Although we love all the time we get to spend outside, whenever we plan a hike, the vast majority of us want to know how long it will take. Not only is this information important for us mentally as we push through a hard section of the trail, knowing how long a hike will take you will dictate what kind of gear you’ll carry with you.
That being said, many of us struggle to accurately calculate how long a hike should take us, either finding ourselves to be chronically under or over-estimating the time investment needed to complete a hike.
Therefore, to help you out, we’ve put together this guide to calculating your hiking pace, so you always know what to expect on the trail. Let’s get to it!
So, how long does a five mile hike take? Generally speaking, a five mile hike on mostly flat terrain should take you about an hour and forty-five minutes, according to Naismith’s rule (which we’ll discuss later). Of course, that doesn’t take into account your fitness levels, the weather, the terrain, the amount of elevation you’re gaining or losing, or any breaks you’ll likely take. But, as a rough estimate, an easy five mile hike takes most frequent hikers just under two hours to complete.
Calculating your hiking pace
If you’re wondering how we calculated that figure of an hour and forty-five minutes for a five mile hike, well, you’re not alone. Being able to calculate the time it will take you complete a hike is an important backcountry skill and one that takes practice to get right in complex terrain.
However, there are a few tips and tricks that you can use to quickly and easily figure the length of your next hike. Let’s take a look at them here:
How fast does the average hiker hike?
Okay, first things first: how fast does the average hiker hike? Well, of course this depends on what you mean by “average,” but, for the most part, a regular hiker with a small pack that’s on a day hike can manage about 3 miles an hour while a particularly fit and experienced day hiker can often walk at a slightly faster clip of about 4 miles an hour.
Alternatively, if you’re carrying a heavy pack, your pace generally drops down to about 2 miles an hour. However, it’s worth noting that these estimates are for walking on trails through terrain with little or no elevation change, so these paces should be used as a rough guideline for your hike.
How to calculate how long your next hike will take
It so happens that there are many different ways to calculate how long a hike will take. Perhaps the first person to come up with a system for estimating hiking times was Scottish mountaineer, William Naismith, in 1892, whose formula is still used today. Here’s how to use it:
Naismith’s Rule – Simply put, Naismith’s rule states that:
“One should estimate one hour for every 3 miles (5 km) of hiking, plus an additional hour for every 2,000 feet (600m) of elevation gain.”
This rule makes plenty of assumptions, each of which should be factored into your final calculation. For example, this formula assumes that a hiker has a reasonable fitness level and is walking on moderate to easy trailed terrain in regular weather conditions. Naismith’s rule does not account for groups that take long breaks (more than a few minutes), nor does it provide any leeway for traversing tricky navigational obstacles.
Thus, anyone using Naismith’s rule should consider it to be the minimum amount of time your hike should take. Indeed, while some people claim that they have a completely accurate formula that they use to estimate the length of their hikes, it’s important to remember that these estimates are always just that: an estimate.
When using Naismith’s rule to calculate the length of time your hike will take, there are some different factors you should take into account. These include:
- On-Trail v. Off-Trail Travel. Naismith’s rule is mostly intended for on-trail travel with few navigational challenges. If you’re hiking through tricky terrain, especially anything that involves a bushwhack through a dense forest or negotiating your way through a boulderfield, you’ll need to add some time to your estimate. Generally, when people move through difficult off-trail terrain while backpacking, they walk at about 1 mile an hour. While day hiking, you can often estimate a pace of 5 miles an hour.
- Downhill Walking. Contrary to popular belief, the descent portion of your climb is not always faster than the ascent. In fact, depending on the terrain you’re crossing, the downhill just might be trickier than the uphill. In general, you can estimate the same amount of additional time for going downhill as you can for going uphill. So, for every 2,000 feet (600m) on your hike, add an hour to your time.
- Extended Breaks. If you like to take longer breaks, this will increase the amount of time you spend on the trail, even if it’s not time you’re actively moving. While an experienced hiker will take a five minute break every 45 minutes to an hour, others take longer breaks that you need to account for when calculating your pace.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are our answers to your most frequently asked questions about calculating the length of your hike:
What is a good hiking pace?
In reality, there’s no such thing as a “good” hiking pace. The best hiking pace is the one that you’re comfortable with as hiking too quickly can lead to exhaustion and bad decision making. However, most people will find that they hike around 2 miles an hour through simple terrain, so that’s a good benchmark to strive for.
How many calories do you burn on a five mile hike?
Estimating how many calories someone will burn on a five mile hike is pretty tricky, since each person’s metabolism is slightly different. However, in general, people burn about 300-600 calories an hour while hiking. So, if a five mile hike should take you about an hour and forty-five minutes, your hike should burn between 525 and 1050 calories.
Why the huge difference? Well, your weight, physical fitness level, the weight of your backpack, your speed, and the terrain of your hike all factor in to how many calories you burn. For a more accurate measurement, a smartwatch with a heart rate monitor will probably be your best bet.
Beginner Hiking Tips
If all of this talk about hiking paces makes you feel a bit inexperienced, it’s okay. Everyone started their hiking careers somewhere and what’s important isn’t your pace, but how much fun you’re having. But, if you’re still feeling nervous about going on a longer hike, here are some of our top hiking tips for beginners:
Pick a hike you’re excited about
Don’t just go out on a hike to hike. Find a trail you’re excited about and that’s within your comfort level. There will be time later for pushing yourself further out of your comfort zone.
Find the right hiking partner
A good hiking partner can turn a long hike into an enjoyable adventure while hiking with someone you don’t mesh with could be a bad experience all around. Find someone that hikes at about the same pace as you and has no major time crunch that would make them impatient during the day.
Check the weather
As a general rule, you should always check the weather before you head into the mountains. While it’s not dangerous, per se, to hike in the rain or snow, you should only do so if you’ve got the right gear and the know-how to do so properly. Start out with hikes in fair weather and see how it goes from there.
Have the right gear
Even if you’re only going out on a short day hike, you still need to be prepared. Some of the things you should always have with you include:
- Navigation gear (map, compass, and GPS)
- Warm clothing
- Rain jacket and pants
- First aid kit
- Fire starting materials (lighter, matches, etc.)
- Emergency shelter
- Sunglasses & sunscreen
Also read: What Are The 10 Essentials for Day Hiking?
We’ve spent all this time talking about how fast people hike and you might feel pressure to walk at a certain speed. Don’t. Especially in the beginning, it’s important that you hike at a speed that’s comfortable for you, so you don’t tire yourself prematurely. Go into the hike with a good attitude and know your limits.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.