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On a thru-hike or section hike, people frequently hike 15-30 miles per day. New hikers are typically encouraged to start at around 8 miles per day, though, and work their way up, to give their bodies time to adapt, and avoid injury.

Obviously the time required to reach 15+ MPD will vary by person, but that's not a very helpful answer for planning resupply points. I haven't been able to find any estimates of how many days it will take the average thru/section hiker to reach X miles per day, though.

I've seen plans for new runners, to start at X miles per day, and work their way up to Y miles per day. Would something similar make sense for backpacking? If so, what would be sensible values?

Here's my rough guess, to illustrate what I mean:

  • Day 1: 8 miles
  • Day 2: 8 miles
  • Day 3: 10 miles
  • Day 4: 10 miles
  • Day 5: 12 miles
  • Day 6: 12 miles
  • Day 7: Zero day to rest
  • Day 8: 14 miles
  • Day 9: 16 miles
  • Day 10: 16 miles
  • Day 11: 18 miles
  • Day 12: 20 miles
  • Day 13: 22 miles
  • Day 14: Zero day to rest
  • Day X: {previous day + 2 miles, with zeros once a week}

Of course, something like this is just an estimate for planning, and each person would need to adjust it to their specific fitness level, pack weight, trail conditions, etc; and then listen to their body while hiking to know their actual limits.

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    When I trained for a marathon, I also read a lot on how to create a training program. I read that the weekly distance shouldn't exceed a 10% increment (compared to the previous week). – Roflo Jun 7 '18 at 16:34
  • @Roflo And to body has more recovery time. – paparazzo Jun 7 '18 at 16:37
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    The "training" you detail appears extremely aggressive for a "new" participant. – Makyen Jun 8 '18 at 0:42
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    Depending on the terrain, the distance I do in a day can be as little as 5 km (swampy bushwhacking on steep slopes with difficult routefinding) to 45 km (NPS-quality trail). I don't think any generic number makes sense. – gerrit Jun 8 '18 at 13:25
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    It depends a lot on the terrain and weather as well, not just the trail conditions. Carrying 25 pounds up a steep hill while soaking wet is different from doing the same on a flat area mildly sunny. – Mast Jun 10 '18 at 6:46
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There are a lot of factors, but for the Appalachian Trail there are a lot of hikers so it can give us pretty good insight into the time it takes for the average thru hiker to reach maximum mileage per day. Map Man (Steve Shuman) conducted an analysis of 240 successful north bound Appalachian Trial thru hikers who kept a journal (so not quite average, but I am not sure how keeping a journal affects mileage per day) from 2001 to 2010: https://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/content.php/44

He broke the trail into 11 unequal sections. The mileage per day was: 10.1, 12.0, 14.0, 15.9, 16.8, 16.8, 16.1, 15.5, 11.4, 12.5, 14.7, 14.7. It appears the mileage per day increases through the 5th section (up until Harpers Ferry), stays level until the 9th section which is the start of the White Mountains of NH. There are a number of reasons to expect the mileage to drop in NH (views, side trails, ruggedness of the trail, resupply options, limited camping). Some of the initial increase in mileage may be due to the terrain starting tough in Georgia and becoming gradually easier as you move through the Smokies.

The analysis says the average hiker reaches Harpers Ferry in 80 days, so give yourself 11 weeks to hit peak mileage.

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    It's great to see actual data from recorded thru-hikes, thanks! – Ian Dunn Jun 7 '18 at 20:40
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    notice that while the question said 15-30 and wanted to plan for getting well above 15 in the second week, this data shows people not getting above 17 ever. I think that 15-30 needs a rethink. – Kate Gregory Jun 8 '18 at 13:14
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    @KateGregory despite lacking big mountains, there are a number of factors why the average mileage on the AT is low (rough tread, heat/humidity and social aspects, and relative prehike inexperience of the average AT thru hiker). 100 day thru hikes are not uncommon (average of over 22 miles per hiking day). Very few average 30 miles per day on the AT, but there are chunks of the CDT where the average thru hiker might come close to 30. – StrongBad Jun 8 '18 at 13:36
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I don't think it works like you think it works. If you're trying to build your distance, you might do 8 miles one Saturday, then the next weekend do 8 on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. The next, 10 on Saturday and 8 on Sunday. Or more if you feel up to it.

Mixing training and a through hike is a recipe for bad things to happen, from fatigue to blisters to actual emergencies. Once trained the through hike should be evenly paced (12-15 miles per day, using Naismith's rule to make allowance for climbing, and with occasional rest days, for example based on heavy loads). On a route with good access to towns and no time (or money) pressure you could start with much less training, but without recovery you can't really expect to progress much.

Those running programs typically run 3x per week, though some will put a very short run on some (almost) rest days if the main runs are quite long.

13

Months not days.

Walking is a sport. Like any sport, you need to train your sport-specific muscles over months before you start getting really serious. If not, instead of getting progressively stronger, you'll just injure yourself on the first day and you won't recover. Unlike most other sports though, if you injure yourself hiking then you're most likely somewhere with no access roads and no phone signal, which means being over-ambitious is literally risking your life.

