Hiking is one of the most popular activities in many parts of the world. If you plan to go for a hike, one of the first things on your list should be figuring out how long it will take to finish the activity?
How far can you hike in a day?
Many hikers have asked this question, and frequently, the answer varies. This is because it depends on your physical condition and ability level. It also varies with the terrain of the trail. As a general rule, it's easier to move fast if you are in flat areas. Of course, it is not that easy to move fast if you are in rough terrain or uphill portions.
Of course, finishing the hike is the main point here. However, some people may have trouble finishing their hikes, or they may even injure themselves from overexertion. This results in having low morale, and this can disrupt your overall fun and enjoyment throughout the activity.
Then again, the key here is knowing yourself, your capabilities, and the terrain you are about to take.
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How Far Can You Hike In A Day?
The average hiking distance typical hikers can cover in a day will depend on several factors like fitness level, terrain, elevation, and pack weight. If we take that figure and apply it to 8 hours (minus rest breaks), it's possible for someone with "normal" hiking capabilities to cover between 16-25 miles in a day.
Some elite hikers have been documented covering triple that distance on some of the world's best trails, but it will be hard to do more than 20-25 miles of hiking distance per day for most. This could be maintained over several days (a thru-hike) or just one really long day. So if you want to hike more than 25 miles in a day, you need to hike at a good clip to make up for the time.
The Average Hiking Distance Per Day
Hiking distance is one of those things that can be hard to measure since it differs so widely between people and conditions. The fastest people I've seen hiking are thru-hikers who have an average speed of around 3 to 3.5 miles an hour (with a quicker pace for some and slower for others). The average person who is just out for the day on a trail might move at around 2 miles per hour, while someone with more time and less focus will go 1.5 miles per hour or slower.
If you can maintain those hiking speeds, then you'll cover more miles on a day hike than if you have to stop for breaks. So unless you have years of experience, it is better to shoot low as far as distance and not overestimate yourself, especially if you are carrying a heavy pack!
The best way to figure out how far you can hike depends on your own hiking style and pace, so there is no one "right" answer. The main thing you should be concerned with is your pack weight and how hard the trail will be.
Your Pack Influences Your Average Hiking Distance
With a heavy load on steep terrain, it is easy to average less than two miles an hour! That's why lightweight gear can make such a big difference for the endurance hiker. That would mean that a 35 lb pack needs to cover less than 40 miles, while a 15 lb pack should do more than 60 miles in one day.
A light backpack means you can go faster and farther, but it also means your body has less recovery time as you move along and increases the risk of injury.
When I was younger and had more energy, I could do 20 to 30 miles in a day, but I'm up around 17 to 18 miles per day. That's still not too bad, considering that I hike with a heavy pack.
But hiking isn't just a physical activity. It's also an endurance event. With that in mind, you have to figure out the longest you can hike at an average pace before you burn out. My average hiking distance per day is 20 miles. Beyond that, I start to get worn out mentally and physically.
However, some people have lower endurance, so their average is lower than mine. But that’s alright. It’s not a competition, anyway.
The key is not to get too greedy. If you can cover 20 miles, then that's amazing for a day hiker. But anything more than that, and you will be pushing yourself too hard. It's much better to hike shorter days with less weight, so you have extra energy the next day!
Surprisingly, how far you can hike in a day has more to do with your endurance and fitness than it does with the weight of your pack.
The amount of energy required to hike a trail is all about the distance you are covering. A five-mile hike will use up less energy than an eight-mile hike. That's why it's far easier to cover long distances when you hike a lot. When I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I never had any problems with my pack being too heavy, but every day I pushed myself as hard as possible for many hours at a time.
Over time your body becomes conditioned to hiking, and you can go farther each day without stopping. That's the key to endurance hiking. When you push yourself beyond your normal levels every day and do it over a long enough period, your body becomes conditioned to handle that type of workload.
I found myself hiking more each day even though my pack weight was going up due to gear and food changes. When I was gearing up for a hike, I never had any problems with my pack being too heavy; I just trained myself to handle the extra weight. I guess that your average hiking distance per day can be maintained as long as you are fit.
