way to tackling any challenges you are likely to encounter on your trip. Our sources are reliable, and we have included all the things that are sure to help you reach the summit or end of the trail you choose. So without further ado, let's dive into the details to help you plan for your trip and navigate a new and exciting terrain that will thoroughly challenge you to push past your physical and mental limits.
Factors Affecting Your Backpacking Speed
Several factors can influence a backpacker's pace on the trail, and these apply to beginners, intermediates, and advanced backpackers.
You need to maintain a consistent pace to cover the greatest distance possible, which will help you determine how many miles you are comfortable with covering daily.
Let's explore some factors that determine your backpacking speed and how many miles you are likely to cover on a trek.
Physical Fitness And Hiking Experience
Physical fitness is a major factor that contributes to a backpacker’s speed while on a trail.
If someone is unfit and carrying a lot of excess body weight, they will struggle to keep up with their group and likely be unable to complete the trail.
On the other hand, if you regularly go to the gym and engage in cardiovascular activities, you will be much fitter and be able to travel great distances on a hike without much of a problem.
Since there are many types of trails, some with more obstacles on uneven terrain and others with a steep incline, your pace will be determined by how new you are to hikes.
If you’ve been on several hikes while carrying a backpack, you will have the body strength and endurance to tackle even the most difficult of terrains since you're more experienced and used to challenging trails.
When they start a hike, physically unfit individuals may struggle with body aches, foot blisters, and general fatigue, which can be too much for them to continue.
It's important for you to start with an easier trail and gradually increase the total distance you cover, as this will help your body adapt to the increased cardiovascular demand.
Diet and nutrition also play an important factor in fueling your hikes, as nutrient-rich foods provide better and more stable energy for any hiking-related activities you undertake.
You will be surprised by how fast your hiking capabilities improve, and you will easily be able to complete 30 miles in a day on a hike after a couple of months of gradual improvement.
As you slowly become more experienced, you will know which hurdles demand greater effort, and you will have the inner confidence to overcome them time and time again.
Estimating your trekking distance is a skill that most hikers learn with time, and 30 miles is the average goal of every beginner hiker.
As you gain awareness of your average walking pace and begin timing your hikes, you will quickly begin to notice where you might be losing distance.
This may happen when ascending a trail or traversing faster than usual on flat plains.
If you want to get better at this skill, you must make trekking goals and track your progress.
The Difficulty of The Trail
Some hiking trails are easier than others and require less effort on your part, which leads to a better average pace.
These trails are usually smooth and flat, so there aren't significant obstacles that will slow you down, such as dense shrubbery and protruding tree roots.
If you end up on a rocky mountain or hillside, your pace will undoubtedly slow down, resulting in greater effort to traverse the terrain while avoiding potential injuries.
If you constantly have to navigate tricky terrain and focus on safety, it will take much longer to cover the same distance as a flat trail.
Muddy areas, swamps, and streams may need to be crossed, leading to more time spent covering a smaller amount of distance.
Since you’re also carrying a backpack with you on your travels, you will expend more energy to stay safe and not slip on any loose rocks or uneven hillside paths.
All of these obstacles take away from your walking speed, which can significantly increase the duration of your hike.
As you descend a hill, you are also somewhat slowed down, especially if you need to be more careful not to fall down and injure yourself.
Taking care to balance more effectively and avoiding any knee strain is important because it protects you against accidents but increases the hike duration.
Trek duration is likely to change at different points of your hike.
When you begin a trail, you are well-rested and energetic, which means that your pace will likely be faster, leading to more miles covered.
However, as you begin to get tired, you will notice that your speed starts to suffer, causing you to take more time to complete the last stretch of your hike.
If you are on a multiple-day backpacking adventure, your speed will vary from day to day because you are likely to be carrying some fatigue from the previous day.
This is where it helps to be an experienced hiker who has overcome these challenges various times before and therefore manages to keep a steady pace.
You might also begin to get in the flow of hiking, which is likely to lead to more miles covered in a day.
By being in flow, your stride starts to strengthen, and your pace increases, which is described as 'building your mountain legs.'
Muscle memory plays a significant role in traversing challenging terrains if you've been in similar situations before. You will find that long and rugged landscapes start to become more manageable.
If you’re hiking regularly, your body also gets better at utilizing energy more effectively, resulting in you covering more miles despite carrying a heavy backpack.
One of the best ways people can improve their hiking pace on day three of a multiple-day trek is to start slow and conserve their energy initially, resulting in an improved hiking speed after the first couple of days.
Once your pace becomes steady and consistent, you can easily calculate the total distance covered on a hike.
Depending on your location, there are seasonal factors at play that could affect your hiking duration and total miles covered.
Some locations are subject to a lot of rainfall and wind, and you may find that you've slowed down to prioritize your safety.
Sunny locations may be ideal, but if conditions are too hot and humid, you will find that you're sweating profusely, which might tire you out quicker.