The biggest concern is ankles. Boots are heavy, and they require a different gait from shoes. You need to start with maybe 5 miles in boots, and build it up slowly.

I've currently got personal experience of this. I'm in a walking group where we walk 8-15 miles every other weekend, but we usually do "civilised" areas so we mostly wear trail trainers. I've been doing serious walking since I was a kid, so I thought I knew the score. But last year we did a few days walking where I needed boots, and I found that my ankles had weakened enough that the extra work from walking in boots has given me chronic tendonitis in both ankles. The first day of the holiday I was sore and thought I just needed to work through it, the second day I was in real pain, and the third day I could barely hobble. The physio reckons I'll be back to normal after a few months, but it's a long slow recovery process

Legs generally and quads specifically will also need some work. Going up and down hills need different muscles from on the flat, so make sure your training walks have hills. Downhill can give you knee problems too, so once again work up to it slowly.

Then there are your shoulders and back. Carrying a pack for a day is physically hard on your body, so you need to let them get used to it.

That's your physical training. Hiking also needs you to learn skills too. How good are you at navigating with a map and compass? How good are you at figuring out where you are on the map, when you're actually lost? Can you recognise poison ivy, or whatever local harmful plants there are? Can you tell by eye which areas of marshy ground are likely to be solid, and which are just water? How fast can you pitch your tent? How good is your tent pitching in gale force winds and rain? Can you pack your rucksack for best balance? All this is easy enough to learn, but it takes time to get those skills up to scratch.

And then there's your gear. You need some miles on your boots before you start, so they're worn in (and so you find if they really do fit). You need to check your tent in bad weather, because if it's prone to collapse in strong winds then you either need extra guy ropes or a new tent. If it's an older tent, it may need reproofing. So might your waterproof jacket and overtrousers. Can you get a good night's sleep on one mat, or do you need two? Is your sleeping bag right for the conditions?

The more I list out, the more I hope you see that it's not just a case of "start on Monday, be awesome by Friday". The people you're hearing about are keen hikers who are already good with all this, who are just starting a long walk. Even if you're experienced, starting carrying a pack is hard work at first, which is why you start more slowly. As someone who's completely new to walking though, you must not attempt this. You will be endangering your life, the lives of the people you're with who will need to help you, and the lives of the emergency services personnel who will need to retrieve you from wherever you get injured.

Please do get yourself walking. It's amazing fun. And when you know enough to not be too dangerous, by all means get yourself out on trails with a pack. Start with days, then weekends, and stretch it gradually. And when you're ready, get yourself onto that epic trail you've been working up to. But not today, because you aren't ready.

Edit: The OP apparently does not need "new walker" advice, because he already has some experience. Maybe he's OK, but I've seen a number of people get into trouble in the hills because they didn't know enough to be safe. I'm keeping my post in place, because it is still an appropriate answer to the question.

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    @IanDunn please refrain from these sorts of comments. Graham has provided an effective answer with some useful warnings and content that hadn't been covered on other questions, so your tone towards him seems unwarranted. Remember our Be Nice rule. – Rory Alsop Jun 9 '18 at 20:49
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    I'm genuinely surprised and confused that you saw it that way, since I tried very hard to make sure my tone was civil and professional, even though I felt like his wasn't. The comments section probably isn't the best place to go into any of this, though, so I started a Meta thread instead. – Ian Dunn Jun 10 '18 at 0:38
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Its going to depend on the person and the terrain, from experience it takes about 5 days to week to really hit your stride, but that will depend per person and some people take much longer to really get going.

The other thing you are missing here is that you will be able to go faster and further during the hike, because like a rocket, you are consuming your food as you go. There have been trips of mine where it was 12 miles the first day and 20 on the 10th mostly due to this.

In your example, at the start of the week you are going to load up with between 14 and 17.5 lbs (2-2.5 lbs per day) of food. On the 7th day you will down to 2-2.5 lbs of food and that makes a large difference in how fast and far you can hike. Then you will load up again and go slower, but slightly faster now that you are better in shape.

Also, neither days nor terrain are equal, some days you can expend the same amount of energy and cover less terrain simply because of the difficulty.

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    Good answer. Yes - terrain and person. But, hiking style, too. I've done 25 mile days on sections of the OT, but would unlikely be able to do that on the AT. And hiking style, too. Hiking trad style with a 30-lb base weight is going to be a lot slower than ultralighting with a 12-lb base. – Don Branson Jun 7 '18 at 16:52
  • @DonBranson What is the OT? – gerrit Jun 8 '18 at 13:28
  • @gerrit - That would be the Ozark Trail. Sorry. :) – Don Branson Jun 8 '18 at 14:02
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It will depend so much on the individual.

I think your numbers are aggressive.

You should do some training and start at more the 10-12. And finish at like 14-16.

Your legs, heart, shoulders, and lungs all get stronger. But they also get tired.

I have done a number of 50 milers and did not see much improvement in a week. Last day could hump out 14 miles but pack was empty and it was down hill.

Yes we finished the week stronger but fatigued.

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