The main takeaway is that it's not about your gear but how your body handles the load. If you are not in great shape, then make sure to keep your loads light, so they don't wear you out too quickly.
Is Long Distance Walking Good For You?
Long-distance walking can have significant health benefits, but you should always consult your primary care physician before undertaking a long-distance walk.
According to the British Heart Foundation, regular walking is good for reduced levels of cholesterol and high blood pressure, increased blood flow throughout the body, and weight loss. The exercise will also help keep bones strong and muscles toned.
As per Dr. Matt Tanneberg, a sports chiropractor and certified strength and condition specialist in Phoenix, Arizona, who often works with elite athletes, long-distance walking can be as good or even better than running.
Yes, running is more physically demanding than walking, but studies show that long-distance walking can provide many of the same benefits as running.
Walking and running are two very different fitness activities, so it can be difficult to compare the benefits against the other. However, keep in mind that walking will always have a leg up on running due to the higher recruitment of smaller muscles and slower motion capability.
In fact, long-distance walking through the form of light hiking is definitely recommended. You should do this every day--if it is possible--so that you can experience the health benefits that it can give to you.
Benefits Of Long-Distance Walking
- Strengthens the Heart
As patients age, the heart becomes weaker and less efficient at pumping blood throughout your body.
The heart works harder to do its job, which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), regular walking can help strengthen the heart muscle, thus reducing your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It is recommended that you walk at least five hours a week to reduce your risk factors.
- Reduces Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body's ability to use glucose (blood sugar) effectively is hampered. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, as of November 2012, around 29.1 million people suffer from type 2 diabetes in the US alone - this equates to around 9.3% of the entire adult population.
The CDC also reports that the incidence of type 2 diabetes in Americans over 65 years old is currently around 18%. This huge figure will only increase as more people grow older, creating a very real health crisis.
Research has shown that regular walking can help to reduce your risk factors associated with developing type 2 diabetes. Walking at least five hours per week is enough to significantly cut your risk.
- Increases Muscle Strength And Endurance
Equivalent to a one-hour strength training session, walking is excellent for improving muscular endurance and overall muscle strength. Exercise strengthens the lungs and heart and bones and joints, all of which can help increase your physical performance, especially during physical activities.
- Lowers Blood Pressure
As the body's largest muscle group, your leg muscles are responsible for pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body. As patients age, their legs tend to weaken, which means they have a harder time pumping blood effectively throughout the body. Regular walking can help strengthen your leg muscles, so you don't suffer from fatigue as easily.
Walking regularly has been shown to lower blood pressure throughout the body, making it an excellent exercise for those who suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease. As patients age, their risk of developing these conditions rises dramatically - just 30 minutes a day can provide all the benefits you need to help prevent these conditions in the future.
- Improves Cardiovascular Health
As the heart's main muscle, leg muscles play a huge role in pumping blood and oxygen around the body. Strengthening these leg muscles using regular walking can help regulate cholesterol levels and increase your stamina and endurance throughout the day, all of which contribute to lowering your risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack.
Walking regularly is a brilliant way to improve cardiovascular health. Keeping your heart and lungs healthy can greatly reduce the risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and even cancer.
- Burns Calories And Fat
One of the most obvious benefits of long-distance walking is that it burns a lot of calories. By simply walking for 5 hours every week, you can burn off around 800 calories - nearly half as many calories burned in a 30 minute run on a treadmill.
If you incorporate speed into your exercise session, you will build muscle mass and burn more calories. Walking uphill or on steeper terrain will also boost your cardio workout, providing you with the ultimate calorie-burning session.
The CDC reports that, in the US alone, obesity rates have hit 35% and are still growing - this hugely concerning statistic makes long-distance walking a fantastic exercise for helping to reduce weight.
So how far can you hike in a day? The simple answer is, as far as your body allows. But there is a lot more to it than that. If you are out of shape, find lighter gear or choose easier trails. And if you want to hike long-distance, get in shape and put the work in early so your body will be ready for the day when you need it most. The more you train, the better your average hiking distance becomes.
I hope this helps someone out there figure out how to prepare better and hike farther with less effort.
Have a good hike!
If you have inquiries, feel free to ask me in the comment section below.