Thru-hiking is an increasingly popular activity among outdoor enthusiasts, athletes and those who feel the call of the wild. 100 miles is often the first major target that multi-day hikers will set for themselves, and there are a good number of well-marked long distance trails all over the world which entice savvy hikers year after year.
So, how long does it take to hike 100 miles? On average, most hikers will budget between 5 and 14 days to hike 100 miles. There are many factors to consider: terrain, altitude, gradient, fitness and weather – to name but a few. Preparation and proper training are key for such hikes and, with proper amounts of both, hikers should be able to complete their 100 mile trail within their desired time-frame.
How to calculate hiking time
As a general rule-of-thumb: allow 20 minutes per mile, plus 30 minutes every 1000 ft of ascent. So a 6 mile hike with 2000 ft of ascent should roughly take you three hours, give or take. This is based on the popular “Naismith’s Rule”, a rule which dates back to the 1890s but is still a useful tool today.
Obviously, this will change depending on your terrain, pack weight and level of fitness so it is only to be used as a good starting point. Breaks also need to be considered when calculating total hiking time for a day, and adding an extra hour for any “unforeseen circumstances” is a good measure to ensure you arrive at your destination well before dark.
The best way to calculate your hiking time is not to calculate it at all; rather get out there and hike! Start with a few day hikes in various terrains and elevations, and measure how long it takes you. Gradually extend this to overnights of two to three days and you’ll soon learn your comfortabilities and what your body is capable of.
For example, as a fairly short-legged female I am generally slower on the uphill than most of my trail buddies – but on the downhill I’m like a sprightly mountain goat (or so I’ve been told).
Estimating your days on trail for a 100 mile hike
Depending on your level of fitness, it can take five to fourteen days for a 100 mile hike. Ten to fifteen miles a day is what most will aim for, which will obviously vary with terrain and elevation. Don’t attempt a serious thru-hike until you have done several shorter day hikes and overnights – these experiences will provide you with your best estimates!
If you are new to hikes of such length, then the first two days will certainly put your body through its paces as you get used to your pack and the various aches and pains that come with this intense form of hiking.
Try to plan shorter days at the beginning and end of your 100 mile stretch. This will enable your body to acclimatize at the start, and have something to “look forward to” after a week of strenuous activity. Don’t forget: your pack will be heavier at the beginning with the weight of your food, and will lessen as the trek goes on – another little perk to look forward to as you walk!
Take it slow or full speed ahead?
There is no “right pace” to go whilst hiking. You can take as many days you need to, going at a more leisurely pace if you want time for relaxing, swimming, off-trail exploring and so on.
The only thing to be wary of is your food supply, as the more days you spend on the trail, the heavier your pack will be. Some 100 mile routes will have re-supply locations along the way at a local town or gas station, whereas others – like the Appalachian Trail’s “100 mile wilderness” – require you to take everything with you from the get-go.
Most recreational hikers find that anything over 10 days worth of supplies is too much weight to carry, and that they would rather do a few more miles a day than add more weight.
Some experienced backpacking athletes can easily complete a 100 mile hike in four or five days. This is more common on serious thru-hikes such as the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails, as the body and mind become accustomed to hiking tens of miles a day.
Types of terrain and elevation gain/loss
It is rare to come across a long-distance trail which is completely flat through easy terrain. Many popular routes twist and turn and can lead you up steep inclines and into deep valleys through many different landscapes. This is why it is essential to study your route in advance and be prepared: make sure you know the land you will be hiking through on each day, and adjust your timings accordingly.
On a two-day hike in Patagonia, it took me six hours to complete just 7 miles as the trail was full of ups and downs, scrambling through thick forests and heavy rain for the whole day. The next day was 15 miles but took only five hours, as the last half was an easy, steady downhill on a gravel road. (I was also carrying all of my possessions over the border – my 50lb pack certainly slowed me down somewhat…)
Popular 100 mile backpacking routes:
100 Mile Wilderness, USA
The 100 mile wilderness is a section of the Appalachian Trail in northern Maine, USA. Seasoned backpackers can complete the trail in four or five days, whereas others will take it at a more leisurely pace at aim to complete it in ten. The trail boasts lush forests, stunning alpine views with a summit of over 3,500ft and cuts numerous rivers and streams.
It is considered a challenging trail, as there are no resupply points and the terrain is rugged with many ups and downs: not for the faint-hearted! For more in-depth reading check out these FAQs.
Tour du Mont Blanc, Europe
The TMB is one of Europe’s most popular hikes, passing through parts of Italy, France and Switzerland to encompass the whole Mont Blanc Massif. At just over 100 miles and 30,000ft of ascent and descent – a good level of fitness is certainly recommended.
Many hikers choose to make the most of the resupply points and shelters along the way, and stretch the hike over a couple of weeks; whilst others choose to hike independently and take all of their gear and supplies for a seven to ten day stint. The trail boasts beautiful mountain views and an abundance of nature with eagles, deer and a host of alpine flowers to enjoy. Read this in-depth review of the TMB.
West Highlands Way, Scotland
This trail shows off the beauty of rugged Scotland – stretching from Milngavie just north of Glasgow, to Fort William 96 miles to the north. The trail is well-mapped and broken in to eight manageable segments ranging from nine to 16 miles in length. You’ll pass lochs and moorlands, and country parks and steep mountainsides.
Not to mention a good chance of seeing the famous highland cows! Again, there are various accommodation options along the trail or you can opt to do it alone. Most trek the route south-to-north, finding pace in the easier southern sections to prepare for the more challenging northern parts. Check out the dedicated trail website here.
North Boundary Trail, Canada
The NBT connects Alberta’s Jasper National Park and British Columbia’s Stanley Provincial Park in a stunning 111 mile route with open views of mountains, lakes and the valleys in-between. The 9000 feet of elevation gain will certainly test your thigh muscles, but the trail is easily completed in 7 to 8 days.
There are a good number of campsites along the way and has some of the best views of the Rockies that you can hope for. Note: the trail is reported as ‘low-maintained’ so hikers should pay special attention to the route and carry a GPS. Check out this hiker’s log of the whole trail.
Final words of wisdom
Research, research, research. There is a world of information out there and, chances are, somebody has done the very trail you are wanting to do and has written all about it. Maps are incredibly useful (and always recommended) but they will only tell you so much.
There are those little, invaluable pieces of know-how which can make all the difference. Factors such as the availability of water at certain times of the year, likelihood of bugs which may drive you crazy, poor shelter conditions and so on. Make sure you have the right gear for your chosen trail, you do not want to wake up on day two and find your tent isn’t waterproof after all!
Thru-hiking is as much a mental game as a physical one, and these seemingly small things can weigh heavily on your spirits as your trek wears on.
How far can a beginner hike in a day? There is no set limit for a beginner hiker, but the advice is always to take it slowly. Test yourself on a five mile route, with not too much elevation, and see how you go. Gradually increase your trail length and pack weight and see what you can accomplish – every pro hiker starts somewhere!
How far can you hike in an hour? At a leisurely pace with not too much incline, most people can walk three miles an hour. This obviously changes with elevation or rough terrain and is totally person-specific. If hiking in wild country, you always want to plan time for breaks to catch your breath and take in the scenery – don’t miss the beauty by rushing too much.
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Suzie Hall has a passion for all things wild and is a scuba diver and Orcalab researcher based in Hanson Island off the north coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She spends most of her time exploring this great wide earth and her travels have taken her to some remarkable locations including Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan and the wild British Columbia coast. Fueled by a drive to protect our wild spaces and their inhabitants, Suzie works in conservation projects around the globe and lives to write about the amazing people, places and wildlife she encounters.