If you’re traversing a snowy mountain peak, you will undoubtedly slow down because of the snow you need to sift through.
A level of acclimatization needs to occur for most hikers who encounter a change of season, which can take a couple of days to get used to.
Choosing a trail with sunny and non-humid weather conditions is in your best interests if you wish to cover the most significant distance possible.
However, if you like a challenge, you may seek out unpredictable weather conditions, which add to the joy of hiking.
You must take the correct precautionary measures to prepare thoroughly for any seasonal changes you are likely to encounter, and you can easily find helpful information online.
Hot summer weathers require you to stay hydrated, so you might have to carry more water and take frequent rests.
If you're carrying more weight, you are likely to slow your pace and cover less distance than if you weren't carrying a backpack at all.
That said, no one can backpack great distances without carrying food and supplies, so you might want to take essential items to limit the load you have.
Once you have an idea of your stamina and pace, you can pick and choose the most essential items for your hike and leave the rest behind.
Experiences hikers typically carry some of the most lightweight items on their treks to ensure that they cover the most significant distance possible without expending too much energy.
If you’re a beginner and not used to carrying a backpack, you will quickly realize that weight distribution is important.
You might have to stuff the heavier items in the bottom of your pack and only carry nutrient-dense foods in the form of food bars to meet all of your energy requirements.
Hot climates do not require you to carry a lot of food, which means that your stride will be longer and your pace will be faster.
If you know that a trail is 50-miles long and you wish to complete it in one week, it helps to be aware of the average pace you need to maintain daily.
In this example, if the terrain is fairly treacherous and requires you to slow down to prioritize safety, you may want to maintain a pace of 2 miles per hour.
If you are committed to completing 8 hours of trekking per day, you will easily reach 50 miles by day 4.
Find a pace that you’re comfortable with and try to maintain it to complete your trek on time.
The trek altitude greatly influences your hiking speed, and you will find that some trails will slow you down as you reach greater heights.
This is due to less oxygen availability in the environment, which means that your body will struggle to meet its oxygen demands as you're making your way up a challenging trail.
Some trails require you to ascend for several miles, taking you several thousand feet above ground level, resulting in difficulty breathing.
When you reach mountainous regions on a trek, you will have to lower your pace to meet your body's oxygen needs.
Naismith’s Rule states that we should add an extra hour in hiking duration for every 2000 feet of incline we cover.
You can use this rule to accurately estimate how many miles you want to cover per day, according to your general fitness and how much you wish to challenge yourself.
Motivation And Commitment
This is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding how many miles to cover on a backpacking trip.
If you are highly motivated, it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner; you will likely cover a lot of distance simply because you are willing to walk for 10-12 hours a day and push yourself beyond your limits.
Many of the limitations we create in our minds are the main obstacles we need to overcome, and our drive and will to succeed are what fuels a strenuous hike.
On one particular hiking trip, one of my friends almost gave up after witnessing the initial difficulty of the hike.
He was overweight and did not see himself completing the 16-hour trek that was mainly a steep incline.
However, we convinced him that he could do it, and he surprised himself and many other hikers who were returning from the summit by pushing himself until the end and ultimately reaching the end of the trail.
The point where he almost gave up was the beginning of the hike, and how much distance he eventually covered instilled in him a sense of confidence that allowed him to confront the following few days' hikes willingly.
People who are motivated can get much more done than those who are unwilling or lack the motivation to see things through till the end.
Commitment means that once you’ve decided and set your eyes on the target, there isn’t anything that will stop you from reaching your goal.
Only you can decide how many miles you should cover, and you must be willing to push past your limits to achieve your goal.
Your desire to cover the greatest distance possible on a hike may stem from a need to be physically fit.
Or you may want to gauge your mental perseverance and push past your limits to see what you are truly made of.
Since backpacking is a strenuous but enjoyable group activity, it will shatter your preconceived notions of what is possible because you have others to rely on.
You cannot ask others how many miles to cover because it depends on various factors that you need to consider seriously.
By planning and preparing thoroughly, you ensure that even the longest of treks become possible, and you might find yourself completing the most challenging terrains by considering all of the factors involved.
If you’re determined to take on this epic adventure by yourself or with a group of people, you should research properly to know how to make the hike bearable and easier.
Carrying excessive weight on your back is a beginner mistake that will dramatically reduce the number of miles you cover in a day.
Similarly, if you do not prepare for seasonal changes, you will have to slow down and take longer breaks, resulting in fewer miles covered on that particular day.
Hiking is not as straightforward as simply going on a stroll with friends.
It takes commitment, mental fortitude, and resilience to overcome any obstacles and challenges you encounter on the way.
Keep these factors in mind and prepare meticulously to cover the greatest distance possible.
The biggest challenge we face is in our minds; overcome that, and you'll pleasantly surprise yourself.
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