Whether you’re embarking on a long trek up a mountain or a shorter hike in a local nature preserve, knowing your average hiking speed will help you estimate the amount of time you need to allow for your desired hiking adventure.
Most hiking guidebooks and apps report the distance of a given trail or route, so for planning purposes, you need to be able to translate the distance of the hike in miles or kilometers into an estimated time.
If you know how to calculate your average hiking speed, you will feel confident that you can embark on your hike with enough time to complete the loop or trail.
In this guide, we will cover factors that affect average hiking speed and how to estimate your hiking speed so that you’ll be able to figure out how long you can anticipate a hike of any length to take as long as you have a sense of the characteristics of the route.
So, before you head out for your next exciting hike in the great outdoors, read this quick guide about estimating average hiking speed.
We will cover:
- Average Hiking Speed vs. Average Hiking Pace
- 10 Factors That Affect Average Hiking Speed
- What’s An Average Hiking Speed?
- How Long Does It Take to Hike a Mile?
- How to Increase Your Average Hiking Speed
Let’s get started!
Average Hiking Speed vs. Average Hiking Pace
You’ll see the terms hiking speed and hiking pace used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two slightly different things.
Your average hiking speed is the average number of miles per hour or kilometers per hour you are moving at when you hike.
For example, if you hike for 4 hours and in the first hour you hike 2 miles, in the second hour you hike 3 miles, in the third hour you hike 1.5 miles, and in the last hour you hike 2.5 miles, you’ve hiked 9 miles in 4 hours.
This means your average hiking speed was 2.25 miles per hour.
In contrast, your average hiking pace is the amount of time it takes you to cover a certain unit of distance, typically a mile or kilometer.
For example, if your average hiking speed is 2.25 miles per hour, your average hiking pace is 60 minutes / 2.25 miles = 26:40, or 26 minutes with 40 seconds per mile.
Of course, if your hiking pace increases, your hiking speed increases, and vice versa.
10 Factors That Affect Average Hiking Speed
There are several factors that influence your average hiking pace:
#1: Your Fitness Level
Of course, just as any two people may have very different average running speeds, so too may they have very different speeds or paces for hiking.
The fitter you are, the faster you’ll be able to hike if you so choose.
#2: Your Effort Level
Piggybacking on that, your effort level, or your desired intensity for your hike, has a significant impact on your hiking pace.
If you’re trying to hike quickly for a good workout, your average hiking speed for the hike will be faster than if you’re looking to take a leisurely stroll and soak in nature.
#3: Elevation Gain
Hike time estimations by miles should always factor in changes in elevation.
It should come as no surprise that it takes longer to hike a mile with significant climbs and steep ascents over one covering flat ground.
The steeper the climb, the slower your hiking speed will be.
#4: Your Age
Studies show that average walking speed declines with age, so if you are a senior, your average hiking speed may be slower than younger hikers.
Of course, this isn’t a definitive rule, but it is a trend to consider.
Obstacles on the trail and rough terrains like slippery roots, loose boulder fields to navigate, and rivers to cross without bridges can all add a significant amount of time to how long it takes to hike a mile on that trail.
When you are trying to estimate your average hiking speed for a hike you’re planning, read the description of the hike, if available, to gauge these details.
It can take longer to hike any given distance at altitude because oxygen availability is compromised.
This makes it more difficult to breathe, so you may need to slow your pace.
#7: Trail Condition
Trails are at the mercy of mother nature, or at least at the hands of a diligent trail crew.
If you are hiking on a trail that has been washed out after a big storm, or there are many fallen trees, it’s going to be much slower to traverse the trail than if you are on a well-kept, well-groomed route.
Similarly, if the trail is not well marked, or if you need to do any sort of orienteering on your own with a compass, you will lose time navigating instead of making forward progress.
This can substantially reduce your average hiking speed.
#8: Pack Weight
If you’re carrying a load, such as a heavy hiking pack or backpacking pack, it will be more difficult to hike, both from a muscular and cardiovascular standpoint.
Therefore, factor in whether you’re carrying a pack when you’re trying to estimate what your average hiking speed will be.
Whether you stop to have a snack, snap photos, change your socks, or put on rain gear, the time you’re not moving on the trail still increases the total hike time, so it reduces your average hiking pace.
Hiking miles through heavy rain, winds, snow, or high humidity and heat can be slower than hiking on a dry, mild day.
