If you are planning for your first hike, there are plenty of things to prepare and consider. One thing that sometimes gets overlooked, but never should be underestimated, is how long you should hike each day. There are a lot of factors in deciding how long your hike should be. Let’s consider those factors to find the right distance for a beginning hiker.
While the recommended daily distance for a beginning hiker may vary, there are some universal considerations that apply when deciding on how far you should hike:
- Overall Fitness Level
- Amount of Preparation/Training
- How Much Time You Have/Total Distance Of Hike
- Elevation Gain
- How Much Gear You Plan To Carry
- Why Are You Hiking?
The average backpacker will walk at about speeds between 2.5 and 3.5 miles per hour. So, if you hike 6 hours per day, you should cover 15 to 21 miles per day. However, there are many factors which may cause you to go slower and hike less. I would recommend that a beginner try to hike no more than 10 to 12 miles per day during his/her first hiking trip. If this not a problem, you can reconsider your next hiking trip and push yourself a little harder and farther.
How To Determine How Far You Should Hike Each Day
Overall Fitness Level
The very first thing that will determine how far you go on your first hike has to be your overall fitness level. While hiking, especially on a multi-day hike with 30 or more pounds on your back, is a unique physical activity, your fitness level should give you a good indication of how far you can hike.
The fitter you are, the farther you will be able to hike, even with a heavy load. While hiking is not the same activity as running, you do need to have good cardio to be able to hike at a good pace for longer distances. Even a moderate one-hour hike can burn 400 calories – so if your body can handle such activity, you can hike!
One more consideration is the strength of your core. Hiking with a heavier pack will demand a strong core to carry the weight. If you do not have a strong core but have a heavy pack, your pace will be slower.
Amount of Preparation/Training
Regardless of you how fit they may be, new hikers will be engaging in an activity that will challenge their bodies in new ways. Carrying a heavy pack up and down mountain sides is not easy – and should not be underestimated.
New hikers should go on several day hikes with differing weights on their back to prepare for their first hiking trip. I would recommend a 5-mile hike over relatively flat terrain, with moderate elevation change, to prepare for a first hiking trip.
A focus on teaching your body how to hike at a comfortable pace, both gaining and losing elevation, with weight on your back, will put you in good position for more strenuous activity.
How Much Time You Have/Total Distance Of Hike
Next, consider how long your hiking trip will be, both in terms of distance and time. If you allocate 3 days to hike 30 miles, you should be able to plan for 10 miles of hiking each day. Of course, there are other factors that may come into play, such as elevation, which we will discuss later.
Nevertheless, you need to plan for your total hike in terms of distance and time and make a plan. Consider the fact that some days might be more strenuous than others, or that your body will likely be more fatigued on Day 3 than it was on Day 1.
An extremely important consideration for determining how much a beginner should hike elevation gain. On relatively flat terrain, the average hiker should be able to walk between 2.5 and 3.5 miles per hour. However, this amount changes with the amount of elevation gain in the hike.
Naismith’s Rule – named after a mountaineer from Scotland – suggests that the average hiker will hike 3 miles an hour over flat terrain, but should add about 1 hour to his hike for every 2000-ft climb. As such, a 12-mile hike with 4000 feet of elevation gain should take about 6 hours to hike.
Of course, other variables, such as your fitness level, the weight of your pack, and the terrain among other will impact this calculation. There are plenty of resources, such as maps and apps like AllTrails that can give you accurate information about elevation gain for your chosen hike.
Your pace will slow as you gain elevation, but it will also slow as you lose elevation. Hiking downhill can be strenuous as you try to lessen the impact on your knees. As such, a beginning hiker should not view downhill sections of the trail as a chance to make up time.
How Much Gear You Plan To Carry
The amount of gear you plan on carrying will have a major impact on your pace during your hiking trip. On average, over the course of a multi-day hike, a beginning hiker with average gear can expect to start with about 30 pounds on his or her back.
This is where training for a hiking trip with a weighted back becomes so important. Your body needs to have an idea of what carrying a heavy pack feels like.
Planning for a hiking trip always requires considering comfort vs. weight. The more gear you bring, the more comfortable you might be. However, you will also burn more calories as you carry more of this gear, which means more energy exerted and a slower pace on the trail.
Ultimately, you should find the amount of gear that works best for your chosen hiking trip, and plan on a certain pace accordingly. If your pack will weigh 30 pounds, you can perhaps hike 10 miles per day over average terrain. However, if you drop 5 pounds of weight, you may be able to hike more, say 12 miles, per day.
In any event, do not underestimate the fact that the amount of gear you carry will impact how far you can hike each day.
Why Are You Hiking?
A final consideration for a beginning hiker on his or her first hiking trip should be the “Why” – why is he/she going on this hike?
Some hikers love the challenge of putting as many miles behind them as possible. If any beginning hiker who is in good physical condition wants to take on this challenge, then perhaps a goal of 15 miles or more each day is feasible.
However, if the goal is to enjoy nature more, to capture great views and beautiful scenery with many photos and videos, then the pace will be considerably slower – perhaps only 7 to 10 miles per day. The nice thing is that there is no right or wrong answer. Any pace works so long as you get to enjoy your time on the trail.
There are many considerations in play when a beginning hiker decides how far to hike each day. A more fit hiker with 25 pounds in his pack will be able to hike farther than a less fit hiker with 35 pounds in his pack. However, if the first hiker has 6000 feet of elevation gain, while the second only has 1000 feet to climb, then the second hiker may be able to hike farther for the day.
It certainly is not an exact science, which is why I recommend that a beginning hiker choose a trip where he/she can put in 10 to 12 miles on the trail each day. This way, they can put their body under some stress, perhaps pack a little heavier for comfort, and yet have the time to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. If the hike is a success, then maybe the next hike can be a little longer and/or go at a faster pace.