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Average Hiking Speed – Why You Should Care & How To Calculate It

Even if you are not the outdoorsy type, you can admit that there’s something appealing about the great white open, breathing in fresh and untainted air, and having fun with your buddies if you are hiking as part of a group. Hiking allows your mind to take a break from the chaotic world we live in and become one with nature. 

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced hiker, chances are you probably don’t think about how fast or slow you are going. Most people think tracking hiking speed is only good for bragging among friends. But there are several practical benefits of knowing how fast you move on the trails.

There are many ways to track your hiking speed and I’ll be discussing them in this article.

Why Is Knowing Your Average Hiking Speed Important?

Whether you are a speed demon that blazes down the trail or a mere mortal that maintains a steady pace and enjoys the scenery like a human being, there are several benefits of knowing your average hiking speed. They include:

• You embark on hikes you are certain or fairly certain of completing. Take for example you know it takes you about four hours to cover 8 miles on flat terrain, you’ll know it’ll take you longer to cover the same or more distance on rugged terrain. This means you either begin your hike earlier to ensure you get back before dark or plan for an overnight hike.

• Afternoon thunderstorms are common in some areas. And knowing your hiking speed allows you to plan your hike so you can avoid getting caught in a thunderstorm.

• As an overnight or thru hiker, knowing your average hiking speed allows you to know how long it’ll take you to reach campsites, food drops, or accommodation.

• You have an ETA for your hike. When you don’t return a while after the ETA, your friends or family can send out a search party to look for you.

• If you intend to improve your hiking speed, knowing your current speed gives you a baseline against which you can measure your improvement.

Hiker in bogland

What Influences Hiking Speed?

There are several factors that affect how fast you move on the trails. They are:

Elevation

Hiking on flat, level surfaces is easy. If you are hiking on such terrain, chances are you are going to move faster. Hills and mountains are more difficult to navigate and will result in changes to your hiking speed. It’s more difficult to hike uphill due to the extra effort required and this means lower hiking speed for many people.

On the other hand, hiking downhill is easier and you may even find yourself moving faster as a result. So, your speed isn’t going to be the same on flat, level surfaces, uphill terrain, and downhill terrain.

Load/Weight Carried

A sure way to reduce your hiking speed is to pack heavily. This is why hikers that prioritize speed always pack ultralight. They know that every ounce counts and for every increase in weight, there’s a corresponding decrease in speed.

Day hikers don’t have to worry about packing light as they require a few items. Multi-day and thru hikers, on the other hand, need more gear which will result in more weight carried. If you aren’t hitting your desired hiking speed, you may want to take a look at the weight of your pack and see if you can pack lighter.

Fitness level

Muscle strength, cardiovascular endurance, and overall fitness levels affect how fast you can move on the trails. If you are in great shape, you’ll be able to cover large distances with ease. If you are new to hiking or have a low level of fitness, you’ll tire out faster and find it difficult to maintain your top speed.

So, when planning a hike, put your fitness level into consideration by accounting for an extra 5%, or more depending on fitness level, walking time for every mile you hike.

Weather

Strong winds, ground snow, heavy rain, and high temperatures can also slow you down. These factors make navigation and route finding more difficult. Sometimes, you may need to take shelter or change frequently to seek refuge from the elements. In a nutshell, bad weather conditions can reduce your hiking speed.

Amount of Foliage/Conditions of The Trail

While most hiking locations have clear and well-maintained trails devoid of foliage, rocks, and upturned rock, this may not always be the case. Trails that aren’t used regularly tend to have more foliage growth and navigating on such trails won’t be as easy. Since you have to be more careful on such trails, your hiking speed will reduce.

Even popular and well-maintained trails can have obstacles like fallen trees once in a while. In some cases, you may need to carefully make your way around obstacles which will certainly slow you down. River crossings can also be difficult to navigate and will also result in decreased hiking speed.

