Average Hiking Speed: What Is It And How To Calculate Your Pace

For most people heading out on a hiking trail, the thought of hiking speed or pace never really comes up. 

But if you’re more than a leisure hiker, then knowing your speed is important as you plan long treks.

Being able to calculate your pace ensures that you make it off the trail by dark; as well as ensuring that you’ve got enough snacks and water for the duration of the hike.

So, if you’re looking for a hiking calculator to determine your hiking miles per hour, then we’ve got some tips for you.

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What Is the Average Hiking Speed?

The average hiking speed is 2 mph, but varies between 1 mph and 3 mph – depending on the terrain and the specific scenario. Here’s a quick look at those variations:

  • Your pack is light and the terrain is relatively flat = 3 mph average hiking speed
  • Your pack is somewhat full and you’re on moderate terrain = 2 mph average hiking speed
  • Your pack is full and you’re on steep terrain = 1 mph average hiking speed

Of course, those averages are general, which means if you’re in great physical shape then you move faster, and vice versa if you’re not in good physical shape.

For example, people who are in great shape can probably average closer to 5 mph on flat terrain with a light pack.

But for most people, expect to cover two miles per hour of hiking on most flat to moderate terrain.

So, how long does a 3-mile hike take? Expect an average of 1.5 hours assuming a 2 mph average speed.

How long does a 5-mile hike take? Expect an average of 2.5 hours assuming a 2 mph average speed.

As you can see, all you need to do in order to determine how long a hike will take is divide the length of the trail in miles by 2 mph to get the total number of hours needed for the hike.

Just remember – this is the average, and it may take you a longer or shorter amount of time to do the hike.

people hiking germany

What Affects Your Hiking Speed?

There are several things that have an affect on your hiking speed, from terrain to physical fitness. We’ll go through them below.

Your Physical Fitness Level

How good of shape are you in, really? This plays an important part in how fast you can move on the trail – and how quickly you will fatigue.

Each person’s fitness abilities are different – maybe you’re carrying a bit of extra weight, maybe you’ve got a disability, or maybe you’re in the best shape of you life.

To cover the most ground in the shortest amount of time, you’ll need to be in great physical shape before setting out on your hike.

But if you’re not, then don’t let that deter you – anyone can do a hike. And the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

That being said, everyone will fatigue at some point, regardless of how physically fit you are, so expect to tire at some point.

The Weight Of Your Pack

Since you’ll be carrying at least some water and snacks in your pack, that weight is also going to slow you down a bit. But the amount that is slows you down depends on how heavy that pack.

Do you have several bottles of water and a few bags of mixed nuts? Then that’s gonna weigh you down a bit until you start consuming it.

It’s best if you don’t carry anything that you won’t need or use on the trail, this way to keep the pack as light as possible.

Also make sure that you’re using a backpack that is ultra lightweight instead of being super heavy when it’s empty.

The Terrain

You move over flat terrain a lot faster than steep terrain, or terrain with obstacles. So, the type of terrain your hiking affects your speed on the trail.

guy hiking steep trail

Even experienced hikers, like myself, slow down on trails that have a lot of tree roots, boulders, and washes that have to be navigated around.

And if there is a lot of loose gravel, then you’ll move slower in order to avoid slipping and falling – and possibly injuring yourself.

If you’re not sure what to expect from the terrain, then it’s a good idea to look online for reviews of the trail that you’re going to be hiking on before you actually get there.

The Elevation 

Not only does high elevation slow you down, but gaining elevation as you hike also slows down your hiking pace. 

If you’ve ever gone hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It gets hard to breathe as you gain in elevation on the trail.

Of course, as you head back downhill, you’ll notice that your pace quickens as it becomes easier to breathe at the lower elevations. But if the terrain is super steep, then you may be slower on the descent cause it’s a bit treacherous due to the steep incline.

The Breaks You Take

Whenever you stop on your hike to rest, eat some snacks, or sip some water, then that is slowing your pace. So, the more often you take breaks, then the lower your hiking speed.

If you’re planning a long hike, then it’s important to take into account how often you’ll be stopping for breaks – and how long those breaks are going to last.

How To Increase Your Hiking Speed

If you’re not happy with your current average hiking speed, then there are some steps you can take to improve it. 

Work On Your Fitness

Focus on becoming more physically fit. The better shape that you’re in, then the better your hiking pace will be out on the trail.

You’ll want to focus on building up endurance and strength, so do some cardio and strength training to get into better shape.

guy hiking green mountains

Reduce Your Pack Weight

Look for ways to lower the amount of weight that you’re carrying on your back when you go hiking. 

One easy way to shave weight is to look for a new backpack that weigh less than your current one. 

Also think about the packaging of the things that you’re carrying with you – skip the stainless steel water bottle and opt for more lightweight plastic. 

While nuts are a great source of protein, they are heavy to carry around. So, look for other more lightweight food choices.

For instance, instead of carrying a can of tuna for your lunch, use a pouch of tuna that weighs less.

Take Fewer Breaks

If you can eliminate some of the breaks that you’re taking, then you’ll immediately speed up your time. 

So, bring food for meals that doesn’t take a long time to prepare and maybe only take 10 minutes for a break instead of 15 minutes.

How To Track Your Average Hiking Speed On The Trail

While you’re out on the trail, you may want to be mindful of your current speed. Luckily, you can easily track your current speed as you’re hiking.

Use A Fitness Tracker

Though it won’t be 100% accurate, using a fitness tracker like a Fitbit or Apple Watch is an easy way to keep track of your hiking speed. 

With one of these you can quickly see how much ground you’ve covered and how long you’ve been at it. Then, you just do a quick calculation to determine your average speed on the trail.

Like I said, it won’t be precise but it still gives you a pretty good estimate of how much ground you’re covering per hour.

Use A Hiking App On Your Phone

If you’re taking your iPhone or Android phone with you on your hike, then you can download a hiking app before you leave home to track your speed.

Of course, these aren’t exactly precise either because they work off the GPS from your phone. And some phones are better at this than others.

So again, it’ll just be a rough estimate of your pace that you’ll get from this method.

Use A GPS Watch

If you’re looking for accuracy, then this is your best option right here. Something like the Garmin Instinct can track your distance and pace with precision.

Garmin Instinct watch
image: REI

What’s nice about a GPS watch is that it also tracks your elevation, so you end up with a lot of data about your hike once you’re done with it.

This is hands down the best way to track your personal hiking speed when you’re out on the trail.

Summary

If you’re just looking to estimate how long it will take you to complete a hike, then plan on covering two miles for every hour that you’re on the trail. It may take you less time for easier terrain, or longer for steeper terrain.

And if you want to get an accurate reading of your own personal hiking pace, then use a GPS watch to precisely measure your hiking miles per hour on the trail.

images: 1, 2, 3, 4

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