What’s An Average Hiking Speed?
Given the numerous factors that can affect average hiking speed and the tremendous diversity in the characteristics of all the different hiking trails around the world, there is little data about the average hiking speed.
According to Ramblers, the average hiking speed for adults is about 2.5 miles per hour. This means that it takes 24 minutes to hike a mile.
However, most hiking sites say that 2 miles per hour is a better estimate for most people. This means that it takes 30 minutes to hike a mile for most people.
If you’re an experienced hiker, you might have noticed that some hiking guidebooks and apps list an estimated time for a hike, which is termed “book time.”
Usually, these hike time estimations are calculated using Naismith’s (Time Estimation) Rule. Naismith’s Rule is designed to help you estimate your hiking pace.
It states that it takes about one hour to hike three miles plus an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of elevation gained.
Therefore, hiking one mile on a flat trail at a fairly aggressive pace will take about 20 minutes.
However, most hiking experts say that this is a very ambitious pace for most hikers, even on flat land, once you factor in the variables that affect hiking pace, other than elevation, such as pack weight, weather, difficult footing or terrain, and breaks, among others.
In many cases, if you are trying to estimate how long it will take you to hike a mile, it’s best to modify Naismith’s Rule to use 2.0 miles per hour as the baseline average hiking speed.
For example, let’s say you hike one mile and gain 500 feet of elevation.
According to Naismith’s Rule, this elevation will add 15 minutes to your time.
Therefore, if you’re using Naismith’s Rule without adding additional time, it will take 35 minutes to hike the mile.
However, if you use the more realistic average hiking pace of 30 minutes per mile and then apply the elevation from Naismith’s Rule, it will take you 45 minutes to hike the mile.
When trying to make the most accurate estimate of your average hiking speed, you’ll want to consider where each of the variables pertaining to the hike itself and your fitness level fall.
How Long Does It Take to Hike a Mile?
The principles for estimating hiking speed can be scaled for a hike of any distance.
Again, whether you choose to use Naismith’s Rule as is or modify it is up to you.
Here are some examples using Naismith’s Rule as is:
How Long Does It Take to Hike 3 miles?
- To hike 3 miles on a flat trail: 3 mi / 3mph = 1 hour
- To hike 3 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation total: (3 mi / 3mph) + (1,000 / 2) = 1.5 hours
- To hike 3 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation total: (3 mi / 3mph) + (2,000 / 1) = 2 hours
Here’s how long it would take to hike 3 miles modifying Naismith’s Rule to have a base average hiking speed of 2 miles per hour:
- To hike 3 miles on a flat trail: 3 mi / 2mph = 1.5 hour
- To hike 3 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation total: (3 mi / 2mph) + (1,000 / 2) = 2 hours
- To hike 3 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation total: (3 mi / 2mph) + (2,000 / 1) = 2.5 hours
How to Increase Your Average Hiking Speed
There are a few things you can do to increase your average hiking speed so that you can cover more mileage in less time.
Here are a few tips to hike faster:
#1: Increase Your Fitness Level
Improving your aerobic fitness and muscular strength endurance will ensure that you can hike at a brisk pace without tiring.
As you approach hiking season, spend more time working out consistently so that you are strong, fit, and ready to hit the trails.
#2: Take Fewer Breaks
Of course, when you stop and take a rest, your average hiking speed for the hour takes a nosedive.
Be efficient with your pit stops by choosing snacks you can eat while hiking, such as trail mix or energy bars, and sip water from a hydration pack.
#3: Familiarize Yourself With the Trail or Route Ahead of Time
Any time you have to spend navigating the trail is time lost moving forward.
Familiarizing yourself with the route ahead of time can help cut down on the need to continually reference your guidebook or compass to figure out which way to go.
#4: Cut Down On Your Pack Weight
A heavy pack will slow you down, so leave any nonessential items at home if you want to maintain a faster hiking pace.
#5: Push Yourself
Your effort level certainly plays a role in your hiking speed.
Although it’s great to enjoy your surroundings, if you really want to hike faster, you can increase the intensity and push yourself to walk as briskly as possible.
No matter what pace you hike at, make sure you enjoy mother nature and the beautiful surroundings.
If you are looking for a massive challenge, we have compiled a list of some of the longest hiking trails in the world for your reference here.