Is speed important in hiking? It certainly is – you want to cover the trail in minimal time and get home early, don’t you? On the other hand, too fast hiking also isn’t optimal because it is very exhausting.
With that in mind, what would be the best hiking speed for you? This is a challenging question to answer – however, we will try to provide you with some helpful tips and give you a basis for determining your proper hiking pace below!
Although the pace hugely impacts your hiking experience, calculating your own right average pace isn’t easy. This is because many factors determine your ability to keep a high speed, including but not limited to your fitness level, your knowledge of the trail, and the weight of your backpack.
With that said, it appears that 2.5 miles per hour is a good pace for most situations and most hikers. This is the speed that a fit hiker can maintain throughout the majority of the trail, whether going uphill, downhill or through rocky terrain.
2 miles per hour is not too fast, but it’s a decent speed for newbies or if you are covering unfamiliar and really rough terrain. When hiking off-trail, 1 mile per hour also seems to be what most hikers settle at.
As for trips where you want to get from point A to point B fast, then you should strive to go at a pace of 3-4 miles per hour.
Now, how could you determine your own proper hiking speed?
Unfortunately, there are no easy, universal answers to this question. You will have to determine the optimal hiking pace on your own.
However, since most hikers appear to travel at 2.5 miles per hour, it’s a good speed to start.
Alternatively, if you have a set time limit and know the length of the trail, you may determine the needed hiking speed by dividing the distance by time. This would give you the minimal necessary pace.
If you have zero experience with hiking, you may also do a few test runs to see where you are at. To determine your speed, use a good GPS watch with accurate speed measurement. Proceed from there based on the results and your goals.
Keep in mind that you should not hike too fast since you will needlessly exhaust yourself, perhaps making yourself incapable of finishing the trail. Very slow hiking is no good too if you want to complete the trail in a reasonable amount of time.
Can you maintain a more or less consistent pace throughout the entire trail? The answer is most probably no – due to a number of reasons that we’ll explain below. As mentioned earlier, this is actually what makes determining optimal hiking speed very difficult.
Perhaps the most important pace-affecting factor is your fitness level.
If you are a newbie hiker, then you will probably have to go slower – maybe 2 miles per hour on average. As you become fitter and fitter, you will be able to maintain an increasingly higher speed – up to 3 and 4 miles per hour, depending on other factors.
Next, we have the weight of your backpack.
Needless to say, the heavier your backpack is, the slower your pace will be. Consequently, multi-day backpacking trips will be slower than light, single-day hikes because you will pack more stuff for a long journey. But of course, as you go through your supplies on a multi-day trip, your backpack will get lighter and your pace faster.
If your goal is to quicken your hiking pace, then one of the best ways to do so is to make your backpack lighter. However, remember that there is only so much you may remove from your backpack – you should not attempt to improve your speed at the cost of must-have items like water or a first aid kit.
The next important factor that impacts hiking pace is elevation. All kinds of hills, mountains, and slopes on your way are going to slow you down. It simply takes more effort to go uphill.
When going downhill, your pace will increase. However, this only applies to gentle declines – for steep declines, you will have to go slower to maintain balance and avoid rolling downhill.
Since hiking trails have many elevation changes, your speed isn’t going to stay consistent as you travel. This variation makes recommending an average pace very challenging and even impossible.
The character of the terrain is going to affect your hiking pace as well. It’s very easy to maintain high speed on relatively flat and solid ground – however, once you go off-road, you will have to dramatically reduce your pace to stay safe and avoid exhaustion.
If your route is filled with obstacles like rocks, upturned roots, fallen trees, foliage, or river crossings, your pace is obviously going to drop too.
If you’ve been on a trail dozens of times, then you will be able to safely travel at a higher pace. Otherwise, you really shouldn’t push yourself – there may be subtle yet very dangerous elevation changes or obstacles that you first must find out about.
Finally, your goals are also going to impact your pace, albeit indirectly.
If you want to cover the trail quickly, then you will obviously want to maintain a higher pace. 4 miles per hour should be about what you should aim at – if, of course, your fitness level, the trail terrain, and the weight of your items allow.
On the other hand, if you hike for sightseeing, then you will want to stay slower. 2 or even 1 mile per hour could be fine for such purposes.
The key takeaways from this post are as follows:
We can’t get more specific than this without knowledge of your condition, goals, and the trail. So you will have to determine an optimal hiking speed yourself. Hopefully, our little guide will be able to help you with that!