How Many Miles Can You Hike in a Day?
If you love hiking and can’t get enough of it, or maybe you’re totally new to hiking but are looking to hike as much as you can while visiting someplace that runs through the Appalachian Trail. Either way, odds are that you’ve wondered how many miles you can possibly hike in one day.
The good news is that many hikers have wondered the same thing; however, there is no direct answer to this question. That’s because the average number of miles one person can hike in a day is very much dependent on the hikers themselves.
For example, experienced thru-hikers can likely hike many more miles in a day hike than a recreational, occasional hiker.
When determining how many miles you can hike in one day, there are quite a few factors to consider, like:
- Body Weight and Whether You’re a Fit Person
- Level and Experience
- Time on the Trail
- Your Pack/Gear (heavy or ultralight)
- Altitude of the Trail
- Your Overall Desire to Hike
- Elevation Gain or Elevation Change
We’ll explain more about each of these factors as well as give you some tangible examples of different hiking terrains, climates, and altitudes in order to help you best determine how many miles you can hike in one day.
Ready to find out how many miles you can hike in one day? Lace up those hiking boots and keep reading!
General Fitness Level and Experience
First things first, if you’re not accustomed to hiking long distances, you’ll naturally be able to hike fewer miles in a day at first. Of course, over time, you can train and strengthen your body to be able to hike more miles in a day.
The general rule of thumb is that the average hiker can typically walk between 2.5 and 3.5 miles per hour. So, if you hike consistently at that pace for 8 hours, you’ll walk between 18 and 28 miles. However, hiking for 8 hours can be quite tedious and exhausting if you’re new to hiking long distances. The average length for a hike is usually between 2 and 3 hours, which would be closer to between 8 and 10 miles.
There is a more scientific way to measure the expected amount of miles you can hike in a day called Naismith’s Rule. Naismith was a Scottish mountaineer who developed an equation to determine roughly how many miles you can expect to cover in one day. If you’re hiking a more flat trail, the equation gives you 3 miles per hour; if you’re hiking on hilly terrain, the equation has you add an extra hour.
If you are more physically fit, it will be easier for you to move at a quicker pace – even if you don’t hike often. Additionally, if you are accustomed to hiking and walking trails, you will find it easier to sustain that activity for multiple hours.
The inverse of this is also true. If you’re less physically fit, you’ll likely take more time to cover the same amount of terrain as a more experienced hiker.
If you’re looking to increase your stamina, start out with an attainable goal like 15 miles in one day. Hike until you accomplish that goal, assess how you feel, and then increase your goal to 18 miles the next time you hike. Continue in that pattern until you can easily hike 30 miles in one day. That’s the average amount of miles in one day that an experienced hiker can hike.
Another reason that more experienced hikers can last longer on one day than someone who is new to the sport is because their feet are more trained to handle the blisters that can often come with a long day-hike.
As Naismith’s Rule would imply, the terrain that you’re hiking on has a direct impact on the speed at which you can hike. If you’re walking on primarily level and flat trails, then you’ll be able to cover much more distance in a shorter time span than if you were to hike a particularly scramble-filled trail. Additionally, if a trail has lots of water that you need to cross through, or is particularly muddy it will take you more time to hike it.
This makes pretty good sense because, if you think about it climbing uphill takes more energy and effort – and therefore, more time as well. Something that might not make sense at first, however, is the fact that walking downhill can also slow you down significantly. This is because when you’re walking downhill, you often have to compensate by going more slowly in order to maintain your balance and protect your knees.
Time on the Trail
Another factor to consider when determining how many miles you can hike in a day is how much time you’re planning to remain on the trail. For example, if you’re hiking all day and your 10 hours into the hike, the next two or however many hours can start to feel more sluggish and tiring.
This is also true if you’re hiking the same trail for multiple days in a row. If you hike for 10 hours on the first day, you can’t expect to hike another 10 miles the next day because eventually your body will beg for rest. However, if you pace yourself well, you might also find that your pace increases as your body becomes more accustomed to the hike.
