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Is there a general rule of thumb for converting miles to hours when looking at a potential hike? For example, how long does it take an average person walking at an average speed to walk a mile on the following types of trails:

  • a mostly flat, easy trail
  • a moderate trail, with some elevation changes
  • a strenuous hike, with significant elevation change or difficult terrain

I'm thinking of a day hike on maintained trails with people that are neither experienced hikers nor completely out of shape. Basically, the number you'd put in a book or website listing trails and approximate hiking times. But it sounds like even that might be too hard to come up with for a general case.

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I don't think there is an average person, sorry! I do think if you know your own fitness level and average pace on an easy trail, you can extrapolate that to the other two though... –  Ryley Jan 30 '12 at 18:40
    
Make an estimate based on trail length, elevation gain, physical conditioning, load carried, and weather. Then multiply by 2. –  xpda Jan 30 '12 at 21:16
    
In addition to the variables mentioned by Ryley and xpda, I find huge differences in what percentage of their time people spend actually walking. –  Ben Crowell Jan 27 at 1:21

6 Answers 6

up vote 19 down vote accepted

You could use Naismith's rule which goes as follows:

Allow 1 hour for every 3 miles (5 km) forward, plus 1 hour for every 2000 feet (600 metres) of ascent.

A lot of hikers in the UK use this as a guide of course bear in mind terrain and altitude! and of course this is not appropriate at higher altitudes.

Some sites recommend corrections to the above:

Gentle descent: subtract 10 minutes for every 1000ft / 300m of descent Steep descent: add 10 minutes for every 1000ft / 300m of descent

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This is a good rule of thumb for a good hiker, but not a crazy one. Starting out, you will probably not be this fast. –  PearsonArtPhoto Jan 30 '12 at 23:00
    
I found a base of 4kph much more accurate - especially on multi-day hikes. –  HorusKol Jan 31 '12 at 8:17
    
As a hiker in the Canadian Rockies I can assert that these numbers match my own experience. –  furtive May 10 '12 at 23:28

There is really only one way to determine this, and that is experience. Do a few hikes in different terrain, different settings (dayhike vs overnight), different weather and different group sizes, keep track of your time and thus build up a "library" of situations and times.

Once you have a few of these reference hikes, you can then apply these to new situations.

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+1. This is exactly what we've been doing, starting with shorter training hikes closer to home. Our times have been pretty accurate to hiking in the backcountry, as well. –  Clare Steen Feb 3 '12 at 20:45

There's no general rule of thumb that I know of...

I lied, there is Naismith's formula as correctly cited in another answer. I just tend to stay away from it because more often than not I find it better to make a judgement on the individual situation. There's so much variation the "average" would almost always be wrong in any specific case! It depends on all sorts of things, from the fitness of the individuals involved, whether the individuals are talkative and thus (usually) walking slower, how often people require rest breaks, how long those rest breaks are, any health problems that could impede progress - and so on.

Having said that, if you think the hike is average-ish in terms of conditions, you don't have a better way of judging and all you're using it for is wondering when you're going to reach point x (for reasons of curiosity not safety) then it does have its place!

More experienced hikers that know their speed, ability and fitness can have a rule of thumb for themselves based on weather, terrain and so on, but this varies again varies from person to person. It's even hard for experienced hikers to make a guess when they don't know the area or the terrain - sometimes land that looks easy going on a map can be rocky, boggy or just plain awkward!

Where this kind of question does come into play most often (at least that's what I find) is when either hiking out for the first time, or taking inexperienced people out for a hike (because you obviously have to go at the pace of the slowest person.) For this, and best on the fact I generally wouldn't recommend climbing ridiculous terrain for this type of outing (if nothing else it'll put them off!) I tend to have in my head a rough average speed of around 3 KPH. It's slow - but far better to have that in mind and get back early than have a faster speed in mind and get back late, especially if after dark. It's not just the safety aspect, it's the morality as well; if you give people an estimated finish time and you complete an hour ahead of schedule they generally view it as an achievement and therefore a more positive experience overall! (Of course, don't take this to ridiculous levels. If you plan an all day hike that takes half an hour, people will just feel a bit misled!)

Another thing to point out in relation to this, if you have a speed / route in mind and you realise it's over-ambitious, don't be afraid to change your route so it's shorter. Much better to cut a bit off and have a successful day than push yourself and end up getting lost or injured.

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I'd probably still use Naismith's rule - but at a base speed of about 4kph. I'd also adjust my estimate based on how much longer/shorter my first hour's travel actual took and look at shortening the route, if needed (and possible). –  HorusKol Jan 31 '12 at 8:16
    
+1, that's a valid way of doing things - each to their own really. I just don't tend to do things that way :-) –  berry120 Jan 31 '12 at 8:18

If you want an exact answer, there is not and will not be one until about 15 seconds after you finish walking the walk.

For a decent ballpark, I was taught in scouts: day hiking: 3 miles per hour, + 1 hour for every 1000 feet of elevation climb.

backpacking: 2 miles per hour, +1 hour for every 1000 feet of elevation climb.

Use the formula, and then take a few walks. You should get a rough idea how your pace measures up to the formula and be able to adjust the formula accordingly.

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Naismith's rule is a good starting point, but it doesn't really cover unusual trail conditions. My rule of thumb is to convert distance, elevation, and trail condition to "equivalent miles":

  • Each mile is a mile.
  • Each 500 feet of elevation gain is a mile.
  • Distance traveled on snow or loose rock counts double.
  • Distance traveled above 7000 feet elevation counts double.
  • Distance spent breaking trail counts double.

I figure I can cover three equivalent miles per hour carrying a day pack, or two per hour carrying an overnight pack. The resulting time estimates are usually good to within an hour or so.

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Last year I was taught an approximation by a mountaineer guide. It is an average and worked quite well for me. Of course you need adaption for alpine tours (3000m+), physical condition, weather, extremely rough paths and so on.

The rule is:

  • 4km per hour on a flat path
  • 400m altitude per hour
  • take the so calculated longer time and add the half of the shorter time

Example:

  • 10km path (horizontal)
  • 800m ascent (vertical)
  • 2.5h (horizontal) + 1/2 * 2h (vertical) => 3.5h

Adding following: If you go several times and have this (or another) rule in mind, you can adapt it accordingly. For example I am tending more to 500m ascent instead of 400m. Going downhill I noticed that I only need half of the time I needed for the same path uphill. This will also differ a lot for different style of hikers/mountaineers.

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