I am researching hikes in New Zealand. What does it mean if it says "this hike is 5-6 hours return"? Does it mean it will take 5-6 hours total or 5-6 hours each way?

2 Answers 2


While this is not a hiking or even outdoors question - it is purely an English language question - I think it is common enough that it is worth popping an answer here:

In English, a duration followed by the word "return" means the time taken to travel there and back. i.e. including the return trip.

If the word "return" was not there, it would be the time taken to get to that destination, i.e. each way.

  • 6
    I agree with you on the return part, not sure I'd agree with the last bit. If I am reading about an out-n-back hike and it says 5-6 hours I'd often assume round trip. For example, All Trails (One of the most prevalent trail info services in the US), talks about out-n-back trails in terms of the full round trip length/time. It would depend a bit more on the context before you can determine if it's each way or total.
    – noah
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 16:28
  • 4
    A loop hike is not really an "out-n-back" hike. It's then a loop hike which will be quoted as the time to complete the loop. My point was for an out-n-back hike if it says "the hike is 5-6 hours" that doesn't necessarily mean it's 5-6 hours each way. In fact it's usually the opposite. For ex: alltrails.com/trail/us/washington/…. I think you'll have a hard time finding a website talking about an out-n-back hike with times for one direction (unless they list times for both directions when there are big differences due to elevation/etc)
    – noah
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 20:36
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    For the record, this must be a regional thing—I’m a native English speaker (NYC) and I’ve never heard this phrasing before.
    – KRyan
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 0:57
  • 5
    @KRyan I'm a native speaker as well, and if I saw "The Fun Mountain Hike is 5-6 hours return", I would still be confused if that mean a round trip time, or just getting back takes 5-6 hours. I'd prefer it say "Fun Mountain Hike is a total of 5-6 hours, round trip" or something more explicit (to the point of being redundant even)
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 1:58
  • 4
    There does seem to be a slight preference for "round trip" in American English, while British English tends towards "Return". NZ is quite likely to be close to British in that sense. (@BruceWayne et al.)
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 5:35

I'd go alternative way answering you question.

It doesn't mean anything practical for you. This information is not trustworthy.

Whatever source you're reading, the author should be more specific if he/she respects the reader, and not produces some click bait for monetizing on ads.

As a minimum, it should be clear from the context what is meant, so that you wouldn't need to ask. Second point, hours are not a reasonable unit to measure distance for hikes. Assuming the author has stated on the basis of own research it's about 5 hours, and not copied it from somewhere else, potentially making mistake, it's still 5 hours of some abstract average hiker, whatever it should be. A pensioner, a family with children, including picnicking break, or only moving time? A 5 hour trail can take you 2 hours or 10 hours in your pace.

A reasonable resource should provide you with the length and elevation gain of the hike, so you could estimate the time you need based on your level of fitness. An information, how much could it take for a person with said fitness level is also valuable (heavy outdoor routes take more time for the same distance/elevation compared to paved trails). Without that information, it's a mere guessing.

  • 1
    The question wasn't "How long will the hike take" the question was "what does it meant this this estimate is for 'return'" Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 0:24
  • When establishing duration of the trails in NZ, they are walked by a range of groups of varying fitness and times are based on terrain, average walking speeds and proximity to tourist sites (i.e. people who don't necessarily know their ability to walk distance X) etc. Distance/elevation gain are not great estimators for many people in the outdoors because they don't correlate well - sure I can say on average 600 m altitude gain/hour or 5 km/h but that doesn't correlate with difficulty of terrain, state of the trail, experience etc, but saying that a trail should take you about Y hours....
    – bob1
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 21:43
  • ... a good estimate of "can I fit this into a day's walk?" and "can I walk this long?" and might put off those who might not be able to - the inexperienced, who are also less likely to take safety gear, more likely to get injured etc. Check out this track Find Young Hut and Siberia Hut, look at the distance and terrain between in the map - it looks simple right? It's a 6-8 h walk over only 12 km! This is a very popular trail, easily underestimated.
    – bob1
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 22:12

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