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How Many Miles A Day Can I Expect for a Backpacking Trip?

Many beginning hikers wonder how many backpacking miles per day they can expect to cover. On average, a backpacker with some experience usually treks at speeds ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 miles per hour. At this speed, if you hike for 7 hours each day of your trip, you can trek between 17.5 and 24.5 miles. Knowing your goals for backpacking each day gets you off to a good start on the trail.

As you become more experienced on the trail, you will settle into your own stride and pace. Whether you are an enthusiastic novice or a seasoned pro, you should avoid letting your walking speed and distance be your main focus. You want to find your ideal pace that allows you to enjoy the rugged splendor and simple beauty that surrounds you. Your decision to backpack X amount of miles per day depends on your walking pace.

A helpful guide for judging trekking speed is Naismith’s Rule. This rule was formulated in 1892 by William W. Naismith, a mountaineer in Scotland. It calculates an average backpacking speed of one hour for each three miles (five km.) walked. For each 2,000 feet (600 meters) of uphill trekking, add another hour. This rule enables you to calculate the number of miles per day you will trek on steep inclines.

Naismith’s Rule can also be especially useful for estimating hiking time on longer backpacking excursions; i.e,  reaching a camping destination or meeting other hikers at a specific time. Of course, your backpacking speed is affected by many varied factors, and everyone has a somewhat different natural pace. However, you will soon become adept at calculating your backpacking distance per day.

Major Factors That Can Impact Your Backpacking Pace on the Trail

Important factors that can affect trekkers of all levels of experience while on the trail include the following:

• Physical Fitness / Experience. If you are physically fit with good body weight for your height, you can move quickly and with good agility. In addition, if you hike along trails of different types frequently, you are better prepared to trek steadily at an even pace, allowing you to finish a day of hiking without suffering bodily stress or depleting your energy reserves. However, if you are not yet physically fit, it will take a longer period of time to reach your hiking destination. You may also experience fatigue, achy muscles or blisters on your feet.

If you are new to backpacking and hiking, begin with a reasonable goal. Plan a 10 to 15-mile trek, or even less, for your first experience on the trail. Every time you hike, increase your trekking goal by a few miles. By increasing your walking time gradually, you may be amazed at your progress. Before long, you can most likely cover 30 miles on the trail in one day. This is the average trekking goal of most experienced hikers. As you gain experience, you will have greater understanding of how to best estimate your trekking time and distance. You can become an expert at determining how far per day you can expect to walk in order to attain your trekking objectives.

• Terrain.   Hiking over different types of terrain can have a strong impact on your trekking speed. When backpacking on flat, relatively smooth trails, you can make good time and reach, or even surpass, your distance goal. If your trek takes you across rough or rocky terrain or areas with thick underbrush, your pace slows down. Staying secure and safe along your path requires more time and careful, focused trekking. Crossing muddy areas and streams or creeks can also take more time.

Of course, when you backpack on steep slopes or along uneven hillside paths, you use more energy. In order to maintain good footing to avoid slipping or falling, you need to slow your pace and be mindful. For inexperienced trekkers, it can be easy to focus on the general steepness of an incline and miss smaller obstacles. Unnoticed loose stones or uneven sections in your path can also cause you to stumble on hilly or mountainous terrain. Remember, too, that hiking downhill slows your pace considerably. Downhill hiking requires more time to maintain your balance and avoid knee strain.

• Duration of Trek.  Your walking pace is likely to vary according to the length of your backpacking trip. It can also vary from day to day on the trail. Unless you are a very experienced hiker, your last couple of trekking hours each day will probably slow down. As your energy decreases, your stride and pace will lessen in strength and speed. However, if you spend just three to five hours on the trail for several consecutive days, your stride may strengthen and your pace should also grow faster. 
This process is commonly called, “getting your trekking or mountain legs,” like sailors get their “sea legs.” Even long or rugged treks become easier with the aid of muscle memory. Also, when you hike regularly, your body regulates energy use more efficiently. As a result, your pace automatically increases during a backpacking excursion of a few days. If you avoid driving yourself too strenuously the first day or two, your hiking speed is sure to grow faster. Calculating how many miles you can hike per day should now become easier.  

• Climate and Seasonal Weather. Weather conditions can have a major influence on the number of miles that you trek each day. If your backpacking trip starts off in ideal temperatures—not too hot or too cold, you are in luck, and you can look forward to hiking up to tempo for hours without tiring. The best days to spend on the trail are neither rainy nor overly bright with direct sunlight. Most trekkers perform best in locations without excessive humidity as well. Unless you are accustomed to hiking in semi-tropical climates, you should probably choose trails in more moderate locales. In milder weather, you will be better able to determine the number of miles you can trek each day.

