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
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    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 '14 at 1:21
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    @Ryley I protest. I personally feel decidedly average. – javadba Aug 24 '15 at 6:21

13 Answers 13

up vote 51 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
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    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
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    Tranter's corrections to Naismith's rule are useful especially in indicating what may be considered "too much". – Stephen Paulger Aug 2 '16 at 16:42
  • Yup - as I Scot I've been using Naithsmith's Rule since I was a kid, and it's the best way to estimate times. If you use it regularly, you'll begin to get a good handle on your personal pace, and how to make adjustments for fitness, wind, underfoot conditions, steepness and so on. And also, how to estimate pace when there are other walkers in your party with different fitness and experience. As you practice, you'll get increasingly accurate at adjusting for all these different factors. – Tullochgorum Oct 11 at 14:38

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.

  • +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.

  • 1 hour extra per 1000 feet seems way conservative, maybe? Another post above said 1 hour per 2000 ft - that's still fairly cautious IMHO. – javadba Aug 24 '15 at 6:28
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    As in all things, YMMV. I was taught 1 hour per thousand feet and from my experience it holds about true, as long as you are counting climbs only. – Pulsehead Aug 24 '15 at 13:03

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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    "7000 ft (double)". I am only an average performer at modest (3Kto 4.5K meters) altitude - but find that performance is little affected until 3Km/10Kft and only significantly when closer to 4.2Km/13.5Kft – javadba Aug 24 '15 at 6:31

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.

I just came in from a 3 mile hike and I am the kind of person you're talking about. It took me 1 hour on a flat surface, well maintained trail through the woods. So 3 mph is a good general rule of thumb for your average joe on level ground, no heavy backpack, no speed competition, but no stopping to smell the roses and take pictures, breaks. etc. I'm not a poster child for physical fitness, but I care about staying reasonably healthy. What avid hikers call a "simple" trail I call "moderate."

I hike a lot in the Rocky Mountains. 2.5 mph up is a good number. Less coming down. Deduct about half an hour for a 4 mile 1 way hike coming down.

This rule of thumb has not worked for me but here is what worked.

Get several opinions from people who already done the same exact trail. It is better to know these people, so you can compare their physical condition with yours(or your group's) You can also check out on writings about the trail, in books, or the net.

Usually I take into account the worst case scenario of all the above. And then I add one more hour. This will define how many hours the hike is going to take. Many times it has become true.
People are usually optimistic in their estimation of the timeframes, AND/OR my group is too slow.

My group is going several hikes during the year, and we seldom do the same hike twice. We are mostly going to trails were none of us has been before.

So it is better to be calculate on the worst case scenario. If you have to look for the trail, and start searching around, do not spend to much time. Better to check the time and your GPS position frequently. If there is doubt, then immediately decide to go back. If you stop to think, then time flies fast and the sun is coming down (BAD!) That is not a good time to find an alternate trail. Better to go back the trail and return safe.

Average dayhiking speed for reasonably fit people is 2.5 mph on moderate terrain. Divide the number of miles of the hike by 2.5 and add in extra time for snacks, lunch, pictures, etc.

  • Have you got a source for that figure? – Phil Apr 29 '15 at 14:45
  • I've just been experimenting with speed on a hike to get some timings for a big charity walk I'm doing. Depending on the terrain/distance/amount of time walking 2.5mph is actually quite fast. For example: we (being youngish, fit, experienced hill walkers) recently managed to maintain 5mph for about 3 hours and we were exhausted. So for our walk were aiming for 2.5mph for about 18hours but this is the upper limit of what we think we can achive – Liam Apr 29 '15 at 15:29
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    +1 for extra time for non walking activities. When hiking alone, checking the map, taking a few photos, getting water or food out of the pack and so, takes a sizeable part of the total hiking time. – Pere Nov 5 '17 at 17:24

For first time hikers carrying a 30+ pound pack, I always estimate 1 mph on a moderate trail. I say this only because there are so many variables that one almost cannot calculate what will be. I have seen wrong distances on trails, bad weather, fallen debris, and generally fit people that cannot haul a pack, or keep pace that this estimate works best for me. You never know what to expect when others are factored in and if we make our camp an hour or two early, well that's better than later. If it's an 8 mile hike to camp, I assume it will take 8 hours especially if you have to make frequent stops for tired hikers, or those that wish to sight see. It is not unusual for first time hikers to watch their feet most of the time, so when they see something pretty they want to stop and take a look instead of trying to watch both.

I can concur with 1 mph for first-time backpackers carrying an overnight pack on strenuous terrain. This is without stopping for more than short water/snack breaks.

Source: I just took my wife on her first backpacking trip and it took us almost 8 hours to travel 8 miles with ~2000 feet elevation gain. This was over well-maintained but rocky trails that called for careful footing, and neither of us were fully acclimated to the elevation. Not the best introduction to backpacking (!)...we ended up changing the itinerary on subsequent days.

Going back down(hill) the same trails, we kept up about a 1.5 mph pace.

Naismith's rule (19½ minutes for every mile, plus 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet) is meant for reasonably easy ground conditions. Here in the White Mountains on New Hampshire the local hiking club came up with a rule to reflect the very rocky trail conditions (30 minutes for every mile, plus 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet).

But these do not take into account your intent, ground conditions, and how much you are carrying. Is this a casual or scenic walk, or are you pushing yourself for exercise? Is it a smooth path, a little rooty and rocky, or very rocky trail? Are you carrying just water, a day pack, or a loaded overnight backpack?

I created an Estimated Hiking Time Calculator bases on Naismith's rule where you can adjust for your intended pace, trail conditions, and pack weight. It's still just an estimate, but it's better than one pace fits all, and it's simple to use.

protected by Charlie Brumbaugh Dec 3 at 1:21

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