Earlier this year, I was challenged by my friend to make a 22-mile trek along the Kalalau Trail/ Napali Coast, Hawaii, and so I started thinking about how long it would take me to finish that 22-mile trail. Of course, an average person can hike 2 to 3 miles per hour. Given this capability, an average guy can walk 20 miles within 8 hours. Nevertheless, some well-conditioned hikers can tackle a 35 to 50-mile trek in a day.
So, I thought, if I were an average guy, then I could finish the trail in less than 10 hours. I could spend the whole day hiking and be done with it in a day. Yet, I finished the trail in 12 hours because it was raining when I hiked.
Low & High Mile Hiking Days
Given the bad conditions such as a heavy backpack, challenging terrain, bad weather, bad physical condition, and other unfavored factors. The hiker might be most likely only capable of achieving 8-12 miles per day on average. However, an average can reach 30 miles for an 8 hours per day trek if all given conditions are perfect.
Factors Affecting Your Speed When Hiking
Several factors can slow down or speed you up along the trail. These factors include your level of fitness, the terrain you will tackle, the elevation, the weather of the day, the backpack you are carrying, and many more. If you want to know these factors, you can check out below the detailed discussion on these factors:
1) Physical Conditioning
If you visit a gym or a park, you will sometimes chance upon hikers training for a real hike. You’ll see them doing the warm-ups and the hefty exercises to strengthen their muscles and stamina. We call this physical conditioning.
Physical conditioning includes strengthening your muscles. You will rely much on your legs and core muscles during the hike. If these muscles are weak, you may end up giving up along the way.
Your physical conditioning should also include building your endurance, which means you should train the same muscles, shoulders, and lower back to carry your backpack during the hike. Moreover, the training should also focus on improving your balance to allow you to tackle uneven terrains.
Furthermore, you should train using aerobic exercises to increase your cardio stamina, especially if you plan to tackle challenging trails like those in Nepal or Tibet. Of course, with proper training, you can speed up your average hiking time.
If you plan to hike a 22-mile trek like the Kalalau Trail, you should first condition your body for such a rigorous challenge. Of course, your body is designed for walking, and you can easily complete a 3-mile trek.
Yet, a 22-mile walk will tax your body, and if you did not train well, you might end up with sore leg muscles and joints. In the worst case, you may even get sick. But if you train well, you could completely cover the Kalalau Trail within 8 hours or less.
Before tackling the 22-mile Kalalau Trail, for example, it will help if you tackle shorter trails to prepare yourself for the Kalalau Trail. Build your mileage steadily with these less distant treks.
Once you feel that you are already up to tackle the more challenging hikes, only then should you try those treks. In this way, you can avoid the usual issues and risks involved in more demanding trails.
The weather is crucial in your speed as a hiker. Good weather will let you hike without delay, allowing you to inch closer to the trail’s end. However, suppose you want to tackle the challenging hiking trail of Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado, or the hiking trails in Tibet and Nepal, for example. In that case, you will undoubtedly get slowed down by snow, rains, and even intense UV lights.
So, before you go about any hiking trail, study its weather, which means learning about all the weather factors that may slow you down along the way.
For example, if you hike the Lost Coast Trail of California, you need to consider the high tide because the trail involves passing along a beach strip that can be inundated by seawater during high tide.
Learning about the weather also means that you should choose the best season for trekking. For example, if you plan to hike in Tibet, you need to learn the best season for tackling the most popular trails of Tibet. Spring and Autumn, of course, are the best seasons for hiking in Tibet. So, you should plan your trek there during these two seasons.
3) The Altitude of the Trail
Trails vary in altitude. There are some trails in the United States, for example, that wiggle its way up to the high mountains. Similarly, if you plan to hike in Tibet, touted as the “Roof of the World,” you should prepare for a high-altitude scenario.
You may experience high altitude sickness once you’ve reached a certain altitude. With a low oxygen level, you may get dizzy and manifest high-altitude sickness symptoms, which will surely slow you down.
So, prepare yourself for such a possibility, and if you can bring with you a can of oxygen, it will be better. It will also help if you acclimate yourself first to the high-altitude weather before tackling challenging trails in high altitudes.
4) Backpack and Gears
Your backpack and gears will affect the distance you can cover within an hour. The rule is simple: the more weight you carry, the slower you will move forward. So, it is better to pack light for faster movement. Get your total pack weight to under 35 pounds for a more convenient and comfortable hike.
You should also wear good shoes and high-quality socks. Moreover, pack your things well so that you distribute the weight of your pack evenly. Ensure that the things you frequently use are located on the upper portion of your backpack and leave the tents and other not-frequently used items at the bottom.
The terrain will indeed have a direct impact on your hiking speed. If you are walking, for example, on level ground or go trekking along a downward trail, you can cover much distance. Nevertheless, if the hiking trek is upward, gravity will weigh on you and slow you down.
The condition of the trail, likewise, will be a factor in your speed. If the path is wet and muddy, you will surely slow down. If it is a desert trail, you may also slow down because of heat and the unstable terrain. Furthermore, if it is snowy, you might even be forced to inch to your destination slowly. Hence, before making a trek, make sure you have studied the terrain carefully.
6) Your Pacing on the Trail
Another factor that may play well in your speed is the time you plan to spend on the hiking trail and the pacing you want to have. If you are tackling a challenging route that may take several days to complete, you may end up speeding up on the first day, going easy on the second day, and making enough headway on the third day.
If you employ good pacing, your body may beg for rest after the first day of a 10-hour hike. Yet, it will soon get accustomed to the hike’s rigor, and you’ll notice a remarkable change in your pace in the next days.
7) Your Mindset and Mood!
Many hikers go on a hike to escape the monotony of life and improve their mindset and mood. They engage in hiking to reduce stress, make their memory sharper, boost their attitude, and while away their time. Well, that is pretty understandable.
But aside from changing their mindset through hiking, they also prepare themselves for the rigors of hiking. Hiking requires a determined mood and attitude. It necessitates a mentality of a conqueror in the face of a challenging trail. Moreover, your mindset when you set out for a hike will also affect your pacing and speed.
So, before you engage in a challenging hike, it will help if you psyche up yourself and sport a determined and positive outlook. In this way, you can infuse enthusiasm in your group if you will hike in a group. Remember that the happier you are when you set out for a hike, the easier the trek would be for you.
8) The Distance You Would Like to Finish in a Day!
One of the most demanding treks I have ever experienced is the Mount Kailash Trek in Tibet. The trail has an average altitude of 5,000 meters above sea level. This trek lasted for three days and is 52 kilometers long. To complete this trek, I need to pace myself and determine the distance I will finish in a day.
So, I studied the hiking trail beforehand. I also decided to complete a 20-km trek on the first day; then, an 18-km on the second day, and a 14-km hike on the third day. The distance you have set to achieve on a day will also affect your hiking speed each day.
The average hiker, as mentioned above, can hike 2 to 3 miles per hour. So, if you’re an average hiker, you can complete the Kalalau Trail or any other similar trails within 8 to 9 hours of non-stop trekking. Yet, if you are a running bum like the self-styled Karl Meltz, who could complete a 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail in 46 days or less, or Andrew Skurka, who won the Adventurer of The Year Award of the National Geographic Adventure’s 2007, then you are a strong bull hiker.
Of course, if you’re just an average hiker, you can speed up your hike by being mindful of the abovementioned factors. If you know these factors by heart, you can improve your average hiking time and cover more hiking trails in the future.