If you do go backpacking in cold winter weather or sweltering summer heat, take precautions. In Winter, pack plenty of clothing layers and energizing snacks. To withstand relentless summer heat, drink water constantly and take frequent breaks to rest.

Some hearty hikers like to backpack along snowy trails in winter that are within convenient distances to ski lifts. They enjoy combining a skiing and backpacking excursion for even more adventure and fun. They also know how to determine how many miles per day they should be able to trek to allow time for additional activities.  
• Weight of Backpack and Gear. The combined weight of your backpack and gear may strongly impact your hiking pace and distance each day. Common sense tells you that if the weight of your backpack and its contents is excessive, your trekking pace decreases. An essential aspect of becoming an expert trekker is determining the ideal balance for you between carrying weight and your stamina. You want to ensure that your full backpack includes everything needed without weighing you down and depleting your trekking energy. Limiting your carrying weight helps to determine the number miles you are likely to trek.

During their first trekking days, even newcomers to backpacking can feel the true impact of backpack size and load weight. Distribution of weight is also very important. You can achieve good weight placement by stowing heavy items in the bottom of your pack. By packing high-energy food and snacks, you can also cut down on overweight loads. Of course, hiking in warmer climates and seasons requires lighter clothing and foot gear. This lets you lighten up your pack and determines your stride along the trail..  

• Total Distance of Your Trek. When you plan a relatively long backpacking trip, divide your daily time on the trail evenly, if possible. For example, if you plan to cover 50 miles per day during one week, try to hike for eight hours daily. If you walk at a pace of two miles per hour, you should reach your goal by hiking just under eight hours every day..

This comfortable pace also allows you to admire the sights and natural setting that surrounds you. Most hikers agree that there is no point in arriving at the end of your trek in a state of near exhaustion. By planning your trekking hours sensibly, you can enjoy every aspect of your trip without experiencing stress or fatigue. You can also stay healthy and physically fit by avoiding over-exertion while backpacking. Knowing your ideal pace also helps you determine how many miles a day is best for you.

• Hiking Altitude. Another factor that can greatly impact your trekking speed is the altitude of your backpacking location. You may hike in some places where the altitude is significantly higher than  you have experienced previously. On some of the most popular trekking trails, you may travel up a steep incline within a few miles. This incline may equal a few thousand feet, and reaching the higher altitude will make it difficult to breathe normally.

Even a slight hindrance in breathing can slow down your pace considerably. Due to the reduced oxygen levels at high points in mountainous regions, you need to plan on a slower trek. You should also be practical when calculating the number of miles that you can cover each day. Remember, Naismith’s Rule added an extra hour for every 2,000 feet of incline hiked for a good reason. This savvy rule aids in calculating the number of miles you can safely  trek on steep inclines. You can use the rule to gain confidence concerning how many backpacking miles per day will suit your skills and desires.

• Your Commitment to Backpacking. Nothing can stop a truly committed backpacker from hitting the trail. Does covering a specific number of miles in one day while trekking through often rugged natural terrain appeal to you? Does struggling to adjust to higher hiking altitudes sound like an intriguing challenge? If your answer to both questions is “yes,” you most likely have what it takes to become a pro, and you can probably overcome the difficulties of setting, adjusting and maintaining a good pace to cover impressive mileage..

The saying goes that upbeat, committed people tend to walk faster over more ground in less time than others. This accomplishment is often attributed to the “hiker’s high.” As experienced backpackers advise, always trek with enough protein-enriched snack foods and plenty of water. This will enable you to keep your body powered-up for your time on the trail. With increasing experience, you will learn how to fuel your body well for hiking in order to attain your backpacking objectives.

If you are a thru-hiker or a long-distance backpacker, you typically trek over many more miles daily than recreational trekkers, who walk a few hours at a time for exercise and to enjoy some gorgeous scenic views. Whatever type of backpacking you prefer, just remember to always travel well prepared. Try focusing on lightweight, sensible packing and carrying compact items of gear designed for use on the trail. This can help you pick up your pace, strengthen your stride, and enjoy every aspect of your next trek.   

1 thought on “How Many Miles A Day Can I Expect for a Backpacking Trip?”

  1. Calorie intake was mentioned a few times, but staying properly hydrated is even more important, especially since you will be breathing heavily at higher altitudes and also perspiring more due to increased exertion.


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