Experienced thru-hikers and backpackers call this “getting your mountain legs” because our bodies are not naturally inclined to hike long distances over rough terrain – especially with a backpack on to add more weight. As you acquire your mountain legs, your muscle memory will take over as your body becomes more efficient at burning and using energy on the trail.
Determining how long you can remain on any particular trail also will depend on how frequently you’ll need to resupply your backpack.
Weather and Seasons
Two very important factors to consider when you’re planning a hike and wondering how many miles you can cover in a day are the weather and the seasons. Here, weather will refer to a particular day and seasons will refer to the months where the weather is similar.
The weather on any given day can have a direct impact on how many miles you can hike in a day. Consider that you’ve got the perfect day – not too hot, not too cold, no rain but also no direct sunlight. In those conditions, you can likely hike for hours and your body won’t feel too tired because the weather is incredibly conducive to hiking.
Now consider that it’s the middle of winter and a snowstorm has hit. If you haven’t decided against hiking, you likely will still need to modify your daily expectations when it comes to distance and pace. The same goes for a blistering hot summer day.
Not only should you take into consideration the weather of a particular day, but you should also consider the season in which you’ll be hiking. Not only does the season directly correlate to the weather conditions, but it also determines the amount of sunlight you’ll have on any given day.
For instance, if you’re hiking in the summertime, you’ll have anywhere from 10 to 12 hours of beautiful sunlight. However, if you’re hiking in the winter, you’ll have closer to 6 to 8 hours of sunlight. Unless you really want to hike in the dark (which is not recommended), it’s important to acknowledge that in the winter, there are fewer hours to hike. Therefore, you’ll likely be able to cover fewer miles in a day.
Your Pack and Gear
Similar to how many calories you can burn in a hike, the amount of miles you can hike in a day will be directly impacted by the weight of your backpack and gear.
While the weight of your gear can be beneficial for the calorie burn, the truth is that the more weight you’ve got on your back, the slower you’ll be able to hike. Backpacking is about finding the perfect balance between pack weight and size to your body’s ability to carry and distribute that weight while still being able to exert the energy needed in order to cover the desired mile-amount in a day.
The more often that you hike with a backpack, the more comfortable you will become with wearing one and eventually, it will become second nature to have a backpack while you hike.
Altitude of the Trail
Similar to the seasons, when you hike you’ll also need to consider the altitude of the trail that you’re hiking. Especially if you’re traveling to an area where the altitude is much higher than what you’re used to, the altitude will impact the amount of miles that you’ll be able to hike in a day.
Many great hiking trails climb up a few thousand feet in just a few miles.
When your body is hiking at a higher altitude, the oxygen levels decrease and that has a direct impact on your body’s ability to hike efficiently.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hike where there are big shifts in trail altitude; however, it is definitely something to take into consideration when considering how many miles you can realistically hike in a day. This is why Naismith factored in an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of altitude.
Your Overall Desire to Hike
Let’s face it, nothing can beat determination. If you are determined to hike a certain amount of miles in one day – especially if you’ve got good company – it’s absolutely possible. Happier people tend to walk faster. Determined people tend to hike faster and cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. Some might call it a hiker’s high. However, it still rings true: if you are determined to hike a certain amount in one day, you can absolutely do it.
Something to keep in mind, however, is what your body will need on the hike. Be sure to pack protein-rich snacks and sufficient water in order to keep your body well fueled on the trail.
To re-cap, when it comes to determining how many miles you can hike in one day, it really does depend on the hiker. If you’re more experienced and more physically fit, then you’ll likely be able to hike more miles in one day than a less experienced hiker.
Additionally, if you’re thru-hiking because that is your sport of choice, then you’ll likely cover many more miles than a recreational hiker who’s just looking to get a few hours of exercise in and catch some beautiful views.
Remember that regardless of how many miles you’re planning on hiking, it’s important that you are safe on the trail and prepared for anything that may come your way. It’s always smart to have more water than you might need, a flashlight, a compass, protein-rich snacks, bug repellant, and even bear spray on certain trails.
Your safety is the most important thing to consider on the trail.
Have you recently been on a long hike? We’d love to hear how many miles you were able to cover!