Familiarity With The Trail

It’s obvious it’ll take longer to hike on an unfamiliar trail compared to one you’ve been over several times. Generally, hikers tend to be more careful on unfamiliar trails as they aren’t familiar with all obstacles and elevation changes. The more you become familiar with a particular trail, the faster you’ll be able to hike on them.

Hiker in the mountains

How to Calculate Your Average Hiking Speed

Below are ways to calculate your average hiking speed:

Manual Calculation

To calculate your average hiking speed manually, you’ll need a watch or smartphone, a pen, and a notepad. It’s even better if your watch has a timer or stopwatch function. Start the timer if your watch has the function or simply note the time you start the hike.

There are several apps you can use to measure distance. Some of these apps may even calculate your average hiking speed. But if you are only able to calculate distance, divide the distance traveled by the time taken to cover the distance and the result is your speed.

Speed = distance / time

Using Naismith’s Rule

Experienced Scottish mountaineer William W. Naismith came up with a fast way of estimating hiking speed. According to Naismith, it should take an adult about one hour to hike three miles on relatively flat terrain with an extra half hour added for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain (300m). So, according to Naismith’s rule, it’ll take about 3 hours to hike 9 miles.

While Naismith’s rule is great for roughly estimating hiking speed, it fails to take most of the factors that affect hiking speed into account. At best, you should see Naismith’s formula as a rough estimate of your hiking speed.

GPS Watch

A GPS watch is easily the most convenient and accurate way of measuring your hiking speed. While GPS watches aren’t exactly cheap, having one provides you with the most accurate look at how fast you are moving and the distance you’ve covered.

Most GPS watches have a user-friendly interface. Some have a touch-screen function that you can even use with sweaty hands. A quick glance shows you your pace and distance covered. There may also be advanced metrics like step cadence or VO2 max score but this is not useful or needed by most hikers.

Fitness Trackers

If you have a fitness tracker, you can also use it to track the distance covered and divide it by the hiking time. However, the result provided by most fitness trackers is at best a rough estimate.

Some high-end trackers contain GPS circuitry and such trackers tend to be more accurate than trackers without GPS. Still, they are not as accurate as GPS watches.

Two hikers in the forest

How to Increase Your Hiking Speed

If you intend to increase your hiking speed and blaze down the trails like a boss, below are ways to achieve this. Here they are:

Increase Your Fitness Level

Ultimately, hiking is an endurance activity and you need a good level of fitness to hike faster on the trails. Head to the gym and do a couple of cardio or endurance workouts. Focus on your core, thighs, calves, and glutes. Do this consistently and you’ll find yourself covering more distance on the trails.

Don’t forget to include good ol’ running or jogging in your workout. It’s one of the best ways to build stamina and endurance.

Pack Light

A heavy backpack will only slow you down. If you intend to hike faster, you’ll need to pack only essential hiking gear. Consider also investing in ultralight gear. The less load you have on your back, the faster you’ll be able to move on the trails.

Start Off Slower At The Beginning of Your Hike

When starting a hike, start off slow and give your body time to warm up. Slow and steady wins the race, remember? This will ensure you don’t tire yourself out quickly. Take breaks frequently to avoid overexerting yourself. It’s important your breaks are short as long breaks can let your muscles cool down and stiffen up.

Choose Good Hiking Gear

It’s important you choose quality hiking gear. One of the most important pieces of gear pieces is trekking poles which make navigation easy on different types of terrain. I already put together a guide to choosing the best type of trekking poles for your hike. Read it, digest it, and choose trekking poles that sit you.

Improve Through Enjoyment

Hiking is supposed to be fun. It’s not about pushing yourself to your limit, pushing yourself until you can no longer move. The most important thing is to have fun while hiking. Don’t just zoom down the trails. Enjoy the scenery around you, listen to the sounds of birds, and take in that beautiful flower around you.

The best way to improve is through enjoyment. Consistency is the key. Rome was not built in a day. With time and dedication, you’ll improve your endurance and be able to hike long distances with more ease.

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